John Walton’s latest book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve is primarily an exegetical attempt to get at what the Bible teaches about Adam and Eve. Walton applies his insights from the Ancient Near East (ANE) to the study of the Bible. Perhaps the central focus of the text, then, is the notion that unlike us, those who wrote the Bible and were its first audience would look not for material origins but rather functional origins and purpose. When applied to the topic of Adam and Eve, this yields a number of surprising conclusions about what the text is intended to mean.
Walton argues that the Genesis creation account does not specifically tell us how Adam and Eve materially came to be but rather is an account of God giving them their functions as the image of God, ushering in order against the chaos. His view is one which sees Adam as archetypical head of humanity rather than necessarily being the first ever human. Adam and Eve were chosen by God to become God’s representatives in the world.
Many intriguing arguments are put forward by Walton once he has established what is the central thesis–that the text is concerned with functional, not material origins. These include reading Genesis 2 as a sequel to rather than recapitulation of Genesis 1, the use of the term “very good” and “good” in the text, the meaning of “formed from dust” and from the rib, the archetypal meaning of Adam and Eve, the real existence of this couple, the priesthood of the couple in sacred space, our role as bringing order from disorder, the “serpent” in the Garden, and more. Each chapter is filled with compelling arguments and sometimes surprising conclusions.
Because the worldview of the ANE was not concerned with material origins, the questions we often ask of the text like “Were Adam and Eve the first humans?”; “Are we all descended from Adam?” and the like are questions which the text is not intended to answer. These are questions from our background, not from the background of the text. Thus, Walton argues that there can be much openness to the answers to these questions. When we come to the New Testament discussions of Adam and Eve, Walton (and the contribution from NT Wright) argue that this is why the notion of federal headship (though not necessarily material/genetic headship) is probably in mind.
Readers who are unconvinced by the notion that we should apply ANE insights to our reading of the text will be challenged to support that claim. Walton cogently argues that although there is not a 1-to-1 correspondence between the worldview of the ANE and the Bible, it is highly questionable to assume that the writers and audience of the Bible would not have been influenced by their background and cultural understanding.
Regarding the science, Walton readily points out that he is not an expert in the area but defers largely to the experts. He applies the exegetical arguments to questions of original sin, federal headship, and the like in the context of modern scientific findings, though he does so in such a way that he retains his commitment to teach what the text does rather than trying to force it to speak of our concerns.
Many (most?) readers will find this book challenging on a number of levels because Walton so readily exposes our presuppositions about what the text should say. Very often Walton simply points readers back to the text to reveal how often we have our expectations bring meaning to the text rather than allowing it to speak for itself.
+Excellent insight into the ANE background of the Old Testament
+Strong exegetical argument with a commitment to understanding the text
+Coherent with the rest of Walton’s thought
+Challenges our presuppositions about the text
-A bit difficult to pin down exactly what his view is of original sin
The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a fantastic work and one which needs to be on the shelf of anyone interested in the topic. It is surprising, challenging, and frequently enlightening. Whether one agrees with Walton or not, this book is a must-read.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book courtesy of InterVarsity Press. I was not obligated to write any sort of review whatsoever. My thanks to the publisher for the copy.
Origins Debate– Read a whole bunch more on different views within Christianity of the “origins debate.” Here I have posts on young and old earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolutionism, and more!
John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2015).
Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
Does Concordism Fail?
Denis Lamoureux argues in his book Evolutionary Creation against concordism–the view that there is correspondence between science and Scripture. His argument proceeds by tracing various difficulties found in the biblical text for those who want to argue that it is scientifically accurate. This argument is lengthy, so interested readers should go to the book itself, but he basically appeals to things like the apparent belief in a 3-tiered universe, the notion of the “firmament” as a solid dome across the sky, and more in order to try to demonstrate that the attempt to show that concordism must reinterpret these texts rather than allow them to speak to their background worldview.
After rather exhaustively making this point, he asserts:
It is obvious that scientific concordism fails. There is no correspondence between the conceptualization of nature in the Book of God’s Words and our common knowledge of the Book of God’s Works. (149)
Lamoureux’s argument is lengthy and challenging. I think it presents at least two major difficulties for concordists. First, his argument demands that we who are concordists take the texts seriously at what they are teaching. If we want to affirm that the Bible is scientifically accurate, then we cannot simply dismiss these apparent discussions of a three-tier universe, firmament, and more as “background understandings” of the ancients. Instead, for the sake of consistency, we must explain how these texts will be in concord with a right scientific understanding. This task is one I will not undertake, but I think some have done an admirable job in this regard, particularly groups like Reasons to Believe.
Second, it provides a direct attack at the roots of the concordist position: can the concordist justify their position through the Bible rather than falling into the danger of misrepresenting what the Bible actually teaches and what the authors’ understanding actually was?
I do not take these challenges as insurmountable, but they do provide food for thought. I am wary of arguing the Bible should be anything like a science textbook, and particularly wary of thinking that it might have some kind of prophetic 21st century science written into the background. However, I am equally wary of acting as though the Bible has nothing to say about the natural world and that we can just blithely dismiss anything it might say as background understanding.
What are your thoughts? Does concordism fail? What is the best way to treat the interplay between Christianity and science?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008).
Is Adam Necessary for Christianity?
Not long ago, I wrote a post about the historical Adam in which I asked whether it was a “Gospel” issue. Unsurprisingly, there were many different voices raised talking about it, and I quite enjoyed the discussion. I also shared a different Sunday Quote! on how the doctrine of Adam is interwoven with others. I often read books that I know will challenge what I believe, because I think it is important to test your beliefs constantly in order to strengthen them and correct what is wrong. I read through Denis Lamoureux’s book, Evolutionary Creation and found it quite challenging and insightful on many points.
His central thesis is particularly striking:
Adam never existed, and this fact has no impact whatsoever on the foundational beliefs of Christianity. (367)
This thesis is very strongly worded, and I think there are a few problems with it. Key, of course, is the question of what is meant by “foundational” beliefs. Lamoureux does dive into that earlier in the book, but I think in some ways he doesn’t hit all the points he needs to. For example, the notion of original sin is one which is “foundational” in some theological traditions. Thus, for them, Adam’s non-existence would be extremely problematic. Lamoureux, however, does try to offer ways to even accommodate these traditions in the book. However, he ultimately has to settle for a “reformulation” of the doctrine in which:
[T]he entrance of sin was not a punctiliar event committed by two individuals. Instead, original sin was manifested mysteriously and gradually over countless many generations… (292).
I think this “reformulation” is unsatisfying. Moreover, as I have argued briefly elsewhere, federal headship seems to be a possible way around this for the evolutionary creation (read: theistic evolution) advocate. So, ultimately, I’m not convinced that Lamoureux’s central thesis can be carried. In fact, I think it is unnecessary for advocates of his position to even put forward.
What are your thoughts? How might we engage Lamoureux in a winsome way? What theological challenges might be offered to his position?
Is the historical Adam a “Gospel” issue? – I discuss what impact it has on Christianity if Adam is not a historical person.
Denis O. Lamoureux, Evolutionary Creation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008).
Can Adam be (merely) a federal head?
I recently finished reading the thought-provoking book, Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin. One area of interest was an essay examining differing views of Adam. Against the notion that Adam could be a mere federal head for humanity (among many other hominids and humans that existed at the time–a kind of theistic evolutionism), the author wrote:
Adam’s imputed sin has no ontological basis [on this view]. If only Africans and Asians, let us say, are true physical descendants of Adam, God will still impute Adam’s sin to Britons and Americans since Adam was also the federal head of all his contemporaries (among whom would have been their ancestors). This divine decree seems unfair and arbitrary since it is not grounded in an antecedent natural reality. (217, cited below)
I found this to be an argument that could trouble those who hold to Adam as mere federal head (rather than “natural head”–here being used to mean that Adam and Eve were the first of all humans and all are descended from them), but I think a few responses would be possible from the theistic evolutionist perspective. First, one could argue that there need be no grounding in a natural reality for Adam’s federal headship. After all, divine fiat should settle the question! Second, one might instead argue that God’s decree of Adam as federal headship itself just is the ontological basis. That is, there is an ontological basis for the condemnation: God’s decree. Third, one might argue that the federal headship of Adam went alongside the giving of the human soul to Adam and Eve and that the other humans were also given souls with Adam as their federal head. I think other possibilities are possible as well.
What do you think? Does this argument undermine the possibility of theistic evolutionism? Are the possible responses good rebuttals? Are there other possible responses?
Michael Reeves and Hans Madueme, “Threads in a Seamless Garment: Original Sin in Systematic Theology” in Adam, the Fall, and Original Sin edited Hans Madueme and Michael Reeves (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).
The young earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis recently wrote a blog post critiquing eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga on a number of levels. I’d like to offer a brief analysis of his comments.
Ken Ham doesn’t like Calvin College, where Plantinga once taught. About the school, he says:
Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the most ardently compromising Christian Colleges in the US that continues to lead so many young people astray in regards to the authority of Scripture beginning in Genesis.
Harsh words! Of course the reason that Calvin College is said to be a “compromising” college is because it doesn’t follow Ken Ham’s specific interpretation of Genesis as a necessity of Christian faith. By not holding to a position that the Earth is only about 6000 years old, Calvin College gets added to the blacklist of “compromisers.” This kind of name-calling is unbecoming Christians, but that unfortunately hasn’t stopped Ham and his followers.
Plantinga and Science
Ham takes issue with Plantinga’s words on whether science and Christianity may coexist. Following the link to read Plantinga’s own words, one reads:
[Those who believe in a conflict between science and faith] are thinking of evolution plus naturalism, which is the idea that there isn’t any such person as God or anything like God … evolution doesn’t say anything about whether there is such a person as God or not…It’s a metaphysical add-on they are importing into the scientific notion of evolution.
Ham believes that because of this, Plantinga is “equivocating” science and evolution. However, it can hardly be argued that evolution is not the reigning paradigm in biology. Thus, it is not so much equivocation as it is using terms as they are commonly understood. But that aside, the key point is that Plantinga surely seems to be correct. If one does not pair metaphysical naturalism with evolution, it poses no challenge to the existence of deity.
Now, the nuances of whether evolution may be reconciled with Genesis or not aside, the real question is the appropriateness of name-calling because other Christians believe in a different interpretation of Genesis. Ham wants to keep the focus on the alleged “utter contradiction” between evolution and Genesis, but he does so by elevating his specific interpretation of the Bible above any other view and even above Christian charity. For Ham, there is no need to engage with fellow Christians in a meaningful manner. Instead, he simply dismisses fellow Christians as compromisers and sees that as enough for his followers to ignore any complexities in the debate.
Of course, going back to the issue that Ham wants to frame: the alleged conflict between science and religion, I think that it is vitally important to allow charity in interpretations of Genesis. God’s word is infallible, but human interpreters are not infallible. Instead of lashing out at other Christians because they hold a different view than we do, perhaps we should work to reconcile with and learn from each other.
Ken Ham’s post is just a single example of the constant stream of vitriol spilled out by certain groups against those with whom they disagree. I myself have been called a compromiser, an unbeliever, a follower of Satan, someone who is working to undermine the faith, etc. by people who disagree with me. Why not start the discussion rather than pouring out insults? Why not seek to work together and, if necessary, debate the issues instead of using such nasty language about others?
Christian Philosopher Says Science Doesn’t Oppose Faith– Read Ken Ham’s post for his own perspective and words on the topic.
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The Source of Light: A Desperate Bid?
One of the heated questions about the age of the Earth of course concerns the meaning and length of the days of creation. Of the questions related to that, one which persists is where from and why, on a literal reading, is there light before the bodies which produce light (stars, sun, etc.) are apparently created (though this is also debated) on day four? In Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, Tremper Longman III offers the following comment on one path that some creationists take to explain the light prior to the sun:
The counterargument [to the fact that the solar bodies were not created until day 4] that God could provide an alternative light source is an act of desperation. Of course, God could provide light and darkness in some other fashion in a twenty-four-hour period, but that would still not constitute a literal evening and morning that is defined by the setting and rising of the sun and the movement of the other celestial bodies. (105, cited below)
Although I’m not sure I would qualify this move as “desperate,” I do still wonder how, exactly, one is to define the days of creation and a “literal” evening and morning without the actual solar bodies. I mean, realistically, what does it mean to say there is “evening” without such a reference point? Interestingly, some concordist positions (concordist meaning views which seek to explain the Bible in light of science or vice versa–and would encompass both young and old earth creationists of various types [see my taxonomy of positions]) actually take this to show that the days are not indeed 24 hour periods.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you see this move as desperate or do you think its perfectly reasonable? Somewhere in between? Why?
Tremper Longman III, “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What It Doesn’t)” in Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation edited J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013).
The origins debate within Christianity is often viewed through the lens of a very narrow spectrum. Most recently, this was demonstrated in the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. I also demonstrated this recently by answering questions for old earth creationists (see the first and second parts): some people tend to see the only options available for Christians as either young earth creationism (the earth was made in six 24 hour days 6-10 thousand years ago) or theistic evolutionism (God set it up, then evolution accounts for diversification). These perspectives, though showing a few of those available to Christians, do not actually reflect the whole realm of possibilities for Christians.
More thoughtful Christians tend to think of the perspectives as threefold. There are theistic evolutionists, young earth creationists, and then in between there is a kind of amorphous glob of people who hold to an “old earth” without expressing it in strictly evolutionary terms. Here, we’ll explore this amorphous glob (as well as the extremes) to show that there really is a range of options. I’m writing this mainly to clarify for many some of the difficulties in commenting on creation issues without such a taxonomy.
Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate
If I could recommend one book to anyone who is going to get involved in creation issues, I would have to say I’d recommend Gerald Rau’s Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything. I’m not recommending it because I think it is the best book on creation issues. Rather, I’m recommending it because I think anyone who is going to interact with these issues must be able to make distinctions between positions. Rau’s work is helpful because he has laid out many of the main categories for belief. There is, however, a downside to his work: it is necessarily simplified. He did an adequate job showing the major positions available, but the fact remains that even within each position he dilineated there are more divisions to be explored. Moreover, there are views which simply don’t fit into any specific group. That said, I think his work is extremely useful and so I’ll start with his organization as a way to introduce the taxonomy.
Rau divided the major positions on the origins debate into a sixfold division (see Rau, 41):
Naturalistic Evolution- On this view, there is no God and no purpose in origins. The process for the origin of species and its diversity is “spontaneous.”
Nonteleological Evolution- On this view, there is a creator, but there remains no intervention in the natural process which yield life and its diversity. Thus, the “conditions necessary for life” were “established at creation.” However, evolution is still without purpose and the creator did not specify its parameters.
Planned Evolution- On this view, there is a creator who had a purpose for life and its origin. This purpose is through a “perfect creation” which “naturally fulfills God’s purposes.” Thus, the purpose which the creator had was essentially front-loaded in at the moment of creation. There is no direction during the process.
Directed Evolution- On this view, there is a creator with a purpose for the diversity of life. Unlike the previous view, the creator doesn’t merely front-load design and purpose but rather intervenes throughout the course of history to bring about purpose: “changes in universe and life” are “subtly directed over time.”
Old-Earth Creation- On this view, the process by which the diversity of species came about is not through directed evolution but rather through creation over time: “major body plans” are “created over millions of years.” New diversity of life is through God’s direct creative act.
Young-Earth creation- on this view, “each ‘kind'” is “created in one week, within the last 10,000 years. All diversity of life is due to God’s creative act; any changes since then are only among the “kinds” represented on the ark.
Rau’s division of these groups is extremely helpful because he hits on the major positions represented within the spectrum. Of course the only options which are available to Christians are those which do not exclude God from the picture. Thus all but naturalistic evolution remain open to the believer. Now, the debate over how these might fit into the teaching of the Bible is not what I’m trying to dive into here. Instead, I’m simply pointing out there is diversity of views greater than the YEC/Theistic Evolutionism divide. One can see from the above that even within theistic evolutionism there is some diversity. Does evolution take place nonteleologically or did God plan it from the beginning? Perhaps God directed evolution along the way. There also is the option of Old Earth Creationism which shares many features with young earth creationism but radically diverges from the latter in many respects.
However, the spectrum opens up even more than Rau’s taxonomy depicts. The views he discusses focus primarily upon the science; that is, they are distinctions among views on the specifics of a scientific account of origins. Other views may be listed which may be distinguished by the reading of the Bible. Now, there is of course much overlap between these and Rau’s list, but I wanted to highlight a few views of interest.
First, there are interpreters like John Sailhamer in his book Genesis Unbound who hold that the text of Genesis is most specifically talking about the creation of the Garden of Eden. C. John Collins also holds to this view. They each hold that Genesis 1:1 is a kind of statement about the creation of the universe (though Collins does question whether it is explicitly about the ex-nihilo creation of the universe) and what follows as a continuous creation narrative of the land for the inhabitants. Thus, the text in Genesis does not explicitly affirm any sort of creation account and so people would be free to hold to essentially any position above apart from naturalistic evolution.
Second, John Walton’s view reads the creation account within the Ancient Near Eastern context and so he views Genesis not as a literal creation account but rather as an account showing how God is enthroned over the entire creation as King. Again, such a view would be amenable to the spectrum of views possible for a Christian as I noted.
It is worth noting that either of these is distinct from the spectrum Rau lists. They are distinct because they do not require commitment to any of the creation models. Thus, for Collins, Sailhamer, and Walton, one may simply remain open to the evidence rather than filtering the evidence through specific readings of the Genesis text. Of course, one could hold to this view and remain a young earth creationist; but none of these readings explicitly forces someone to hold to any position on the actual means of creation and speciation.
Third, there are positions related to the scientific origins which would further subdivide Rau’s categories as dilineated above. For example, young earth creationists often hold that the Global Flood can account for the fossil record and stratification. But some YECs have historically held that the Flood would have been tranquil and essentially had no impact on the Earth. Other YECs simply hold that the universe and the Earth have an appearance of age because God would have known at what age it would have needed to be in order to sustain life. There is much diversity about the mechanisms related to the Flood as well. Similarly, Old Earth Creationists exist upon a spectrum, though Rau’s principles about what unites them are correct. However, OECs are often confused with other views along the spectrum such as directed evolution. Strictly speaking, an Old Earth Creationist will not hold to the notion that speciation occurs on such a broad scale through evolution.
I have utilized Rau’s work to demonstrate there is a spectrum of beliefs related to the origins debate. The spectrum, I have argued, is even broader than Rau showed. Within each category he listed, there may be subdivisions. Moreover, there are some views which eschew attempts to dilineate the scientific truths but simply ascribe to reading the text. These latter views would fit with essentially any along the spectrum of beliefs so long as God is involved.
The purpose of this post is not to sow confusion for those interested in the topic of origins. Rather, it is to demonstrate that there really are more options on the table than either Young Earth Creationism or Theistic Evolutionism. Within either of those views there is much diversity, and there is a whole range in-between. Thus, let us hope that when we discuss origins we avoid falsely portraying the positions as being so limited that we fail to account for the range. Hopefully, this taxonomy will prove helpful.
Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012).
The internet is a big place, friends. I have made it smaller for you by finding a number of posts worth your time. Check them out. We have Mormonism, prayer, intelligent design, creationism, and a universe from nothing on display today.
A Compilation of Professors Responding to Mormon Claims– A user over on Reddit (not usually a site I recommend for thoughtful discussion) wanted to do some research into the claims made in the Book of Mormon. They emailed a number of professors in Egyptology and Mesoamerican studies with a survey of those claims asking about their credence. Check out the compilation of responses they got.
A gigantic royalty check from nothing– Edward Feser is a Thomistic philosopher who is quite erudite in his thinking. Here, he analyzes Lawrence Krauss’ view that the universe could come from nothing.
Prayer– A great little web comic which shows how awesome prayer is, if you just think about it for a minute.
Michael Behe and Keith Fox debate theistic evolution vs intelligent design– Winter Knight has up a “VERY SNARKY” review of the debate between ID advocate Michael Behe and theistic evolutionist Keith Fox. The link also has the audio of the debate, which is well worth listening to.
In the Beginning Symposium, Part One: Fossils– Over at Spiritual Meanderings, there is an interesting series going on analyzing a symposium by City Bible Forum on creation.