28 October 2009

Land of the Lost, part 7

As we start in on Propositions 11–13, Walton begins to wrap up his exegetical arguments on how to read the creation narrative of Genesis 1. In so doing, he moves on to discuss a few things that many people like to spend time arguing about (age of the earth, etc.). This brings to mind a recent post over at Bring the Books on this very subject. Its content doesn't bear on our current discussion so much, but I thought it interesting nonetheless. Adam does a good job succintly setting out the epistemological reasons for affirming an old earth. On to the props:

Proposition 11: “Functional cosmic temple” offers face-value exegesis

  • This is the most “literal” reading, for the ancient author intended the ancient text, Gen 1, to be read as his own view, the view that God created—assigned functions to—the cosmic temple during a seven-day inauguration period.
  • Theology, polemic and literary shape all are important facets of Gen 1, but they are not main; this is reductionistic and unnecessary anyway.
  • Concordist approaches (young earth, old earth, whatever) are ruled right out. They read modern ideas back into the ancient text, thereby doing violence to its face-value meaning. Confessing that God is the ultimate author leads them to look for scientific theory in the text, because they (rightly) deem all truth to be God’s truth. So, if some scientific theory or another (e.g., big bang) is held to be viable, then it “must” be in the text somewhere (presupposing that the text is about material origins). Others simply rewrite science to make it fit with the biblical picture cobbled together (again presupposing material origins, i.e., young-earth creationists).
  • This, ironically, elevates scientific theory (which is always subject to change) to inspiration, binding the Word to it. Rather, the author’s words in Gen 1 are inspired and carry authority and cannot be just cast aside. If “divine intention” is to be found in the text, then only another authoritative source can back that up (i.e., another author of scriptural work).
  • Yet there’s not a single instance in the biblical text where God gives “scientific information that transcended the understanding of the…audience” (106).
Proposition 12: Other theories of Gen 1 either go too far or not far enough
  • Young Earth Creationism: goes too far in (1) its belief that the Bible is to be read scientifically and (2) too far in its attempt to provide an alternative science
  • Old Earth Creationism: goes too far, same as (1) above
  • Literary/Theological Framework: doesn’t go far enough, but the “functional origins” reading comports with it easily
  • Gap Theory is simply exegetically and theologically untenable
Proposition 13: The difference between origin accounts in scripture and science is metaphysical in nature
  • Gaps in scientific knowledge are not proofs of God’s activity…(see Walton’s pie illustration, pp. 114–15). A distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” does not comport with the worldview of the biblical writers (see prop. 1).
  • Science, by its very nature (as is currently understood), must bracket the metaphysical (with apologies to all my presuppositional friends). It cannot explore divine causation, for it concerns itself only with empirical data. Thus it deals with the demonstrable and falsifiable, and not with divine activity (science, therefore, cannot prove or disprove the existence of God—hold on, questions and answers about ID are coming). This is the “lower layer” in Walton’s layer cake illustration (p. 115).
  • Divine activity is represented by the “top layer” of the cake, but, importantly, it covers the bottom layer “because everything that science discovers [and I’d have to place historical inquiry in here too, though it’s obviously not a hard science and thus its results cannot be measured with mathematical precision] is another step in understanding how God has worked or continues to work through the material world and its naturalistic processes” (p. 115).
  • Thus, lower layer = secondary causation; top layer = ultimate causation. Maybe a marble cake analogy would prove better, Walton quips, so as to not create the illusion that too much of a divide exists between the layers (n. 3, p. 184).
  • Still, empirical science is not designed or able to define or detect telos. It must remain silent on matters regarding purpose (and thus on ultimate causation). This is not to say that purpose cannot be deduced rationally as a logical explanation of a given artifact; it just cannot do so beyond reasonable doubt one way or the other.
  • Genesis clearly depicts a teleology of the cosmos, even as it leaves open the descriptive mechanism for material origins (p. 117). In other words, Genesis is almost exclusively a top-layer account. Thus whatever empirical science has to say about the mechanisms of material origins (secondary causation—bottom-layer account) can hardly contradict the Bible’s statements about ultimate causation.
  • So, it will come as no surprise to the reader that Walton thinks the functional orientation of Gen 1 comports with the teleological nature of the creation account. “Instead of offering a statement of causes, Genesis 1 is offering a statement of how everything will work according to God’s purposes” (p. 118; and note the emphasis on the future—the creation account is, in essence, eschatological).
Has any of this changed your mind? Confirmed anything? Speak up.

WAIT, there's a Part 8.


John Schaefer said...

Yes! I think I felt I was close to losing a job somewhere along the way due to my complete lack of enthusiasm over young vs. old earth creationism. So I decided that I could dig old earth. Thanks for reminding me of my Kantian bent... Now where did I leave that bracket?

This book is on my Amazon wish list!

Chris Donato said...

Ah, Kant. The father of us all in the modern West.

My lack of enthusiasm for the argument eventually gave way to a general sense of enthusiasm in anticipation of young-earth creationism going the way of the Dodo.

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