This year I hope to study the relationship between modern science and biblical origins narratives more. As I’ve mentioned previously I’d like to read C. John Collins Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care and Peter Enns’ forthcoming The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Human Origins. First though, I will be reading John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. I know this book was quite popular many months ago, but I was in the midst of my Master of Theology program (Th.M.) and there was little time for books that were not related to my immediate studies. Now that I am almost finished I can turn some of my attention elsewhere.
Walton presents eighteen propositions in his book for the reader to consider: (1) Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology; (2) ancient cosmology is function oriented; (3) the Hebrew bara’ (“create”) concerns function; (4) the beginning in Genesis 1.1. is “nonfunctional”; (5) days one through three establish functions; (6) days four through six install those functions; (7) divine rest takes place in a temple; (8) the cosmos are described as a temple for God; (9) the seven “days” of Genesis 1 are a “cosmic temple inauguration”; (10) these days do not concern material origins; (11) this is reached via “face-value” exegesis; (12) other theories “either go too far or not far enough”‘; (13) the difference between “origins” in science and Scripture is “metaphysical in nature”; (14) God’s role as creator and sustainer are essentially one; (15) debate about Intelligent Design (ID) is about “purpose”; (16) scientific explanation can be viewed “in light of purpose”; (17) this will result in a stronger theology from Genesis 1; (18) public education should be neutral regarding purpose.
I will read each proposition and post my response on this blog. I come to the book with the following presuppositions:
First, I am a theist who affirms the existence of the Christian God. I don’t have categories for pure naturalism. So I assume that God is active in the world.
Second, I find Scripture to be trustworthy, but not inerrant. In other words, the Holy Spirit and the community of the church provide a context wherein Scripture can be understood as the guiding narrative of the community or as N.T. Wright and Kevin J. Vanhoozer have emphasized, the script that guides the cosmic drama wherein we find ourselves (yes, that is a bit of Brian McLaren’s jargon in there as well). This does not mean every scientific and historical detail must be accurate. I find that when Christianity is solely a book religion it ignores factors that the book itself promotes, namely Pneumatology and Ecclesiology.
Third, as a student of biblical literature, Second Temple Judaism, and Christian doctrine I am not qualified to speak authoritatively on science. I know many pastors and professors who sense their role as interpreters of Scripture automatically qualify them to speak for the scientific, philosophical, sociological, and other communities. This is something that needs to be approached with caution. Sure, as a student of religion I can speak from this perspective against economic injustice, but I am not foolish enough to assume that I am an expert in economics. Likewise, I can speak to science, but only as an amateur (unless I am someone like Alister McGrath who functions in both worlds and I am not).
Fourth, modern science is current, but not eternal. While I may seek to reconcile my religious views with the data available now I find caution in the reality that science itself has paradigm shifts. It science was not in flux it would not be science. Again, this doesn’t mean my exegesis of Genesis 1.1 allows me to override the best and most recent findings in evolutionary biology, but it does allow me to live with the tension that some things could change in the future and therefore I don’t have to assume that everything true about the cosmos is already set in stone.
Fifth, human epistemology is limited. This follows my last point. What I don’t want to do is be so arrogant that I think my understanding of science overrides all of the insights of my forefathers in the Christian religion. Likewise, I don’t want to fall into the trap of acting as if my understanding of Christian theology gives me the skeleton key to unlock the sciences.
I am sure other paradigms and presuppositions will be exposed as I think through this subject. It will be easy for me to rethink Genesis 1′s language, but how will I wrestle with the literalness of Adam and Eve? I take comfort in the fact that all truth is God’s truth. If God speaks to us “theologically” through the mythology of the ancient near east and “scientifically” through the work of theoretical physicist in a lab so be it.