Walton – Proposition 13

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, by John H. Walton.

What it says

Our 13th proposition is that the Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and in Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature.

Walton has a cool way to picture the problem of science and faith.  Some people, he says, see science taking ever bigger slices out of the pie of truth, leaving religion a smaller and smaller sliver of truth.  But, he says, suppose we think, not of a pie, but of a layer cake.  The bottom layer is science.  It covers the whole plate and seeks to explain whatever we can observe. Religion or faith is the top layer.  It covers the whole plate too.  Everything they observe, people of faith refer to God or divinities.

People of faith say the primary cause of all things is God.  Science explores the secondary causes of events and processes.  Both deal with all things, but from a different perspective.  Science cannot explore primary causes.  It can explore the development of the cosmos, but not the purpose of the cosmos.  Science can explore the evolution of life and mind, but not the purpose.

Walton uses the big word “teleology” to talk about purpose.

He says that Genesis 1, although it does not speak to material origins, does take a metaphysical position.  Genesis says there is a purpose to it all.  Functions have been assigned with an end in mind.  In other words, Genesis 1 affirms purpose in the cosmos.

So, although Genesis does not disagree with science itself, it does disagree with a world-view often associated with science, a view that denies that the universe is shot through with purpose.  This is what he means by the metaphysical difference Genesis and the modern scientific world-view.


From childhood I have been a fan of hard science fiction with plausible science and technology. Today in the science fiction section at Barnes & Nobles, for instance, you will have to look hard for that kind of novel.  Most of what is there will be some kind of fantasy.  Now I don’t hate all fantasy.  I have been reading George R. R. Martin, and I love Guy Gavriel Kay.  But magic and sorcery are features of fantasy, not real science fiction.

But there is a gray area.  In ancient times what is actually science might look like magic.  A simple thing like a remote control might seem like some kind of sorcery.  So sometimes it turns out that what is magic from the perspective of characters in a novel is really science and technology.

This has to do with Walton’s ideas here because he is saying that if we put ourselves into the mind-set of the ancient Near East, there is no such thing as science.  There is no such thing as natural and supernatural.  Everything has a divine cause.

They, for instance, did not know about germs or anything else microscopic.  But if they had known, would they have dropped their idea that plagues came from the gods?  Germs are only a secondary cause. Would the use of a vaccine cause them to no longer regard healing as a miracle?  I don’t think so.  At least, I do not see a reason for scientific knowledge to undo our belief in the presence and involvement of God in all things.

The ancient world was permeated by divine purpose.  I share that idea.  I just think it is an elusive purpose.  I grew up in Montana with the evidence of the ice ages all around and with a grandmother who hunted fossils.  I also got a kind of scientific education.  This was not so much in school, where I was inhibited by a math phobia.  It was by reading hard science fiction.  I do not remember a time when I thought that I needed to choose Genesis over science.

If I today, knowing a good deal about science, still refer all things to God, does that make me a science denier?

Only if you think of science as taking the whole pie.  But not if you think of the top layer of the cake.



About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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