The four functions of worldviews

Understanding the significance of worldviews

October 14, 2022

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series on what Christians should know about worldviews and worldview analysis. The other articles in the series can be found here.

In this series we’ve defined what a worldview is, considered the role of plausibility and community in shaping beliefs, and looked at the faith commitments that underlie worldviews. We’ll consider the four primary functions of worldviews in this article.

Four primary functions of worldviews

1. Worldviews provide emotional security 

Imagine what would happen if every time you asked the four questions of faith commitment—“Who am I? Where am I? What’s wrong? What is the remedy?”—your answer was, “I don’t know, and I don’t know how to find the answers.” The world would seem to be a place of incomprehensible randomness and chaos. You would likely be driven insane and be unable to function because of an overwhelming sense of existential dread.

A worldview, even a false worldview, provides a degree of emotional security because it allows a person to believe that reality is understandable. A person who believes their field burned down because Zeus hurled a lightning bolt in anger is more comforted than someone who believes the tragedy was meaningless and without a purposeful cause. 

2. Worldviews are predictive

Worldviews provide a model for reality and help us to determine what is plausible, that is, what we think can and cannot happen. By knowing what can or cannot happen, we are able to make predictions about what will or will not happen. This makes it possible for us to make plans for our life based on what we predict can happen. 

For example, most of us do not make a contingency plan based on whether we will be attacked by demons on our drive home from work. Even if we believe that demons are part of reality (as all Christians should), our worldviews tend to downplay the effect of supernatural evil on normal, everyday life. 

We therefore make predictions based on what our worldview considers plausible and exclude anything that is implausible as improbable. If you are asked to predict why you’ll be late for dinner, you’re more likely to say it is due to heavy traffic than demonic activity. 

This may seem too obvious to be worth pointing out. Yet it is precisely because our modern Western worldviews are shaped to have an anti-supernatural bias that we think this way. People tend to consider their own worldview as being “normal,” and anything that differs is considered abnormal or strange. We take for granted what is plausible and probable ​​because our worldview filters out that which we consider implausible and improbable.

3. Worldviews are prescriptive

Just as worldviews provide models for reality that allow us to make predictions, they also provide models of reality that prescribe how we will behave within that reality. “A worldview is never merely a vision of life,” says Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, “It is always a vision for life as well. Indeed, a vision of life, or world view, that does not actually lead a person or people in a particular way of life is not a world view at all.” 

Holding a particular view of reality leads us to react in a way that corresponds to that reality. For instance, if we believe we live in a universe in which God judges our actions and rewards or punishes us accordingly, it will likely lead us to act in a way that pleases him. Even if the belief does not motivate us to act in a way that pleases God, we will consider our actions a form of rebellion against that God. The result is that our worldview not only leads us to behave in a particular way (obedience or rebellion against God) but leads us to interpret our behavior based on the worldview (i.e., from an obedience or rebellion framework). 

4. Worldviews provide cultural stability

As noted in an earlier article in this series, what we believe is largely dependent on what other people believe. Our worldviews are largely based on what other people believe, including the beliefs of generations that died long before we were born. What beliefs we consider plausible are generally based on the worldview that has been passed on to us by our culture. This provides continuity that allows us to cooperate from within a broadly shared framework. 

Consider what happens when incompatible worldviews interact. Imagine, for instance, a salesman from the U.S attempting to sell an insurance policy to an animist from a South American jungle. Animists believe all natural things, such as rocks, have spirits and can influence human events. The animist would therefore have a difficult time understanding why they should give money to transfer the risk of financial loss against random events when all events are essentially random, and at the whim of spirits.

Insurance depends on a worldview that not only believes in naturalistic cause-and-effect relationships, but also believes that mathematical tools such as probability and the law of large numbers can help us predict what is likely to happen in the future. If a significant number of our neighbors were animists and did not believe such predictions were plausible, then insurance would be untenable. 

Again, we take for granted that most people will share our “normal” worldview because one of the functions of a worldview is to provide cultural stability. But what happens when incompatible elements are found within a person’s worldview? That is the issue we’ll take up in our next article on internal coherence in worldviews.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24