submitted by Daniel Pech (Guest blogger, Writing for a Reason submission, Adult Division)
Abstract: John Walton denies that Genesis 1 addresses material origins of life and its functional supports. Instead he thinks it is about a) those functions alone, as they already exist, b) only a small subset of them, c) only as these pertain to humans, and d) this in how we are to appreciate them as God’s benevolence toward humans. In defending this view, Walton implicitly recognizes that it relies on essentially Uniformitarian and Evolutionist claims about human history. Walton supports all this by a complex network of mistaken and over-simplistic ideas that range from language and science to rational expression and Biblical Inerrancy.
John Walton (2014; 2014b; 2016) affirms that God materially created the cosmos (2014: nn:nn). At the same time, he denies that the Genesis 1 account addresses that creation act—or any of material act. Instead, Walton sees the account as a kind of metaphor: an Ancient Near Eastern way of presenting Nature’s already-existing life support ‘functions’ as God’s benevolence toward humanity (2014: 39:10+). And this is only (a) of a small subset of those ‘functions’, and (b) only as they pertain to the human kind of life. Walton thinks the ancient narrator does not mean to present the animals as ultimately anything more than trivial ‘wallpaper‘ for humans’ cosmetically aesthetic pleasure (2016: 44-39-45:02).
In his appealing (2014; 2014b; 2016) to this particular anti-material-origins model of Genesis 1, Walton presents a few interesting facts, and many specious ideas for interpreting these facts. In critical reply to these facts and ideas, the present article employs a few other interesting facts, and various normal, commonly known, generic facts. The ideas Walton presents in defense of this metaphor model are found to be mistaken—or, at best, very unlikely.
Walton seems to think his model of Genesis 1 is the most human-life honoring interpretation affirmed in the account. This would explain his perception of a mutually adverse relation between (X) approaching the account as involving material origins, and (Y) seeking to find how the account satisfies humans’ need for a sense of home. Walton calls this dichotomy ‘the difference between the house story and the home story.’ Presumably, Walton came by this dichotomy by having grown up under a vapid sense (2014: 21:31-22:13) that the account explicitly begins of trivially universal physics. This is suggested by the empathic appeal with which he presents his ‘text analysis’, and also by the sheer number of his supportive ideas that he presents in this way.
And Walton is by no means alone in perceiving and espousing this mutually adverse dichotomy regarding Genesis 1. Ard Louis (2010) and N. T. Wright (2010), for example, intuit that any allowance that Genesis 1 even partly is about material origins is to inherently, if not also immediately, ‘flatten out’ the account—less or more—to that of a material, chronological, and ‘journalistic’ character.
Walton starts out his talks (2014; 2014b; 2016) by explaining that Genesis 1 can properly be understood only within its ancient cultural context—that we should try to avoid naively or modern-centrically imposing our ‘modern’ way of thinking on the text. But Walton’s view as to what context is is largely condescending: one that grants Uniformitarian and Evolutionist standards. Moreover, Walton largely presupposes that the ancients had both:
- little or no genuine, practical curiosity for material reality, and
- little or no correct sense of such things as
(i) ‘cosmic geography‘ (2014: 20:17+) and
(ii) the physiology of human ‘thought’ (2014b: 27:10+).
Section 4. Certain Medical Evidences of the Ancient World addresses (ii).
Walton appeals to a kind of logic which is, overall, language- and concept-centric. This in contrast to the more balanced and holistic thinking that Walton seems inclined to ascribe to the ancients. This logic is especially discussed in sections 4 and 5, in which is shown that it fails the full normal range of human sensibility of which language is a mere expression.
Walton is keenly aware that the ancients were concerned centrally about the ‘functions’ which the natural cosmos provides for life. This is unlike the modern world’s marked concern for matter, physics, and the human technological employment of the two. But, in his knowledge of the ancient Near East, and in his careful look at Genesis 1, Walton seems to have failed to sense what, if anything, is a universally normative linguistic question: which comes first, and why: (a) development of language so that it includes specialized, non-function terms like ‘matter’, or (b) development of technology. This issue is addressed progressively in sections 4, 5, and 6. Material Origins vs. Its Prime Account.
In Part II of this two-part series, I contrast Walton’s model of Genesis 1 against a Physical Life Support (PLS) model. According to this PLS model, Genesis 1 lays out, among other things, the essential basics by which God, through a dynamically intimate material-physical process, brought about the completed, stable life-support system which is planet Earth. Walton’s rejection of the material-physical interpretation of Genesis 1 implies that Walton must say that even this PLS model constitutes a modern bias.
- Section Material Origins vs. Its Prime Account: Crucially in logical terms, Walton intuits that, since Genesis 1 does not explicitly mention even the creation of matter, as such, then the account is not about material origins. This intuition is tied up with Walton’s motive for maintaining his position. This intuition not only is the perfect example of extreme modern bias, it presupposes as normal for humans something which is universally abnormal for all creatures.
- Section 7. …Biblical Inerrancy…? A Monster of Chaos for Walton’s Position, exposes Walton’s logic on Biblical Inerrancy.
- Section 8. Beginning of…? criticizes Walton’s logic on Genesis 1:1.
- Section 2, A Word on Functions, and on Walton’s Mutually Adverse Dichotomy, introduces the essence of the kind of ‘function’ Walton is talking about—and yet a centrally deep part of which he ignores in his opposing anything that he perceives undercuts the account’s central human value.
- Section explains various of Walton’s inconsistencies in that perception.
2. A Word on Functions, and on Walton’s Mutually Adverse Dichotomization
One of the central functions of Genesis 1 and 2 is to make clear that not only is the Earth provided for humans (Genesis 1:26-28), but that humans have an intimate relation to the animals (Genesis 1:20, 24; Genesis 2:7, 19). Another function is to witness to the fact that the completed Earth itself functions as a life-support system.
Of crucial note here is that this is a two-fold function: a mutual benevolence between, and mutual enhancement of, two very different, yet two very alike, things. This concept runs through the account, and involves many different pairs. It also is a key to understanding why Walton’s view of Genesis 1 is patently mistaken. His view is that there necessarily, and most naturally, is a mutually adverse relation between a material origins interpretation and one in which human life and meaning is supported.
But any number of different kinds of analogies can be seen to falsify this dichotomy of mutual adversity. In the mechanical kind, there is the relation between, say, auto mechanics and driving, piano practice and musicality, gunsmithing and skeet shooting. Of course, Genesis 1 is not a fine material object, but an account; so it preludes the kinds of involvement that these other things most naturally encourage. And there is no doubt that rejecting the account’s value for material origins leaves the reader to focus only on its other values. But the principle of this kind of analogy is the same in how it stands against any sense that Genesis 1 inherently is reduced by considering it to address material origins.
Further, as these mechanical interests show, such an address in the account can, in theory, bring all of the account’s values into mutual enhancement. So there is no normative reason to throw out its potential regarding material origins. Those who do are merely those who either or both are disillusioned by their own presuppositions as to how such an account must function, or already have a sense of how it need not be about material origins.
Now, the Sun is functional for life on Earth: it gives life energy, provides light for visual creatures to see by, and regulates life’s cycles by way of the Earth’s continuous, smooth rotation. So, in terms of life, the Sun is a functionary: it provides functions by which life survives, and thrives.
Nevertheless, the central subject of life is not the Sun, but life, and then of life’s own most practical supports. On a planet, gravity is a given, and is fairly invariant, so there is no great overall practical need to focus on it. Not so for light-dark cycle combined with water. The Earth’s life is provided with many kinds of functionaries, both in the furthest reaches of the cosmos and within the habitable envelop of Earth’s atmosphere. But that atmosphere is one of exactly two of Earth’s own main functionaries. The other is Earth’s rotation, hence the main thermal driver of the water cycle.
So the Earth’s rotation, in relation to the Sun’s light, is what allows its life-supportive atmosphere to be maintained. But that is not sufficient. The Earth’s ability to support life involves a carefully balanced hierarchy of basic interdependent parts. To begin with, it involves the abundant presence of life. This is because the habitability of the atmosphere is maintained partly by the things that only flora and fauna can provide: sufficient quantity, and sufficient gentleness of output, of certain chemicals:
First, without any of these chemicals, the atmosphere would let in all the injurious kinds of the Sun’s radiation. The Earth then would become a lifeless, barren, hot rock in a matter of days.
Second, without sufficient supply of those chemicals, the Earth’s own total life-support functioning would be greatly reduced, and its weather become more harsh. This, in turn, would reduce the quantity of life, and that would still further reduce the quantity of those chemicals. The Earth, as a life-support system, would grind to a halt.
Third, even if the full quantity of those chemicals is maintained, the manner of their delivery also is crucial: if these always are provided only in an indifferently aggressive manner, the ecosystem would continuously be rocked, making it difficult for life to thrive, resulting in a spiraling reduction of habitability that finally extinguishes all life. This third issue is less or more analogous to a carburetor on an automobile engine, or even to the lungs of the human body.
So, not only is the Sun a main functionary for life, so is the physical and living Earth.
Finally, there is a fourth main functionary. This is a single most physically near, most intimate, and yet also most distant, functionary: the life-critical fine-tuning of the cosmological constants. Many, if not all, of these are inside of every life form. And many of them are in all of the distant cosmos. These constants are the one thing that binds the Earth and Universe together; that show their common purpose.
By the way, some people today think that a Multiverse necessarily would nullify the idea that these constants are finely tuned. This is a grave error in terms of precedent. Given the complete failure of the Drake Equation for commonality of cosmic life, if there is a multiverse, then the multiverse, likewise, can well be deemed to have a multiverse version of these constants, and that that version is fine-tuned to allow that at least one universe’s own constants allow life.
3. Walton’s Prime Inconsistencies
Walton points out, correctly, that ‘we miss’ ‘the theology’ of Genesis 1 if we think that it merely is about the material origin of the cosmos (2014: 48:18+). But Walton seems to hold two mutually contrary sets of ideas. On the one hand, he seems to go on to claim that, if we think that Genesis 1 actually is of the ‘material manufacture’ of the life, and life-support, of creatures, then we miss the account’s ‘whole reason for being.‘ On the other hand, he explicitly affirms that we are made in God’s image, that God materially created the cosmos (27:53), and that God ‘wants to relate to us‘ (48:15). This is an inconsistency that, though it may seem subtle, even trivial, is of the deepest magnitude.
To explain this inconsistency, we need to clearly see one of the deepest things about which Walton is right:
In his stressing that we moderns must not impose our ‘modern’ way of thinking on non-modern peoples, Walton correctly explains that the broad ancient Hebrew concept of ‘rest‘ is not a one-sided idea of inactively or leisure. The modern Rat Race way of life may get us to thinking that such a one-sided kind of ‘rest’ is what the Bible means in its more broad statements thereon. Walton shows that what those broad statements really mean is a holistic, normal, cyclical way of life. He calls it ‘a sustained stability‘: ‘when everything’ in a community is properly ‘ordered’ in terms of the God-ordained needs of human life. (2016: 50:51-51:15)
So Walton implicitly recognizes the principle function of creaturely life: the mutual enhancement of the creature’s own various functions. These are functions that, by being balanced with regard to each other, enhance each other, and therefore generate the creature’s overall vitality. For example, an organism’s outwardly practical activity is balanced by its non-activity in regard to its environment. Even an animal’s breath—its own prime activity of self-maintenance—is a marriage of intake and outflow.
So the human person’s whole physiological self is a rhythm of vitality in which outgoing activity, and earning a living, are balanced with such things as sleep, stillness, leisure, recreation, mealtime, and communal worship. So Walton realizes that the source of our visceral lives is the mutually complementary balance between two or more opposite, substantive, basic concerns. In short, Walton recognizes that God designed the inherent mutual inclusiveness which comprises the human creature.
But, Walton’s view of Genesis 1 is inconsistent with the appreciation of what ‘rest’ ultimately means for life: all-around normalcy. Walton’s view of Genesis 1 is that there necessarily, and most naturally, is a mutually adverse relation between a material origins interpretation and one in which human life and meaning is supported. More to the point, in his very efforts to defend the view that Genesis 1 is merely a metaphor, Walton effects to oppose the very conceivability that an account of material origins could well be mutually necessary to, and even co-extensive with, how that account is the maximum of functional meaning to human life.
Walton’s effort in this regard is most in evidence in his relating the fact that the ancient Hebrews did not think that Genesis 1 describes the activity of ‘an objects-manufacturing plant‘ that creates and forms the cosmos. Walton ultimately puts all this as the difference ‘between the House Story and the Home Story‘: he claims that, in an account of the material origins even of Earth only, we are insignificant; a bundle of carbon cells, on a planet in a vast universe’. Walton backs this up by observing that, as humans have ‘learned more and more about the whole universe, many humans have come to feel that both humanity and the Earth is ‘insignificant’ ‘in the vast’ ‘universe’. And Walton espouses this feeling, and so he goes on to claim that humans themselves are ‘insignificant’ on the huge planet Earth. The implication here is that any account of the material origins of the functionally completed cosmos must describe what less or more is an artificial manner of materially bringing material things into being or into functional activity!
So Walton rejects that Genesis 1 is about both material functions of life and the material origins of those very functions. The basic cause of his denying this has to do with his perception that there necessarily, and most naturally, is a mutually adverse relation between a material origins interpretation and one in which human life and meaning is supported. Specifically, he conflates a concern for material origins of the functional cosmos with a concern for such things as mere matter and physics. That is, Walton intuits that the latter concern is less or more a logically—and psychologically—immediate part of the former. This intuition is presumably that of many people today. For example, Puhalo (2011) seems utterly confident that any account of material origins of the cosmos must at least mention such things as atomic elements and ‘atomic structures’! This intuition is rebutted in section 6. Material Origins vs. Its Prime Account.
Specifically, Walton intuits (2014: 28:45-29:44) that, ‘If this is an account of material origins,’ ‘you expect’ it to begin with a state of nothing: that the only, or most, natural way for a creation account of material origins to begin is by explicitly and specially stating that matter, as such, is created—such as by its first stating that, ‘In the beginning, there was nothing’ but God. And since nowhere in Genesis 1 is there normally seen to expressly address anything at all about mere matter, Walton feels sure that the account is not about material origins. This intuition is held even more deeply by Puhalo (2011) in his seeming obsession with atomic physics.
If this intuition does not impose on ancient peoples what Walton calls a ‘modern’ way of thinking, then what does? Walton appeals to various other ideas to avoid seeing this inconsistency. Perhaps the two of his ideas that, combined, most strongly supports this avoidance are (Y) certain medical evidences of the ancient world and (X) certain linguistic facts in Genesis 1. These two are the respective subjects of the next two sections.
4. Walton on Certain Medical Evidences of the Ancient World
On the one hand, Walton, in effect, presupposes that the Ancients’ were insensible dunces because of their supposedly believing that the human intellect resided in the core organs such as the kidneys, heart, and entrails (2014: 19:06). On the other hand, Walton stresses that the meaning of others’ words, phrases, and such is determined by those words’ and phrases’ usage in a given instance by a given person or culture. But a person’s meaning for ‘mind’ in one culture cannot be determined by what a person in an appropriately different culture normally appeals to in regard to the ‘mind’.
So, in fact, if the Ancients were as ‘function’-oriented to daily natural life as Walton claims, then the only natural conclusion as to their usage of the notion that the ‘mind’ emanates from the region of the bowels is that they were expressing what, in most recent of modern times, is recognized as such things as the ‘embodied mind‘. Thus Walton most likely is imposing on the words of Genesis 1 a rather modern conceptual scheme.
A typical modern view of the bowels is that they are merely servant to the brain. But the more sensible—if not the first ’empirically established’—reality, is that the brain, and external organs of the head, is equally the servant of rest of the body. Surely Walton does not say that his own body lacks all internal and external sensible connection to his head. If it did, he could not sense any of itself or the eternal world, except by his seeing, smelling, and hearing it.
So, in fact, it would seem, without the body and its the extensive nerve connections to the brain, the brain would be greatly reduced in its ability to generate any thoughts in the first place. For example, fighter pilots whose brains temporarily loose their bodily senses react by providing their own senses from memory stores of past bodily experiences. This is much like how dreaming works.
So Walton imposes on the Ancient cultural world the still-popular, admittedly ignorant, modern conception that the ‘mind’ is effectively a rational organ with no mentally-significant connection to the body. This suggests that Walton’s entire position on Genesis 1 emanates from a sense, on the part of Walton himself, that the human mind is less or more a disembodied function for the apprehension of the particularly linguistic. This is distinguished from an embodied, functional, holistic, kind of propositionality. We do not first say “I see my hand”, we first simply see our hand. The linguistic expression of the fact is not the root substance of propositions or truth-value. The language simply is a mediator of, and cognitive enhancement for, the experience and its cognitive identity.
But, if, as Walton seems happy to allow, the modern human type evolved from at least some type of less-human human species, then it would seem likely that the Ancients’ focus on ‘function’ was a natural result of a pre-modern lack of capacity to perceive in the particular way that results in the official Scientific Establishment’s Rationalistic misconception of the mind during most of the last two Centuries: the mind is the language-chauvanistic autocrat of the body.
Walton, in effect, claims that every common ancient Egyptian individual lacked all sense that the inside of one’s head has any real function (2014b: 27:10+). This claim implicitly is comprised of the following premise-and-conclusion.
Premise: The official scientific medical Establishment of the Western world in the 1920’s had no official approval of the loads of things that were sensed by most common Westerners in all eras.
Conclusion: Therefore, the broad informal culture of the West in the 1920’s lacked any sense of the things that now are recognized by the Scientific/Medical Establishment.
This Premise-Conclusion is obscenely condescending to the human individual, and to kinds of communities that respect the individual as such. It reduces the individual to a senseless organ that can never know any thing that’s true unless that Establishment first officially affirms something as being true. The modern ‘Homeschool’ movement has fought for decades against that very kind of condescension: against the naÃ¯ve segment of the Bell Curve beneficiaries to the hegemony of the ‘Educational’ Establishment.
So, in his headlong logic in support of his denial that Genesis 1 is a fully rounded account, Walton is being so over-simplistic as to be insulting to any normal, not-so-‘educated’ human. Does Walton not know of the recent official academic recognition of such physiological facts as the ’embodied’ mind’? What normal humans are so vapidly insensible within their own bodies as to fail to have at least a subconscious intuition of their bodies in regard to the thing that, in the Far East, is called ‘Qi’ or ‘Chi’? That’s the core organs and the entrails, which alone actually materially meet the Earth through her products. Unlike many moderns in the last two dozen decades, the ancients were not obsessed with the idea of merely, and ‘objectively’, observing, probing, and controlling. They were more immersed in the natural world, and so would have felt that the proper center of mind was where their physiologically visceral selves was most directly in relation to the material world.
The New Testament makes apt spiritual metaphor of the physiological head. It seems Walton would reduce this to a ‘scientific’ knowledge that had prior been officially established in the ancient Near East. But, did not the ancients commonly and normally experience that we today experience inside our heads? I can sense that my thoughts are inside my head, not inside my bowels. And surely the ancients commonly experienced such things as ‘light-headedness’, loss of balance, and the very ability to visually and logically imagine.
So it seems that Walton simply picks what is most popularly portrayed of the ancients, and uses this to support a rather trivializing view of an admittedly very complex, and by all appearances normally roundly immersed, ancient text. That this is the effect of Walton’s efforts, to date, is made much more apparent in the next two sections.
5. Walton on Certain Linguistic Facts in Genesis 1
So Walton takes at face value what the secularist thinkers in the West have tended to deduce about ancient and ‘primitive’ peoples as such, and about the Bible in particular. This is how he interprets some of the terminology of Genesis 1.
Walton justly reasons that ‘functionaries are not functions.’ Functionaries naturally ‘‘are less important’ to life than are ‘functions’. Walton recognizes that this is why Genesis 1 does not mention the luminaries until after it mentions the day and night. He also appreciates that, even when the luminaries are mentioned, in vs. 14-18, they are explicated entirely in terms of their functions for life on Earth, not in terms of their materiality. But Walton claims that the ancient Israelites ‘do not know that the luminaries are material objects.’ ‘They call them “lights” in Genesis 1 ‘because that’s all they know’ that the luminaries are. It identifies the Sun and Moon merely as ‘lights’.
Ard Louis (2010) agrees that Genesis 1 is not about material origins. Louis also presupposes something similar to Walton’s intuition that a material account universally naturally begins with specifying that mere matter is created. Louis says that, given the account’s not specifying the Sun and Moon until v. 14-18, this is ‘clearly’ a literary device in which the writer is meaning to polemically ‘demote’ the Sun and Moon to a conceptually subordinate status. But unlike Walton, Louis thinks that the reason why the account describes the Sun and Moon as ‘lights’ is because ‘the early writers of Genesis’ were making a ‘falsifiable’ scientific ‘prediction’ that the Sun and Moon are ‘material objects’. Louis bolsters this by observing that the Hebrew words for Sun and Moon in Genesis 1 ‘are not the’ Biblically ‘normal’ Hebrew ‘words for Sun and Moon, but they’re “greater lamp” and “lesser lamp”’ so ‘they’re not gods to be worshipped’ (00:53).
Walton agrees that Genesis 1 presents the luminaries as nothing but created things. But given his grossly simplifying the humans who were the ancients, combined with his intuition that a material account universally naturally begins with specifying that mere matter is created, claims that what Genesis 1 is representing here is that—according to him—the ancient Hebrews did not know that the Sun (Hebrew: maw-ore‘, luminary) and Moon were anything material; that they only knew that the Sun and Moon are ‘lights’. (2014: 41:15-41:38) In other words, Walton thinks that the ancient Hebrews believed the luminaries essentially are what we, today, might call â€œmagicâ€, or more like â€œreally there, yet not made of anything that, in principle, can be physically touched such as a rock or the flame and embers of a camp fireâ€.
Of course, it is obvious that Genesis 1 does not so much as specify anything about the Sun or Moon that, today, normally would be understood to imply materiality. Some of these specifications would be ‘hot’, fire’, ‘cool’, and ‘having complex surface features like a parched land seen in light and shadow from atop a high mountain’. But in his talks, Walton does not explain how he relates, say, Psalm 19:6 to his stressed claim that the ancient Hebrews ‘do not know that the Sun and the Moon are’ material ‘objects.’ (2014: )
But, human language habits, today, stand Walton’s logic here. A person’s not using material descriptors for something that is material is never assumed to mean that the person does not know that the thing is material. An analogy might help to start with: Suppose you never hear me refer to my mother by her proper name. Does that mean that I do not know her proper name? Of course not. Therefore, more so, for material things, including my mother. It would be rather insulting, if not patently insane, to insist that, if I never refer to my mother by any term that directly implies that she is a material being, I do not know that she is a material being!
And language development of specialized terms is the immediate issue here. Consider a five year old who has never referred to his mother as anything but ‘mommy’. Is he therefore unaware that his mother is a material being? Granted, unlike a child’s mother, humans do not have ready direct tactile access to the Sun or Moon. But do we wish to conclude that, for any material entity that we have never touched, we are unaware that that entity is material? No, we would not wish this. This is because, even apart from testimony, we have a rather nuanced—and, normally, intuitive—capacity for recognizing so many types by which to determine that a given visible entity most likely is material and, or, physical.
The child-and mother angle on the issue suggests the general culture fact of it all: Most cultures in history had never progressed to the point of finding any benefit to their primitive lives in trivially generalized concepts such as ‘matter’. Speculations on such things might occasionally have been made, especially by some of the more peculiarly addled members of a large culture. But such concepts naturally would only rarely have been given specialized terms even by those whose mentally peculiar ways drive them to a greater degree of abstract interests than is normative for a technologically primitive culture.
In contrast to such a constantly primitive culture, the modern world began through the infrastructural support for wide, independent, empirical investigations of such things as physics, astronomy, atmosphere, and biology. It now is technologically so advanced that that advanced condition can be maintained only by a heavy, and explicit, concern for the directly material and physical nature of the cosmos. Moderns’ language naturally follows suit, not the other way. There is no rounded evidence to support the modern-chauvinistic, uniformitarian intuition that human brains, over generations, evolve into higher overall intelligence.
I would wager that Walton does not doubt that a significant bulk of persons in the world today rarely, if ever, refer to their mothers in any term that directly implies that their mothers are material beings. People tend to refer to, and to address, their mothers simply by the functional term ‘mother’ or its equivalents.
So the entire problem here—even for us ‘modern’ thinkers—is as to what option there is to physicality and materiality? By what normative, or even non-normative, reason, shall we presume that the ancients could not see and feel that the Sun seems to be a ball of hot fire? And how did they not perceive and deduce that the Moon has every appearance of a wasteland that, by comparison, is a cool world that reflects the Sun’s light?
So, it would seem that our rarely using material descriptors for material things does not support the idea that the Ancients were strictly unaware that the Sun and Moon are material or physical objects. It is like claiming that, since we today do not all go around always referring to the Sun as ‘material’, this means that we, today, most likely do not know that the Sun is material!
In fact, there is no end to the number of material entities that people of all times in history only occasionally refer to specifically by any descriptor that, by the standards that Walton uses upon Genesis 1, normally even implies materiality. Here are just a dozen examples: Your car, your house, your dog, yourself (‘me’, ‘I’), your friends and associates, your couch, your clothes, your dentist (‘my dentist’ ‘Dr. so-and so’), your food and drink (‘apple’, ‘steak’, ‘tacos’, ‘beer’, ‘water’, ‘milk’), your own child (‘my child’, ‘Seth’), and your line of biogenetic ancestry (i.e. ‘I am my father’s son, he is his father’s son’). That last example is obviously one of a functional relation, so why do we need to bother specifying that oneself materially came into being, or even the manner and origin of the ‘material’ that brought you into being? Surely, the Bible’s use of what the English translations render ‘begat’ is not short on the implication of materiality!
And Walton’s whole problem, to begin with, hinges on his failure to take carefully into account that Genesis 1 is an admittedly elegantly compact account. If we, today, wrote a short-and-sweet account of our marriage, why would we include in it some statement that our spouse is a material being? It’s completely absurd.
In sum: In his focus on Genesis 1’s particular lone identification of the Sun as a ‘light’, Walton seems to be saying that the Ancients did not know that the Sun’s light is hot. And even if he admits that they knew it is hot, his driving focus on their supposedly not knowing that the Sun is made of fire suggests what kind of thinking he currently is given to: a visual-conceptual kind of thinking, as opposed to an all-round sensory-rational-normalizing kind of thinking. This was analyzed in the previous section.
The next section analyzes Walton’s intuition (28:45-29:44) on how an account of material origins most naturally begins.
6. Material Origins vs. Its Prime Account
Walton stresses that we should not unwittingly impose our ‘modern’, ‘scientific’ mindset on the Ancients. And Walton’s single undercurrent is that the ancients’ main concern was for how the already-existing material world functions for human life.
But Walton intuits that the one most natural way of a material origins cosmology to begin is by some explicit statement that matter itself created. This intuition stands rather opposed to the idea that any people are concerned mainly for functions. All people are so concerned. The ancients simply lacked the infrastructure by which their more directly ‘material’ interests could result in the kind of Scientific Establishment that would render the core organs nothing but senseless slaves to the brain.
The present section argues, among more crucial things, that there is nothing normal about beginning an account of a given kind of thing by foregoing any statement about that thing until all its precursors have been mentioned. If we, today, want to tell of how we built a house, we do not normally begin by stating, ‘In the beginning, I cut down a tree.’ Such a beginning to such an account is completely unnatural. It is even unnatural for us today to so begin such an account that we have already titled, ‘How I built a house’. Today we have no individual need to first cut down a tree for wood to build anything.
So, for an account of our building a house that does not even begin with a title as to what the account is about, to begin it by stating that we have cut down a tree is to leave the reader with no sense of what the account is about. Why did we cut down the tree? What is this story about? As explained later, in section 8. Beginning of…?, Walton even admits that Genesis 1:1 makes clear what the account is about, since the rest of the account confirms this first verse.
Yet, according to Walton, the Ancients cared so little for material issues that they lacked any accurate sense of many of the things that we today can plainly see and feel: the rain comes from clouds; the clouds are highly elevated water vapor; the Moon is a parched, fireless body; the Sun is hot fire; etc..
But Walton conflates a concern for the materiality of Nature’s functionaries with that of mere physics, such as the properties of light itself. There is no normal reason for such a conflation, nor for one in which the issue at debate is whether the Moon is made of cheese as opposed to rock. So Walton implies that, despite their focus on function, if the ancients knew that the luminaries were material objects, they surely would have bothered to mention this in Genesis 1!
Specifically, Walton intuits (28:45-29:44) that, in order for a human to compose an account, as such, of God’s materially creating and forming the cosmos, that human only naturally begins the account with an explicit statement that matter, itself, is created. That is, Walton sees an absolute normative dichotomy between (a) an account that involves material origins and (b) an account that has as its sole main focus merely the fact that particular material things provide life-support functions.
But Genesis 1 is the Prime Account. It not only is obviously short,, it is purely sweet. It explicitly mentions only the best parts of the story!
Presumably, Walton’s ideal for a material-origins version of the things said in Genesis 1 would begin with the statement that ‘In the Beginning, God created matter.’ But Walton never asks whether or not the ancients’ ever would make the Prime short-and-sweet account to include explicit mention that matter, as such, is created. He knows they would not, but he knows this because he knows they do not care about such things as the trivial fact that God created matter. Surely they had a concept of matter?! No Biblical faithful Christian today goes around proclaiming to all the rest of such Christians that God created matter. Who cares about such a trivial, and commonly understood, fact? It is not an account of physics, and there is no reason why it should be. It is about life, and about how its proper home supports it.
But, Walton, instead of so roundly realizing that the ancients had no infrastructural concern for physics and matter as such, takes a strictly dichotomous view of the fact that, while the ancients did not have such a concern, we today sometimes do. Specifically, Walton assumes that the ancients saw Genesis 1 not as an account of the material origins of life-support functions, but merely of those functions as already encountered day-to-day. So Walton does not notice that the account shows every likeness to one in which is being described, in functional terms, the ordered formative process of Earth’s life-support system. Yet Walton looks past this. He seems simply to focus on the fact of the modern ‘scientific’ way of accounting of things. If this is Walton’s logic here, then he does not even realize that there would be nothing normal to a function-oriented people that are aware of material reality to make an account of the material origins of the Earth by mentioning the utterly trivial fact that God created matter.
An actual Adam and Eve, as humanity’s first humans, would naturally be concerned to keep the prime account as condensed as small as naturally possible relative to its various overall concerns. They even would have had a natural concern for the limitations of the material medium into which they recording the account. And if they knew that everyone already knew that, say, the luminaries are material objects, they simply would have had no reason to think that the account had to include explicit mention of this utterly trivial fact.
So it seems clear that Walton confirms his intuition by nothing more than the fact is is undifferentiated: it seems to him simply to be true. The inconsistent dichotomy here is rather sharp. Walton is, at least in effect, presupposing a modern secularist idea as to how anyone, regardless of culture, would begin an account of material origins of the Earth. Such an intuition is like claiming that, when a bride-to-be regales her wedding guests of how her dress was made, she only naturally will begin by…
- detailing the trivial fact that her dress is made of the same most trivial substance as that of cow dung, road gravel, and the longest hair in your left nostril.
If you were one of the guests of such a bizarre bride-to-be’s wedding, and if you did not know you were attending a wedding, or who she was, and if she had not begun by stating anything to the effect that she is now going to tell of how her dress was made, you would think that the voice you were hearing was just telling of how matter is what makes up the Great ‘Indifferently-Everything’.
So Walton’s logic on why Genesis 1 cannot be an account of the concrete origins of the cosmos is a logic that seems to presuppose something far worse that the modern-minded way of thinking against which he warns.
Yet that very logic is part of how Walton supports what amounts to a modern-centric condescension of all humans who lived prior to some modern-centric-favored point in history. This is that modern bias that presumes hard historical evidence to the effect that humans of the Ancient Near East necessarily lacked any particular interest in, much less capacity to see, the physical-functional world even partly in its own broad, immediate, detailed terms. And this is why Walton draws a mutually adverse dichotomy of culturally-based epistemology between (a) the ancients’ focus on functions, and (b) moderns’ marked concern for the more ‘scientific’ ways of learning about matter, physics, physiology, cosmology, etc..
So Walton seems to have constructed an impossible gauntlet for those who doubt his anti-material view of Genesis 1. Either (A) There logically cannot be an account of material origins that does not mention that matter itself is created, or (2) If such an account is logically possible, the ancient Hebrews would not, and could not, readily have recognized it as such:
According to Walton, the narrator of Genesis 1 is concerned to communicate strictly human benefit, then the narrator is, for some reason, not addressing this explicitly anywhere until after humans are mentioned, in the Day Six text. But this is incongruent with the claim, made implicitly by Walton, that v. 1 serves to communicate, upfront, that the actor in the narrative is God. Moreover, the account undeniably focuses explicitly on plants, then on sea animals, then on land animals, entirely apart from, and strictly prior to, any normal implication of humans. This is the properly hierarchic, general classes of life in Earth’s global life-support ecosystem. If this factor alone does not bear the effect of function-focused, material account of Earth-as-life-support ecosystem, then how is such an account to be logically possible??
7. …Biblical Inerrancy…? A Monster of Chaos for Walton’s Position
Walton reasons under the conviction that the Ancients’ conceptual scheme was non-overlapping to ours at every exact point at which a case can be made that theirs’ was, to any degree or in any fashion, different from ours. How this works for his logic on Biblically Inerrancy seems rather strained and specious, if not outright horrifying:
Walton reasons that, according to him, despite that the Bible is partly God’s communication to the Hebrews through their strict belief that the Earth is a disc (rather than a sphere), the Bible does not affirm that the Earth is a disc. Apparently, therefore, the Bible, at these exact points in the text, simply is giving place for the Hebrews’ ignorant expression to their erroneous ideas about the three-dimensional shape of the Earth.
Accordingly, God just used God just used their erroneous beliefs about material things in order to communicate to them—and, through them, even to us today—of a theologically correct way of understanding the merely everyday natural world. This makes Genesis 1 a universally appealing account. But this is a universal appeal that is only on the materially trivial level. And, so, this is an appeal that becomes only the more trivial once that theologically correct way of understanding Nature has given way to what Walton claims is the strictly ‘modern’ science. This is that ‘modern’ science that, according to Walton, strictly by which any humans at all have only begun to appreciate the Earth as a glorious life-support system that, most basically, is irreducibly complex!
In regard to Genesis 1, Walton’s framework is, in essence, that the account is a particular conceptual scheme of the already-existing, normal natural world. This is that scheme in which God Himself sees the natural world, and in which He wants for us to see it, too. And, because Walton espouses the secularist stereotype of ancients’ material cosmology, he thinks Genesis 1 is the result of God’s having inspired persons of a materially erroneous cosmology to recognize God’s benevolence toward humans in the natural world. Specifically, this is that benevolence that, even in the face of an admittedly death-and-disharmony filled natural world, still has life-sustaining normal functions.
Therefore, Walton claims that the Bible remains inerrant in whatever of objective reality that it actually affirms. And, since these passages about the shape of the Earth are, according to Walton, clearly expression of belief that the Earth is a disc rather than a sphere, these passages must not be part of what ‘the Bible affirms’ as to the objective shape of the Earth. Therefore, the Bible itself does not affirm anything at all about the three-dimensional shape of the Earth.
By this logic, if many of the Ancients’ believed that the Earth rested on the back of a material tortoise, and if one of the psalm’s were clearly to have praised God for ‘the tortoise on which the Earth rests’, then that exact part of that psalm would not be one of the things that ‘the Bible affirms’ about objective reality.
Of course, we find in the psalms that the concrete reality of the cosmos is described in a way that we today affirm: the phenomenological and life-centric binary of ‘heavens and Earth.’ So this particular description of the cosmos is something that ‘the Bible affirms’ about the cosmos. Therefore, only if, say, several psalms had undeniably referred to Moon as a sphere would Walton be ready to concede that the Ancients’ powers if ‘material’ observation were somewhat less unlike our own that he currently presumes.
But even if we assume that Walton’s current logic on Biblical Inerrancy is sound for us today, it would have been impossible to be employed correctly by a people that supposedly normatively, even strictly, believed such things as that the Earth is a disc.
For, let us suppose, as Walton is convinced, that the Ancient Hebrews believed such things as that the Earth is a disc. What, in the minds of such Hebrews, were all of the things that the ‘Bible affirms’? Surely, this would be one of them, would it not?
But Walton thinks that the the Bible records that the Hebrews believed that the Earth is a disc. At the same time, he thinks that the Bible does not affirm that the Earth is a disc. But how could those Hebrews know that the Bible does not affirm that the Earth is a disc?? According to Walton, they believed it is! Moreover, according to Walton, they had no sense that it is not a disc!
This problem might best be understood by putting it in two opposite extreme terms. One the one hand, let us imagine that ninety-nine percent of the Bible is basically about the material cosmos. And let us imagine that every one of the things that that ninety-nine percent says about the material cosmos is erroneous according to ‘modern science’. According to Walton’s conception of Biblical Inerrancy, that would leave one-percent of the Bible as actually affirming anything!
This extreme, on the other hand, might best be grasped by looking at a particular opposite extreme: Let us image that 100% of the statements recorded in the Bible are partly claims as to material things. And let us suppose that only one tenth of one percent of all those statements are materially erroneous according to ‘modern science’. How would an ancient Jew determine whether such a Bible is 100% inerrant, or if not, what parts of it are to be doubted?
Granted, in the given time at which a given ancient Hebrew lived, there did not exist all of the record that currently constitutes the Bible. But, that angle does not begin to answer the problem which is the particular conception of Biblical Inerrancy with which Walton has aligned himself.
So again, even if we assume that that particular conception of Biblical Inerrancy is correct, the basic question for those on Walton’s side is as to what ought we, in God’s name, say for how the ancient Hebrews were to know what counts as that which their Bible affirms‘? As to their own ancient share of the Bible, this question seems to go as deep as that of all created reality itself.
And if the Bible, including Genesis 1, is, in fact, inerrant in all that it affirms, then we had best get straight as to just what Genesis 1 does, and does not, imply about the common ancient Hebrew person.
8. Beginning of …?
As has been demonstrated thus far, Walton’s conviction on the ancients’ function-based focus is grossly simplistic. In the present section I explain a little of how the particular gross simplicity that Walton himself espouses leads him to interpret Genesis 1:1-5 as he does.
The sweetest account of material origins of the cosmos is one that is just as short, and just as long, as it needs to be to contain the best manner of communicating the main point by way of such an account.
Many sermons in the churches of the modern age, even those sermons that go on in some detail as to why Evolutionist is false, make that point upfront: humans not only are not insignificant, they are the most special, and most constant, concern to God in all the cosmos.
Also, the best basic account of God’s creating the cosmos and humans is one that begins with God’s first act. This is as opposed to an account of that work that begins with a label or title of the account. So the best basic such account is one that it not any longer than it needs to be, nor that begins with any mere title of what the account is about.
John Walton thinks Genesis 1:1 is just a title of what the account is about. Walton thinks this because he can see that v. 1 clearly can serve as title to the account. But Walton misses the single most basic issue there. That issue is that the account is not necessarily, nor most naturally, first known by anyone in terms of what it is actually says. The most natural way to first know of the account is by wondering about the origins of the completed cosmos, and then being told the first verse. And this is the most correctly for a person who already believes in a Personal Creator of the completed cosmos.
Therefore, such a person does not yet know what the account says. So he cannot conclude that this first verse is just a title. Rather, upon being told only first of that first verse, he most naturally assumes that it actually begins to answer his question. If he already accepts as a fact that there is a Creator of the completed cosmos, then he does not need to be told that fact in answer to his question. This is because his question is now about the basic details of that creating work.
This is how a little child, who already believes in the Creator, is best told of that creating work. It does not begin with a mere title. It begins with telling of the first act, and this in such a way as to beautifully also serve as a title that reminds the child of the fact of the Creator. So, in its telling of the first act, Genesis 1:1 is recursive for anyone who already grants that there is a Creator of the completed cosmos. It is not a mere title. Rather, its main purpose is to inform on the following details, and this by its being the first detail. It only thereby serves as title, and the child only sees this service once the account is told to him.
In short, Genesis 1:1 does not declare itself to serve as a title. So it does not self-evidently serve as a title to anyone who does not already know the account. Only in this way is the first verse universal.
8.2. Walton on the Chronological Term in Genesis 1:1
In regard to Genesis 1:1, Walton believes that it is basically analogous to saying, ‘So-and-so built a home.’ But Walton would qualify this by claiming that v. 1 is not about the actual, material building of a home. Rather, it is about the merely conceptual scheme that we ought to have toward a structure that God has long ago already created and designed to be humans’ home in the cosmos. In either case, Walton thus finds that v. 2 is exactly analogous to saying, ‘The materials were already delivered.’ …
But Walton does not closely consider the effect of the first part of v. 1: ‘In the beginning’. When we say, ‘God created x’, this normally is seen to express only the mere fact of God’s having created x. Genesis 1 is not introducing the mere fact, though Walton has his own impression of why it first says, “In the beginning”.
First, if we added the initial phrase, ‘In the beginning’, that phrase seems to have a normative qualification of chronology upon ‘God created x.’ And when ‘x’ is the pair of subjects of v. 1, ‘heavens and Earth’, the qualification seems chronically rather all-encompassing.
Walton points out that ‘create’ is by no means necessarily a reference to material creation, and explains that this is the case, as well, in the Bible’s many uses of the corresponding Hebrew word, ‘bara‘. Walton cites the fact that that it is not abnormal even today to use ‘create’ for abstract things, such as ‘create a committee’, create a poem ‘create’ confusion in people’s minds, ‘create a curriculum, create a masterpiece, create a recipe’.
But Walton does not explicitly consider how a phrase such as ‘create a recipe’ is effected by adding what normally is chronological term. When we say, ‘At such-and-such a chronological point, John Smith created a committee’, we are not talking purely about the creation of the functional abstraction which is a committee. We are talking about the function of time thereto: when the committed was created. And, as I said, when the function of time is being specified in relation to when the heavens and the Earth were created, that function of time is rather all encompassing thereto: In the beginning.
But Walton claims that Genesis 1:1 is saying essentially,
- ‘What follows is the account of such-and-such activity’
Walton, therefore, would have it that the main purpose of v. 1 is to identify upfront that the account (1) is about a single prime actor, God, and (2) the single prime subject. Walton largely overlooks the chronological qualification. So he sees v. 1 under only one basic question: the variety of the Bible’s meanings-usages of ‘bara’, or ‘create’.
Finally, Walton’s intuition is that an account of the material creation of the cosmos only naturally begins with an explicit statement that matter, itself, is created. No such statement normally is seen to be anywhere in Genesis 1.
Therefore, in being unable to deny that the narrator includes a chronological term in Genesis 1:1, Walton seems to be given to the impression that vs. 1 really means:
- God invoked a conceptual scheme upon the already-established heavens and the Earth, and what is said immediately next is how that invoking begins.
8.3. Walton’s Empty Circular Logic on why Genesis 1:1 Merely is a Label
Walton, therefore, thinks vs. 2-5 really means:
- God would first have us notice the idea that the Earth’s condition as described herein is merely representing the concept of non-function. The Earth is not, herein, being described as actually being in such a condition, and, therefore, whether or not the Earth ever was in such a condition is an open question is that is not addressed by this account. Therefore, all that follows is not a material account. Rather, it is a metaphorical usage of a material way of expressing its merely conceptual subjects. 3-5. And so God says that we humans are to recognize that our experiencing regular periods of light and dark is under God’s benevolent control for humans’ benefit.
And since Walton takes for granted what secularist scholars say about the ancient Hebrews, and even about the biological history of humans, this allows Walton to presume that there is an absolute, and humanity-honoring/dishonoring dichotomy between (A) a merely ‘function’-based interpretation of Genesis 1 and (B) a ‘material’-origins based interpretation of Genesis 1. Lazar Puhalo (2011) espouses this dichotomization, as does N. T. Wright (2010). Hence Walton’s welcoming, and deeply espousing, the idea that Genesis 1:1 essentially is like a title on a book: It does not describe any action that God is taking at that point in the narrative, because 1:1 need not, in Walton’s view, be part of the narrative.
Therefore, Walton reasons, the narrative of Genesis 1 better begins with v. 2. And, since it seems inconceivable that the words of v. 2 can in any normal way be interpreted to describe an action, Walton concludes that this Prime Account of Creation Week begins not with an action, but instead with a condition of the Earth.
Walton confirms this conclusion by the fact that he believes that ‘at the end of the seven days’, in Genesis 2:4, ‘it says’ essentially the same thing as is said in 1:1: “This is how God” ‘created the heavens and the Earth.’ And the way in which Walton supposedly proves to his audience that Genesis 1:1 is saying merely the same essential thing as Genesis 2:4 is by his tacit implication that, if 1:1 were not merely like a label for the actual account, then 1:1 has no point for an account that clearly is not about the concrete origins of the cosmos!
Louis, Ard (2010): ‘Ard Louis on Interpreting Genesis’. Youtube, Biologos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3uUAgyJfNo.Â (http://biologos.org/resources/audio-visual/ard-louis-on-interpreting-genesis).
Puhalo, Lazar (2011): ‘Theology made simple: The Meaning of The Fall of Man.l’. Youtube, Lazar Puhalo: 03:18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xN6IB-8glw
Puhalo claims that any account of material origins of the cosmos must at least make mention of such things as atomic elements and ‘atomic structures’; and that, since Genesis 1 does not do so, Genesis 1 is not an account of the material ‘creation of the universe’.
Walton, John (2014): ‘Understanding Genesis 1-3 – John Walton and Joe Fleener’. Youtube, Laidlaw College: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kOflP3eLSI. (Laidlaw College channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUSCQwlpu9Jx6nhabm6ZpZw)
Walton, John (2014b): ‘Origins Today: Genesis through Ancient Eyes with John Walton’. Youtube, Seedbed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR82a-iueWw.
Wright, N. T. (2010): ‘N.T. Wright on Adam and Eve’. Youtube, Biologos: 03:25. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BP1PpDyDCw.
Wright is inclined to believe that any favoring the idea of an actual six days in Genesis 1 is inherently and immediately to reduce, or ‘flatten out’ the text to such merely physical things.