Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One

I know that I am fairly late to the party in reviewing The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. It's been out for nearly a year now, but I think that it's an important enough work that I can't resist. However, I'll deviate a bit from my typical pattern of rehashing the argument in detail. Instead I will offer five reactions/opinions (you can find a decent, brief review of the contents here if you are unfamiliar with them).

First, I have to say that I believe that, if nothing else, methodologically, Walton is on the right track. A concordant approach which attempts to draw on Genesis 1 for scientific theory is grossly anachronistic and (in my opinion) ironically about as far from a literal reading of Scripture as one can get. If we want to read Scripture literally we need to understand it within its cultural context and not import the meaning of English words (specifically 'create') into our understanding of Hebrew words.

Second, I like that Walton takes the text seriously. I remember hearing him give a lecture on this book about 10 months ago (see my recap). During that meeting, he said, 'I am a text guy.' His goal isn't to show that there is no conflict between faith and science (indeed his understanding of Genesis 2 would not win fans in the scientific community). His goal is to understand Genesis 1 as the original audience would have understood it.

Third, Walton's book gave me several 'aha' moments. Seeing the creation account as functionally (rather than materially) driven opened things up for me. For example, what did God mean when he declared creation 'good?' Walton argues that God deemed it to be functioning properly, with its intended purpose. This allows for a good creation to have volcanoes, earthquakes, and predatory animals and still be 'good.'

Fourth, I really like that Walton released his popular level book first (and it is definitely accessible to a lay audience), before his academic treatment. The church badly needs this book, because I think that we have dug ourselves a huge hole by defending creation 'science.' As Walton points out, his book isn't affirming evolution. The theory isn't without problems, but we need to stop trying to squeeze modern science out of Genesis 1.

Fifth, I agree with his conclusions about education. Public education should be metaphysically neutral. Evolution isn't necessarily at odds with Christianity. Now, many who support evolution are opposed to Christianity and think that science rules out the possibility of God. But that last claim is not a scientific claim, it's a metaphysical claim. God can work through any process that he wants to work through. Thus, science needs to be taught as science and not packaged with metaphysics.

As you can tell, I very much appreciate Walton's book. If you haven't read it yet, I urge you to pick up a copy and move it near the top of your reading list. Every scientist, science teacher, pastor, and parent needs to spend the requisite time to engage with this very timely and important work.

2 comments:

  1. Is it possible to be metaphysically neutral?

    Does Walton deal at all with creation passages other than Genesis 1? Does he think the Bible refers at all the material creation of the universe, and not just the functional aspect?

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  2. Good question, danny, but yes, in education I think that you can deal with science without getting into metaphysics. You can say, 'according to our best current theories, process x happened starting with y and so on. The job of science is to describe what happened, not to determine causation (i.e., whether God created life or it's an accident). At the personal level it's a different story.

    This book is on Genesis 1, so no, he doesn't deal with other creation texts at much length (his longest treatment is of Genesis 2, and even that is very brief). Walton does (rightly) affirm that God created materially too (he cites Col. 1:16-17 for support), he just believes that the Bible doesn't tell us about that process, which then leaves us open to pursue that knowledge by different means, namely science.

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