William Lane Craig Responded To Me! Genesis 1, John Walton, and ANE Creation Texts.

William Lane Craig Responded To Me! Genesis 1, John Walton, and ANE Creation Texts.

Needless to say that I was surprised when I found out that William Lane Craig’s most recent episode of The Reasonable Faith Podcast was all about responding to my articles that I wrote responding to his criticisms of The Lost World Of Genesis One (which can be read here and here). I knew there was a good possibility that this could happen. Kevin Harris, Craig’s co-host, searches the internet for blog posts and videos to comment on for the podcast, and this is especially the case when it comes to material interacting with Dr. Craig’s own work. But writing a blog post about something Craig said is no guarantee that he’ll find it.

I had a mixture of emotions when one of my patrons, Kevin Walker, messaged me about this. My first was one of intimidation. Craig is known for utterly annihilating his opponents in debate. But I was also thrilled to have gotten recognized by such a prominent Christian Philosopher like Dr. Craig. 

However,  I don’t think Dr. Craig successfully refuted me. I think the case for the thesis set out in The Lost World Of Genesis One still stands. In this blog post, I’d like to respond to Dr. Craig’s response to my response to his critique of The Cosmic Temple View of Genesis One. For those who aren’t aware of this interpretation, go check out my blog post “The Cosmic Temple View Of Genesis One”. I’m going to assume a lot of background knowledge in my response here.

THE CORDIAL APPROACH OF CRAIG

Before I get started, let me say this; I have always thought that Craig handled criticisms of his beliefs with the utmost charity. But, my agreement with most of Dr. Craig’s views and arguments could bias me to see him that way. Being on the receiving end of his criticism, I can say he is just as cordial as when he’s responding to someone we both disagree with like Richard Dawkins or James White. Not once did he make me feel like he saw me as a buffoon. If only that were true with all of my detractors. I doubt if James White criticized me on The Dividing Line, it would be that way. I always saw Dr. Craig as respectful to his opponents, but I often wondered if my admiration for him and my agreement with what he was saying obscured that judgment. Being on the receiving end of his criticism, I can say that he most certainly is respectful. This just makes me admire him even more!

If only all Christians could disagree with each other without mudslinging, name-calling, and condescension! I pray that The Holy Spirit would help me be that way in all my dealings with critics. I try to be, but I’d be lying if I said I always succeeded.

AND NOW, THE RESPONSES... (PART 1)

My Labeling Of The Interpretation 

The odd thing about this blog by Evan is that it’s not about Walton’s Cosmic Temple view of Genesis 1 or 2 and 3. ……..This [the temple inauguration aspect] is a relatively minor interpretive point, and it’s not what Evan’s blog is about. What his blog is about is the much more important issue of Walton’s function interpretation of Genesis 1. It’s not about his view of the universe as God’s cosmic temple. It’s about his view of creation as not involving the material origin of the things that God creates but rather God merely specifying the functions.”\ — Well, Dr. Craig is correct that at least Part 1 of my article isn’t about primarily the temple aspect of Walton’s thesis. That is what I dealt with in Part 2 of my response to Craig. Part 1 dealt with Craig’s criticisms of seeing God’s act of creation as being purely assignments of functions rather than being both material creation and function assignment. It is possible to interpret Genesis 1 as being about God’s materially bringing things from material non-existence into material existence and see this as 7 days of inaugurating the cosmos as His temple. It’s also possible to see Genesis 1 as being only about the functional assignment, but not in the context of cosmic temple inauguration. Indeed, Walton’s entire thesis seems to be put together from different insights into the text by different scholars that, when put together, results in this entire interpretation set forth in The Lost World Of Genesis One. 1

Technically speaking, one could hold to “The Cosmic Temple Inauguration” view without sacrificing the view that in the process of the inauguration, God physically brings things into being. 

I call it “The Cosmic Temple Inauguration View” because that aspect of the thesis is really the main point. But, names can be misleading as we all know. “The Big Bang” doesn’t sound like the beginning of space, time, matter, and energy. It sounds like an explosion of matter within pre-existing space. “The God Particle” has nothing to do with God (except that He made it). The God Particle is a particle discovered by J. Higgs and this particle determines the mass of other particles.2 Likewise, perhaps “The Cosmic Temple Inauguration View” isn’t a sufficient enough name to capture all the details of Walton’s thesis, such as the creation being a creation of function, not material. Maybe we should tack on “Functional Version” and “Material Version” at the end instead. But “The Cosmic Temple Inauguration View” is already a mouthful, so I’d be reluctant to do that.

Is A Temple Aspect In Genesis 1? 

Dr. Craig described Dr. Walton’s view when he said \\“The Cosmic Temple view is Walton’s thesis that God has created the universe as a sort of cosmic temple in which he can rest, or dwell, or reside, and this is supposed to be on the model of the pagan deities of the Ancient Near East which were thought to reside in temples. And since God cannot be contained in any physical building the notion here is that Genesis 1 is teaching that the whole world – the whole universe – is God’s cosmic temple in which he comes to dwell. Walton interprets God’s coming to rest on the 7th day as God’s coming to reside in His cosmic temple.”\\ — Most of what William Lane Craig has said here about the Cosmic Temple View is correct. Although I might phrase a sentence or two here in this portion a different way, there aren’t straw men here.

Dr. Craig then said “In my view, Kevin, this is reading between the lines. I see nothing in Genesis 1 to suggest that the universe functions as a cosmic temple in which God comes to dwell, or that His resting on the 7th day is not His ceasing from the works of the 6th day but simply taking up residence.”\\ — Both John Walton and I would argue that God did indeed cease from working on the 7th day. What we argue is that God’s “rest” is more than simply taking a break from what he was doing the past 6 days, but that it is actually taking up residence in the universe as God’s temple. Now that the act of temple inauguration has been complete, now that all things have been created (i.e assigned their proper functions), now God can rest in the temple (universe) and begin to run things.

I am not surprised that Dr. Craig doesn’t see anything in Genesis 1 that would denote the temple aspect. He’s a modern 21st-century westerner who doesn’t think in terms of temples, temple worship, or temple inauguration and all that’s associated with it. But if Waltons’ thesis is correct, and I think it is, then Moses wouldn’t have needed to tell his readers “All right, y’all, I want you to understand that these 7 days are about temple inauguration and what it means for God to rest on the 7t day means that He’s coming to rest in it.” Moses wouldn’t have needed to convey that to his original audience. They would have made that connection immediately. As Walton put it in his book The Lost World Of Adam and Eve, Moses “was communicating to a high context audience, not a low context audience. That means that these temple aspects “went without saying” as Brandon J. Obrien and Randolph Richards would say.

While Dr. Craig might not see anything that indicates temple imagery in Genesis 1, I would argue that an Israelite 3,000 years ago would. What do you put in a temple after you’re done building it? An image of the god. What is its purpose? To bring the presence of the god down to Earth. What is the last thing put into the cosmos in Genesis 1? An image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). What is this image’s function? To rule over creation for God. That’s certainly more than a hint of some temple imagery going on here. 

Usages Of Bara

Dr. Craig goes on to say \\“Here he looks at the use of the word ‘bara’ in Hebrew for create. And Walton gives about 50 examples of how Bara is used in The Old Testament and claims on this basis that Bara does not refer to the creation of material objects. Well, I would just invite our listeners to look at the list and I think that they will find as I did that most of them refer to the creation of material objects. Almost all of them talk about material objects. There are some that don’t (for example that ‘God creates the north and the south’ is not a material object)…….”\\ — I acknowledged in my response that many are actually either ambiguous or have to refer to material creation. But since there are a dozen examples in which Bara cannot mean material creation, that leaves open the possibility that perhaps it’s not talking about material creation in Genesis 1.  Whether Genesis 1 uses it in a non-material way will depend on an examination of the text of Genesis itself, especially in light of ANE understandings of things like light (not a material thing in their thinking), the sky (was indeed material in their thinking, which puts the material originist in an awkward position), the sun moon and stars on Day 4 (not material according to the ANE mindset) and so on. When you look at the text of Genesis through ancient eyes, at best, you could support material creation for only days 3, 5, and 6, which is only half of the entire account and only then in light of the presuppositon that “Genesis 1 is about material origins.”

Dr. Craig said that \\“When God is said to create a clean heart or create north and south, that isn’t the specification of a function.”\\ — Well, no. Not explicitly. The verses to which Craig refers never says “I’m creating a clean heart in you for the purpose of serving me better” or “God creates north and south for the purpose of such and such”, but in these instances (A) it’s clear that material creation is not in view, and (B) The function is implied. If I said “I created a new shingle lining for my roof.” the function of keeping the rain from entering my house, while not explicitly stated, is implied. There’s a purpose, a reason, a function, for me putting new shingles on my roof. Likewise, why does David ask God in Psalm 51:10 to create in him a new heart? It’s for the purpose of serving God better. It’s so David will no longer be prone to committing grave sins like adultery and murder, the sins which inspired the writing of Psalm 51.

Moreover, Dr. Craig didn’t mention one verse I cited in my response to him. Isaiah 65:17-18. In this passage,  God says “For behold, I create [bara] new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. ‘But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create [bara] Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.” (NASB) Isaiah 65:17-18 is clearly referring to functional creation, not material creation, at least in the latter part of the passage. God created Jerusalem FOR rejoicing and FOR the gladness of Jerusalem’s citizens. We shouldn’t take this passage as saying that God poofed buildings and people and animals into being. Nor should we think God is referring to the creation of Jerusalem from pre-existing materials. Jerusalem, as a physical plot of land with buildings, existed long before He “created it to be a place of joy” for His people. Notice also that function is explicitly stated in this text; “I create [bara] Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.”

So, while Psalm 51:10 and Psalm 89:12 don’t explicitly mention the assignment of function, the assignment of function is implied. But in the Isaiah text that Craig never even brought up, function is explicitly stated!

Craig then went on to say \“Walton’s fundamental error here is focusing on word studies apart from it’s use in context. Words can have multiple meanings. The way a word is used in a context will be determined by the context.”\ – I would agree with Dr. Craig and so would Walton that you can’t derive material creation from the Hebrew verb “bara”. Some theologians do, in the context of Genesis 1, because they reason “Bara means to create. No material is mentioned in the act of Bara-ing in Genesis 1. So Bara must be referring to creation out of nothing.” And that whole line of reasoning presupposes that Genesis 1 is about material origins to begin with! But if the assignment of functions is what God is doing in Genesis 1 then it’s to be expected that no materials would be mentioned in the manufacturing process. That’s what we’re contesting. When you look at the ways Bara is used in The Bible, there are four ways it’s used (1) Function only, (2) Material and function, and (3) Material only, and (4) Ambiguous as to which of the three is in view. And so, I would agree with Craig that looking at the word by itself tells us nothing and that we indeed have to look at the context in which the word is being used. The problem with those who insist on Genesis 1 being an account of material origins is that when you examine the context in which Bara is used in that text, you run into problems. Given that the ancients didn’t understand light to be a physical thing, they didn’t understand the sun, moon, and stars to be material things, and given that they did believe the sky to be a material thing, at most you can say that days 3, 5, and 6 have God creating material things (i.e the land, plants, fish, birds, animals, and people respectively) and only then by presupposing that material origins is the focus of the account.

If material origins is the focus of the account, then, according to ANE thinking, God didn’t create anything on Day 1! I made a case that Genesis 1:1 should be translated “When God created the heavens and the earth” rather than “In the beginning”, so that makes verse 1 a dependent clause, verse 2 a circumstantial clause, and verse 3 the main clause. Craig does dispute this later in the podcast episode, but if I am right, God’s real first act of creation is in verse 3. Now, John Walton does not himself argue that Genesis 1:1 should be a dependent clause. He takes 1:1 to be like a chapter title or a summary of the 7 days. Either way, verse 3 is still the first act of creation. And what does God say in verse 3? “Let there be light!”. The rest of the day has God separating light from darkness, which I have argued in previous articles is an indication that time is the focus of the day, not light. But if you think of light, darkness, and even time the way an Ancient Near Easterner would, nothing material is created on this day. This is strange if this is supposed to be an account of material origins.

Look! Materials are Mentioned!

At around 10 minutes in, Dr. Craig makes an argument that seems really bizarre to me. Dr. Craig seems to think that if the verb Bara refers to a material object, then material creation must be involved. Either I misunderstood him or he misunderstood Walton and I. Craig himself cited Walton’s restaurant analogy and said that a restaurant doesn’t necessarily exist just because the materials are present. It exists in a functional sense, but not a material sense. The building exists, but it’s not functioning as a restaurant. Only when kitchenware is brought in, chefs are hired, a license is obtained, etc. then the restaurant exists. It exists in both a material ontology as well as a functional ontology. It exists in all senses of the word. So if I say “I bara’d (created) a restaurant”, why think that that has to refer to material creation just because a restaurant is a material thing? Maybe I do mean that I put the building together. But, maybe I simply mean that I hired the chefs, got the license, had ingredients imported, etc. What is it about a restaurant being physical that precludes creation language referring to the assignment of a function? So for Craig to say “So when it says that God created the mountains, or the stars, or the heavens and the earth, it’s those terms referring to those concrete objects that show it’s material creation, not the verb. …and in Genesis 1, the verb is used over and over again to refer to material objects” he’s making a fallacious claim. At least if I understood him correctly, which I certainly tried to.
 

Conflating Creation Out Of Nothing and Creation Using Pre-Existent Materials? 

Dr. Craig then argues that Walton and I conflate creation out of nothing with material creation.  I think Dr. Craig is right that Walton and I may be conflating the two different kinds of material creation. This is a good lesson to take away. Walton and I need to be clearer that we aren’t just objecting to material creation out of nothing in the text, but material creation of either kind. For example, whether you understand the creation of the sun on day 4 to be a poofing miracle of God or, as modern science understands it, gravitational collapse of gases, the problem is that ANE thinking didn’t see the sun as a physical object. Therefore, the former version of material creation (creatio ex nihilo) and the latter kind (creatia ex materia) are both unable to be derived from the text.  They can be read into the text, but not derived from it. 

\”\\”When you read the ancient creation myths of Egypt and Mesopotamia, I think it’s very evident that these myths account for the origin of things like the earth, human beings, city, agriculture, and so forth. These are described as the creation of the gods. Now, Evan’s response is ‘Dr. Craig is assuming that creation is a material activity. That existence is material.’ So that when the Babylonian founding of Eridu says that ‘No house had been built, no reed had come forth’ and so on, it is saying that these things are materially absent’. That’s right. It says there were no such things until the gods created them.”\ — Here, Craig simply repeats his presupposition that what it means for the gods’ temple, the city, and so on to “Not exist” means that they don’t materially exist. Again, he simply begs the question in favor of a material origins view of The Founding Of Eridu (not to mention other creation texts). To say “There was no X, there was no Y, Z did not yet exist, et. al.” Does this mean they did not exist in a material ontology or does it mean that they did not exist within a functional sense? It’s pretty evident that the text is saying they did not exist, but in what sense did they not exist? Craig presupposes that what it means for the things in The Founding Of Eridu to “not exist” is that they didn’t yet exist materially, and therefore the account of the creation of everything in the text is describing a material manufacturing process. This is question-begging. 

My point in mentioning the presence of the sea is that if this were an account of material origin, shouldn’t it begin with no material? Is it not the purpose of a material origins account to explain where the material came from? Regardless of whether you’re speaking of creatio ex nihilo or creatia ex materia, some explanation of where the material seas came from ought to be offered. Of course, in a material origins account, at some point, you will end up at a point of creatio ex nihilo, and perhaps that’s where the author could posit the creation of the world of seas out of nothing. But, my point remains that a material origins account ought to explain where the material stuff came from rather than beginning with material already present. The fact that material is already present should tip us off that this is not the focus of the author. He’s not interested in explaining the material origins regardless of whether it falls into the creatio ex nihilo or the creatio ex materia category.

Moreover, that Eridu and Genesis 1 are function-oriented rather than material-oriented (in either the ex nihilo or ex materia category) is strengthened all the more when you take into account how Ancient Near Eastern peoples saw the “sea”. They didn’t just view it as a large body of water where Spongebob Squarepants and his buddies lived. In Ancient Near Eastern thinking, the sea was a chaotic world, a world of non-order, a crazy place. In Enuma Elish, the symbol of chaos is the goddess Tiamat who personifies the sea. As Old Testament Scholar Michael Heiser wrote “In the ancient world, the original (‘primordial’) chaotic conditions of creation were often portrayed as a monstrous dragon. This is reflected in stories from ancient Babylon and Israel’s closest neighbor, Ugarit (ancient Syria, just north of Israel). In the literature of ancient Ugarit, the god Baal battles Yamm, who is portrayed as a chaotic, churning sea and a terrifying sea dragon named Tannun or Litanu. These terms are equivalent to the Hebrew words in Psalm 74:13–14: ‘You divided the sea (ים, yam) by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters (תנינים, tanninim) on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan (לויתן, liwyatan).’”3

What we can infer from the fact that in ANE thinking the sea equaled a condition of chaos that, well, if the material is already present, and the state of the world is chaos, then creation would be bringing order out of chaos. In other words, creation would be an activity of giving functions to that which have no function. It would be to impose order on a non-orderly realm. 

We see this same thing in Genesis 1. The sea is already present before God begins creating. Why mention the sea? Well, an ancient person would have understood the sea as a symbol that chaos was reigning and that God needed to put everything in order. 4 

What all of this implies; the fact that (1) material is already present (sea) and that (2) the material that is present is commonly understood in the ANE to be a non-functional chaotic condition, heavily implies that The Founding of the Babylonian City of Eridu and Genesis 1 are about functional origins, not material origins.

This is another point that I brought up in my previous response to Dr. Craig that he just skipped over entirely!

Genesis 1:1 Is Not A Dependent Clause?

Craig then responds to my claim that Genesis 1:1 should be a subordinate clause. First, let me point out that the case for the functional origins view does not stand or fall on this. Walton doesn’t even use it himself. He thinks 1:1 is similar to a chapter heading. But regardless of whether Craig is right, taking 1:1 as a subordinate clause would only strengthen it. I have indeed not read his book “Creation Out Of Nothing” which he co-wrote with Paul Copan. It’s one of the few books of Craig’s that I haven’t read. 

I reached out to Inspiring Philosophy and asked him about Craig’s objection since I know thatr he made this argument as well in his video “Genesis 1a: And God Said”. He responded with this; “

“Yeah, he just seems to appeal to authority but gives no indication as to why it ought to be a main clause, other than other scholars say so. As I said in my video on Genesis 1a, Creations accounts do not open this way, but always open with a dependent clause (Enuma Elish, Atrahasis, Kar 4). Then Robert Holmstedt notes the grammatic structure of Genesis 1:1 implies a dependent clause. Heiser notes most Jewish scholars have always understood Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause. The evidence is not in Craig’s favor and he ignores the data.”

RESPONSES TO PART 2

In Part 2 of the podcast series, I was very happy to have the name of my ministry mentioned by Kevin, and to have gotten a bit of praise from him by my work. It’s nice to be appreciated especially by someone who works for such a gigantic and influential ministry as Reasonable Faith. Thanks for that, Kevin.  

Kevin Harris and Bill Craig kick off the podcast by addressing the part of my article in which I respond to Craig’s objection:

“On Walton’s View, The Statements In Genesis 1 Are Literally False”

\\\\“Walton’s view, you’ll remember is that Genesis 1 does not describe God bringing into existence these various objects and organisms over the course of the 6 day creation week. Rather, he thinks, it is merely the specification of functions for the objects and organisms that had already been there for an indeterminate amount of time – that already exist. And what I argue is that this view of Genesis 1 is enormously implausible because it would require us to take as literally false all of the statements of the primordial darkness, the primeval oceans, the emergence of dry land from the oceans, the earth’s bringing forth vegetation and fruit trees, the waters bringing forth sea creatures, the earth bringing forth animals, and God’s making man. Evan says here that Craig is begging the question here in favor of material creation. ‘If the text says meant to say that days 2, 3, and 5 are about the material creation of these entities then, of course, the functional interpretation would contradict the text, but that’s the very issue that’s being debated’. 

I don’t think I’m begging the question here. What I said is true. If would require us to regard these statements LITERALLY false…..literally false that the earth brought forth this vegitation, that the waters drained away, that the dry land emerged, that God put the sun, moon, and stars in the sky. These are all literally false statements. They have to be reinterpreted in a sort of functional way, and it seems to me that that is enormously implausible. So I’m not the begging the question here. I’m just saying that this is not the way the text reads. “\\\\

First off, why does he say that the functional view renders the statements in Genesis 1 as *literally* false? Literally by who’s the definition? And literally on what kind of ontology? I think the statements, when understood in its Ancient Near Eastern context are literally true. When Genesis 1:11 says “Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so.” is the text saying that God is creating the very first land plants for the very first time in a material ontology? I agree that literal tree growth is being envisioned here. God is decreeing that trees would literally grow forth from the ground and sprout all kinds of fruit. BUT Craig is presupposing that God is materially creating the very first fruit-bearing plants, whereas there were none materially present prior to this decree. But this is just to beg the question in favor of the material origins view.

If Walton’s view is correct, then God would not be creating the very first fruit trees and plants ever in a material sense. He would, instead, be decreeing that the purpose of the land is to sprout vegetation and the purpose of the vegetation is to provide food.

Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation ([I hereby decree that the purpose of the land is to produce vegitation]: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it [i.e I hearby decree that the purpose of seed-bearing plants and trees is to produce food], according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds [i.e the aforementioned land and plants are carrying out the function as God decreed]. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.” – Genesis 1:11-13

It is literally true that God designated the functions of vegetation-producing to the land and food production to the vegetation. There’s nothing esoteric about this reading of the text. Of course, as I have argued in my prior writings on this view of Genesis, whether Day 3 is to be understood as the material creation of the first land plants or the specification of the functions would have to be decided by looking at the context of this day with the rest of Genesis 1, how “Bara” and “Asa” can be used, how Ancient Near Easterners understood ontology and whether they would be concerned with explaining material origins, etc.

And I argue that when you look at Genesis 1 through Ancient Near Eastern lenses, when you understand that the cognitive environment was that of a primarily functional ontology, and so on, you do have a good case for reading Day 3 in the way that I have described above.

What about the sun, moon, and stars on Day 4? Notice how Dr. Craig chooses his words “it would require us to take as literally false the statements ……..that God put the sun, moon, and stars in the sky.” (emphasis mine) Why think the text is saying that God PUT the sun, moon, and stars in the sky in this passage? The only reason I can see is if one is presupposing that Genesis 1 is all about the material manufacturing of the things it describes. 

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made the two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19, NIV, emphasis mine)

There is no explicit statement that this is when God “put” the sun, moon, and stars in the sky in a process of material manufacturing (whether ex nihilo or ex materia). There is, however, explicit statements that God was assigning functions to the sun, moon, and stars. The only way to say that this text is saying God “put” the sun, moon, and stars in the sky, as Craig says, is if you presuppose that the statement “God made (asah) the two great lights”  it means that God materially manufactured the two great lights. But what reason is there to think that this is how Asah ought to be interpreted in this passage? Craig doesn’t offer any. 

The function of the heavenly bodies is clearly stated, as even Craig admits, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so.” (Verse 14, emphasis mine). The purpose of the sun, moon, and stars are to mark time “seasons, days, and years”. Time is what God established on day 1 of creation.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that it was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day.” (Genesis 1:3-5, NIV)

In Genesis 1, God’s first creative act is “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). This cannot be interpreted as an act of material creation if for no other reason than that the ancients did not consider light to be a material sort of thing. They had no knowledge of photons, waves, or particles, or anything like that. For them, light did not consist of anything physical. Therefore, the author of Genesis could not have meant that when “God said ‘let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3) that anything physical came into existence. Material creation is ruled out on the basis of reading Day 1 with an ANE mindset.

Moreover, it is interesting that God does not call the light light nor does He call the darkness darkness. He calls the light “day” and the darkness “night” (verse 5). Why is this? “Light” and “day” are not synonyms, even in Hebrew. Professor John Walton argues that the figure of speech known as “Metonymy” is being employed here. Metonymy is a figure of speech that substitutes the effect for its cause, mentioning the cause instead of the effect. “Light” is substituted for “Day” and “Darkness” is substituted for “Night”. What God is referring to is the period of light and the period of darkness (i.e daytime and nighttime). What this suggests is that what God creates is time. Time is what is created on Day 1! Not time as Dr. Craig understands it. The ancients weren’t thinking in terms of A theory and B theory. They had no concept of a “spacetime fabric” of the universe either. For them, time was marked by the day and night cycle. This is further supported by what Genesis says in verse 4, the verse immediately preceding verse 5 “God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness”. If these were material objects scripture was talking about, verse 4 would make no sense as darkness and light cannot be joined together. They can’t co-exist. Since they can’t be together, they cannot be separated. Now, if it’s the period of light and the period of darkness (time) that scripture is talking about, then Genesis 1:4 makes a lot more sense. What God separates is the period of light and darkness, not physical light from physical darkness.

From looking at scripture alone, we can see a good basis for affirming that God created a function on day 1, not anything material. What was that function? Time. Day 4, then, should be seen as God installing the functionaries that carry out the function decreed on day 1. 

Again, I want to remind you that by “function”, I do not mean scientific function, but an anthropologically oriented function. That is to say, function is related to how the created things serve humanity. Craig acknowledges this distinction between scientific function and anthropologically oriented function, but asks what exactly is added to the picture one the scientific functions are in place? 

Things Cannot Exist Apart From An Orderly System? 

Dr. Craig goes onto say “My criticism is that Walton cannot say that these physical things cannot exist apart from an orderly system because the minute you say that then the view collapses into the traditional 6-day creation of God physically bringing these things into being because they can’t exist without their functions. If that’s true then in specifying their functions, God brings them into existence”

Dr. Craig goes onto say that I and other proponents of the functional interpretation have an enormous burden of proof to say that only function is being created, not material with a function. He says “Why can’t it be both/and?” Well, for one thing, if you insist that material is being created along with the function, then you have a problem with light, a non-material thing, being created on day 1, day 4, etc. The ancients didn’t consider light to be a material thing, so if God is materially creating on day 1, then nothing material really comes into existence. The same goes for the sun, moon, and stars on day 4. While WE realize that they’re gigantic balls of gas millions of miles and some even lightyears away, the ancients did not. The didn’t know that the moon was giant rock orbiting the planet. These things were immaterial in the ancient mindset. So, if Craig insists on saying that Genesis 1 is about the material manufacturing of the material cosmos, he’s got to say that God didn’t actually create anything on Days 1 and 4, which is a bit odd for a material origins account. 

And of course, if you do insist on Genesis 1 being about material creation, you’re forced to say that God created a solid dome sky on Day 2, since that’s how ancient Near Easterners would have understood the firmament, as the vast majority of Old Testament scholars agree.5 And as I said in part 2 of my response to Dr. Craig, unless you’re willing to throw out biblical inerrancy, you either have to (A) affirm that the material creation of the sky is not the focus of the text, but that the function of the weather is, or (B) resort to concordist hermeneutics and say that the text doesn’t mean how the ancients would have interpreted it. 

Since the writing of that second article in response to Craig, I have realized that there is a third option, and that is to show that the ancients viewed the sky exactly the same way that we do. In that case, one wouldn’t be committed to saying God created a solid dome nor would one have to resort to condordist hermenuetics. And I now recall Craig saying somewhere that he’s skeptical that the ancients did indeed view the sky as a solid dome, contrary to what the majority of Ancient Near Eastern scholars teach.

Does this get Craig out of the dilemma? No. He still has to pick his poison. I just realize now that he has three to choose from instead of just two. If you establish that (C) the ancients didn’t view the firmament as a solid entity, then what you conclude is that God didn’t actually make anything material on day 2! If the ancients agreed with us that the sky is not a material dome, then when God creates the firmament, He doesn’t actually make anything! So I’m willing to give Craig this. It only bolsters my point. Now, we would see that Days 1, 2, nor 4 have God making anything material in a material manufacturing process. So half of this material origins account doesn’t have God producing anything material?

Finally, Craig has to face the fact that the creation account kicks off with material already being present; the sea! Now, whether God made the sea out of pre-existing stuff or created the sea ex nihilo is neither here nor there to me. My point is that if this were a material origins account, shouldn’t the author explain to us where the material sea came from? Why does he begin with material already present if an explanation of where all the different things within the material universe came from was the point of the text? And, also, it’s interesting that the material that is present at the beginning of the text is a common ANE symbol for chaos and non-order. If a symbol of chaos and non-order is how the passage kicks off, shouldn’t that tip us off that perhaps the subduing of chaos and the imposition of order is the focus of the text? 

Then Craig says \\“Evan here I think doesn’t understand the point. He says ‘Why can’t these things exist in a material sense apart from an ordered creation? Isn’t it possible for a house to exist in a material sense without it functioning as a home for a family?’ Well, of course that’s right, but what I said was Walton cannot respond to my critique by saying ‘Well, these things can’t exist without a function’ because if he does say that (which is what Evan seems to want to say) you can’t say that they can’t exist without a function because in specifying the function, you would bring them into existence.”\\ —

If we say X cannot exist in a material sense without also having a function at the same time, then once it comes into being in a material sense, it also comes into being in a functional sense simultaneously. And by contrast, if God functionally creates, then the material comes into being as well. But it’s important to remember how “function” is being used here. Both Walton and I wouldn’t say that the objects mentioned in Genesis 1 (some of which weren’t even objects in ANE thinking as I noted above) couldn’t exist in a material sense without having their functions. Function, as Craig goes on to acknowledge, is an anthropocentric function. God decrees how things will function FOR humanity. Certainly the sun, moon, and stars could exist long before they serve to mark seasons, days, and years for humans. Certainly, trees could be producing vegetation before they serve as nourishment for humans. et. al.

They exist with a material ontology, but they would not exist on a functional ontology. A house can exist for weeks in a material sense, but not exist as a home (functional sense). And it seems clear to me that if you make a house into a home, you aren’t necessarily also bringing the wooden structure into being. You’re just moving in to live in it, to start sleeping in the bed, cooking in the kitchen, watching TV in the living room, etc.

Craig seems to have a hard time maintaining the distinction between something existing in a material ontology, but not existing in a functional ontology.

So, billions of years prior to the creation week, the sun, moon, and stars were not marking time FOR humanity. That’s an important thing to keep in mind here. When Walton and I speak of the sun functioning, we don’t mean it in a scientific sense. The sun doesn’t function in ANE thinking just because it’s producing light and heat. It functions when it functions for the benefit of someone, in this case, humans. This can be seen in other ANE creation texts.

For example, The Egyptian Papyrus Insinger says
“He created light and darkness in which is every creature.
He created the earth, begetting millions, swallowing them up and begetting again.
He created, day, month, and year through the commands of the lord of command.
He created summer and winter through the rising and setting of Sothis.
He created food before those who are alive, the wonder of the fields.
He created the constellation of those that are in the sky, so that those on the earth should learn them. He created sweet water in it which all the lands desire.
He created breath in the egg though there is no access to it.
He created birth in every womb from the semen which they receive.
He created sinews and bones out of the same semen.
He created going and coming in the whole earth through the trembling of the ground. He created sleep to end weariness, waking for looking after food.
He created remedies to end illness, wine to end affliction.
He created the dream to show the way to the dreamer in his blindness.
He created life and death before him for the torment of the impious man.
He created wealth for truthfulness, poverty for falsehood.
He created work for the stupid man, food for the common man.
He created the succession of Generations so as to make them live.”6

An anthropocentric function orientation is very clear from Egyptian Papyrus Insinger. 

The Egyptian Instruction of Merikare says:

“Well tended is mankind—god’s cattle
He made sky and earth for their sake . . .
He made breath for their noses to live.
They are his images, who came from his body . . .
He made for them plants and cattle,
Fowl and fish to feed them . . .
When they weep he hears .“

An anthropocentric function orientation is very clear from The Egyptian Instruction Of Merikare.

The objection That An Observer Would Not Have Seen Anything During The Creation Week

Craig writes \\”\\“Evan says ‘I don’t see what the issue is supposed to be if we are talking about a purely functional creation. If someone jumped into a time machine and traveled to the creation week that he’d see anything spectaculor happening on the planet?’ That’s exactly my point. On Walton’s view, if you hopped into your time machine and traveled back to the creation week (however long that was), you wouldn’t see anything coming into existence. The dinosaurs, man, the sun and the stars, they’d all be there just fine….and nothing spectacular would be happening. Now, the difference between Evan and me is that he’s willing to bite the bullet and say that’s plausible. That is what Genesis 1 means that that is just an enormously implausible reading of Genesis 1…”\\

I guess I just don’t see what the problem here is supposed to be. If Genesis 1 were an account of material origins – an account of how the entire cosmos was physically manufactured – then you ought to indeed see things coming into being in a physical sense if you time-traveled to the creation week.7 But if God is merely specifying functions during the 7 days, then why would you expect to see anything out of the ordinary occurring? You don’t see a restaurant materially come into being when it has its grand opening ceremony. You might see a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an announcement on the website and on social media that the restaurant is now open for business, but that’s because restaurant grand opening ceremonies are done by physical people who are visible and on Earth. If God is decreeing “Land – your job is to produce vegetation. Fruit, your job is to make food to feed my creatures. Sun, moon, stars, these are for the purpose of shining light on the Earth and for keeping time.” then why think that’d be discernable to the human senses? God does lots of things in the heavenly realm that we’re not aware of. Does Craig also think that a time traveler should have witnessed Satan falling to Earth (Luke 10:18 cf. Isaiah 14:12)? Does he expect a time traveler to be able to discern the time traveler angels cheering as God laid the foundations of the Earth (Job 38:6-7)? Would The Doctor say “Clara, get back in the T.A.R.D.I.S. These noisy angels are getting on my nerves.” This is absurd.

I really don’t see why Craig sees this as a flaw in the interpretation.

The Lack Of Scholarly Support

Craig ends the podcast episode by noting how little support Walton’s view has gained among his peers. The lack of support of the functional origins/CTI is something that bothers me, but that’s why I’ve looked at a wide variety of criticisms of Walton’s view. Something is true even if no one believes it and something can be false even if everyone believes it. What ultimately matters is not how many heads nod in agreement to a theory but whether or not the evidence for the theory is good. That said, if the majority of experts say that X is wrong, then you need to take that very seriously and listen to what they have to say. This is why I surveyed so many criticisms of Walton’s view. I wrote articles responding to those (click the links below). I’ve looked at William Lane Craig’s, Hugh Ross’, Thomas Purifoy Jr’s, and Dominic Stanthon’s critiques of John Walton’s interpretation and I haven’t found any of them to even cast doubt on the theory, much less refute it. I haven’t looked at that many critiques of Walton’s view of Adam and Eve, but the one I have (Keaton Halley’s critique here and here) wasn’t that impressive either.

I will continue to listen to the criticisms of this view. But so far, I haven’t found any that even made me doubt it. I also think William Lane Craig really underestimates the power of cultural filters.

Cultural Filters are an incredibly powerful force to be reckoned with as I have become increasingly aware of how many things I read into the text without meaning to. And I’m not just referring to the Genesis 1 and the biblical statements about cosmology. I’m thinking even in many other areas of biblical interpretation as well. For example, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. Obrien point out many such cultural presuppositions in their book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders To Better Understand The Bible. And I talk about some of those in my review of their book (see here). Moreover, I presupposed the eternal torment view of Hell and so filtered the mountain of passages speaking of the damned’s death, destruction, perishing, Sodom and Gomorrah’s being an example of what will happen to them (2 Peter 2, Jude 7), and how that heavily implies the incineration, not eternal torment, of the wicked, through the eternal torment lenses. Once I started dialoguing with annihilationists and tried to find support for the eternal torment view, all of a sudden the evidence I thought was all over The New Testament vanished! That’s what prompted me to read Edward Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes which caused me to change my views. I thought “Maybe there is something to Evangelical Conditionalism after all.”

I would never have even considered partial preterism, much less adopted this view, if I hadn’t had the Left Behind eschatology I grew up in severely challenged by Hank Hanegraaf’s The Apocalypse Code, nor would I have seen The Divine Council in The Old Testament were it not for Michael Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm: Recovering The Supernatural Worldview Of The Bible. Cultural filters are powerful blinders, and I don’t think they should be underestimated, and I don’t think that it’s “condescending” to point that out. I’m sorry that Craig came under that impression. I don’t think scholars are immune either, but they can challenge each other to rethink things and see things differently. That’s how knowledge progresses, both in science and in theology, and even in ANE scholarship. In fact, at one point in Walton’s book, Walton remarked that several of his colleagues were baffled over the fact that in some of the creation myths they were reading, nothing was actually being made. They were like “Aren’t these creation accounts? Why isn’t any creating going on?”8

And Walton commented that once you abandon the presupposition that to create means to materially manufacture something, and adopt a functional ontology, then you wouldn’t ask that question.  

Conclusion. 

I am glad that Dr. Craig interacted with my articles, but his followup rebuttals weren’t very good. I have no problem “hooking my star” to this view of Genesis 1.

 

————————————————————————————————–

 

NOTES

1: For example, Kenneth Matthews has argued in “The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Exposition of Holy Scripture, Genesis 1:-11,” pages 128-129 that “Bara refers to God bringing about a new activity, not necessarily a new thing.”, and Dr. David Tsumura argued that Genesis 1:2 should be translated “and the earth was an unproductive wasteland” rather than “and the earth was formless and void”. This is because what’s translated Genesis 1:2 as “formless and void” from the Hebrew Tohu wa bohu most often refers to non-functionality. The Hebrew word Bohu never occurs by itself. Every time Bohu appears, it’s always in conjunction with Tohu. However, Tohu appears by itself in many places. For example, Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert land and in a waste howling wilderness. He led him about. He instructed him. He kept him as the apple of his eye.” (KJV) The desert wasteland is parallel to the wilderness and is described by howling. Likewise, Job 6:18 mentions a wasteland away from wadis where caravans perish for lack of water. Isaiah 40:17 speaks of the worthlessness of the nations, using the word Tohu. Based on these and many others. Dr. David Tsumura argues that since Tohu more often than not refers to purposelessness, not shapelessness or a lack of material form, Genesis 1:2 should read “And the Earth was an unproductive wasteland. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters.” While neither Matthews nor Tsumara are 100% on board with Walton’s full thesis, at least not to my knowledge, they do agree with some of the pieces of evidence needed to help make the case.

2: See “What Is the Higgs Boson? (‘God Particle’ Explained)” By Natalie Wolchover, July 5th, 2012, https://www.livescience.com/21400-what-is-the-higgs-boson-god-particle-explained.html, “What exactly is the Higgs boson? Have physicists proved that it really exists?”, by Scientific American, October 21, 1999 – https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-exactly-is-the-higgs/, “

3: Michael S. Heiser, “Slaying the Sea Monster of Psalm 74”, Academic Editor, Bible Study Magazine — https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/slaying-the-sea-monster.html

4: ibid.

5: See, for examples, the article “The Ancient Universe and the Cosmic Temple “by J. Richard Middleton, July 19, 2016, https://biologos.org/articles/series/evolution-and-biblical-faith-reflections-by-theologian-j-richard-middleton/the-ancient-universe-and-the-cosmic-temple, 2 “Genesis and Ancient Near Eastern Cosmology” by Dr. Michael S. Heiser –> https://www.moreunseenrealm.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Genesis-and-Ancient-Near-Eastern-Cosmology.pdf, “Scripture and Cosmology: Reading The Bible Between The Ancient World and Modern Science” by Kyle Greenwood, IVP Academic, September 3rd, 2015. See also John Walton’s books “The Lost World Of Genesis One” and “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and The Old Testament”, both published by IVP Academic. See also The NIV FaithLife Illustrated Study Bible, page 5.

6: Translation from Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature (Berkley: University Of California Press, 1980), 3:210-11ing

7: Assuming, of course, that the evolutionary account of origins is false and that God poofed things into existence via independent miracles. 

8: He mentions this on page 35 of The Lost World Of Genesis One. 

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Josué Rodriguez

    This is a really good response. Keep up the good work!

    1. Evan Minton

      Thanks. 🙂

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