There is a common philosophical question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Walton presents a similar philosophical quandary: “If a computer rests in the forest but is never used, is it really a computer?” To put it another way: when does that computer actually come into being? Is it when all the parts are put into place? Or is it when the computer is actually put to use? Walton uses the example of a business. Is the business created when it has the building in place or when it has a sales license? In essence, should creation be understood as functional or material?
This is the question that lies at the heart of Walton’s book. He argues that Ancient Near Eastern cultures did not understand creation in terms of materiality, but in terms of functionality. That does not mean that they did not care about the material origins of the world (the earth, water, and air which form the earth). Rather, it means that they were more interested in the function of creation: the changing of the seasons, the reproduction of plants and animals, the continuation of mankind. These questions of how the world functions are the ones which Genesis 1 answers, not the question of how our planet came to be revolving around the sun. To those who are skeptical, rest assured: this ‘new’ view of Genesis is not taken lightly. Walton is not trying to find a way to read modern science into the Bible. He simply seeks to understand the Scriptures in the same way as those who first heard it. If that aids in reconciling science and Scripture, that is just a bonus.
Walton spends the first half of the book laying out his case for reading Genesis 1 as functional origins. The latter half of the book is spent understanding the implications of such a reading. Namely, how does this affect the way Christians relate to science in general and evolution in particular? Walton argues that because of this new view of Genesis 1, Christians should not be afraid of evolution. If Genesis is speaking about the functional creation, then there is no contradiction to also believe in evolution. Of course, there are secondary issues to deal with (questions of suffering and death before the fall), but the big obstacle has been removed. Best of all, this view does not demote Genesis by calling it metaphor or myth, but takes it literally. In fact, Walton shows that this reading takes the Bible more literally and has greater theological depth than any other interpretation. A material view considers Genesis 1 referring to a single, ancient act. The functional view understands Genesis 1 revealing an eternal fact: that God is the sole reason for the continuation of the earth. Yes, there are scientific explanations, but God is the reason behind science. Thus, if Genesis refers to the metaphysics behind creation, Christianity has no qualms even with evolution being taught in schools, as long as the teaching is free from philosophical underpinnings.
This functional view of creation is a very simple one, yet it is difficult to wrap one’s head around. Personally, I knew the basics of Walton’s view before entering the book, but even then I was a bit confused as he explained it. By the end, I managed to wrap my mind around it, but I was still rather puzzled. The biggest issue I had with the book is the fact that the two halves felt too disjointed. The first half was on functional creation, the second half on the repercussions of functional creation. Yet, the way it was formatted made it hard to follow. If the book had been split into two halves (Part 1, Part 2), I think it would have been less uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it all ran together (and fell apart), which made it more confusing than was intended.
Overall, this is a very good book that could have used just a bit of polish. Some may disagree with it theologically, but it is incredibly powerful for someone who is seeking to reconcile modern science with the first chapter of Genesis. Ultimately, this is a must read if you are interested in Creation and Genesis, even if you come out on the other side disagreeing with Walton’s argument.
Published on 29 December, 2015. Last updated on