08 April 2014

Reading Genesis 1 Roundup

In the weeks building up to and after the "debate" between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, my enduring series on John Walton's reading Genesis 1 responsibly has seen an influx of clickers. So, to make navigating it easier, here's a summary of the series, along with an addendum or two.
  1. In the Beginning: On translating culture and language
  2. Propositions 1–2: The ancient cosmogony that underlies Genesis 1 is function-oriented.
  3. Props 3–4: The word "create" in Genesis 1 primarily concerns assigning functions (not making materials appear).
  4. Props 5–6: Days 1–3 of Genesis 1 establish functions, and Days 4–6 install functionaries.
  5. Props 7–8: Divine rest occurs in a temple, and the cosmos (particularly the garden of Genesis 1) is a temple.
  6. Props 9–10: The seven days of Genesis 1 relate to the cosmic temple inauguration; they decidedly do not concern material origins.
  7. Props 11–13: This "functional" reading of Genesis 1 offers the most literal reading; other readings tend to go too far or not far enough, which can be avoided if we pay attention to the fact that the difference between origin accounts in scripture and science is metaphysical in nature.
  8. Props 14–15: God as "creator" and "sustainer" means almost the same thing. And Intelligent Design theory is all about purpose; by definition, it isn't science.
  9. Prop 16: Scientific explanations of origins (like, e.g., evolutionary theory) can be viewed in light of purpose, and if so, are unobjectionable.
  10. Prop 17: The theology proper (doctrine of God) that emerges on this reading of Genesis 1 is stronger, not weaker.
  11. Prop 18: Science education in public can only be (or ought to be!) neutral regarding the purpose of creation.
  12. Land of the Lost: Nutshell
When compiling this list, I was also reminded of the hubbub that occurred around the time I was reading through Walton's and others' works on this subject: Bruce Waltke taken to task for his comments about how the (evangelical) church will be destined for "cult" status if, in the course of time, all the data points decisively to something akin to the neo-Darwinian synthesis and the church still denies that reality. I followed this up with "Strawmen: A Fundamentalist's Trojan Horse."


Kevin Davish said...

I enjoyed your defense of Waltke. It is much-needed.

Out of curiosity, do you have any settled position on the historical Adam debate? Perhaps "settled" is too strong a word -- maybe "leaning" or "proclivity" toward one side or the other or neither.

As far as I know, Walton is committed to a historical Adam/Eve, even with his functionalist reading of the creation narratives. Personally, I am non-committal, defaulting toward the received tradition ... but I take science far too seriously to be satisfied here.

Chris Donato said...

The Waltke row still baffles me.

I do think "proclivity" is probably the best way to describe where I'm at: My first reaction is to tread lightly on matters that the church catholic has itself settled on (perhaps akin to your "defaulting toward the received tradition").

Like Walton, I am at the very least committed to there being a historical first pair. But, given evolutionary history as we now know it, this has to mean (if I understand these things correctly) that somewhere in time God bestowed his image upon two male and female bipedal hominids (the first homo sapiens sapiens?). This would still jive with Walton's functional reading, in that the Adam and Eve described therein would've been assigned the function of dominion ( = imago Dei) rather than it being a description of their being made out of nothing.

What I also like about Walton's reading is that if the text of Gen 1 truly does demand a literal, 24-hour-day week of seven days, then we can go with it, since it's describing the assigning of functions rather than creation ex nihilo (which logically did happen at some point way back when). The question then would be when did the event described in Gen 1 occur? I like the suggestion that it all is a build up to the redemptive story of Israel and thus serves as a proto-Israelite history, but I understand that approach has fallen on hard times as a of late.

Kevin Davis said...

We are very much on the same page. My questions now relate to Denis Lamoureux's work, especially how the genealogies -- even with some generous leeway -- would put the historical first pair at roughly 8,000 BC max, which is tens of thousands of years already into hominid development. This, as far as I understand it, is one reason why Lamoureux rejects a historical first pair altogether. Of course, Lamoureux therefore treats the genealogies as entirely literary and not historical as we know it.

Related to this is the question of when historical persons are more than figurative (Cain?, Abel?,...Noah?...Abraham?). The biblical theology movement, which has indeed fallen on hard times, routinely treated Gen 1-11 as largely mythical and then Gen 12 as the beginning of real history (Abraham). But both evangelicals and liberals have vigorously questioned why Abraham is a historical necessity but not Noah or Cain or Adam. If Adam and Eve are figurative (a literary representation of a real first pair), then wouldn't Cain and Abel have to be as well? But at what point do we get "real" historical persons? Like the biblical theology guys, Lamoureux treats Gen 1-11 as etiological proto-history, which then transitions into real history with Abraham, but I am not sure that this is possible to maintain. I do like, of course, its ability to treat the text seriously as covenant documents, inspired by God, while recognizing etiology and literary features that are hard to treat as strict history.

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