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Let's discuss: John Watson's: The Lost World of Genesis One.
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Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate

Discussion Paper submitted by Robert Kline and Gregory Kline

Robert Kline, PhD is a Professor Emeritus, Department of Physiology at the University of Western Ontario and Gregory Kline, MD is a Associate Clinical Professor, Division of Endocrinology at the University of Calgary.

In a sense, I (GK) am reluctant to write a review about a book that gets into the topic of creation or earthly origins for fear that many people will stop reading as soon as that becomes clear. It is my opinion that many Christians today are either afraid of or entirely disinterested in any discussions on the topic. And for good reason! Over the past thirty years, several theories of origins that represent various “compromises” or “non-compromises” between the apparent Biblical teaching and scientific observation have been put forward and often unfortunately in a fashion that has tended to generate much more heat than light. In some cases, counter-arguments have degenerated into accusations that insinuate a lack of true salvation among certain proponents. As a result of the apparent impasse, Christians may now feel that further discussion is pointless at best and spiritually dangerous at worst. If you’re like me, you may have even made attempts to avoid talking about evolution/creation with other Christians or non-Christians for fear of provoking angry debate or appearing ignorant. If you have any of the above feelings, this book is for you.

Sometimes the best way to describe something is through an explanation of what it is not. In that case, this book is definitely not exclusively for that small segment of the church that follows the creationism/evolution debates. It does not require background knowledge of either science or seminary-level theology and Hebrew language. Having said that, I don't mean to imply that your brain won’t need to get involved with the discussion! Most importantly, this book is not just the latest stab at "concordism" - the practice of twisting scripture or science or both to force an apparent agreement that is not really true to either source. What’s different about this book is that its starting premise is purely scriptural — trying to gain an understanding of what Genesis 1 would have meant to the Israel nation to whom it was given. Thus, there is nothing “new” here — in fact, one could say its arguments are actually very, very old! But quite likely, the resulting message will be very, very new to many modern Christians who, like me, have been currently “stuck” in the uncomfortable world of concordism.

It is important to emphasize that Christians should not be afraid of this book. In no way does the author treat scripture lightly or allegorically. His commitment to Biblical inerrancy is not vague. Rather, it is the author's firm commitment to Biblical inerrancy that drives the entire discourse from the very beginning— no twisting of either scripture or science!

This is a book I (RK) have been waiting for, for over 30 years! As a scientist and Christ-follower, I often felt I was standing in no man’s land between some of my science colleagues at work and my brothers and sisters in the church, when it came to discussing Genesis 1. I maintained that science did not yet have all the answers and maybe, just maybe, there was something we were misunderstanding about what God was saying to us in Genesis 1. Like many other scientists who are Christ-followers, I thought there should be no conflict between theology and science.

The Lost World of Genesis One suggests a new approach to understanding the biblical account of Creation. As an Evangelical Christian and a scholar in ancient Near East cultures, Walton presents a clearly written collection of "propositions" arising from his detailed studies of the culture and literature of ancient Israel and other ancient civilizations. Three major themes emerge in Walton's propositions:

1. The Bible was written for us, but not to us. Ancient Israel was the recipient of God's Word - the text was written in ancient Hebrew and understood in the context of their ancient culture. To read the Bible literally, one must understand the language and the culture to which it was written. Simply translating words, as translators using concordances do, cannot convey the true meaning of the text. We err when we read Genesis 1 through high-tech lenses of modern scientific thought and our culture’s emphasis on material things. We miss what God wants us to know about Himself as Creator and Sustainer.

2. Genesis 1 is not concerned with the creation of the material cosmos, but rather, God creating order and assigning function to a chaotic world in which He would dwell in relationship with human beings created in His image. According to Walton, ancient cultures thought in terms of function; modern cultures think materialistically. The Hebrew word translated “created” is better read and understood literally as "ordered". Genesis 1 is about God bringing order to creation not about God creating everything out of nothing. Walton believes that God did create everything out of nothing, but that event or process took place sometime prior to Genesis 1.

3. As Genesis 1 does not deal with material creation, the Bible provides no basis for rejecting ongoing scientific efforts to answer questions about "origins". Walton is careful to point out that this does not mean that people of faith should accept all scientific theories without question; the claims of science need to be verified on the basis of their own merits. He also states clearly that the methods and findings of science provide no basis for making conclusions about the existence of God or the purposes of God. Discussions of “teleological” (purposeful design) or “dysteleological” (random without purpose) metaphysics are valid, and perhaps necessary, but not in a science class! Walton writes extensively about these three themes and implications arising from adopting this understanding of Genesis 1. First and foremost, at least in my opinion, is the fact that this new approach to understanding Genesis 1 provides a basis for ending the ongoing, destructive war between the Bible and science that currently exists between various groups. This is huge. The church can welcome the findings of science without compromising its belief that the Bible is God’s Word. Educational feuds between Creationists and Evolutionists will disappear, as will the confusion of students at all levels on this emotionally charged issue. It’s ok for a student who is a Christ-follower to pursue a career in evolutionary biology – knowing that "God is seated is His cosmic temple and running things." Francis Collins, a Physician-Scientist and Christ-follower, known for his leadership in the Human Genome Project, said of Walton’s book, “A profoundly important new analysis of the meaning of Genesis.”

A useful review should offer some critique of the book. In this regard, throughout the book, there is quite a bit of repetition of concepts and implications. This could be annoying; however, I feel this was necessary because Walton is challenging our way of thinking about a very familiar biblical text. I needed to be reminded of prior conclusions as I progressed through the book. To his credit, I believe Walton writes with humility about this controversial subject, expressing his own evangelical beliefs and acknowledging where there are questions still remaining in his own mind. The fact that his chapter headings are written as “Propositions” indicates to me that he is inviting discussion of his proposed reading of Genesis 1. I hope that scholars and ordinary Christians like you and me will honestly evaluate Walton’s propositions before making conclusions about his work, or him. There is a lot at stake here.

For further reading the interested reader might try Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve, which reviews the major propositions from Genesis 1, and applies the same sort of contextual reasoning to Genesis 2 and 3. Get ready to be challenged, and perhaps enlightened – again.