Book Review – “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton

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As someone still studying various issues related to science, the Scripture, and how to interpret them both, I have been reading books by authors on various perspectives.  One recent author who has gained some attention is John H. Walton.  He has written a few books now trying to understand Genesis in its ancient context.  The Lost World of Genesis One starts, quite literally, “In the beginning.”

The subtitle of the book is “Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.”  Walton’s view is that we must understand the ancient context of cosmology and creation origin stories in order to better understand ancient thought on the issue of origins and creation.  By understanding the ancient mindset, we can then better understand Genesis 1 and what it is trying to say.

The layout of the book has Walton presenting 18 propositions to help us understand his arguments.  These include propositions such as “Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology,” “Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented,” “The Cosmos Is a Temple,” and “The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins.”

From here on out, please excuse any mistakes in my understanding or representation of Walton and his arguments.  The views he presents are very new to me, and I may not be understanding him perfectly.  If so, I fully accept any mistakes on my part.

I was raised understanding the Genesis creation account as explaining “how and when things were created.”  This would essentially be a material origin view.  Walton’s argument is that Genesis is not concerned with material origin (when and how things came into being).  Rather, he believes that Genesis is concerned with functional origin (why things came into being).

As a result, Walton argues that science may present one understanding of how things came about, with Scripture providing the importance of the creation.  This, of course, results in allowing science and Scripture to not be at odds with one another, unless science is saying God is not involved at all.  While Walton argues that his goal is not to defend evolution or any scientific views in particular, one cannot help but wonder if that may not be at least an underlying desire, if not explicitly discussed.  I suppose that crosses into judging motives, however, and we do have to be careful about doing that.

Walton’s central argument is that the Earth is viewed in Scripture as God’s cosmic temple, and that the creation account deals with the establishing, filling, and functioning of that temple.  It is, to say the least, a novel view compared to many I have read.  I cannot, at this point, say whether I agree with him or not, as I still have to think through many issues related to his perspective.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his book was his last proposition that public science education should be neutral regarding purpose.  It almost began to feel a little like the old “non-overlapping magisteria” arguments presented elsewhere.  Science and faith are in different fields, and the two have no contribution to each other.  I’m not sure I can fully agree with that perspective.  Primarily, I would argue that there is no such thing as total neutrality; one’s worldview will always at least partially color one’s perspective, and I’m not convinced we can escape that, although we can try to account for it and minimize it.  At the same time, his view, if adopted, could solve some issues in teaching science as a Christian in a public arena.  It would also have to apply both ways, so atheists could not push a purely materialistic view of science anymore than Christians could push a supernatural one.

Despite Walton’s claims, I think one would be hard-pressed to understand how Walton is not arguing ultimately for evolution, however.  In one proposition, he argues how other theories of Genesis and science either go too far or not far enough.  In this chapter, he argues against Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Literary Framework Hypothesis, and forms of the Gap Theory.  He also seems to explain that since Intelligent Design is concerned primarily with purpose, it has no place in public education of scientific ideas.   At least from my studies, I cannot figure out what would be left, short of some view of Evolutionary Creationism.

Granted, Walton would argue that I am asking the wrong question.  His emphasis is that the Genesis account is not trying to discuss science, as we think of it, since it deals with material origins.  But if all the above views are thrown out, I cannot see any view left other than the current standard evolutionary view of material origins, as far as science is concerned.

Also in his defense, Walton explains that he is concerned primarily with the best way of understanding Genesis 1, regardless of what science currently says.  As a result, his view of Genesis would not change, even if our scientific understanding of how things developed does change.  This provides some sense of solidarity on understanding Genesis that does not require one to argue that science is wrong in what it says, as the two are not even addressing the same questions.

If Walton is right regarding how to understand Genesis 1, it would be a huge relief to many, as it would allow them to let science speak on its own, and however one interprets Genesis it would have no bearing on our pursuit of scientific understanding.  I admit that is an attractive thought.  At this point, however, I am not sure if it stands up to total scrutiny yet.  I admit, I am new to both understanding science and trying to look deeper into the creation account in Genesis, so I am not able to provide an in-depth critique one way or another beyond my thoughts listed here.

I am in no way saying Walton is wrong; for all I know, he is spot on.  The view is so novel to me, however, that I am struggling to reconcile it with the interpretations I was raised with.

If you are a student of the science/religion questions, and if you like trying to see if we can “harmonize” (for lack of a better term) the two and how best to do it, then The Lost World of Genesis One (as well as the follow-up The Lost World of Adam and Eve) are great books to add to your list of books to study.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review – “How I Changed My Mind about Evolution”

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Anyone who knows me knows that I do not shy away from tough topics or from potentially controversial ones, even if that means reading things that go against what I have always thought.

Just this year, I switched to teaching science instead of English language arts.  As a result, I have been diving deeper into scientific topics than I have in the past.  Obviously, this leads to questions on things such as evolution and the age of the earth.

I was raised with a Young-Earth Creationist view, and have only slightly studied outside of that view, including Old-Earth Creationism, Intelligent Design, and to a lesser degree, a Literary Framework view.  One view I had not really read on was a Christian view of evolution.  Yes, you read that right.  A view of evolution in support of the idea from a Christian viewpoint.  I like reading about all sides of an issue, and I prefer to read about them from proponents of the view, as opposed to just reading about it based on critiques from its opponents.

I heard that InterVarsity Press had a newer book called How I Changed My Mind about Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, and I thought it would be a good place to start learning about a Christian view of evolution.  IVP was kind enough to send me a copy, and I am glad they did.

The book is not so much an explanation of evolution as it is an attempt by various contributors to explain why they came to believe in evolution, even as Christians, and why they don’t believe it contradicts their evangelical faith.  Let me state up front that as far as I can tell, none of the contributors are what we would think of as liberal; they all embrace evangelicalism, and they hold the Bible in high regard.  But they also hold science in high regard, and they feel that God would have the Bible and science read in light of each other.  It is viewed as a “two-book” model of Scripture and nature, based on Psalm 19, I believe.

The contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds and positions, including scientists, pastors, seminary professors, and so on, as well as from a decent range of denominations.  Some of the more well-known contributors are James K. A. Smith, Scot McKnight, Tremper Longman III, Franic Collins, N. T. Wright, and John Ortberg. One thing that is insisted on is that they don’t refer to themselves as theistic evolutionists (as the older name would have it); rather they call themselves evolutionary creationists, with an emphasis on the idea that evolution was the way they believe God chose to create the world and bring it to the point it is currently at.

What really struck me was how many had been raised to believe in and defend a young earth who ended up switching their viewpoints in light of the evidence of science, as they put it.  I was raised primarily hearing stories that went in the other direction.  In at least one case, the contributor went into a scientific field with the sole purpose of proving evolution and an old earth wrong, only to be totally convinced by the evidence.

I was also struck by a reoccurring theme of people (either the contributors or people they knew) going through major struggles out of a sheer fear of science as a result of their upbringing.  Honestly, I can sympathize with those people.  After all, Young Earth views are often pushed in such a way that all of science (biology, astronomy, geology, etc.) is part of one big conspiracy theory to try to brainwash people away from God’s word, so we must be ever vigilant and remember that Christians must interpret science in a completely different way than most people might.  Is that really the case?  Honestly, everyone has to decide that for themselves.  But it saddens me to think about how something so majestic as all of God’s creation could become a point of tension for so many, as it has for me in the past.

One thing I really liked was how frequently the contributors would admit that they don’t have all the answers.  To be honest, reading Young Earth literature growing up, there never seemed to be room for lack of knowledge; there was an answer for everything, even if it didn’t seem to make much sense.  It was refreshing to see people honestly admit that they may not always know all the answers, but they are willing to continue to study and hold on to faith in the mean time.

Again, this book is not an all-out defense of evolution, although there are parts of the book that provide some reasoning for that view.  Rather, it is an attempt to open doors of communication and to show that contrary to many Young-Earth arguments, people don’t just come to believe in evolution as a way of doubting Scripture or moving away from God.  These contributors all stand firm in their love and devotion to their Creator, even though their understanding of His word regarding creation is different from others.

Regardless of where you stand on the question of evolution and the age of the earth, you should read this book to gain a sympathetic understanding of where evolutionary creationists are coming from.  While it may not change everyone’s mind on how old the earth is and whether evolution in any form is a viable mechanism for creation, it will at least allow a discussion to occur with a proper understanding of where one side is coming from, as opposed to setting up false caricatures of those people.

*Note: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book Review – “God’s Crime Scene” by J. Warner Wallace

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I love apologetics.  I love reading on various arguments, explanations, and ideas on explaining and defending a Christian worldview.  Naturally, I was very excited when David C. Cook publishers offered to provide a copy of God’s Crime Scene by J. Warner Wallace for me to read and review.  I have read Wallace’s previous book Cold-Case Christianity, and I enjoyed it immensely.  This, too, was a good book by Wallace.

God’s Crime Scene argues for the existence of God from the ground up.  In the book, Wallace uses his experience as a cold-case detective to examine the evidence we see in creation to determine whether it points to a Creator or not.  As such, the book is intended to help those who question God’s existence see good arguments as to why He does exist.

The chapters examine the beginning of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the origin of life, the appearance of design in creation, the existence of consciousness, the existence of free will, the existence of morality, and the problem of evil.  As Wallace concludes each chapter, he puts together an “Emerging ‘Suspect’ Profile.”  Ultimately, Wallace argues that the “Suspect” (quotes in Wallace’s book) responsible for the world as we know it is:

  1. “external to the universe
  2. nonspatial, atemporal, and nonmaterial
  3. uncaused
  4. powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe
  5. specifically purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life
  6. intelligent and communicative
  7. creative and resourceful
  8. a conscious Mind
  9. free to choose (and create) personally
  10. the personal source of moral truth and obligation
  11. the standard for good by which we define evil” (p. 193)

The layout of each chapter is to start with a legal case and the accompanying evidence as a way of analogy to the evidence to be examined from Creation.  Wallace then tackles all of the attempts to explain the evidence by looking “inside the room,” or looking only at natural, material causes.  He shows why those explanations fail to explain the evidence before looking elsewhere for an explanation for the evidence in question.  In the margins of the chapter Wallace includes “Expert Witness Profiles” (small biographical bits regarding people he cites in the book), “Cold Case Approach” information (explaining how a cold-case detective would look at evidence), and “A Tool for the Call-Out Bag” (extra tips to explain how detectives and jurors look at evidence to make decisions).

There are many selling points for those who wish to go deeper.  There are copious notes throughout, and often these notes add more information (full quotes from authors, explanations, etc.) rather than just citations as to where Wallace got information from.  Another inclusion is a section for each chapter in the back of the book called “The Secondary Investigation.” This section will take the information discussed in each chapter and go in more detail.  Finally, Wallace includes “Case Files: The Expert Witnesses.”  This section is a small bibliography for each chapter, providing titles of books that provide more information for those arguing from “inside the room” (the naturalistic arguments) and those arguing “outside the room” (the theistic arguments).  I especially like the fact that Wallace is willing to include titles that would argue against his case for others to read, as it shows that Wallace believes his arguments will stand up under scrutiny.

Who will benefit most from this book?  First, those who are atheist or agnostic who are open to considering other viewpoints will benefit.  Second, Christians/theists who are looking for assistance in understanding how to argue for a Creator.

I do need to take a minute to clarify a few things for people to understand if they are trying to decide whether or not to read this book.

First, this book takes an Intelligent Design approach, as far as I can tell.  It assumes modern scientific understanding of things such as the age of the earth and universe, the Big Bang, etc.  Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) are still able to use things from the book that don’t require a YEC stance.  But they will have issues with some of the assumptions that Wallace (and those he cites) makes.

Second, because it takes an Intelligent Design approach to arguing for the existence of God, it will fit in more with someone who holds to classical apologetics or cumulative case apologetics.  Presuppositionalists may have issues with the way Wallace makes his case.  As far as I can recall, no Scripture is cited in the text itself, and the only Scripture referenced is in the notes for the “Closing Argument.”  For classical apologists, this is a plus, as it shows that one can potentially argue for a theistic understanding of God without quoting chapter and verse.  For presuppositionalists, this may likely be a downside, as it doesn’t start from what they consider the ultimate authority to make the argument.  I still think anyone can glean much good from the book, but it was a point worth mentioning for those who take things like the above into account.

The last thing that potential readers need to note is that this book will not provide evidence to take someone all the way to considering Christianity.  It is not intended to.  Wallace himself points this out in the book:

“If the evidence in this book has been compelling to you and you’ve decided a Divine Creator is the best explanation for the evidence in the universe, you’re now among the vast majority of people on our planet who accept that proposition.  But given the variety of theistic worldviews available, which, if any of them, is true? The case for God’s existence presented in this book might apply to a number of religious systems positing a personal God, particularly the monotheistic traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  I would encourage you to investigate the claims of these systems with equal vigor.” (p. 203)

Wallace goes on to explain how he came to believe in Christianity, and he points out that he talks about how he came to that conclusion in Cold-Case Christianity, so he does point people to reading that could take them further.  For those considering this book, however, please understand that it does not argue all the way to Christianity; it stops with the existence of some form of a Creator.

Overall, this is a good book to read for those interested in arguments for the existence of a Creator/Intelligent Designer.  The layout and methodology is definitely unique, and it would make a good addition to anyone’s library who is interested in apologetics.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.