David Glass is the author of Atheism’s New Clothes: Exploring and Exposing the Claims of the New Atheists published by IVP/Apollos. He writes for the apologetics website ‘Saints and Sceptics’ and has a particular interest in the relationship between science and Christianity and in how evidence should be used in debates about the existence of God. He works as a lecturer in the School of Computing and Mathematics at the University of Ulster where he does research on topics at the interface between computing and philosophy.
In the New Atheism and related forms of popular atheism belief in God is frequently ridiculed and dismissed without any serious consideration of the arguments. Underlying this mindset is the belief that there is a quick-and-easy argument against belief in God and that as a consequence there is no need to take theism seriously. The argument is this: in the absence of evidence for God’s existence it is much more rational to disbelieve in God than it is to believe or to adopt a neutral stance. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes this point by drawing on a story by Bertrand Russell. He asks us to consider how we would respond to someone who claimed that there is a teapot orbiting the sun somewhere between Earth and Mars, but which is too small to be detected by any telescope. Just because there is no way of proving that it does not exist, it does not mean that we should adopt the view that there is a 50:50 chance that it does exist. Since there is no evidence for its existence, we should believe that it does not exist or, more strictly, that its existence is very improbable. By analogy, he claims that the same applies to God.
This is a version of the presumption of atheism, the idea that the burden of proof lies with the theist to show that God exists rather than with the atheist to show that he does not. It’s important to distinguish the presumption of atheism from the claim that there is no evidence for the existence of God. In popular atheism, the two notions tend to go together with the latter point often taken for granted, but it is entirely possible to be a theist and yet embrace the presumption of atheism. Such a theist would accept the burden of proof, but claim that the burden can be met as there is plenty of evidence for God. Interestingly, it seems that the late Antony Flew, who was probably the leading advocate of the presumption of atheism in the twentieth century, eventually gave up his atheism because of the evidence for the existence of God. He still maintained, however, that the presumption of atheism was the right starting point; it’s just that the evidence for God was too convincing to ignore.
So one problem with the New Atheist approach to the presumption of atheism – what we might call the presumption of popular atheism – is that it presupposes that there is no evidence for God just as there is none for Russell’s celestial teapot. No doubt the New Atheists would claim that they have considered all the purported evidence and arguments for the existence of God, but their discussions of these topics leave a lot to be desired and are generally considered to be the weakest part of their attack on religious belief. Furthermore, their approach to the presumption of atheism seems to distort their views on what would constitute evidence for God. To take one example, does the fine-tuning of physical constants and other features of the universe constitute evidence for God? Dawkins is not impressed with the anthropic principle response to fine-tuning, the idea that we shouldn’t be surprised by the fine-tuning because we wouldn’t be here to talk about it in the absence of fine-tuning. For Dawkins, an explanation is required and so he appeals to a multiverse, the idea that our universe is only one of many. He doesn’t seem overly impressed with multiverse explanations of fine-tuning either, but he finds them preferable to design. Why? Because God is so improbable that he cannot be considered as an explanation for fine-tuning.
Notice the logic of the argument. Dawkins believes he has a good reason for adopting the presumption of atheism and hence assigning a very low probability to God. (We’ll come back to his argument for this in a moment.) He then uses this same belief to justify ruling God out as an explanation for fine-tuning and so he rejects the idea that fine-tuning can provide evidence for God. In other words, his views about the presumption of atheism have determined whether fine-tuning constitutes evidence for God.
Setting aside the problems with the New Atheists’ hasty dismissal of evidence for God, what about the presumption of atheism itself? Let’s take the analogy between God and the celestial teapot. Clearly, God is not like a teapot orbiting the sun! The teapot would be just another object in the universe, admittedly a very odd one, but it would not help us to make sense of anything else. By contrast, as the Creator of the universe, God would be the most important being to exist. God would provide the ultimate reason for the universe itself, for the order within it and for our existence. As Dawkins himself points out:
a universe with a supernaturally intelligent creator is a very different kind of universe from one without. The difference between the two hypothetical universes could hardly be more fundamental in principle, even if it is not easy to test in practice.
The same could hardly be said for a teapot! For this reason, the hypothesis of theism cannot be dismissed in the same way as the hypothesis of the celestial teapot.
Dawkins does not merely appeal to an analogy with the celestial teapot, but provides an argument based on organized complexity to support his contention that God’s existence is highly improbable. Unfortunately for Dawkins, this argument fails for multiple reasons, the most obvious of which is that there is no good reason to think that God would possess the kind of organized complexity required for Dawkins’ argument to work.
So Dawkins and the other New Atheists have given us no good reason to embrace the presumption of atheism. And they can’t expect the rest of us to embrace it just because it is intuitively appealing to them. As atheists have generally recognized, there can be no presumption of the presumption of atheism. If it is to be embraced, a good reason is needed yet none has been provided.
In summary, the idea in popular atheism that there is an easy way to dismiss belief in God based on a presumption of atheism and the claim that there is no evidence for God does not stand up to scrutiny. If the case for God’s existence is to be evaluated seriously, presumptions and analogies with teapots are not much help.
 I’ll set aside the question of whether there are other good responses to fine-tuning. Here I’m only concerned with the logic of Dawkins’ argument. Interestingly, even in the context of biology, he makes use of this dubious argument.
 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Bantam, 2006), p. 58.
 See chap. 6 of Atheism’s New Clothes. See also http://www.saintsandsceptics.org/theres-probably-no-god-a-response-to-richard-dawkins/
If you’ve been reading the science news lately, you’ll find there has been a lot of buzz about “extrasolar planets”, or “exoplanets” (i.e., planets that orbit other stars). For an example, see here. The reason why is in the last several years, the number of exoplanets that we’ve discovered has increased dramatically, mostly due to the Kepler mission. But regardless of the reason why, one interesting question this brings up is, “Are there other planets that host life?”
This is an incredibly profound question for both the religious and non-religious alike. For the Christian, the knee-jerk reaction might be “no, of course not, God specially created the life on earth and did not do so elsewhere.” (By the way, I do not necessarily espouse this view.) For the secularist, the presence of life on other planets only adds weight to the idea that life arose here on earth by strictly naturalistic processes. So what does science have to say about this subject? Given the sensationalistic popular news articles, one might think the universe is teeming with alien life. However, the data actually say otherwise.
First, answering the origin of life question, from a scientific standpoint, is incredibly hard. In fact, after investigating the state of affairs on this problem in order to write a book, it has driven agnostic physicist Paul Davies to proclaim1:
When I set out to write this book, I was convinced that science was close to wrapping up the mystery of life’s origin…Having spend a year or two researching the field, I am now of the opinion that there remains a huge gulf in our understanding…This gulf’s not merely ignorance about certain technical details, it is a major conceptual lacuna.
He goes on to say:
Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled. There are two reasons for their unease. First they feel it opens the door to religious fundamentalists…Second, they worry that a frank admission of ignorance will undermine funding…
Second, even though it is a conceptually difficult phenomenon to study, scientists are incredibly confident that it will be resolved one day. The main reason why is that the alternative to having a naturalistic origin of life would be a supernaturalistic origin of life, something that most secular scientists not only do not believe in but also that they rule out completely according to their philosophical worldview.
Third, we now know that life on our planet originated in a geological instant. As soon as this planet became even remotely suitable for life, roughly 3.9-3.8 billion years ago, life began (our earliest evidence for life is between 3.86 and 3.80 billion years ago). To the secular scientist, this implies that even though we have no idea how, the origin of life must be a very simple, fast process.
Fourth, because the origin of life is simple and fast, it probably is not a finely-tuned process, according to the reasoning of secularism. In other words, all you need are some minimal requirements (liquid water, a rocky planet, some carbon-containing compounds, and a short window of time) and life will surely appear. This principle led astronomer Steve Vogt, upon discovery of a rocky exoplanet in the “Goldilocks zone” (the distance from their star that would allow a planet to potentially harbor liquid water), to state, “The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent.” (As an interesting sidenote, the particular planet he was referring to may not even be a planet. Of course, we are still discovering exo-planets, and I have been confident for some time that we would find a near-earth-sized rocky planet in the Goldilocks zone. And lo and behold, we have. For examples, see here and here.)
So, given this background, is it likely that such “Goldilocks planets”, which are likely to be all over the place in the universe, harbor life? Well, there are two sides to this story. As I laid out above, the popular secular point of view (and the point of view portrayed by the media) is that life is inevitable whenever loose conditions are met (background point four). So of course, whenever you have a planet in the Goldilocks zone, life is inevitable. This view springs solely from the assumption of naturalism (background point 2) and the fact that life arose on earth quickly (background point 3). You can easily see this point of view when reading the popular news articles, which are overflowing with unbridled optimism.
The other view is that life is rare in the universe, because all of the prowess of the origin-of-life scientific community has returned a comparatively small amount of promising data (background point 1). In fact, not only has little actual progress been made towards discovering naturalistic pathways towards origin of life, but instead the more we know the more we discover how far away we are. Problems such as the lack of a prebiotic soup, the irreducible complexity of life, the homochirality problem (all bio-molecules must be either 100% right-handed or 100% left-handed), the difficulty in producing a cell membrane, and the finely-tuned conditions needed to carry out the chemical reactions that produce biological precursors all reveal a much less optimistic story from the point of view of hard science.
The problems for the hypothesis of the naturalistic origin of life don’t stop there, however. The more we study our planet, the more we realize that an exoplanet needs a lot more going its way than just to be in the Goldilocks zone. There are a whole host of astronomical and geological parameters that must be exquisitely finely-tuned for life to (1) exist and (2) persist on a planet. The timing of the formation of the exosolar system, the location of the exosolar system within the galaxy, the type of galaxy the exosolar system is in, the elemental composition of the star and planet, and the existence of stable, long-lasting plate tectonics are just a few of the finely-tuned parameters that must be met for life to exist and thrive.
None of this is to say that we should not be investigating how life could have originated, or whether exoplanets may harbor other life forms. Indeed, if God did create the universe and life, I am convinced that these scientific disciplines will serve only to glorify Him further.
But these observations do beg the question: which is it? Is life abundant in the universe, a premise based on one data point and questionable assumptions, or is life rare, a premise based upon the empirical findings of the fields of biochemistry, organic chemistry, astronomy, and geology? It seems to me that hope springs eternal for the secular exoplanet researcher, but the hard scientific data tells another story.
1. Davies, Paul. ”The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life.” Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 16, 2000)
Dr Greg Reeves holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and is currently an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at North Carolina State University. He is the co-director of the NC State chapter of Ratio Christi. His blog can be found at twobooksapproach.blogspot.com.
This is part 1 of a series of guest posts by Mike Trutt on Geocreationism. Check out other posts on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity here.
Mike Trutt is an evangelical Christian with a Jewish background. He believes the Bible is inspired by God, recorded by man, and given its life by the Holy Spirit. You can read about and discuss his Old Earth views on scripture, science, history, and other topics at his blog,http://geocreationism.com.
I believe the Earth is old, and God’s Word is true. This is not an easy position to hold. There are Christians today feeling challenged to abandon the church, because long-standing theology requires a young earth that science tells them does not exist. Faith tells them that science and scripture should not be at odds, but if the earth is so old, then what does scripture mean? Why does Genesis say what it says, and science sees what it sees? Christians can agree that science and scripture must somehow align, but disagree as to how. A science that conforms to a young earth requires one to dismiss the scientific basis of established dating techniques, while an interpretation of scripture that conforms to an old earth requires an explanation of why pre-historic death does not unravel the doctrine of Original Sin, and in turn our need for a savior. As an Old Earth proponent and a Christian redeemed from sin, I have found no mainstream theory – on either side – that satisfactorily answers these questions.
Though I consider them my brethren in Christ, the Young Earth scientists whose writings I have read do not appear to understand the science they theoretically embrace. While using science reliably for everyday tasks like keeping airplanes in the sky and maintaining reliable cell-phone signals, the moment you provide evidence of something incredibly old that The Great Flood cannot explain, they say carbon dating is unreliable beyond 5,000 years (which is roughly true), hence rendering any dating technique equally suspect. Why? Because the Bible clearly says to them that the Earth is young. To them, evidence to the contrary indicates a misunderstanding of the evidence. While such strong faith is potentially advantageous to their relationship with God, it dismisses the possibility that Genesis is what we misunderstand. But, if that is the case, and the earth is old, then where is the theory of Old Earth Creation that keeps Christian Theology intact? In all my years of looking for it, it isn’t there. Enter Geocreationism.
Most Old Earth approaches relegate Genesis 1-11 to some form of symbolism, even though every chapter is clearly written in a literal manner. For example, concordist theories (e.g., Day-Age, Progressive Creationism) map the days of creation to overlapping geological eras, even though Genesis 1 clearly discerns a break between creation days. Gap theories fail to account for the fossil record, by acknowledging the age of the earth, but not the development of the species. Theistic Evolution relegates God to the beginning of creation, when Genesis 1 clearly shows God’s involvement at every step. And so it goes, as every mainstream Old Earth theory dismisses the plain meaning of scripture, an unsatisfying response to Young Earth theories, which dismiss the plain meaning of the science. It creates a false dichotomy that puts many in the unenviable position of dismissing their heart or dismissing their mind, when God would have us dismiss neither.
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The first mistake of Old and Young Earth Creationists alike is one of perspective. They read Genesis 1 from the perspective of the earth’s experience being created by God, when it is really telling us of God’s experience creating the earth. If there is any doubt then consider who it is that hovered over the deep in Genesis 1:2. God was there, physically hovering. He had a perspective, and from His perspective the earth had no form and He could see no light. “And God said ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light 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) From God’s perspective, hovering over the deep, there was now light separated from darkness. In Job 38:5, God describes it as stretching the line upon the face of the earth. Proverbs 8:27 calls that line the circle on the deep, which we see from space, even today.
The Hebrew word used for day is “yom”, and it refers specifically to the period from sundown to sundown, or from darkness to darkness. In other words, God experienced the end of the day, but it was not specifically 24 hours. This has profound implications for understanding Genesis 1, and it is a perspective I have read nowhere else.
For God to, by choice, physically experience 6 days creating, calling each phase of creation “good”, it suggests an ability to watch the earth rotate beneath Him until the entire earth passed Him by. As Genesis 1:2 says so clearly, God hovered over it, an intentional physical perspective for Him to watch His work. But what would happen after 24 hours, after the entire earth has passed through His view? From the perspective of a point on the earth, one “yom” would certainly pass. However, God was not limited to a point upon the earth. He was hovering above it as the earth rotated beneath Him, hovering in the light, which imposes no arbitrary time limit on when He moves into the dark. Combined with the literal meaning of “yom”, scripture is not requiring a creation day to be a 24-hour period. Sundown for God becomes the time God chose, not a time imposed. It means the earth may be old, and God created it in 6 literal days.
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Another common oversight in Genesis 1:2 is the nature of the deep over which God hovered. What is it? When was it? What if science could find a period in history when the earth was covered in water and darkness, a period that ended with the appearance of light, but no land, no life, and no visible sun? Would that confirm at least the possibility that Genesis 1:2 is recording something that literally happened? I thought it would, and I found it.
About 4.5 billion years ago, the earth is thought to have formed. According to the aging of zircon crystals from as long as 4.4 billion years ago, it strongly suggests the formation of an ocean around the world as it cooled. It would also seem from the moon’s craters that large meteors were hitting earth until around 3.9 billion years ago. The sizes of the meteors were large enough to vaporize any ocean that was forming, and blow away any infant atmosphere as well. But interestingly, that stopped quite suddenly 3.9 billion years ago. This gives us a point in time when the earth, covered in water, vapor, and gas was finally allowed to start settling down, and allow the sky to clear. The sun was dimmer at the time, and what light did reach the earth would have been too obscured to be seen. It is the precise condition described in Genesis 1:2, and would seem to record the result of God’s statement, to “Let there be light.”
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While we’re on the topic of the deep and its formation, I want to jump to Genesis 2:4-7…
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
What fascinates me about this passage is verse 5. It describes the state of the earth when God first made it. Does this passage give us a clue as to when that was? Well, look at the description of the earth in verses 5 and 6…
This is in fact a precise description of the earth 4.5 to 4.4 billion years ago. Scientists call this process outgassing. They believe it is how the deep formed, over which I believe God hovered in Genesis 1:2, and it is described quite accurately in Genesis 2:5-6. Though no mainstream theory will call Genesis scientific, the appropriateness of these verses should no longer be overlooked. Finally, we come to verse 7, which says, “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
To paraphrase, God started with dust 4.4 billion years ago. He then proceeded through 6 literal days of creation until around 6,000-7,000 years ago, when Adam was born. God introduced Himself and breathed new life into him.
Thesis 6: The Fall of Man into Sin destroys the order of God’s Cosmic Temple.
This destruction and disarray can be seen firstly in this: Man has tried to make himself God. This is what the deceiver promised in 3:5- “eat of the tree of which you were commanded not to eat and you will be like God.” Man has separated himself from communion with God in this Cosmic Temple. The price for his rebellion is expulsion from the Cosmic Temple, man and woman are cast out, East of Eden (this will be important in a moment).
A brief note on “sin:” I must say that one of the worst parts of Walton’s book is when he tries to address the place of death in creation before the 7 days of functional ordering and how it fits in after the Fall. I think this happens because Walton suffers from the same fate as most reformed evangelicals who deny any hereditary original sin that is a condition plaguing all mankind and even causing detriment to the world around us. Surely he would hold that all are sinful, but his language in the book leaves the door open for someone to think that he defends natural disasters and animal attacks on humans as if that’s always the way it was meant to be. He gives no indication that sin is a condition of chaotic disorder in this world. For him, sin is simply a wrong action we commit (or good we omit).
In retrospect I think Walton would find that a Lutheran understanding of Sin would actually HELP the case he tries to make in the book and even make sense of some of the loose ends that he leaves untied. Allow me to explain how a Lutheran understanding of Sin fits into this Genesis 1 Cosmic Temple. The word for sin in Hebrew is hta. Many have said that this is the word for when an arrow misses its mark. That is true, but it is not speaking of the ACTION of missing the mark (sin as an action would be what Walton and the reformed hold as do Lutherans although we do not limit it to that).Hta is the condition that things are not as they are intended to be! Sin is not, “oops I missed the target” (an act of committing wrong). Hta is “I shot the arrow straight down and now gravity is going UP!” or better yet, “I shot at the target and now the arrow is facing the opposite way, impaling my heart!” The correct condition is that the arrow is where it belongs: in the target. The hta is the condition where the arrow is completely confounded and misplaced.
When it comes to the Cosmic Temple then, the entrance of SIN (hta), as this condition of chaos, reverts the perfect, ordered, functional Cosmic Temple to the chaos of 1:2a. God spent seven days ordering this Cosmos into a Temple of communion between God and man and now man has rejected this Temple and sent all of creation back into tohu andbohu, purposelessness and functionlessness, worse than that! The world is now a place of rebellion and death. The ground of the earth is cursed (3:17-18) and as man and woman are expelled from the Cosmic Holy of Holies they are sent into the wilderness where animals, weather, and nature itself are now hostile to them! Throughout the OT and even into the NT the wilderness is viewed as the land of desolation, tohu and bohu, and separation from God. And yet, God is not about to let their chaotic overturn of His creation be the final word on the matter!
Thesis 7: God’s establishment of the Israelite Tabernacle/Temple serves to return mankind to the divine order of the Cosmic Temple: communion with God.
Finally we get to the point of all these temple comparisons. What was the point of all those tabernacle/temple regulations in Exodus and Kings? Why was God so specific? Because God wanted to show them in explicit visual detail that He was opening a new Eden by which the Israelite sinners could return to communion with their God! However, one thing had changed. Man was no longer pure and clean. Man was sinful and defiled and would need atonement to come before God. This is why the ONLY thing that differs between the Cosmic Temple and the Israelite Temple is the sacrificial system.
Allow me to quickly go through some of the aspects of the Temple that reminded Israelites that they were returning to God’s Holy Eden- the pleasure of His presence. First, recall that the man and woman were banished EAST of Eden. The Tabernacle and Temple of Israel each had the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies positioned in the West and the worshipers would enter through the East gate. By going from East to West they are coming home from the way God banished them.
Second, we recall the rivers of Eden: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. In addition to the water basins looked at above, it is also of remarkable note that there stands a spring just south of Solomon’s temple, in the Kidron Valley which was named, “The Gihon Spring.” Hmm. Very Interesting!
Once inside the main gate the Israelite worshiper walks among the courts, surrounded by wooden walls and looking at the pillars of the Holy Place with their decorated tops made to look like trees. Even to this day Cathedrals all throughout the world use pillars with decorated tops to act as trees leading to the centre of the Garden: the Holy of Holies in the Temple and the Chancel of the Cathedral!
Inside the Holy Place you have your lampstands to mark the minor lights just like the large menorah in the outer court acts as a greater light! Finally, you find behind the curtain of the Holy Place the Holy of Holies where God Himself sits on the Mercy seat. For Israel worship at the Temple is a return to the divine order of Creation as God intended, the sinful corruption of the world is made right. And yet, all of this was incomplete. The sacrifices all looked forward to a final sacrifice. Through the Israelite Temple worship God was reconciling His people, but through the final redemption, all the Earth would be restored to the Cosmic Temple God created.
Thesis 8: Jesus Christ finalizes the restoration of the Cosmic Temple.
Hebrews 10:1-18 is worth your read right now! Once you’re done, come back and read on.
Christ is the finale of the sacrificial system as surely as he is the only true sacrifice. More than this, the tearing of the Temple curtain at his crucifixion speaks of this restoration. Through Christ Jesus man is reunited to God and the Cosmic Temple is restored. Likewise, going back to our seven days of creation, there is now an eighth day of creation. Just as God rested on the seventh day, so Christ rested in the tomb on the seventh day. Then on the eighth day Christ was raised from death to life and established a NEW Creation through Resurrection!
“It doesn’t look so new,” you might say. “There is still death and disaster, pain and suffering.” Yes indeed. We live in a period of “now and not yet.” We are saved yet we are not in heaven yet. Sin has been defeated, yet we live in a fallen world. As Paul writes in Romans 8:18-30 (do look it up and read it, I won’t post it all here, the post is long enough) we and the whole of creation await the future glory. I find it marvellous that in the last two chapters of Revelation we find an undoing of the seven days of creation. In Revelation 21 – 22 we read of the New Heaven and the New Earth and we see an unravelling of what was created in Genesis 1. The sea is no more but all will drink from the spring of the water of life (cf. John 4; 7:37-39- the latter occurring in the Temple during the Feast of Booths where water is poured out as libation). The sun and the moon are no more because Christ the Lamb is their light (cf. John 8 “I am the Light of the world”- said while he was in the Temple for the Feast of booths, standing by the menorah)! In every way the New Heaven and New Earth are much greater than the pre-Fall Cosmic Temple.
To summarize what the last posts have addressed: Genesis 1 – 3 is an ancient Temple Cosmology that does not specifically address the questions of how or when God did His material creating work. Beyond that Genesis 1 – 3 serves as a Liturgical text, a Temple text, a Christological text, a Trinitarian text, a Redemption text, a Sacramental text, a Teleological text, and an Eschatological text, but NOT a 21st century scientific treatise. As I have told many people before, there is such a wealth and richness to these initial chapters that we simply miss the point of the text when we try to force it into modern scientific debates and attempt to answer questions that God did not deem important enough to address in His revelation to ancient Israel. What God does answer in these chapters is why He has made creation work the way it does, how man has thrown it into chaos, and how He will restore it to an even greater glory.
It would now be my contention that day two and its parallel day four are the building and filling of the Cosmic Temple. In the religious Tabernacle/Temple of Israel this comes off a bit differently because of the Fallen status of the world. Day 2’s establishment of the expanse parallels the setting up of the tent of the Tabernacle and the walls of the Temple. Notice then that day 5 is the creation/assignment of the birds of the sky (above the tent’s curtain) and the sea creatures (below the tent’s foundation). What fills the temporal Temple will come on days 3 and 6.
For now I would like to add one more decorative indicator of Temple cosmology. If you remember your temple diagrams that you’ve seen and the Levitical procedures you may have read about in various OT courses/studies, you will surely remember the pools and the washings! Priests had to regularly wash themselves and their robes before proper use in the Temple. For the Tabernacle, see Exodus 30:17-21. And for the Temple see 1 kings 7:23-26; 2 Chron 4:2-5. As with the lampstand above, these serve a symbolic purpose as well as a practical one! They are part of the Temple precisely because they are part of the Cosmic Temple in Genesis 1!
Genesis 1:11-13 and 24-25, “And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day… [day 6] And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
As foreshadowed above, on day 3 we have a further establishment of the Cosmic Temple and on day 6 we have the first part of the filling of the Cosmic Temple. First I will deal with day 3. While travelling through the wilderness, the Israelite Tabernacle did not uproot and replant trees in the Tabernacle every where they went. However! You will read and see Acacia wood being used in everything from the Ark of the Covenant to the pillars that hold up the curtain and the walls of the Holy Place (see The Lutheran Study Bible page 141 for a great breakdown of materials used). The tent posts all the way around the outer court too serve as a garden image with all their rich colours. Later in the Solomonic Temple, there is a similar tree-like architectural feature. First we note that cedar and cypress timber from Lebanon was used (1 Kings 5:8-9; 6:14-18). Just as the trees and vegetation of day 3 served to decorate the Cosmic Temple, so also the acacia, cedar and cypress wood are used to decorate Israel’s Tabernacle & Temple.
As for day six, I have isolated the first part from the second part (mankind) simply because man deserves a bit of time on his own. Much like the birds and fish are to fill the Cosmic Temple but are kept out of the temporal Tabernacle/Temple, so too these animals are included in the Cosmic Temple BUT are only brought into the Israelite Tabernacle/Temple to be sacrificed (more on this later!).
Genesis 1:26-31- “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
I’ll cut right to the chase. Man is the priest of the Cosmic Temple. This becomes even more explicitly clear in 2:15, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” These two tasks, “to work it and keep it” (avad and shamar) are only used together in reference to the Levitical priesthood. Upon God’s resting of day seven, the Cosmic Temple is fully ordered and filled, that is, it is fully functional! God is present and he places His man in the Garden of Eden, the Holy of Holies of this Cosmic Temple, to be the High Priest who serves God by working and keeping this Temple. And at the centre of this Cosmic Temple stands the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. Man is given one command by which he might serve and love the gracious Creator, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen 2:16-17).”
Despite avoiding material creation questions throughout his book, Walton appears to lean toward the special creation of mankind. He therefore rejects the evolution of man even though he allows room for evolution of animals. For him, Genesis 2 allows us to have a material understanding of man’s formation/creation (out of the dust). I don’t think it’s the strongest part of his book, but for now I am too fixated on the notion of the man as priest of the Cosmic Temple.
God then makes a suitable helper for the man (gender roles, order of creation, marriage, and the like are topics for further discussion in other forums). We all know what happens next. The perfect, complete, finished, and functional Cosmic Temple, perfectly and wonderfully ordered by God that He might live in communion with His creation, is disturbed. No, that’s too weak a description. The fully ordered creation is hurled into disorder, chaos, and disarray. SIN enters in 3:7.
The next post will discuss Thesis 6.
Thesis 5- Genesis 1 – 2 describes the whole of creation as God’s (pre-fall) Temple.
When examining the seven days of creation we see several factors that indicate something cultic (meaning religious) taking shape. The first three days show a forming of the earth which (in v. 2) was “without form.” In the second set of three days you see a filling of the earth which (in v. 2) was “void.” Walton, in keeping with his functional model suggests a better translation of these words tohu and bohu (without form and void). Similar to bara’ he provides a survey of tohu’s use in the Bible (bohu occurs three times, always with tohu) and shows that the word “describes that which is non-functional, having no purpose and generally unproductive in human terms (48-9).” In light of this, the state of tohu and bohu means that the earth has a functional non-existence. Thus, when God begins His bara’ work, the functional bringing into existence of all that He does, Genesis 1 wants us to see what purpose everything serves.
Examining the functions in Genesis 1 we will find many parallels to the religious life of ancient Israel as studied in Exodus, Leviticus, and the rest of the OT. I’d like to turn now to days 4 – 7 of the Genesis 1 account (1:14 – 2:3) to examine the indicators that the Genesis 1 cosmology is a temple cosmology.
Genesis 1:14-19 (ESV) – “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”
So let’s look at what functions these lights in the sky are given:
1) to separate the day from the night
2) to be for signs and for seasons (moed) and years
3) to give light upon the earth
4) to rule the day & night
5) to separate the light from the darkness
Now you may be asking yourself, “I don’t see anything here that is particularly temple focused. First I would like to point out that in a society where watches & clocks are not present, the Sun, Moon, and stars are what tell you when it is time to worship (they did so much more often than once a week). Second, we can see throughout the OT that specific days of specific months are given festivals and holidays. These were mapped out by using these very lights, after all that is their given purpose in point two, “to be for signs and for moediym and years.”
The word moed occurs 223 times in the OT, so we have a large cross section of uses to help us nail down the possible meanings and the intended meaning within this context. The basic lexical entry is “appointed time.” However it is important to note that in Exodus 23:15, God says, “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the moed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.” At the very beginning of the cultic/religious life of Israel upon exiting Egypt this word is tied to their religious festivals! Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, & Numbers moed is unanimously used in the phrase “tent of meeting (moed)” for the tent in the centre of the Tabernacle (the travelling version of the Temple before Solomon builds the first Temple). Now, beyond this there are countless uses of moed as “appointed time” in the worship life of Israel. I would thus maintain that Genesis 1 claims the functional purpose of the Sun, Moon, and stars is to indicate the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly worship schedules of God’s people. In other words, when the ancient Israelite children asked their parents, “why is that moon shining in the sky?” the parents would answer in accord with Psalm 104:19 and say, “God made the moon to remind us when to observe the Feast of Passover and the other feasts/festivals.”
There is one more minor indicator that I would like to bring up when discussing the functional creation of Light. When we examine Genesis 1 as a Temple cosmology we realize just why something seemingly inconsequential like the Golden Lampstand (Ex. 25:31ff) is present in the Temple. Not only does it serve to light the room, but it is absolutely necessary to have this light in the Temple because this Temple reflects the Cosmic Temple corrupted in the Fall. If the Cosmic Temple has Light (Gen 1:3-5, 14-19) so must the Tabernacle/Temple have that Light (Ex. 25:31-40; 2 Chron 4:7).
Genesis 1:20-23- “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.”
Granted, there is not much here that we would directly relate to the Temple if we did not first see that days 4-6 are paralleling days 1-3. Now, when we look back to verses 6-8 and read it in the light of other ancient Near Eastern cosmologies we see that on days two and four more than any other we find the physical shape of a temple. The Lutheran Study Bible footnote on these verses is very helpful in pointing out the structural/functional aspect of how the “expanse” works and the image it evokes. “The point of the image is the function rather than the substance: the sky serves as a divider. The Israelites often used figurative terms to describe the cosmos as it appeared to them (cf. Is 40:22, where the sky is described as a “curtain” and a “tent”).”
[Further expansion of thesis 5 coming later this week]
Thesis 4- Genesis 1 does not address the specific method that God used in material creation, therefore (given T1-3) no specific answer to the questions of how or when is necessary to salvation.
Walton makes an important distinction between material creation and functional creation. Material creation is what modern debates obsess over. How did the material (the animals and people) get here: did they evolve or were they created or both? When did they come about? A quick reading of Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 shows that good, solid answers to these questions are not given. “In the beginning” is hardly a round number. Even those who attempt to date the earth using the various genealogies of the Bible prove their ignorance of ancient Near Eastern family lists which often “telescope” or skip generations of individuals and focus on the most notable. In other words, no one should think that the genealogy from Adam to Abraham is intended to tell us exactly how old the earth is. That was not the purpose of the genealogy and that is not what the genre allows a modern reader to do either.
Now, as for the “how material was created.” Walton argues very convincingly that Genesis 1 remains silent on this. With our modern biases we immediately object, “how can that be!? It says plainly, ‘and God said let there be light.’” Walton backs up to Gen 1:1 and addresses the Hebrew word bara’ (to create). In our understanding we always attach an ex nihilo understanding onto this word. That alone shows how materially minded we are, we have a very material focused cosmology. Walton first demonstrates that all ancient Near Eastern cosmologies were ‘function’ oriented, not material oriented. This means that the neighbouring creation accounts are concerned with the gods assigning functions to what comes about. How and when was not the question they were asking.
Walton then shows a similar mindset in ancient Israel. Even the word bara’ is a functional word. Walton provides a survey (p. 42) that outlines every use of the verb in the Hebrew Bible. The first thing of note is that God is always the subject. The second thing of note is that it nearly always is used in a functional sense, where God is giving something a specific purpose or function. Let’s look back to that light example. Genesis 1 does not stop with, “And God said let there be light.” No, Genesis 1:3-5 says “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5Godcalled the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (italics mine)”
More than making light is taking place. God is assigning functions to the light and the darkness, he is naming them for their functions! This is seen even more specifically when God creates the Sun and Moon. “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons (A more accurate translation is “festivals”- a temple word), and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth. (underlining mine)” How and when is not important. Why are they present? That is the question God chose to answer for the people.
Walton does go through these days in detail and then gives brief critiques of the various models out there. The first thing worthy of note is that yom (Day) does mean day… not age. Walton would argue that this hardly seals the deal for Young Earthers since they are completely fixated on material models of creation. Walton seems to take the side that the seven days of Genesis 1 are the seven days in which God assigned all creation its specific function, indeed without function one might hardly say that they exist at all (he uses the analogy of a company- before it is certified it cannot be said to exist even if it has a building and equipment and workers). Thus, Walton, like Genesis 1, remains mute on the hows and whens of material origins before the days when God assigns the functions and Walton sticks with what Genesis 1 does give us, which is the next thesis [coming next week in part 3].
This post is the first guest post in my series on the “Life Dialogue” within Christianity. See other posts in the series here.
This post was written by my dear friend, Matt Moss, who has just returned from studies in England. Here we go:
JW has asked me to write this guest post for a long time now and I have delayed and delayed due to school and general business. So now I begin what he has asked me to do: present an explanation of creation as it is presented in Genesis 1. One reason this post was delayed was because I came across a book by John Walton entitled “The Lost World of Genesis 1,” which tackled Genesis 1 in a similar way in which I had hoped to. I decided to study it before attempting to write my own piece. While I do not agree with every direction he takes, the work is insightful and challenging. In the end it served to be a very formative work in helping me develop what others (professors) were beginning to form in my mind. Namely, that the cosmology of Genesis 1 is not intended to address 21st century scientific debates on the origin of species and to make it address such debates is shoddy exegesis and an abuse of Scripture.
Precisely speaking, the cosmology of Genesis 1 is a Temple cosmology, a religious document that tells us so much more than how the material of this world came into existence. As this post will hopefully show, Genesis 1 goes beyond the pithy question of how and when everything came into being. Genesis 1 answers who brought it about and why! The when and the how are not answered which tells us two things. 1) The ancients might have been smart enough to realize that the important questions are ones of metaphysical importance: why are we here? And/or 2) God did not tie salvation to having a 100% perfect scientific cosmology and therefore did not deem it necessary to provide the ancients (or us) with a fail-safe scientific model for how and when He did what He did.
Given our ever-present desire to know all things, this will hardly be greeted with joyful ears, but hopefully by the end of this post you will see that there are much better discoveries in the Genesis 1 than what the scientific harmonizers try to glean from the text.
Thesis 1: The Bible does not tell us everything we want to know.
I hope this one is self-explanatory, thus I will not waste any more space on it.
Thesis 2: The Bible tells us what it does so that we might believe in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and have life in His name.
For the Christians who read this blog entry, I sincerely hope that this too is unanimously affirmed and needs no more addressing. (Jn 20:30-31)
Thesis 3: Therefore, nothing on which the Bible is silent will negatively or positively affect your salvation.
The implication being- if the Bible is silent on the mechanics of the material creation (as we will explore below) then modern debates over young earth, old earth, design, and all other scientific cosmologies fall into a level of importance far below what the text actually seeks to tell us. Now, I am fully willing to acknowledge that many in the scientific field will take evolution and other aspects of theoretical cosmologies and use them to offer proofs that deny God’s existence. Thus, apologetics serves a valiant purpose in refuting this and affirming the truth that God is creator. However, this post’s main focus is on Genesis 1, which is the chief text wrestled over by all who place themselves under the large umbrella of “creationists.” If Genesis 1 is truly silent on the how and when of creation by God, then Young Earth Creationists should not use Genesis 1 to brow beat Old Earthers into accepting their 21st century model (and vice versa, et al). Let science do its job with integrity, clarity, and truth and let the Bible say what it says. Unduly harmonizing them does injustice to both. 100 years from now science may have developed a cosmology that is 180 degrees different than anything we have today. Think then of how much time would have been wasted force-fitting Genesis 1 into a 21st century cosmology. We would have nothing to show for it but a need to start all over and try and force Genesis 1 into a 22nd century cosmology. I think the better option is to (1) adopt as best we can an ancient Israelite cosmology while we read the text, (2) take out (exegete) what it is truly saying, and (3) learn the lessons that God communicated to His first audience which is what He still desires to tell us.
Part 2- Coming later this week.