John H. Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One has (I understand) been very influential among evangelicals in leading them to believe that Scripture is compatible with a full acceptance of whatever mainstream science happens to declare concerning the origin of the world and biological life, including humans. In point of fact, this book says little about human origins; that subject is the topic of The Lost World of Adam and Eve. I have just received a copy of The Lost World of Adam and Eve in the mail and will be reviewing it next.
Since The Lost World of Genesis One (hereafter TLWOG1) gives the foundations of Walton's thinking on these subjects and has been influential in itself, and since there is much to say about the book (all of it negative, I regret to report), I will begin by reviewing TLWOG1. I say "reviewing," though I do not have time to cover all the problems with the book. William Lane Craig has done an excellent job pointing out some of the main problems with the book in three podcasts here, here, and here. Craig goes so far as to say that "there is a deep incoherence in his interpretation" and agrees with the statement from the interviewer that it "doesn't make sense." These are strong words coming from Craig.
An interpretation of Walton's position
A major difficulty is that Walton's view concerning the meaning of Genesis 1 is so unusual that it is difficult to be certain exactly what that view is. The problem is created by the following points:
–Walton is insistent that Genesis 1 is not about the material origins of the entities described. He has an entire chapter entitled "The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins." This whole chapter is addressed to and rejects at length the idea that Genesis 1 should be interpreted to concern both the material origins of things and their "receiving functions."
–Walton interprets the seven days of Genesis 1 as literal, 24-hour days (pp. 91-92). This means that he is not adopting a day-age theory or a theory according to which the events in Genesis 1 take place over the long time periods postulated by modern science. In fact, he sees his literal interpretation of the week of days in Genesis 1 as an advantage of his position.
–Walton nonetheless believes that God did bring all the created order into existence somehow, perhaps in a hidden way not detectable by science (p. 120). It is simply that he does not believe that Genesis 1 is about this process.
With reference to the time prior to the Genesis 1 week, Walton says,
The material phase nonetheless could have been under development for long eras and could in that case correspond with the descriptions of the prehistoric ages as science has uncovered them for us. (pp. 97-98)
There would be no reason to think that the sun had not been shining, plants had not been growing, or animals had not been present. These were like the rehearsals leading up to a performance of a play. (p. 98)
–Walton states that, in the seven literal, 24-hour days of the creation week, God "established functions" and "installed functionaries" for the created order (chapters 5 and 6). This is extremely difficult to understand in the light of his insistence that Genesis 1 is not about material origins. Walton makes a strong distinction between material origins and functions. It is difficult to know precisely what he could mean by establishing functions for things like sea creatures, the sun, the plants, etc., when this has nothing to do with bringing those entities into physical existence or making any physical change concerning them. He states that in the ancient world it would be possible (p. 26) for something already to exist materially but not to exist significantly in the sense of "having a function" and appears to want to apply this analysis to his account of the Genesis week.
–Walton explicitly dodges and refuses to answer the question of what an observer would have seen in those seven literal days when he includes that question in his FAQ (pp. 169-170). (One wonders in that case what the point was of including the question in the FAQ.) However, he seems to answer the question on pp. 97-99 by implying that an observer at least up to the time of the creation of man (about which he says little in this book) would have seen nothing but the world continuing to exist physically (the sun shining, the animals living, the plants growing) as it had been for whatever previous aeons had passed. Having just said that everything would already have been physically in place, possibly for a very long time, prior to the Genesis 1 week, he continues a metaphor he has been using of a college campus:
The observer in Genesis 1 would see day by day that everything was ready to do for people what it had been designed to do. It would be like taking a campus tour just before students were ready to arrive to see all the preparations that had been made and how everything had been designed, organized and constructed to serve students. (p. 99)
Walton also says that the "main elements lacking in the 'before' picture are therefore humanity in God's image and God's presence in his cosmic temple" (p. 97).
Craig also interprets Walton to be saying that an observer would have seen nothing visible happening in the Genesis 1 week, because everything would have already been physically in place and working physically. (Excursus: For reasons which I find somewhat obscure and can only attribute to Craig's scrupulous attempt to quote and use Walton's own confusing wording, such as "functioning in an ordered system" and the like, some hearers of Craig's podcasts, including Walton himself, have gotten the weird idea that Craig was saying that Walton says that the animals were frozen in place or that the world was physically chaotic prior to the seven-day week. Craig is unquestionably saying just the opposite--that he realizes that Walton is saying that everything would have been finished, operating, and would have looked normal in terms of physical function during that week. This is why Craig considers Walton's view to be so strange. Craig makes this point quite clear in the initial podcasts, and I am disinclined to spend more space here showing that, but if that weren't enough, he clarifies the matter yet again here. Lest there be any doubt, I myself hereby declare that I am not saying that Walton's view is that the world was physically chaotic, physically nonfunctional, or physically frozen prior to the Genesis 1 week. I am saying just the opposite, as will be seen below.)
Putting all of this together, it is difficult to figure out what Walton means by God's establishing functions and installing functionaries in a sense that has nothing to do with material origins! Perhaps the most charitable thing to do would be to throw up one's hands and conclude that the book is radically unclear. What could it mean for all the plants already to be growing, providing food for animals, the sun to be shining, etc., but for these entities nonetheless to lack functions prior to a set of specific 24-hour days in a specific week? Throwing up his hands in despair at interpreting Walton is what one scholarly critic, Vern Poythress, essentially does after an exchange with Walton.
I am not sure what the most charitable thing is to do given the extreme oddity of Walton's position taken as a whole, but here is my best shot at interpreting what he is saying, though not in words that he himself uses: Walton is saying that the world was developed by God by some process or other, possibly a very, very long process, the empirical details of that process to be determined independently and entirely on the basis of modern scientific considerations. However, this process, with the possible exception of conferring the imago dei on mankind (more on that in my review of the second book), occurred prior to the literal week of literal days described in Genesis 1. Finally, during that week, God engaged in a purely invisible, non-physical process of deeming, decreeing, or dubbing the non-human entities in the world to "have functions" and deeming or dubbing some of them to "be functionaries." This deeming or decreeing was new and in some sense took place at literal points in time in that week of 24-hour days. Hence, God dubbed the period of light on the earth "day" on day 1 but did not dub the sun "the greater light to rule the day" until day 4, though the sun was there and working in the ecosystem already all along. God deemed or dubbed the plants to have the function of growing and producing seeds on a literal day 3, even though he had already brought that function of plants into the world of physical reality before, possibly long before, by some means or other. God's non-physical acts of deeming or decreeing were performed in this week because he was preparing for the arrival of man in his image and preparing the cosmos as "sacred space," and such invisible acts of deeming (for some reason) were necessary to "give functions" to these entities.
This is a truly strange position, as far as I know unique to Walton, and it sits extremely oddly with many of his own expressions, e.g.
"[O]n the second day, God established the functions that serve as the basis for weather" (p. 58),
"[H]e brought them [the materials] together in such a way that they work" (p. 59),
"Then [on the fourth day] he did the work so that they [the sun and moon] would govern as intended," (p. 66)
These and similar statements are naturally interpreted to mean that the verses in question refer to God's bringing about physical states of affairs on those days, and that this is what the text is about. But that cannot be what Walton means, given his other statements. The interpretation about decrees with no detectable consequences is the only way that I can reconcile all of Walton's explicit statements about what Genesis 1 is and is not about. It seems to be the only possible way to reconcile his repeated insistence that his functional view literally cannot conflict with the findings of modern science because Genesis 1 is not about material origins with his position that the days of Genesis 1 are supposed to be literal 24-hour days. It also fits together well with his and his followers' frustrated response to the idea (which they misinterpreted Craig to be raising) that Walton was saying that things were not functioning just fine in a physical sense prior to God's "giving functions" to them. This "giving functions" and "establishing functionaries" must therefore mean something very different from what we would normally mean by such phrases.
The interpretation of Walton to be saying that God makes only invisible decrees in Genesis 1 is supported not only by the constraints of Walton's declarations and by his statements about what an observer would or would not have seen but also by other positive statements in the book:
"It is the divine decree or divine assignment that dictates the role and function of the various elements." (p. 30)
"Genesis 1 also emphasizes the spoken decrees of the Creator, and these decrees initiate the functions and give the functionaries their roles." (p. 64)
"On day four, God began with a decree (v. 14) that identified the functions of these celestial functionaries." (pp. 64-65)
I strongly suspect that some people who are fans of this book do not realize how restrictive Walton's requirements are and take the book instead to be endorsing a more moderate Framework Hypothesis according to which Genesis 1 is about God's bringing things into physical existence (material origins), possibly over a long period of time, but gives no details about how God did it. On such a view, the days of creation needn't correspond to any particular time periods (and could describe what actually took very long periods of time), and the order of the events need not be taken to correspond to the order in which the entities came into material existence. But this does not mean that Genesis 1 is not about material origins, simply that it cannot be expected to correspond to independently known scientific details about material origins. On that view, Genesis 1 would actually be about the period of time that, on Walton's view as best I am able to interpret it, occurs before the literal week described in Genesis 1.
Replies to several arguments for Walton's position
At this point I am going to reply to several arguments that Walton makes for his own view. Not only is the view highly implausible on its face, but the arguments are quite poor.
Walton says that he was inspired to write this book and to develop this view when he reflected on the place in Genesis 1 where it says that God "called the light day." He reflected that this statement must refer to a period of light, not to light itself, since it is a period of light that is day, not light per se. He then argues that, when it says that God divided or separated the light from the darkness, this must also refer to periods of light and darkness. Then he continues,
Now comes the clincher. If "light" refers to a period of light in verse 5 and in verse 4, consistency demands that we extend the same understanding to verse 3, and here is where the "aha!" moment occurs. We are compelled by the demands of verses 4 and 5 to translate verse 3 as "God said, 'Let there be a period of light.'" If we had previously been inclined to treat this as an act of material creation, we can no longer sustain that opinion. For since what is called into existence is a period of light that is distinguished from a period of darkness and that is named "day." we must inevitably consider day one as describing the creation of time. The basis for time is the invariable alteration between periods of light and periods of darkness. This is a creative act, but it is creation in a functional sense, not a material one. (pp. 55-56)
This argument for Walton's position is incredibly poor. First, even if we took the word "light" throughout verses 3-5 of Genesis 1 to refer to a period of light, and even if we took the entire description of day one to refer in this sense to the "creation of time," this would prima facie be an act of material making on God's part for the very reason that Walton himself gives--namely, that on earth one part of the basis of time measurement is the alternation of periods of light and darkness. Hence, even saying that this entire passage is about God's bringing about periods of darkness and light on earth is prima facie a statement about God's doing something material. Here we encounter Walton's extremely strange, sharp division between "material" and "functional." In the real world, material structure and the function of the material world go together. It simply does not remotely follow that, if these verses are all about God's making alternating periods of light and darkness, they are compatible with a situation in which there already were alternating periods of light and darkness on earth, prior to the beginning of the chapter, and God simply made invisible decrees of "deeming" these periods to be called "day" and "night." That would be an extremely strained and implausible interpretation even if we took it that all of verses 3-5 are about the creation of a period of light rather than light itself.
But even that premise is poorly supported. Walton's entire "aha!" moment seems to rest on the argument that we must interpret "light" throughout verses 3-5, including when God says, "Let there be light!", as meaning "a period of light." But why should we assume that? This is an extremely rigid and unsupported notion of interpretive consistency on Walton's part. Surely both the original readers and we can decide whether "light" means "a period of light" or light itself based on the rest of the verse. Verse 3 could easily mean that God created light itself while verses 4-5 refer, based on their actual statements, to God's making it the case (which would still be a material act) that there are alternating periods of light and darkness on earth.
Walton gives several more arguments for his position with admirable succinctness in a long podcast interview available here. (I have listened to the interview in its entirety.) There (beginning at approximately 1:42), when asked why Genesis 1 could not be about both functional and material creation, he gives two reasons why he believes that it is not. I recognized these as corresponding to things he says in the book, but I find his statements of these points clearer in the interview, so I will use that version here. He says that if Genesis 1 were about material origins, we would "expect that it would start with no material, but it doesn't. The material's already there when it starts in verse 2." Here Walton is referring to the statement in verse 2 that the world was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. I am not particularly inclined myself to hold out for taking that verse to be a reference to the absence of all matter. In fact, when I read the book but had not heard the interview I was puzzled as to why Walton made such a big deal out of arguing that that verse implies a disorderly but material state. What was the point? Now I realize that he wishes to argue that if the chapter were about God's making things materially the chapter would start with a state of absolutely no matter--a materially empty universe, or no material universe at all.
For the life of me, I cannot imagine why we would expect this. In fact, the text works extremely well if we take it that verse 2 describes a state where there is matter, but where there is no life (for example), no ecosystem, no dry land, etc., and the subsequent verses describe God's materially bringing these things into existence. Walton's statement about "what we would expect" if the chapter were about the material origin of things is just epistemically false, and I cannot think of any argument that would support it.
Moreover, there is an irony here that illustrates the ad hoc nature of Walton's approach to argument. In the book he argues that the word bara (which I will discuss further below) does not refer as has often been thought to creation ex nihilo and that a clue to this fact is that "no materials for the creative act are ever mentioned" (p. 43). Walton points out that this is why the verb has often been thought to refer to creation out of nothing; he argues that instead we should take the absence of previously existing materials out of which things are made to be "better explained as an indication that bara is not a material activity but a functional one." (p. 44 Macrons eliminated from the Hebrew verb for typographical simplification.) So in that place, Walton argues that the absence of pre-existing materials provides an inference to the best explanation that no material creation is taking place when the verb bara is used. But in the interview he argues that the presence of already-existing material in verse two is best explained by the conclusion that the entire chapter is not about material origins! This varying treatment of the presence and absence of preexisting material is a very bad sign for the possibility of either confirming or disconfirming Walton's position.
In the interview, Walton also argues thus, "If it were material, you would expect it to deal with objects day by day. It doesn't. There's hardly any of the days that deal with objects." Now, on the face of it, this is a completely misleading description of the chapter and must rest on a tendentiously narrow concept of "objects." Similarly, he says on p. 94, "Of the seven days, three have no statement of creation of any material components (days 1, 3, and 7)." As I have already pointed out, if day one deals with God's making it the case that periods of light and darkness alternate on the earth, this would need to involve material events and material changes. Moreover, if day one is about God's making light in verse three, then this would have been making something that is part of the physical order. (Let us have no carping about whether the ancient Israelites believed that light was "made of matter" or "a material object" in some technical or scientific sense. Our present-day scientists still debate the precise nature of light. But the ancient Israelites, like ourselves, would have had every reason to think of light as part of the material world--as something that allows sight, makes things grow, and makes things warm.) Day two, as Walton himself acknowledges (p. 56), deals with the making of the firmament. Whatever precisely the firmament is in ancient views, it is, again, part of the material order of things. Walton states that day three has "no statement of any creation of any material component," but in actuality day three describes God's bringing dry land into existence out of the sea and God's calling upon the earth to bring forth plants. These are of course "material components" of the world in any normal sense of that phrase, so unless one uses some tendentiously narrow meaning of "create" or "material components," day three certainly does appear to refer to the creation of "material components."
Day four describes the making of the sun, moon, and stars. A famous crux in the interpretation of the chapter concerns the question of how there could be night and day (day one) earlier than the making of the sun (day four), and various solutions have been proposed. Walton's idea that God made a physically invisible and indetectable decree about the daytime on a literal day one but waited to make such a purely non-physical decree about the sun until literal day four hardly seems to be an improvement on other solutions. E.g. That, during the period represented by day four, God caused the sun and moon to be clearly visible by clearing away atmospheric debris.
In any event, in discussing day four we come to Walton's tendentious use of the term "objects." Earlier in the interview (around minute 27) Walton states that the ancient Israelites would not have understood the sun, moon, and stars to be "material objects." His argument for this concerning the stars is that they believed that the stars were engraved on the sky and did not realize that they were suns that were farther away. But even leaving unquestioned this description of ancient cosmology, that is not an argument that they did not understand the stars to be part of the material world. An engraving is part of the material world! It is only by taking "objects" in an oddly misleading sense that Walton gets from "the ancient Israelites thought the stars were engraved on the sky" to the conclusion that the ancient Israelites would not have thought that the making of the stars in day four was about God's causing material things to happen! Walton's treatment of the sun and moon is similarly confused. He states in the interview (around minute 27) that the ancient Israelites thought the sun and moon were lights and that other ancient peoples thought they were gods. Therefore, he concludes that they could not think that God's making them was God's making "objects" because they "didn't know" that they were objects. This gives the impression that all ancient peoples thought that the sun and moon were utterly outside the material realm (whatever that could possibly mean). Saying that they were "lights" doesn't show this anyway. A lamp is a material thing. Beyond that, a theory of the nature of light is not required for believing that lights are part of the material realm and that making lights is material creation.
Support for this point comes from a very unexpected quarter. In doing some research on the claim that the ancients believed that the stars were engraved on the sky, I came across the following statement:
What they observed led them to conclude that the sun and the moon moved in roughly the same spheres and in similar ways. The sun moved through the sky during the day and then moved during the night into the netherworld, where it traversed under the earth to its place of rising for the next day. The stars were engraved on the sky and moved in tracks through their ordained stations. Flowing all around this cosmos were the cosmic waters, which were held back by the sky, and on which the earth floated[.]
The author of these words calls this a description of "cosmic geography," and it is clearly a description of physical cosmology as the author believes it to have been understood in the ancient world. Who is the author?
John H. Walton!
This description of the sun, moon, and stars, which unequivocally places them within the physical realm, is from Walton's Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, p. 166.
So the insistence that the ancient Israelites could not have understood the making of the sun, moon, and stars to refer to "the manufacture of objects" (as in the interview) must rest on some entirely unhelpful use of terms like "manufacture" and "objects" to give the impression that the description of day four could not have been intended or understood to mean that God brought aspects of physical cosmology into physical existence or even physical visibility.
Day five, of course, deals with God's calling upon the sea to swarm with sea creatures and God's making the birds. Sea creatures and birds count as "material components" and even "objects" on any unbiased reckoning.
Day six says that God made land animals. There can hardly be any problem with calling land animals "material." Then day six says that God created man in his own image. I am deferring most discussion of Walton's views concerning the creation of man to a review of the later book, but I will only point out here that man does have a clear material component--a body--and therefore that the description of day six in Scripture can hardly support a generalization like, "There's hardly any of the days that deal with objects." Even if one takes the image of God in man to be a purely spiritual matter with no physical implications (which I do not), the text does not say, "Let us make the image of God." It says, "Let us make man" and also says that God created man. Prima facie, the text describing day six says that God made man materially as well as spiritually, though of course there are those who will argue that it doesn't really mean that God created man materially. But that is a separate argument. My point here is just that the text does not prima facie support Walton's generalization that most of the days do not contain references to the making of physical things "day by day."
In the book Walton makes various ad hoc maneuvers concerning days four, five, and six (p. 95), such as saying that "the text explicitly deals with them [the entities] only on the functional level." Whatever this could mean, the idea that the text gives the impression of not having to do with material origins is simply incorrect, arising from Walton's repeated and unsupported opposition between references to functions and discussion of material origins and structure. (Again, the functions of a thing depend, very often, upon its material structure.) Walton even goes so far as to treat "swarming" as a "function" of sea creatures in day five, which is somehow supposed to support the idea that, when God calls upon the seas to swarm with sea creatures, this could mean that God made an invisible decree about sea creatures that had already been swarming for a long time!
In other words, contrary to what Walton says, virtually every day (except for day seven, when God is said to rest) "deals with objects day by day." This is just one example (another is Walton's argument about the objects of the verb bara, which I will discuss below) of the fact that Walton makes generalizations that are simply not supported by the data, even his own data.
Based upon an analogy that Walton makes in The Lost World of Adam and Eve (pp. 44-45) where he recapitulates his points concerning Genesis 1, I can anticipate a response Walton might make to the foregoing argument. He also uses this analogy in the interview on TLWOG1 beginning at about minute 25. Nick Peters, the interviewer, asks Walton about the fact that the heavens and the earth seem to be material and are said to be created by God. Therefore, why would we not think that Genesis 1 is about material creation? Walton replies with the analogy of our telling the story of how a house was built as opposed to telling the story of how a family came to make it their own home and live there. Walton states that, in telling a story about making something your home, you would refer to "material stuff," because a home story (a discussion of how the house came to function as a home) "presupposes material." However, it would or could still be a different story from the story of how the house was manufactured.
It is difficult to see how one can make an argument out of such an analogy, but I will try to respond to it as if it is an argument. The first response is that this has precisely no force independent of Walton's attempts to argue that, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the several different expressions in Genesis 1 that refer to God's making things, creating things, and causing things to be or to emerge are really not about material origins at all! The fact is that one would not normally tell a story that was purely about coming to look at a house or even deciding to buy a house in terms of making, creating, and causing to be or causing to appear. Genesis 1 does not merely "presuppose material." On the face of it, Genesis 1 appears to be, in Walton's terms, a "house story" rather than a "home story," especially if "home story" is taken to have zero material meaning. I will discuss later Walton's unconvincing attempts to argue that the expressions in Genesis 1 mean something entirely different from any concept of material origins.
Second, a "home story" actually does usually contain descriptions of material making, preparation, and decorating. For example, if someone comes to prepare a home to be functional for upcoming habitation, he will engage in material activities such as painting, cleaning, getting the electricity, gas, and water flowing, and making desired alterations. And of course moving day is highly material in nature and often has stories that can be told about it--how we got the big sofa into the living room. Even a sentence that might seem to be the kind of thing Walton has in mind, like, "We made this the study," does not refer solely to a verbal or mental act of decreeing that room to be the study! The story of how you made that room the study will include physically preparing it to be the study--installing a desk and bookcases, making sure that the lighting is right, and so forth. Hence, the very metaphor that Walton uses undermines his attempt to sever functional origins from material origins.
Could Walton's arguments be used to support a different position? (Includes responses to more arguments)
At this point one might ask the following question: Even if my "best shot" interpretation of Walton's view is correct, and even given that Walton's own view of what Genesis 1 is about is highly implausible and unsupported by the arguments just surveyed, does his research into such matters as the Ancient Near Eastern mindset and the meanings of words such as bara (create) and asa (make) lend significant new support to a more moderate and more widely held view than his own? For example, does his research lend credibility to a moderate Framework Hypothesis as I defined it earlier even though that is not his own view? Walton himself defines the Framework Hypothesis in a much looser sense than the one I have given here; he uses that phrase to define a position which merely states that the first chapter of Genesis gives a literary framework for creation. I am talking about a somewhat more definite Framework Hypothesis, which is by no means unknown, and asking whether his scholarly work and arguments can also support something like that (as opposed to, e.g., either standard young-earth creationism or a day age theory such as that held by Hugh Ross) by vagueifying (to coin a term) the meaning of Genesis 1.
I believe that the answer even to this question is no, for several reasons.
1) Walton holds extreme, unargued, and demonstrably false views about the mindset of the ancient Israelites, rendering him an unreliable guide to the meaning of biblical passages or to the mindset of ancient peoples.
Walton is unfortunately given to sweeping, unqualified statements which are not followed by any attempt to respond to obvious counterexamples or counterarguments. The most striking examples of such statements occur in a passage in which he literally denies that ancient peoples, including the Israelites, had any distinction between the natural and the supernatural or between the miraculous and non-miraculous.
...[T]here is no concept of a "natural" world in ancient Near Eastern thinking. The dichotomy between natural and supernatural is a relatively recent one. Deity pervaded the ancient world. Nothing happened independently of deity. The gods did not "intervene" because that would assume that there was a world of events outside of them that they could step into and out of. The Israelites, along with everyone else in the ancient world, believed instead that every event was the act of deity–that every plant that grew, every baby born, ever drop of rain and every climatic disaster was an act of God. No "natural" laws governed the cosmos; deity ran the cosmos or was inherent in it. There were no "miracles" (in the sense of events deviating from that which was "natural"), there were only signs of the deity's activity (sometimes favorable, sometimes not)....[Here follows a brief discussion implying that anyone who believes in a distinction between the natural and the supernatural is on the verge of becoming a deist.] There is nothing "natural" about the world in biblical theology, nor should there be in ours.... As a result, we should not expect anything in the Bible or in the rest of the ancient Near East to engage in the discussion of how God's level of creative activity relates to the "natural" world (i.e., what we call naturalistic process or the laws of nature). The categories of "natural" and "supernatural" have no meaning to them, let alone any interest....The ancients would never dream of addressing how things might have come into being without God or what "natural" processes he might have used. (pp. 20-21)
Note that these paragraphs do not simply say that the ancient peoples were more inclined to view things as the activities of God or the gods than we are or that they were quick to think that phenomena were due to the personal intentions of a deity. The statements are much stronger than that--namely, that they had literally no concept of the natural world and no concept of a miracle, because everything was taken to be an act of a deity. Taken literally, such a claim cannot be an accurate description of even the most superstitious, animist tribesman, who nonetheless must have some concept of the natural order of things in order to hunt for game, make tools, cook food, care for his offspring, and avoid being eaten. Human beings would not survive to adulthood without some notion of what is "natural."
Moreover, there is ample evidence that these statements are false about the ancient Hebrews, specifically. The following is merely a partial list of places in the Old Testament where God performs a miracle and that miracle is seen as a sign because it is not what is expected to happen otherwise. Indeed, it is impossible to see how any of God's wonders or mighty acts in the Old Testament could have the function that they manifestly do have and are meant to have of serving as a sign (to verify revelation, to humble God's enemies, to show God's people that God is leading them, to show that God is the only true God, and the like) if what Walton says is true.
–the miraculous conception of Isaac,
–the burning bush,
–Moses' temporarily leprous hand and other signs given to him to convince the Israelites,
–the plagues of Egypt,
–the parting of the Red Sea,
–manna in the wilderness,
–water from the rock,
–fire from heaven in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal,
–the healing of Naaman from leprosy
I've only gotten up to the book of 2 Kings, nor is this an exhaustive list of miracles up to that point. If there were no ancient concept of the distinction between the miraculous and the non-miraculous, if the normal growth of plants were as much a sign of the activity of a deity as anything else that might happen, why would Moses have turned aside for a bush that burned without being consumed any more than for a bush growing as usual? If the things Moses was able to do could not be distinguished from what was natural, because there was no conception of what was "natural" in the ancient mind and everything was the "activity of deity," why does the text refer to the people as "believ[ing] the voice of the sign" (Exodus 4:8)?
The conception of Isaac deserves special mention. The text expressly emphasizes the fact that, in the delicate wording of the King James, it had "ceased to be after the manner of women" with Sarah, who had been barren all her life anyway. She was post-menopausal, and both she and Abraham were very old. The text explicitly states that it was because of knowledge of such biological facts that Sarah laughed at the promise of a son (Genesis 18:11-12). This is a clear counterexample to Walton's statements about the lack of a concept of nature and the lack of a distinction between the miraculous and the non-miraculous in the ancient Israelite mind. God's provision of a son to Abraham and Sarah had its force as a sign precisely because they had a robust, intelligent, and empirical concept of the order of nature. They therefore knew that this was a miraculous conception which would not have happened without an explicit act of God, an act different from God's involvement (however one parses that) in the ordinary process of conception.
In his mostly negative review of TLWOG1, Old Testament scholar C. John Collins similarly disagrees with Walton's characterization of the ancient Israelites as having no concept of the natural and the supernatural. Collins uses the example of Balaam's ass to make the same point that I am making here.
Collins also points out that Walton endorses the elimination of the distinction between natural and supernatural in our own theology but that Walton makes no use of the vocabulary and distinctions readily available in Christian theological literature for articulating a more nuanced view of the relationship between God's miraculous and non-miraculous activity and the natural powers God has placed within the creatures.
Nor is it necessary to be especially learned or to have special vocabulary to be capable of acknowledging both God's connection with the world and also the natural/supernatural distinction. I grew up in a Christian culture where God was routinely thanked for healings that, it was understood, had in all probability come about entirely through natural processes. God's work through the natural processes was recognized and gratefully received, while at the same time these laymen had no difficulty understanding that there are such things as supernatural events, which are a different matter. The entire Old Testament, through innumerable passages, indicates that the Israelites thought in pretty much exactly those terms.
If Walton can make emphatic and false statements about the Old Testament mindset, without even attempting to qualify his claims or to account for obvious counterexamples, his expertise at putting us into the mind of ancient peoples is called into grave doubt.
2) Walton gives no cogent reasons to think that ancient peoples were unconcerned with material origins or even with the details of material origins.
Suppose that I wrote a document in which I said that I made a dress "in order that" I might wear the dress to a party. Suppose that the document then went on to state that I first bought the cloth, then cut the cloth, then sewed it together according to a pattern, and so forth. Would the introductory statement that I made the dress for the purpose of wearing it to a party do anything to detract from a material meaning of the statements in the rest of the passage about my making the dress? Of course not. Similarly, even if no details of making were given but if I said that I made the dress on such-and-such a day and also said that I made it for the purpose of wearing it to the party, would the purpose statement mean that I didn't also intend you to understand that I physically made the dress on that particular day? Of course not.
There is no reason to think that an interest in function is opposed to an interest in material origin or that a statement that a thing is made to serve a function should cause us to think that the author didn't mean to say anything about the thing's material origins in that same passage. As William Lane Craig says, function and material origin go hand in hand. This should be obvious. Yet again and again, Walton will take a passage, whether from Scripture or from another ANE source, and use the fact that it shows an interest in the functions of physical things which the passage says were made by God or by a god--functions such as giving food, making months and seasons, and the like--to argue that the ancients were interested in or talking about function rather than material origins! As a non sequitur, this takes the cake.
Moreover, as Craig notes, Walton's own example passages from other ANE sources do show the gods apparently engaging in material making, so they do not support Walton's position. For example, on p. 32 Walton says that in Hittite literature one creation myth talks about "cutting heaven and earth apart with a copper cutting tool." On pp. 32-33 he quotes the Egyptian Papyrus Insinger as stating of the god, "He created food before those who are alive, the wonder of the fields. He created the constellation of those that are in the sky, so that those on earth should learn them. He created sweet water in it which all the lands desire." Perhaps most striking of all, on pp. 33-34 Walton says that the Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, shows Marduk "harnessing the waters of Tiamat for the purpose of providing the basis of agriculture. It includes the piling up of dirt, releasing the Tigris and Euphrates, and digging holes to manage the catchwater."
Walton gives no argument whatsoever, none, to think that the author or audience of the passage about the Tigris and the Euphrates did not believe or mean to say that the god Marduk physically released the rivers and constructed the catchwater holes.
Walton gives no reason to think that the ancients did not believe (and were not interested in saying) that the gods literally separated the heavens from the earth. To speak in Walton's own style for a moment, we may think that such ideas are manifestly false taken literally, but we should try to enter the ancient mindset and ask ourselves whether they thought that such things were true in a physically literal sense.
In other words, we are left just where we were before: Whether or not a passage is making a statement about material origins or is intended to tell us about the details of such material origins has to be decided on some basis other than noting that ancient peoples were interested in functions or that the passage itself refers to a function for the thing made. We will have to look for other clues. There simply is no prima facie tension between being interested in function, or talking about function in a particular passage, and being interested in and talking about material origins. Indeed, one would often talk about both, since a thing's ability to perform a function will depend upon its being made a certain way materially.
Similar problems vitiate Walton's attempted argument concerning the Hebrew word bara, translated "create" in Genesis 1. He gives (p. 42) a chart of all the Biblical uses of this word with their objects. As one might expect, Walton has extra notes in a comments column concerning the purpose or function for which such entities were created. He then tries to imply that, somehow, the existence of a statement about function is evidence that the context of the word bara "require[s] a functional understanding," (p. 43) which of course he will then assume means a functional rather than a material understanding. Stranger still, he says (p. 43), "This list shows that grammatical objects of the verb are not easily identified in material terms, and even when they are, it is questionable that the context is objectifying them." Craig rightly expresses astonishment at such a statement, since the chart itself shows numerous places where the objects of the word are partly or wholly material entities--human beings, a cloud of smoke, sea creatures, the stars, rivers, etc.
This discussion of bara in Walton is intended as an argument for Walton's functional-not-material-creation view, and it should be evident that it does nothing whatsoever to support that extreme view that Genesis 1 is not about material origins at all. If anything, his chart showing the uses of bara supports exactly the opposite conclusion about the meaning and use of that word! It is a sign of Walton's difficulty in seeing what constitutes an argument for what that he goes on in later pages (94-95) to speak as if he has shown that the word bara does not concern material origins: "The nature of the governing verb ('bara', create) is functional" (p. 94). (Macrons eliminated in quotation for typographical simplicity.)
But by the same token, his argument concerning bara does nothing to support a moderate Framework Hypothesis either. Why should it? The objects of bara, both in Genesis 1 and elsewhere, are frequently material entities. As Craig also points out, even when they are not (as in the case of God's "creating a new heart" or creating darkness) God is still being treated in the passage as the immediate, efficient cause of what is created. (Digression: Walton objects in the interview to Craig's using the phrase "efficient cause" on the grounds that this is an "Aristotelian category" which is therefore an imposition of alien categories in a biblical context. Craig's point, however, is to clarify a point at which Walton himself is unclear. Craig is pointing out that even when what is made is immaterial in nature, such as a new heart, the passage implies that God brings it into existence in the sense of being its immediate prior cause. When God creates in me a clean heart, God does not merely look at a clean heart that is already there and make decrees about it! If you don't like the phrase "efficient cause" for this concept, use another. The argument is on point and should be understandable even by those who will not countenance the use of the phrase "efficient cause.")
Hence, we are again back where we started from when it comes to interpreting Genesis 1. We have this word "create" which is applied to various physical entities in the passage, and we have to look at the passage and make up our minds as to whether the passage is meant to contain any literal, physical information and how or whether to try to reconcile it with modern science. Walton's chart of the uses of bara does nothing even to support a loose interpretation of the text of Genesis 1 as containing no empirical information about the order in which things appeared, etc. A fortiori the chart does nothing to support the conclusion that Genesis 1 could be recording invisible divine decrees concerning entities that already existed physically long before!
The same is true in spades of Walton's discussion of asa, translated "made" in Genesis 1 and applied in Genesis 1 to the firmament, animals, man, and the two great lights (sun and moon) and by implication to the stars after the sun and moon. Walton makes much of the fact that asa is one of those multi-purpose verbs that can be translated either "made" or "did" and then tries to insist that it should be translated "did" in Genesis 1. Hence, God "did" two great lights rather than God "made" two great lights. This, in turn, is meant to support his idea that all the references to God's making things using asa in Genesis 1 could mean God's "establishing functions," and we are back again to Walton's own unsupported notion of "establishing functions" in a way that has no material consequences.
Does the observation that asa can sometimes be translated "did" support either Walton's view or a more moderate Framework Hypothesis? I cannot see how. How the word should be translated depends on context. The word is very frequently used in a way that must be translated as "made" (or as "fashioned" or something similar). For example, it is used for the making of Joseph's coat of many colors, for Aaron's making the golden calf, and for the fashioning of a candlestick, curtains, and numerous other furnishings of the tabernacle (see Exodus 36). To say that God "did two great lights" is an improbable locution since the objects of the verb are part of the material realm of cosmology (see discussion above), and there is therefore no reason to think that the verb in that context should be translated as "did." Walton is depending on a strained translation of the word with no justification other than the attempt to make room for his peculiar view of immaterial making of things. (Ad hoc again.) Indeed, asa, given that it is very commonly used for making in the sense of fashioning, is particularly well-suited for describing material creation. It is a hallmark of the unfalsifiability of Walton's entire approach that he insists on saying something or other to try to move the reader away from the prima facie material creation meaning of asa in Genesis 1. One cannot help wondering, given his treatment of bara and asa and of other locutions ("Let there be light") what the passage could say which Walton could not explain away as still "not about material origins."
A moderate Framework Hypothesis is not particularly harmed by the translation "made." One simply says that God made the two great lights but did not necessarily do so in a sudden way, in a way that would have appeared miraculous, or in a particular order relative to other physical entities. Translating the word "did" does nothing to help that hypothesis.
Walton also argues that, since the other ANE creation stories concerning man are about the creation of man, the race, rather than about specific individuals with individual histories, their statements concerning the materials out of which man was made (such as the blood of a god, divine tears, or clay) should be taken not to have any chemical or scientifically literal significance but to "communicate instead the important issues of identity and relationship" (p. 32). Using this argument to support a similarly non-literal interpretation of the creation of man in Genesis is awkward for Walton, because of course Genesis does talk about specific individuals in chapters 2-5. Walton is mostly avoiding talking about the origins of man in this book, and his views may have not have been fully formed on the subject when he wrote this book. But he does try to argue that the statement that God formed man out of the dust of the ground in chapter 2 has nothing to do with man's material origins because, as in the case of the ANE texts, this initial statement is meant to apply to all human beings, since later verses after the fall imply that all of mankind "is dust" and will therefore return to dust in death. Hence, argues Walton, the statement that God made or created man is meant even in the first instances (in chapter one and in chapter two) to have nothing to do with the the material origins of man.
This is an argument of sorts, but it is an extremely poor one. Why should the other ANE statements that man, the species, was initially made from clay or from the blood of a god not be taken literally to refer to some first group of human beings that were made, from whom others are descended? After all, Christians have generally taken statements in Genesis 1 and 2 about God's making mankind to be statements that God made the first human beings, from whom others are descended. Why should we assume that, because texts refer to the making of the race, they do not literally mean that the first members of the race were made from such materials? It seems to be only because we ourselves do not believe that human beings are literally now made of clay, dust, or the blood of gods. But perhaps the ancients did. Do we know for a fact that they did not think that human beings are in some physical sense made of earth? We know that some people long ago believed that physical things are literally made of the four elements--earth, air, fire, and water, so this is not at all impossible. The argument that the ancients didn't have modern concepts of chemistry tells us little, for having a worked-out chemistry is not necessary for believing that one physical entity is made in part from another physical substance.
Even more plausibly, perhaps the non-Israelites or Hebrews thought that all men are made from the substance of the earth just in the sense that they are descended from the first man, who was literally made from the earth. Compare the statement by the author of Hebrews (7:9-10) that Levi paid tribute to Melchizadek because he was in the loins of Abraham.
Do we know independently that ancient Babylonians did not think that all human beings, by inheritance from the first human beings, are made of the blood of a god? Or perhaps they only believed that human beings were initially made from the blood of a god but that that property (being made of the blood of a god) could not be inherited. There are plenty of possibilities, but nothing in the fact that the the statements are about the making of the race leads to the conclusion that the statements were not taken to have any literal, physical meaning.
In other words, this argument about the making of the race is forceless; it leaves us where we were before as far as figuring out to what extent Genesis is about physical origins or the details thereof.
This post is already more than long enough. It is no exaggeration to say that I have been unable to find a single cogent argument for Walton's conclusions in this book, and I have not even detailed all of the poor arguments the book contains. I have not discussed the additional passages (such as pp. 119ff) in which Walton displays an inability to account for the nature and role of miracles in Christianity and in the world. Nor have I discussed his willingness to adopt, perhaps even to endorse (he is not always clear on this), a rigidly naturalistic concept of science (pp. 114ff, p. 130, p. 154). I have not taken time to go over his discussion of Intelligent Design (pp. 125ff), which is cramped at every turn by his acceptance, at least in practice, of the idea that science is incapable of saying anything about teleology, nor have I discussed his impractical recommendations for the teaching of origins science in public schools in a fashion that is "teleologically neutral" (pp. 152ff). Nor have I discussed his argument for taking the making of the firmament in day two to have nothing to do with material origins (pp. 55-58).
Even the attempt I have made here to see if his arguments can be used in support of a different, somewhat less implausible position has yielded no results.
A fan of Walton's work who is a Facebook friend suggested that I read Walton's second book on this subject, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, which has just become available, and that I would be interested and educated if I did so. I have thus far had time to read only portions of that book (which just arrived) and have listened to a two-hour interview with Walton about that book. (Yes, that makes two two-hour interviews altogether that I have listened to.) Precisely because of the existence of the book on Adam and Eve, I have said little here about Walton's views concerning Adam and Eve. I can already see, from what I have read thus far, that his views about man have changed in one crucial respect between the two books.
By reading and reviewing TLWOG1 itself I have learned that a book that has been quite influential among smart evangelicals depends a great deal on assertion in the absence of cogent argument. One can only conjecture as to the reasons for its influence. Those reasons may include an assumption that Walton's assertions must be correct and backed up by good reasons, since he is taken to be an expert on the mindset of Old Testament people. The reasons may also include a deep-seated desire not to have to struggle to reconcile Genesis with mainstream contemporary science. Walton's complete separation between Genesis 1 and material origins certainly is intended to absolve the reader from any such duty of reconciliation, though one would have thought that a less extreme Framework Hypothesis such as I have outlined would have approximately the same effect on that front. Perhaps what readers hope for from Walton is more ammunition for making Genesis 1 vague, whether or not they adopt Walton's own specific view. In any event, since The Lost World of Adam and Eve attempts to build on Walton's arguments in TLWOG1, it is just as well to have pointed out in excruciating detail that he does not establish much of anything in The Lost World of Genesis One.
This is hardly a good omen concerning The Lost World of Adam and Eve.