I am seeking comments from readers of a recently-released book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton (IVP Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8308-3704-5). Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and the author of several books on the OT, including a commentary on Genesis.
While other Bible-believing writers address head-on the specific evidences provided by the Evolutionary sciences, author Walton brushes modern science to one side:
“ Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology. That is, it does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or ad dress modern questions. ... Some Christians approach the text of Genesis as if it has mod ern science embedded in it or it dictates what modern science should look like. This approach to the text of Genesis 1 is called “concordism,” as it seeks to give a modern scientific explanation for the details in the text. This represents one attempt to “trans late” the culture and text for the modern reader.
“The problem is, we cannot translate their cosmology to our cosmology, nor should we. If we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology. If we try to turn it into modern cosmology, we are making the text say something that it never said. It is not just a case of adding meaning (as more information has become available) it is a case of changing meaning. Since we view the text as authoritative, it is a dangerous thing to change the meaning of the text into something it never intended to say.
“Another problem with concordism is that it assumes that the text should be understood in reference to current scientific consensus ... By its very nature, science is in a constant state of flux. ... So if God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God’s revelation into accordance with today’s science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood.” (pages 16-17)
Walton thus focuses on the account at Genesis 1 solely in the context of the culture that produced it.
“As complicated as translating a foreign language can be, translating a foreign culture is infinitely more difficult.
“The problem lies in the act of translating. Translation involves lifting the ideas from their native context and relocating them in our own context. ... It is far too easy to let our own ideas creep in and subtly (or at times not so subtly) bend or twist the material to fit our own context. ...
“The very act of trying to translate the culture requires taking it out of its context and fitting it into ours. ... The minute anyone (professional or amateur) attempts to translate the culture, we run the risk of making the text communicate something it never intended. Rather than translating the culture, then, we need to try to enter the culture.” (pages 10-11)
Walton sees Genesis One as describing the assignment of function, not in the creation of material, a concept that he puts forward in 18 “Propositions”.
“The functional view understands the functions to be decreed by God to serve the purposes of humanity, who has been made in his image. The main elements lacking in the ‘before’ picture are therefore humanity in God’s image and God’s presence in his cosmic temple. Without those two ingredients the cosmos would be considered non-functional and therefore non-existent. (page 97)
“So on day one God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; and day three the basis for food. These three great functions—time, weather and food—are the foundation of life. If we desire to see the greatest work of the Creator, it is not to be found in the materials that he brought together—it is that he brought them together in such a way that they work. ... Functions are far more important than materials.” (page 59)
(There should be to need to say that each of Days 4 to 6 parallel each of the first 3 Days.)
Walton demonstrates that similar structures exist in contemporary non-Hebrew material.
“We should not be surprised to find that the three major functions introduced in the first three days of Genesis 1 are also prominent in ancient Near Eastern texts.” (page 59)
He provides an analysis of Genesis 1 that does not require a young earth, with that outcome but a by-product of his reasoning. The book closes with a series of Questions that he answers (FAQs), such as:
Q: When and how did God create the material world?
Q: Where do the dinosaurs and fossil "homo" specimens fit in?
Q: Isn’t this just really a dodge to accommodate evolution?
This is a new book and I am certain that over time it will generate much discussion. I would like to know what those who have read this book think of it.
Do not base your comments on my brief analysis , as it is not adequate for others to use as a critique of the author’s reasoning. Read the book before commenting on it. I provided the above overview simply to indicate the thrust of the book.
If someone wants a discussion on “Creation” versus “Evolution”, please create a separate Thread. I initiated this Thread to specifically address this book by John H. Walton.