The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton.
What it says
As the title implies, Walton thinks the world of Genesis 1 has been lost to most people today. He seeks to recover it by setting forth a series of proposition.
Walton’s first proposition is that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology. This means that God did not bother to correct their ideas (that the sky was a solid firmament or their ignorance about the nature and distance of the stars). God left their ancient cosmology be.
So concordism, the idea that we can translate Genesis 1 into modern scientific terms, is wrong. In fact, it misinterprets the Bible by misconstruing its intent. Since God did not think it important to give the ancient Israelites correct and precise scientific details, we can conclude that the purpose of Genesis 1 was something other than giving them a cosmology corresponding to what people would later discover.
Walton gives some other examples of ways that the Bible just uses the cultural assumptions of the time. For instance, we take for granted that the seat of intellect and will is the brain. As hard as it is for us to grasp, the ancients did not know about the brain. So the Bible uses the culturally received idea that the seat of intellect and will is the heart and the gut.
An important thing to understand about the ancient world view is that they did not have the sharp divide between natural and supernatural that we have.
“The Israelites, along with everyone else in the ancient world, believed instead that every event was the act of deity–every plant that grew, every baby born, every 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” (p. 20).
Walton says that when Genesis says, on the one hand, “let the earth bring forth” and, on the other hand, “God made”, it is not talking about two different things.
So when we interpret Genesis we need to be aware of a danger. We would like Genesis to talk about and interact with our scientific understandings. We are curious about this. But to ask Genesis to meet these expectations is perilous. It threatens to throw our interpretation off the track of what God’s self disclosure intended.
In a lot of ways, I want to just say “Amen.” But I have tried to use these kinds of arguments on people who assume that Genesis speaks to scientific truth. It doesn’t often work. People with a humanities education don’t usually resist it so much. But people with a STEM (Science, tech, engineering, math) education often cannot grasp it. To them, the scientific world view is truth. If the Bible is going to be true, then, to them, the Bible better speak to scientific truth.
Another point of resistance is the need for security. I have noticed that some of the strongest defenders of the idea that the world had to have been created only a few thousand years ago, are young people affected by the divorce culture. A Bible that stands ironclad over against modernity is important to them because the props of human loyalty and family security have been knocked out from under them. They feel threatened by any deviation from a simple correlation of religion and Bible to “truth”.
So far in what I have read, Walton has not addressed these problems.