Biblical Worldview Beliefs from PALS Survey of 2012: No Rebound Seen

More Cultural Research from Steve Cable

In my previous blog post, we looked at the Faith Matters survey taken in 2011 to see if the trend was continuing toward fewer people holding a biblical worldview. In this post, we ask a similar question looking at the Portraits in American Life Survey (PALS) taken in 2012{1}. The PALS is an extensive, national-level panel study focused on religion in the U.S., with a particular focus on capturing ethnic and racial diversity. In this survey of over 1400 people across America, a set of questions was asked which
are very similar to the biblical worldview questions asked in the Probe and Barna surveys.

The questions used to establish a basic biblical worldview are as follows:

1. I definitely believe in God
2. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and physically rose from the dead
3. The bible was fully inspired by God
4. I believe in Heaven where people live with God forever
5. I believe there is a Hell where people experience pain as punishment for their sin
6. The devil, demons or evil spirits exist
7. Moral right or wrong should be determined by God’s law

Let’s begin by looking at how many have a biblical worldview; i.e., agreeing with all the statements above. The results look like this (where Evan/BP stands for Evangelical or Historically Black Protestant):

Biblical Worldview
Evan/BP Not Evan/BP All
20-29 30+ 20-29 30+ 20-29 30+
32.5% 46.2% 5.4% 11.4% 14.7% 22.9%

Note that the youngest respondents in this survey are 20 years old rather than 18 as in the other surveys. As you can see, about one in three evangelical or black Protestant believers under the age of 30 profess to holding a biblical worldview and only about one in 20 of those who do not affiliate with an evangelical or black Protestant denomination. These results are very similar to those reported in my book, Cultural Captives, where about one in three evangelicals professed a biblical worldview. Because very few of those not affiliated with an evangelical or historically black Protestant church profess a biblical worldview, we see that less than 15% of all adults under 30 profess to a biblical worldview.

How do the numbers look if we add a belief that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven? Certainly a key New Testament teaching is that Jesus Christ is the only propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2) We can consider this question by adding in the following two questions to our analysis:

It doesn’t much matter what I believe so long as I am a good person – strongly disagree

The founder of Islam, Muhammad, was the holy prophet of God – strongly disagree

The results now look as follows:

Biblical Worldview and not a Pluralist
Evan/BP Not Evan/BP All
20-29 30+ 20-29 30+ 20-29 30+
13.1% 26.3% 0.0% 4% 4.5% 11.4%

The percentages for evangelical and non-evangelical emerging adults plummet down to 13% and zero percent respectively. Looking at all Americans, we see that less than one in twenty emerging adults have a comprehensive biblical worldview and about one in ten of those at least 30 years old.

This fairly recent survey (from 2012) clearly shows that a biblical worldview was not rebounding among emerging adults nor among older adults as well.

1. Emerson, Michael O., and David Sikkink. Portraits of American Life Study, 2nd Wave, 2012.

Acknowledgment: The data were downloaded from the Association of Religion Data Archives,, and were collected by Michael O. Emerson and David Sikkink

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