Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reflections on John Walton's "Lost World of Genesis One"

I had a lull in my review schedule, so I decided to read a book that's been on my shelf for a while, John H. Walton's The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.

A little bit about me. I'm a Christian, I love the inspired word of God, I majored in Geology and I don't find these things incompatible. Like Walton, I see no credible evidence for Young Earth Creationism, but I'm still not exactly sure what I believe regarding the when and how God created the universe. (And part of me thinks that's no big deal either!) The lovely thing about this book is that it minimizes the importance of the material creation of the world and refocuses our attention on the key point that God is the source and continues to be the One in control.

In a nutshell, Walton proposes that reading the Genesis creation account literally means we take account of cultural context for the first audience of the book. And as an Old Testament scholar at Wheaton College, Walton shows that in the Ancient Near Eastern worldview, the concept of existence is tied to functionality rather than material presence. To establish this idea, Walton analyzes how the Hebrew word for create (bara) is used throughout the OT. While Walton thinks that yom in Genesis is best interpreted as a 24-hour period of time and not an age or millions of years as some theistic evolutionists propose, he also believes that the material creation of the universe happened long before the Genesis narrative. In this way, his view is similar to the "Gap Theory" I grew up with in the church of my youth, which also sees the Adam and Eve taking place long after the dinosaurs and Lucy.

I think this quote, from page 130, sums up Walton's view (and my own):

The view of Genesis offered in this book is also teleological but accepts that all of creation is the result of God's handiwork, whether naturalistic mechanisms are identifiable or not, and whether evolutionary processes took place or not. God has designed all that there is and may have brought some of his designs into existence instantaneously, whereas others he may have chosen to bring into existence through long, complicated processes. Neither procedure would be any less an act of God.
The book also contains a thoughtful proposal for the way origins should be taught in public schools (a proposal in which neither the prevailing system nor Creationists or Intelligent Design proponents win completely). Additionally, a Q&A section in the prologue of the book is written in very accessible language, offering a good cool-down to the mental workout the rest of the book provided. If you're interested in how the scientific consensus of our day and the Biblical explanation of origins mesh, and if you don't mind whipping out your dictionary from time to time, I recommend this book.

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