Joy in Genesis
Professor John Walton on the relationship between Genesis 1 and modern science.
Simon Smart talks to John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and author of The Lost World of Genesis One, about the importance of reading the first chapter of Genesis in its original context to help us see what it is, and isn’t, teaching us.
This is a short segment from a longer interview. To watch the full interview, click here.
SIMON SMART: You’re obviously not someone who thinks taking science and these ancient texts seriously is opposed.
JOHN WALTON: No, I don’t, as you can hear from my understanding of the text; I don’t feel like it’s trying to give us a modern scientific way of thinking. Yet at the same time, it doesn’t bend to science. And what I mean by that is that in the biblical way of thinking, just because something might happen that you can explain in naturalistic ways wouldn’t mean that God hadn’t done it. Rather, the biblical viewpoint would say – no, now you’re just understanding more about how God works and how he acts. So the psalmist says “you knit me together in my mother’s womb”. That doesn’t cancel out all of embryology. It rather says, as much as we can understand about embryology and that whole process from conception to birth – the science is there, we are benefitted by it, we appreciate everything it offers – that doesn’t rule out the fact that that’s how God is knitting us together in our mother’s womb. So it’s not a kind of situation where you have to figure out on every point is that something God’s doing?, or is it something science is doing? and that once you figure out that science is doing it, it means well that’s not God anymore. God is working through those processes. And even when that gets to very complicated processes like evolution, to say – whatever is true about evolution, that would explain what God is doing, give us a mechanism for how God is doing it. There’s a little more room for that once you read Genesis 1 as I suggested, as it’s really more concerned with functions and order and organisation rather than material origins.
SIMON SMART: Does reading the text in the way that you’re suggesting overcome problems with the age of the earth?
JOHN WALTON: Oh yes, because most people who think that the earth is very young get that from the seven days in Genesis 1. If Genesis 1 is not about material origins, and those 7 days therefore don’t have anything to do with the length of time over which material came into being, then Genesis 1 does not tell you the age of the earth. If Genesis 1 does not tell you the age of the earth, then we don’t have a biblical view of the age of the earth, and we’re free to explore whatever science offers to find out whether we think it has legitimacy or not.