Since its 2009 release, John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One; Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate,1 has consistently ranked among the best-selling faith and science books. It has received glowing endorsements from prominent theologians such as N. T. Wright, Bruce Waltke, Tremper Longman III, and scientists Francis Collins, founder of BioLogos and director of the National Institutes of Health, and Davis Young, professor emeritus of geology at Calvin College, all of whom identify themselves as theistic evolutionists or evolutionary creationists.
The book’s title comes from Walton’s belief that Genesis 1 “is not written to us” (p. 21) but rather to the ancient Israelites in the context of the worldview of antiquity. Walton, a professor of Old Testament theology at Wheaton College, suggests that until recently with the recovery of ancient world literature from the sands of the Middle East, it was not possible to come to a “right reading” of the text since “the worldview of antiquity was lost” (p. 171).
In his book, Walton agrees with young-earth creationists that of the four different literal definitions2 of yôm (the Hebrew word translated as “day”) the correct definition for the creation “days” in Genesis 1 is that they “are seven twenty-four-hour days” (p. 91). Nevertheless, Walton rejects young-earth creationism for its untenable science3 and for being “too narrow in their reading of words such as ‘create’ (bara) and ‘made’ (asa).”4 He writes, “The seven days are not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into existence, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple” (p. 92).
What position does Walton support, then? The book’s endorsements would indicate theistic evolution, though Walton doesn’t commit to a type. Walton says the deistic view (“God is seen as responsible for ‘jump-starting’ the evolutionary process and then letting it unwind through the eons”) of theistic evolution “gives too much to the ongoing functions of creation as well as rendering them too independent from God” (p.120). On the other hand, he states that the interventionist view (“God is sometimes viewed as involved more regularly at critical junctures to accomplish major jumps in evolution”) of theistic evolution “treats the functionality of natural processes too lightly, as being inadequate to accomplish God’s purposes” (p. 120). He suggests instead that “God might be working alongside or through physical and biological processes in a way that science cannot detect” (p. 120).
This last statement appears to define (or at least come close to defining) Walton’s position, which one might call the hidden view. However, he states that his book, “is not promoting evolution” (p. 165, emphasis in original) and that “biological evolution …is superfluous to the Bible and theology” (p. 166). According to Walton’s interpretation, the Bible does not address either the origin or history of life, therefore “very little found in evolutionary theory would be objectionable” (p. 170).
No other book in recent times (aside, perhaps, from Francis Collins’ The Language of God) has persuaded more Christian leaders and Bible scholars to adopt some form of theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism. Consequently, The Lost World of Genesis One has prompted the writing of several dozen reviews from across the creation/evolution spectrum.
One reason for adding yet another review to the already long list is that many readers of Walton’s book see it as a polemic against concordism and, in particular, the Reasons To Believe concordist view of Scripture. In my personal interactions with Walton he left little doubt that he opposes our attempts at RTB to integrate the book of nature with the books of Scripture. In the first of eighteen propositions presented in The Lost World Walton says this about concordism: “Concordists believe the Bible must agree–be in concord with–all the findings of contemporary science” (p. 19).
This definition marginalizes RTB’s view. No scholar here holds that position. Walton’s definition seems to target a subset of the concordist view: hard concordism.
What’s the distinction? Hard concordists look to make most, but not all, discoveries, new and old, in science agree with some passage of Scripture. Soft concordists seek agreement between properly interpreted Scripture passages that describe some aspect of the natural realm and indisputably and well-established data in science. RTB holds the latter view.
RTB’s soft concordism agrees with Walton that a literalistic hermeneutic does not apply to all Bible passages. It also agrees with Walton that we must always guard ourselves from reading more into the biblical text than what the text actually warrants. When we overreach, we set ourselves up for possible embarrassment and the church at large for possible ridicule. Scientific and/or historical research could prove our overreaching interpretation incorrect.
On the other hand, to read less into the biblical text than what the text teaches can also be a problem. Secularists often interpret such responses as believers conceding that Scripture cannot withstand objective testing. Either way, the Bible’s truth claims are damaged. Furthermore, by reading less into the text, believers lose out on truth that they can apply for Christian living and for Christian witness.
What are Christian apologists to do, then, with the Bible? None of us can claim to have a complete, unbiased, and perfectly interpreted understanding of everything the Bible teaches. The same goes for the book of nature. We are human. But, the Bible calls us in our humanity to be good theologians and good scientists. We are to diligently and thoroughly research both of God’s books and through careful application of the biblical testing method (a.k.a the scientific method)7 develop the best and most complete interpretations of God’s books. If we overreach, we humbly back up. If we underreach, we courageously move forward. As we press forward to gain more truth, we submit our hypotheses of new truth to rigorous objective testing.
In proposition eleven Walton again seems to marginalize RTB’s biblical creation model. He writes, “They [concordists] might conclude that if the big bang really happened as a mechanism for the origins of the universe, it must be included in the biblical account of the origins of the universe. So concordists will attempt to determine where the big bang fits into the biblical record and what words could be understood to express it (even if in rather mystical or subtle ways)” (p. 105).
Apparently, Walton is unaware of the details of how I became a Christian. I was not raised in a Christian home. When I first gave the Bible a serious read, I was expecting it to be like all the other holy books of the world’s religions: skimpy on scientific details and largely incorrect in its descriptions of the natural realm. I was not looking for big bang cosmology in the Bible and at that time that cosmic model was far from being firmly established by astronomical research. I was surprised that the Bible taught the fundamentals of big bang cosmology (cosmic beginning including a beginning of space, time, matter, and energy; cosmic expansion, and constant physical laws including a pervasive law of decay) not in a mystical or subtle way but explicitly and repeatedly. At the time, I saw nothing inconsistent with what the Bible taught about the universe and what astronomers had firmly established about the beginning, history, and structure of the universe. I did wonder, though, how the Bible’s specifically stated cosmological claims would fare as astronomical research advanced.
My point is that we soft concordists at Reasons To Believe have not tried to force-fit big bang cosmology into the Bible. But, neither are we embarrassed or unduly concerned to find it there. From our perspective it is plainly taught in the Bible, not just in Genesis but in many other Old and New Testament books. Thus, if astronomers were to prove beyond any shadow of doubt, for example, that the universe did not have a beginning (that it was not created), that truth would be catastrophic to our belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It also would demand a major alteration in our theology of God.
Walton worries that big bang cosmology—like everything else in science—is too unstable, too changeable for any Christian to risk incorporating any of it into one’s theological model. That concern and its implications will be addressed later in this response.
Is the Bible’s Science Culturally Constrained?
Another place where our soft concordism parts company with Walton is when he avers that the Genesis 1 “text does not offer scientific explanations,” (p. 107); and second, he asserts, “Through the entire Bible, there is not a single sentence in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity” (p. 19). We also disagree with Walton’s view that, with respect to cosmic geography, the Bible is “culturally descriptive rather than revealed truth” and that God “was content for them [the Israelites] to retain the native ancient cosmic geography” (p. 18).
Walton’s conclusion that the Bible is devoid of scientific content—save for assigning functions to a few components of the natural realm—is an idea that runs counter to how ancient and modern-day scholars, believers and nonbelievers alike, viewed the Bible. We retain from the early church fathers about two thousand pages of their written commentary on Genesis 1, far more than what they wrote on any other chapter of the Bible. Those two thousand pages predominantly describe material origins (see sidebar, Why Genesis 1 Must Be an Account of Natural History) in contrast to Walton’s contention that “Genesis One was never intended to offer an account of material origins” (p. 113). The British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who remained opposed to Christianity throughout his life nevertheless conceded, “There is a good deal of cosmology in the Bible. ...It is a remarkable conception.”8
Why Genesis 1 Must Be an Account of Natural History
It is extremely contrived, if not impossible, to deny Genesis 1’s description of a sequence of physical events, the passage of time, and natural history if one pays attention to the plain language and grammar of Genesis 1. The creation days are numbered and different components of the physical creation are described on each of those days. The repeated refrain, “and there was evening and there was morning,” which concludes the description of each of the first six creation days, establishes that there was a point in time when each creation day began and a later point in time when that day ended. The fact that the seventh day, God’s rest period, lacks the phrase “and there was evening and there was morning” in addition to other passages in Scripture, (such as Psalm 95, John 5, and Hebrews 4) that refer to God’s seventh day as an epoch proceeding through the present and on into the future, adds more evidence that each creation day sequentially follows after the preceding one.
The grammatical use of the Hebrew Waw-consecutive throughout Genesis 1, decisively argues for the sequential and chronological nature of the creation days. Another decisive point in favor of Genesis 1 as chronological description of nature is the use of the word “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 and the words “completed” and “finished” in Genesis 2:1–2. In addition to the numbering of the creation days and the implication of the repeated evening–morning phrases (indicating that each day has a start time and an end time), throughout Genesis 1, we also find the repetition of the phrases “and God said,” and “it is good.”
Reading Genesis 1, whether in the original Hebrew or in the English translation, it seems like Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is doing everything he can possibly do to communicate the fact that Genesis 1 is a chronological account of natural history. Indeed, no other chapter in the entire Bible has so many embedded chronological cues. This wealth of sequential markers explains why individuals throughout all epochs of the Christian era–whether they be seekers or skeptics, who come to the Bible independent of any previous exposure to Christianity or the Christian community–so ubiquitously interpret Genesis 1 as a chronology of physical creation events.
During my youth when I examined the “holy” books upon which the major religions of the world are based, I was struck by how they all address material origins and material history. The Bible, however, stood head and shoulders above the rest in both the quantity and specificity of its science/creation content.
To conclude that interpretations of the Bible’s science/creation content were wrong prior to the discoveries in recent times of ancient Middle Eastern literature seems to demean the inspiration of Scripture. If the Bible is indeed God’s message to humanity, would He not inspire the human authors in such a manner that their writings would communicate truth, and nothing but truth, to all generations?
To us at RTB, the sheer quantity of the Bible’s science/creation content (which extends beyond Genesis 1–11) demands some kind of concordist theology. Our soft concordism is not limited to Genesis 1–11. It seeks a consistent interpretation of all the Bible’s texts that describe the origin, history, and present state of the natural realm. For example, it works to integrate the science/creation content of Genesis 1 and 2 with that found in Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Romans, Hebrews, and Revelation.
In particular, it notes that while Job 37–39, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8 are not written as chronologies of natural history, they all, nonetheless, describe the material nature of each of God’s creative acts that are outlined in Genesis 1 but typically in much more scientific detail. The fact that three lengthy biblical texts in three separate biblical books specifically address the material content of the six creation days, argues against Walton’s premise that Genesis 1 and the rest of the Bible “was never intended to offer an account of material origins.” It also argues that God intended for us to constructively integrate the content of the Bible’s sixty-six books and implies that we should integrate Scripture with nature’s book.
The Bible and Mainstream Science
The concordist approach we use at Reasons To Believe looks for agreement between Scriptural passages addressing nature and the indisputably established facts of nature. However, it sees no need to always agree with mainstream or contemporary science.
We note that the level of agreement with mainstream science actually provides a useful tool for distinguishing young-earth creationism, theistic evolution, evolutionary creationism, and RTB’s day-age creationism. Young-earth creationists acknowledge that their interpretation of Scripture stands in conflict with virtually all of mainstream science.9 In fact, some appear to view their opposition to mainstream science as a badge of honor and courage.10
On the other hand, theistic evolutionists, evolutionary creationists, and, most pointedly, John Walton, seem reluctant to adopt a position that could possibly be viewed as opposing (at any point) mainstream science. Their motivation, it seems, is to protect the credibility and integrity of the Christian community from possible assaults from secular scholarship.
What’s the difference between theistic evolution and evolutionary creation? Every evolutionary creationist I have met believes in all of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments that occurred in human history from the time of Abraham up to the time of the apostle John on the island of Patmos. Their reluctance to invoke miracles only applies to that which the scientific enterprise can possibly put to the test, for example: the origin of life, new kinds of life, and humanity. Many, but not all, theistic evolutionists express doubts about some of the miracles that the Bible describes taking place in the lives of Jews and Gentiles from the time of Abraham to John. Thus, there are varying degrees of overlap between the two positions.
Our position at Reasons To Believe is that the noetic effects of the fall must be taken into account in evaluating the claims of mainstream science. The noetic effects are the various ways that sin negatively impacts and undermines human thinking and conclusions about reality. These effects are most evident where it pertains to human beliefs about God and God’s authority over the lives of humans. It is virtually nonexistent where the God factor is not an issue, such as in how to design and build a microwave oven.
Therefore, RTB anticipates that a majority of mainstream scientists will reject most of the components of our biblical creation model. Nevertheless, we expect a large minority to accept them. This expectation, in our opinion, keeps within Jesus’ message that a majority of the world’s population will reject Him and His revelations of truth while a significant minority from every people group will accept Him and His revelations through Scripture and nature.11 It’s important to add that our disagreements with mainstream science typically do not concern the scientifically established databases but rather the interpretations of what those databases imply concerning the causal agents responsible for the data.
Biblical Inspiration and Inerrancy Similar to all of us at RTB, Walton declares his belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. However, the manner in which he sustains his belief is quite different from ours. Rather than seeing the Bible as full of content about the origin, history, and present state of the natural realm, Walton sees such content as being limited to what Old Testament authors knew from ancient Near Eastern literature and culture. This perspective is consistent with Walton’s academic career at Wheaton, which was built upon numerous books and articles interpreting the Old Testament in light of ancient Near Eastern literature and culture.
In The Lost World Walton takes this limited scientific revelation interpretation of the Bible to an extreme and writes, “Israelites received no revelation to update or modify their 'scientific' understanding of the cosmos” (p. 16). Walton also asserts, “Through the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity” (p. 19).
Apparently, Walton sustains his belief in biblical inerrancy by stripping the Bible of any science content beyond what was known at the time of antiquity. His stratagem, however, seriously weakens his case for biblical inspiration. If the Bible has no predictive power when it comes to science, how can a secular reader of Scripture draw the conclusion that the Bible is anything other than a set of documents inspired by mere men? Walton might respond that the Bible has predictive power when it comes to human history (fulfilled prophecy) but none when it pertains to natural history or the current status of the natural realm. Such a posture seems incoherent and hermeneutically inconsistent with a God who desires to reveal Himself to all people. It also appears incompatible with a multitude of Bible passages declaring the pervasive extent to which the record of nature reveals God and His attributes.
I also wonder about the extent of Walton’s commitment to biblical inerrancy. He writes, “God ...was content for them [the Israelites] to retain the ancient cosmic geography” (p. 18). He also states in the first of his eighteen propositions: “Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology” (p. 21).
Today we know that virtually all of this ancient cosmology is incorrect. Later, Walton appears to soften his stance, “The view presented in this book has emphasized the similarities between the ways the Israelites thought and the ideas reflected in the ancient world, rather than the differences” (p. 104). Walton gives an example of one of these similarities, the belief in the existence of a dome that he claims Genesis 1:6–8 says held up the waters above and onto which the stellar lights are placed.12
Apparently, Walton does believe that some biblical texts contain scientific errors. He sees, however, no refutation of biblical inerrancy in this stance. According to Walton, biblical statements concerning the description of the natural realm reflect the assumptions of the biblical author’s contemporaries, not the teaching of Scripture. That is, the biblical author is accurately describing the beliefs of his contemporaries. However, evidently it is up to the human reader of Scripture to decide which parts of Scripture contain the assumptions of the human authors, faulty or otherwise, and which comprise the error-free teachings of the Holy Spirit.
I would accept Walton’s formulation of biblical inerrancy if the biblical authors had clarified at which points they were describing the mistaken beliefs of their contemporaries apart from the times when they were declaring truth from God. The prophets from Isaiah to Malachi did this consistently. However, in the Genesis creation texts, as well as those in Job, Psalms, and Proverbs, no such distinctions appear. In Genesis 1 the phrase, “and God said,” appears six times and the phrase, “then God said,” twice. Not once do we see anything in the text akin to “you say” or “the peoples around you say.” What disturbs me about Walton’s interpretation of Genesis 1 is that it displays God as parroting human errors.
Walton’s position on biblical inerrancy departs markedly from ours at Reasons To Believe. We think the assembly of more than two hundred theologians and Christian leaders that made up the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy13 performed an admirable job in producing a set of detailed statements on what biblical inerrancy is and what it is not. We support and endorse the affirmations and denials published by the ICBI based on three summits held in 1978, 1982, and 1988.14
Agreement With/Polemic Against Ancient Cosmology Myths?
Many theologians argue that knowing the historical and cultural genre of a Bible book's authorship is the key to interpreting that book. Since the Israelites, under Moses’ leadership, may have been plagued with the creation cosmology myths of heathen nations surrounding them, many such theologians read the Genesis creation texts as predominantly, or exclusively as a polemic against Near Eastern religious cosmologies.15
In this view, the scientific details and chronology of events in the six creation days are largely irrelevant. Instead, showing the difference between the blatant political agendas of the pagan myths and the complete lack thereof in Genesis—as well as the difference between the foibles of immoral pagan gods in their creative efforts and the goodness and moral perfection of the good God of the Bible—is the most important.
Walton and RTB agree that Genesis 1 is not predominantly polemical. He states that “the author of Genesis 1 is not explicitly arguing with the other views–he is simply offering his own view” (p. 104) He adds, “The view presented in this book has emphasized the similarities between the ways the Israelites thought and the ideas reflected in the ancient world, rather than the differences (as emphasized in the polemical interpretation)” (p. 104).
There are two major dilemmas in viewing the Genesis creation texts as either essentially limited to a polemic against Near Eastern creation myths or largely agreeing with those myths. First, these views presume that the ancient Israelites had little or no interest in how a particular creation story corresponds with physical reality in terms of its details and chronology.
The truth is that all humans through the ages, from toddlers to the very elderly, from those completely lacking in formal education to those possessing the most advanced degrees, have manifested intense curiosity about such issues. Testifying to this fact is the pervasiveness of creation accounts, legends, and myths evident in all cultures16 and the ubiquity of attempted explanations of natural history in these stories and in scholarly works throughout the human era.
The second predicament is that the Bible declares itself to be a revelation to all generations,17 not just the generation in which its biblical human author lived. It also declares that additional messages bearing significance only for future generations would be embedded in the inspired words of ancient prophets. As Peter explains, “It was revealed to them [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves, but you.”18
The Bible, as a book for all generations, would be a book devoid of meaningful vocabulary for only a few or several generations. At the same time, to some degree, it would be a book that would impart an additional message or messages to succeeding generations. It is to be expected, therefore, that the Bible’s creation texts, including those in Genesis, will contain content that progressively reveals more insight to successive generations. It should serve as a polemic, not only against the pagan creation myths of Moses’ generation, but also against the distorted accounts of natural history promulgated by unbelievers throughout all generations.
This perspective of the Bible matches the manner in which God’s second book reveals truth to humanity. The famous reformation creedal document, the Belgic Confession, in its second article states the consistency and compatibility of God’s two books: the book of nature and the book of Scripture.19 Therefore, we would expect that just like the book of nature reveals God and His attributes to all generations and where each succeeding generation—through their ongoing research—gains more truth about God, His attributes, and His creation, the same would also be true of Scripture.
Functional Origins Only?
Walton insists, in The Lost World, that “Genesis One was never intended to offer an account of material origins” (p. 113) and that “the text does not offer scientific explanations” (p. 107). Later, he extends this limitation to the entire Bible.20 He claims “the material cosmos was of little significance to them [ancient Israelites] when it came to questions of origins” (p.113). He concludes, “Science cannot offer an unbiblical view or material origins because there is no biblical view of material origins” (p. 113).
In Walton’s view, what is Genesis 1 all about? He sees it as “an account of functional origins, specifically focusing on the functioning of the cosmos as God’s temple” (p. 93). That is, Genesis describes the functions of the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life (plants, animals, and humans), not their material nature, nor their origins or historical developments. Genesis 1, according to Walton, “looks to the future ...rather than to the past” (p. 118). Consequently, for Walton it is biblically irrelevant what science discovers about the origin, history, or current state of the universe, Earth, and Earth’s life. He writes, “Whatever explanation scientists may offer in their attempts to explain origins, we could theoretically adopt as a description of God’s handiwork” (p. 132).
Creation Time Scales?
Part of Walton’s rationale for his claim that Genesis 1 is limited to describing the function of creation is that he is persuaded that of the four literal definitions for the Hebrew word yôm (part of the daylight hours, all of the daylight hours, a 24-hour period, and a long but finite period of time) translated as “day,” the appropriate definition for the seven creation days in Genesis 1 is consecutive 24-hour epochs. He writes that the creation days in Genesis 1 are “seven twenty-four hour days” (p. 91) and that attempts to understand the days as long eras “has never been convincing” (p. 91). (See sidebar, How Long Are the Genesis Creation Days?)
How Long Are the Genesis Creation Days?
In Genesis 1 the first six creation days are bracketed by an evening and a morning. That is, each day has a definite beginning point and end point. For the seventh day, however, the phrase “evening was and morning was” is omitted. The seventh day is when God ceases from His work of physical creation activity. According to Psalm 95, John 5, and Hebrews 4, God’s seventh day continues through the present and on into the future. It will not end, according to Revelation 20–21, until evil has been completely conquered and removed. That we are still in the seventh day explains why present-day science fails to find scientific evidence of God’s supernatural intervention in the contemporary natural realm, whereas such evidence is abundant for those eras (the first six creation days) predating God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Clearly, the seventh creation day must be a period of time exceeding many thousands of years.
In Genesis 1 God creates humans, one male and one female, during the latter part of creation day six. However, in Genesis 2 a long sequence of events occurs between God creating Adam, the first male, and Eve, the first woman.
- God creates Adam outside of Eden
- Adam observes the growth of the trees in the Garden of Eden
- God places Adam in Eden, where Adam tends the garden
- After tending the garden for a period of time God asks Adam to carefully examine each of the nephesh kinds of animals (all birds and mammals and a few of the higher reptiles, all of which manifest the attribute of caring for their young and possess the capability of being tamed by humans). He also asks Adam to assign a name appropriate for their behavior and morphology
- God takes note of Adam’s loneliness, puts him to sleep, and performs surgery on him
- Adam recovers, sees Eve and exclaims happa‘am, the Hebrew word found thirteen times in the Old Testament meaning “now at this time” or “at last.”21
Therefore, the time between God creating Adam and then creating Eve could not be as brief as a few minutes at the end of a 24-hour period. It must be several months at least.
Given that both the sixth and seventh creation days must be periods much longer than 24 hours, the grammatical and sentence structure for the Genesis creation days would require that all the creation days be long periods of time. Thus, rather than long creation days being a force-fit interpretation of the text as Walton asserts, it is the only reading of the text that allows for both a literal and consistent interpretation of all the Bible’s creation texts. In my book, A Matter of Days, I give more than a dozen biblical arguments, in addition to the two described here, for why the creation days in Genesis 1 must be long but finite periods of time.22
Walton sees no conflict between the 168 hours (of the seven creation days) and for what he recognizes as the scientifically well-established, 13.75-billion-year age of the universe and the 4.5662-billion-year age of Earth. He believes the 168 hours have nothing to do with cosmic or terrestrial history but rather comprise “the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple” (p. 92) during which that inauguration is “accomplished by proclaiming its functions, installing its functionaries, and, most importantly, becoming the place of God’s residence” (p. 93).
Also, because of the problem of the fourth day, Walton feels compelled to limit Scripture’s teaching on creation and science to the functions of creation. If Genesis 1 is an account of creation history, then, Walton asks, “How could there be light on day one when the sun is not created until day four?” (p. 56). (See sidebar, When Was the Sun Created?)
When Was the Sun Created?
The point of view or the frame of reference for the six creation days is spelled out in Genesis 1:2, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters [of Earth].” Creation day one in Genesis 1 begins with “Let there be light.” Creation day four begins with “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky.” In both cases the Hebrew verb haya is used rather than the verbs asa (make) or bara (create). This usage implies that God did not create or make light on day one. Rather, that is when light appears for the first time on Earth’s surface.
What kept the light from getting through to Earth’s surface before day one? Job 38:9 tells us that at that time God “made the clouds its [the sea’s or the waters’] garment and wrapped it in thick darkness.” That is, Earth’s primordial atmosphere was opaque to light. In the beginning when God created the universe, the cosmos was filled with light but it was dark on Earth’s surface. On creation day one God transformed Earth’s atmosphere from opaque to translucent, enabling light from the stars, Sun, and Moon to reach Earth’s surface so that life could now exist.
On the fourth creation day God transformed Earth’s atmosphere from transluscent (overcast) to where the clouds would break on occasion. Now, for the first time, transparent skies would allow creatures on Earth’s surface to see the objects responsible for the light.
What’s notable about the life described within the six creation days is that all life-forms mentioned or implied on creation days one through three do not need to know where the Sun, Moon, and stars are in the sky. However, all the life-forms described on creation days five and six must, at least on occasion, know where the Sun, Moon, and/or stars are in the sky in order to feed, reproduce, migrate, and/or hibernate at the right times of the year. This need explains the inclusion of the following phrase in the opening statement concerning creation day four in Genesis 1: “Let them [lights in the sky] serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It’s the higher animals that need the signs.
When, then, was the Sun created? God made the Sun before the six creation days (the Hebrew verb asa means “made,’ and appears in the appropriate form for completed action). On day one, the Sun’s light penetrates through Earth’s atmosphere to bathe Earth’s surface in light. But, not until day four is it possible for creatures on Earth’s surface to see the position of the Sun in the sky.
This chronology of events follows from a straightforward integration of the four biblical creation texts that address the early creation content; namely Genesis 1, Job 37–39, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8. This chronology also fits perfectly with the creation chronology revealed in the scientifically established record of nature. Given that no other chapter of the Bible contains as many chronological cues (see sidebar, Why Genesis 1 Must Be an Account of Natural History) as does Genesis 1, and given how straightforward it is to fit the Genesis 1 creation chronology with other biblical creation texts and with God’s book of nature, why would any Bible interpreter hesitate to understand Genesis 1 as a chronology of physical creation events?
Walton appears not only to limit Scriptural revelation but also revelation from the book of nature. He says that “science is removed from the realm of divine activity,” (p. 115) and “neither ultimate cause nor purpose can be proven or falsified by empirical science,” (p. 116) and that “science cannot offer access to God and can neither establish his existence beyond reasonable doubt nor falsify his existence” (p. 116). He adds, “Science is not capable of exploring a designer or his purposes” (p. 127). He continues, “Science is incapable of affirming or identifying the role of God” (p. 135).
I am sympathetic to Walton’s motivation to eliminate conflict between the scientific record and the Bible. However, to insist that the Bible is silent on material origins and material explanations except for reflecting the mistaken notions of ancient Middle Eastern cultures, goes too far—as do Walton’s assertions that science is powerless in offering any evidence for God’s existence, His roles, or His purposes.
Walton’s assessment that nature’s record is incapable of revealing God, contradicts Paul’s declaration in Romans that “God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have clearly been seen; being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”23 It stands in conflict, too, with Job 37–42, Psalm 19:1–4, Psalm 97:6, and Psalm 104. It contravenes the Belgic Confession’s statement: “[The] universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.”24
Walton’s view is little different from evolutionary biologist Stephen Gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria,25 wherein Gould argues that science and religion never overlap. Eliminating overlap between nature’s record and the Bible invites unbelievers to compartmentalize science as the realm of the physical and factual contrasted with the Bible as the realm of the spiritual and relational–or as some skeptics have put it, the realm of the emotional and of wishful or fanciful thinking. Christians thereby lose a critical, objective, and evidential foundation for their faith. What’s more, they risk conceding the origins debate to unbelieving scientists and effectively allowing them to establish a state religion of atheism. (See sidebar, Can Science Access God?)
Can Science Access God?
Declarations about the incapacity of scientific endeavors to address theological issues are both scientifically and biblically untenable. Astronomers can directly observe the cosmic creation event and the universe’s continual expansion throughout cosmic history. And physicists have produced a number of theorems proving that space and time are not eternal but rather originated at the beginning of the universe.26 The universe, therefore, must be attributable to a causal Agent beyond space and time that brought it into existence.
Such discoveries compelled astrophysicist Fang Li Zhi and his physicist wife Li Shu Xian to write, “A question that has always been considered a topic of metaphysics or theology–the creation of the universe–has now become an area of active research in physics.”27 Cosmologist Edward Harrison deduced, “Here is the cosmological proof of the existence of God—the design argument of Paley–updated and refurbished. The fine-tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design.”28 In fact, the evidence is more than adequate to rule out not only atheism and agnosticism but Hindu, Islamic, and Mormon cosmic creation accounts as well.29
The scientific invasion of theological turf goes further. Discoveries in anthropology, astrobiology, biochemistry, genetics, geophysics, origin of life, and paleontology all yield important theological deductions.30 When asked what evidence persuaded him to abandon his career as an advocate of atheism and become a theist, philosopher Antony Flew responded that it was revelations from scientific research on the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe for life, and the origin of life.31
The Bible likewise asserts that nature’s record provides unmistakable evidence for God’s existence and personal attributes. Two examples are Psalm 97:6, “The heavens proclaim his righteousness and all peoples see his glory” and Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
The loss of scientific evidence for the Bible’s veracity on material origins and material explanations that is inherent in Walton’s model cripples the church’s evangelistic mission. How can a Christian seriously obey Peter’s injunction to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”?32 Often, questions non-Christians pose about Christianity are scientific in nature, and the scientific questions most frequently asked concern material origins and material explanations. For the Christian to respond by saying that the Bible is silent on such matters makes the Bible irrelevant.
The command “always be ready” implies God will provide the necessary reasons. When Walton avers that Genesis 1 “is not written to us” (p. 21) but only addresses the Israelite contemporaries of Moses, he commits the same errors as theologians who assert the Genesis creation texts are no more than a polemic against ancient cosmology myths. In the same manner that the Bible uses historical descriptions and predictions of future events as tools to establish the Bible’s divine inspiration and inerrancy for future generations, so, too, it uses scientific descriptions and predictions of future discoveries (unique statements about science that later are proven correct) to prove to later generations that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God.
How Smart Were the Ancients?
Walton demeans the ancient Iraelites in stating that they had no interest or knowledge in material origins or explanations. For example, he writes, “They did not know that the earth was spherical and moving through space; they did not know that the sun was much further away than the moon, or even further than the birds flying in the air” (p. 16). He also maintained that “the Israelites, along with everyone else in the ancient world, believed ...no ‘natural’ laws governed the cosmos” (p. 20).
The latter statement stands in opposition to God’s pronouncement in Jeremiah that He “established the laws of heaven and earth.”33 It also conflicts with passages in Ecclesiastes and Romans.34
As for the former statements, it is historically established that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Babylonians invested far more heavily (as a percentage of gross national product) in science, and especially the science of astronomy, than we do today. They built instruments capable of making astronomical measurements as precise as a fifteenth the moon’s diameter and devoted thousands of man hours in the use of these instruments.
Noting that the Big Dipper drops lower in the sky the farther south one goes, the ancients discerned that Earth must be a sphere floating free within a sky of stars. Measurements of the Moon’s phases and the size and shape of Earth’s shadow on the Moon relative to the Moon’s diameter during a lunar eclipse told them roughly how far away both the Sun and Moon are from Earth. Their failure to observe parallaxes for any of the stars told them that stars must be much more distant than the Sun and the planets.35
This astronomical knowledge could not have been lost on the Israelites. Moses, a prince in Pharoah’s court,36 would have been educated in Egyptian science. “Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the peoples of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt.”37 Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah “showed aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand”38 and “in every matter of wisdom and understanding” were “ten times better” than the rest of the wisemen in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom.39 Moreover, curiosity about the heavens and, for that matter, all the sciences is ubiquitous to all mankind. This curiosity is evident in little children, in stone-age cultures, and in the historical records of both ancient and modern civilizations.
It doesn’t take a twenty-first century mind to recognize how important material origins, material nature, and material chronology are to understanding material function. If the Israelites were intensely curious about the functions of the natural realm they also would have been just as curious about the origin, history, and present state and operation of various components of the natural realm. They, being humans like us, would have learned that to understand the function of a component of nature first requires some knowledge of its material origin and nature.
A commitment to limit Genesis 1 to “an account of functional origins” (p. 93) causes Walton to interpret the Hebrew verbs bara and asa in Genesis 1 as each pertaining to “not a material activity but to a functional one” (p. 44) Here, he is saying such famous Hebrew lexicons like the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament got their definitions for bara40 and asa41 wrong. Or, to quote Walton, “It is simply one [the functional definition] they have never considered because their material ontology was a blind presupposition for which no alternative was ever considered” (p. 44).
Walton’s argument for an alternate defintion of bara is that “no materials for the creative act are ever mentioned” (p. 43). However, the standard lexical distinction between bara and asa is that asa refers to creation from what already exists while bara refers to creation from what does not yet exist. Therefore, the lack of materials behind the creative act does not prove that bara cannot refer to a material creation. Hebrews 11:3 sustains the traditional interpretation (which Walton rejects42) of Genesis 1:1 as God creating (bara) the entire universe out of nothing when it says, “The universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
For asa, Walton tries to make a distinction between two definitions of asa, “making” and “doing” (p. 65). However, doing typically involves making. Furthermore, it would be awkward, out of context with the rest of the Old Testament, and counter to a creative act limited to a functional role only to translate: (1) Genesis 1:16 as God did two great lights and also did the stars or (2) Genesis 1:26 as let us do human beings.
In addition to demeaning the Israelites and respected Hebrew linguists, Walton diminishes the trustworthiness of scientists’ accomplishments. He refuses to entertain concordance between the Bible and the record of nature because “science is in a constant state of flux” (p. 17) and “what is accepted as true today, may not be accepted as true tomorrow” (p. 17). Thus, he avows, “Divine intention must not be held hostage to the ebb and flow of scientific theory. Scientific theory cannot serve as the basis for determining divine intention” (p. 105). He doubts, for instance, the scientific permanence of big bang cosmology and, thus, feels compelled to deny biblical references to the universe’s big bang features.43 He charges that concordists, like myself, are force-fitting changeable modern cosmology into the biblical texts.44
In contrast to this charge, the God for whom it is impossible to lie or deceive45 has ensured that both of His books, one made up of nature’s record and the other the Bible’s words, are utterly trustworthy, reliable, and inerrant. For both, the doctrine of perspicuity applies. That is, portions of both revelations will be unambiguous—crystal clear—to anyone who reads the record in sufficient depth with an adequate spirit of humility. So, for example, the second law of thermodynamics, a.k.a. the law of decay or the law of entropy, is both evident and perspicuous throughout the natural realm. It is scientifically rock solid. The law will not ebb and flow or change. It also is perspicuously taught in the Bible46 thus offering an example refuting Walton’s claims that the Bible is silent on material origins and explanations and that no overlap exists between Scripture and the modern scientific record.
Science, like theology, is a truth-building enterprise. The foundation of what is clear, evident, and undisputable can guide research into that which is partially explored and understood and, through a disciplined application of the biblical testing method47 (a.k.a. the scientific method), can increase the size of the established truth foundation while pushing back the frontiers of ignorance and confusion. However, owing to human limitations and biases, the enterprise will never end. There is always more to learn and always the need to refine what we know.
In astronomy, careful measurements of the motions of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and Mercury gave birth to calculus and Newtonian mechanics, which enabled more refined measurements of planetary motions, which led to the discovery of Uranus and Neptune and eventually to tensor analysis and special and general relativity.48 General relativity confirmed big bang cosmology (more on this briefly).49
Did relativity falsify or replace Newtonian mechanics? No. It only refined it. In fact, the refinements are so tiny that they are safely ignored for solar system space travel. Today, special and general relativity have been proven true to twenty-one and fifteen decimal places respectively.50 In the future, when astronomers can make measurements to forty places of the decimal, relativity may need to be refined by another undiscovered theory. That discovery will not falsify either relativity or big bang cosmology.
I purposely stated that general relativity confirmed big bang cosmology. While Walton accuses me of using my hindsight as a modern-day astronomer to force big bang cosmology into the biblical creation texts, agnostic astronomer Robert Jastrow noted in his book, God and the Astronomers, that theologians beat astronomers to the discovery by many centuries.51 Christian and Jewish theologians clearly discerned the biblical proclamation of the most important elements of big bang cosmology at least seven centuries before any scientific evidence for it arose.52 Personally, it was seeing big bang cosmology in the Bible that (in part) persuaded me, against my initial will, that the Bible had the power to predict future scientific discoveries and, consequently, must be inspired by the Creator of the universe.
It was the obvious biblical implications of big bang cosmology that led unbelieving astronomers to oppose it so vehemently, an intensity that did not end until physical evidence for the big bang became overwhelming.53 As that evidence was accumulating, atheist cosmologist Geoffrey Burbidge complained in 1992 that his colleagues were rushing off to join “the First Church of Christ of the Big Bang.”54
Creation Texts Beyond Genesis
Finally, Walton is mistaken in presuming that biblical creation texts outside of Genesis fail to address material origins and explanations. While he may depart from centuries of theologians who upheld that Genesis 1:1 taught creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), there is no doubt that Hebrews 11:3 and several other Bible passages teach that cosmic doctrine. Three other lengthy creation texts, Job 37–39, Psalm 104, and Proverbs 8, address the content of the Genesis creation days. These texts are loaded with references to material origins and explanations. Isaiah 40–48 specifically and repeatedly describe the physical origin and ongoing expansion of the universe.
It is not enough to carefully exegete a particular biblical text. For that exegesis to be valid, it must be consistently integrated with the rest of the Bible. After all, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”55
I want to be clear that I am not discounting Walton’s case that Genesis 1 addresses functional origins. Once again, I want to acknowledge and express appreciation for Walton’s contribution in drawing out some added meaning from the Genesis creation texts. I also value his warning not to read more into biblical texts than God actually intends us to pull out. Those contributions, though, should never become excuses to eviscerate biblical and natural revelation, to overturn twenty centuries of biblical scholarship on Genesis 1,56 to cripple the apologetics arsenal of witnessing Christians, or to minimize other biblical creation texts.
Peacekeeping vs Peacemaking
As already noted, Walton tries to eliminate conflict between the record of nature and the words of Scripture by limiting both the Bible’s revelation on creation and nature’s revelation of creation. In each case, humanity receives less knowledge and understanding about creation. Such restrictions raise the question of why God would want us to be ignorant to such matters. Isn’t he a God who desires to be known?
Walton’s attempts may keep peace temporarily but they fail to make peace. What is the difference? Peacekeeping avoids conflict. Peacemaking seeks to resolve conflict. To state it another way, peacekeeping looks to isolate warring parties from one another—akin to placing fighting brothers into separate rooms. On the flip side, peacemaking seeks to transform warring factions into full-partner allies.
God knew that Adam (man) needed Eve (woman) as a partner and trusted ally in order to have any hope of withstanding Satan and sin’s attacks and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, to overcome the attacks and complete the mission God had set before them. To gain the faith to accomplish this mission, most humans need to see God, His handiwork, His personal attributes, and His plans for them revealed through both the record of Scripture and the record of nature—where the two revelations operate as partners and allies, confirming and reinforcing one another. For example, I have observed that Christians will rarely attempt to give a reasoned argument for their faith to educated non-Christian adults unless they are convinced that the two records are allies.
Peacemaking is always more difficult than peacekeeping. Diligent research is necessary to see pathways toward resolution and reconciliation. But, it is exactly that kind of research that reveals more about God, our created realm, and one another.
In such effort there is no fear that we will be forced to honor one revelation and reject the other. The God who inspired the Bible is the same God who created the universe, Earth, and all Earth’s life. Since in Him there is no possibility of lie or deceit,57 nature’s record will never contradict Scripture. Where conflict does appear, we can be confident we have misunderstood one, the other, or both. Or, we may simply need more information from, or deeper insight into, one or the other. Whatever the case, we will gain greater knowledge and appreciation for the Bible, for nature, and for the God who is responsible for both.