Dr. Gordon Wilson: The ordinary is extraordinary

During the Creation Science Association of Alberta’s Creation Weekend 2018, Dr. Gordon Wilson was the featured speaker, giving three lectures. Dr. Margaret Helder offers an account of his second presentation below.

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While Dr. Gordon Wilson had entitled his presentation “The Magnificence of the Mundane” he wanted us to note that the words in the title are actually contradictory. While the word “magnificence” communicates excitement, the term “mundane” suggests that something is boring or dull.

But what he wanted to share with us is that God’s “ordinary” work in creation is amazing, displaying God’s wisdom and finesse (Ps. 104:24). And in this context, we are told that King Solomon – full of wisdom – spoke about trees, herbaceous plants, beasts, birds, reptiles and fish (1 Kings 4:33).

It is evident, declared Dr. Wilson, that one place to observe God’s wisdom is in nature. Similarly if one wants to be an expert on the Renaissance artist Michelangelo, one will endeavor to study his creative works in addition to any of his writings. Thus, said our speaker, biology is part of theology. It is the study of who God is, as an artist, engineer, and sculptor. In this context, Dr. Wilson discussed several organisms that might seem mundane or ordinary, but which are actually quite amazing.

THE “NORMAL” EASTERN BOX TURTLE

The eastern box turtle lives in the eastern half of the United States. This animal may look quite ordinary (as turtle appearances go), but it has an amazing capacity to survive cold winters. As fall gives way to winter, this reptile builds up high levels of glucose in its blood. This acts as a sort-of antifreeze which prevents ice crystals from forming in its cells (ice is allowed to build up in the turtle’s body cavity, but not in its cells where ice crystals would poke and rupture the membranes). With all this chill, the heart can even stop. But then, in the spring, when things start melting, the heart starts up again and the turtle goes about his normal life activities.

ORDINARY HOUSEFLY

In keeping with Dr. Wilson’s theme of looking at everyday creatures, what could be more ordinary than houseflies? It turns out, however, that these organisms have quite an interesting way to escape from the confining walls of their pupal stage.

It so happens that there is a trapdoor of sorts fashioned in the skin on the face of the developing fly. Muscles in the abdomen push blood vigorously into the head. This blood fills an inflatable bag, which in turn pushes open the trapdoor and then bulges out from the face. This bag, called the ptilinum, exerts pressure on the puparium– the cocoon-like structure formed from the maggot skin which houses the pupa as it develops into the now-emerging adult. The puparium also has a weakened seam that cracks under pressure from the ptilinum. The now-adult-fly pushes out through the opened seam, and afterwards the blood-filled ptilinum empties, and retreats back into the body, and the trapdoor in the fly’s head closes back up.

Then, behold, we see a normal fly descending on our hamburgers!

LASSO-SWINGING SPIDERS

More showy are the hunting habits of the Bolas spiders. These creatures, which look like bird droppings (for purposes of camouflage), share many characteristics with ordinary orb weaver spiders, and can be found throughout the eastern United States down to Chile. At night these spiders – looking every bit like cowboys swinging a lasso – hang from a leaf and swing their “bolas,” a thread with a glob of sticky glue attached to the end.

This amazing spider secretes a very special organic molecule: the scent of a particular female moth. This compound, called a pheromone, acts like a perfume to attract male moths of the same species. The spider deftly swings its bolas and hits the incoming male moth, penetrating his scales. The spider then hauls in her pretty and wraps it up in silk. This spider is even able to vary the chemical composition of the pheromones in order to catch another moth species. The ability of the spider to imitate such elaborate pheromone designs demonstrates that these spiders possess remarkable synthetic abilities that could never have developed by trial and error. Magnificent indeed! And certainly not mundane.

FUN FUNGUS

Dr. Wilson also discussed spore dispersal in ferns, mosses, and in a fascinating little fungus called Pilobolus. This little fungus grows on the dung of animals like horses and cows. The entire fungus is only about 1 centimeter tall, but it consists of a short stalk with a bulging balloon-like area above, topped by a black cap which shelters many fungus spores. The bulgy area focuses light onto carotenoid pigments in its base.

The bulge, with cap on top, grows straight sideways towards the incoming morning light. Pressure builds up in the bulge so that the cap is shot off at high pressure. Full of spores the cap lands and clings to grass about 2 meters away from the manure. Then along comes a grazing animal. The fresh grass looks good enough to eat and, once inside the animal, the spores proceed through the digestion system without germinating. Once deposited outside in another dump of manure, more miniature Pilobolus specimens grow to start the process all over again.

CONCLUSION

These examples demonstrate wonderful design and fascinating ingenuity. Yet there are taken from everyday life. The “ordinary” around us is extraordinary!

Dr. Wilson concluded with the admonition that we should observe Creation and ponder that God made it. God did not give us all the answers. He wants us to explore. As we read in Proverbs 25:2 “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

This article first appeared in the March 2019 issue of “Creation Science Dialogue” and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” Dr. Gordon Wilson has recently completed his second nature documentary called “The Riot and the Dance: Water

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 5 — Final)

See here for Part 1, here for Part 2, here for Part 3, and here for Part 4.

The Extent of the Flood

As already mentioned, USTO disparages a “Bible-first” approach.  Instead, the Bible has to be understood, not only on its own terms, but also in terms of what God is revealing in the “second book” of scientific evidence.  Not surprisingly, this leads USTO to reject the notion of a global flood in the days of Noah.  They grant that the Bible describes some cataclysmic event of massive proportions; however USTO insists that it was not global.  Moreover, “the event is described with a specific theological and literary goal in mind” (241).  It is not meant to provide us with a “hydro-geological” explanation.

Once again we are presented with a false dilemma:  a global flood versus a “specific theological and literary goal.”  This dilemma is false because if we understand the text to be referring to a global flood, that certainly does not rule out a theological and literary goal.  Creationists understand that God reveals what he does in Genesis 6-9 for a theological purpose, but that by no means rules out the historical fact of what it describes.

In Genesis 6-9, one of the key issues is how we understand the Hebrew word kol (all).  USTO concludes that the Hebrew word kol in the Flood story is used rhetorically – it simply means that a large area was inundated and large numbers of people were affected.  Kol can be used rhetorically – no one questions that.  However, Scripture must interpret Scripture.  USTO ignores the key section in Genesis 6.  In Genesis 6:5-7, God observes the wickedness of human beings “in the earth.”  USTO would translate that as “in the land,” and yes, the Hebrew word for ‘earth’ can also be translated ‘land.’  But verse 6 militates against that, because it speaks of God’s creation of human beings “on the earth.”  God did not create human beings “in the land,” i.e. in some region now under his scrutiny.  This is universal language.  That becomes further evident when Genesis 6:7 refers to the animals.  God plans not only to destroy humanity, but also the “animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens” which he created at the beginning (cf. Gen. 7:4).  This too favours a global understanding.  Later in chapter 6, God speaks of “all flesh” having corrupted its way on the earth.  Are we to imagine that there were pockets of humanity which were immune to this trend?  Genesis 6:17 says, “For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven.  Everything that is on the earth shall die.”  Notice the mention of “under heaven.”  All flesh “under heaven” is slated for destruction.  Again, that distinctly favours a global understanding of this event.

Moreover, the building of the ark itself witnesses to a global flood.  The ark was built by Noah, not only to save him and seven others of his family, but also to save the animals.  USTO has no explanation as to why the animals had to enter the ark if the Flood was something less than global.

In a sidebar, USTO interacts briefly with the New Testament mentions of the Flood.  They claim that none of the New Testament passages “make a statement about its geographical scope” (243).  Luke 17:26-27 is mentioned:

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.  They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

USTO claims that this is just speaking about “how people were living their lives day by day and were caught by surprise when judgment came” (243).  But what is the nature of the judgment to come?  It’s universal.  Just as the Flood destroyed all the ungodly in the days of Noah, “so will it be in the days of the Son of Man.”  In case you miss the point, in the next three verses, Christ speaks about the days of Lot and the wholesale destruction of Sodom:  “fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.”  No one escaped, except Lot.  Clearly, Christ understood the Flood to be an event which destroyed all human beings except Noah and his family.

According to USTO, 2 Peter 2:5 “references God sparing Noah” (243).  2 Peter 2:5 says, “…if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly…”  It beggars belief to argue that Peter believed the flood to be anything less than global.  It was the “ancient world” which was not spared and the flood came upon “the world of the ungodly.”  The natural reading is to understand these terms globally and universally.

USTO also adopts an unnatural reading of 2 Peter 3:5-6.  They argue that it just speaks about the world being deluged and destroyed and the Greek word for ‘world’ (kosmos) is being used in its broadest sense, and therefore it’s not referring to the extent of the Flood.  However, when you look at these verses in context, beginning with verse 4, it becomes evident how implausible that interpretation is:

They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

Notice how Peter writes about the creation of the earth – he is quite evidently not speaking about the creation of some portion of the planet.  The same entire planet that was created was deluged with water.

If God is revealing through the scientific evidence that a global flood never happened, then we need to revisit our interpretation of Genesis and somehow bring it into alignment with this newer divine revelation.  That is what USTO is doing.  However, it is a revisionist approach to the Bible.   It simply does not honour the Bible as God’s Word.  We honour God’s Word when we take it on its own terms and then evaluate what we observe in the world around us in the light of what God has said.  As the Psalmist says, “….in your light do we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Conclusion

There are a fair number of other concerns I could mention, but having covered the most important, I’ll bring this lengthy review to a close here.  I began by saying that USTO could be described as the theistic evolution “Bible.”  I said that intentionally because USTO not only contains content from the written Bible as we know it, but it also presents scientific evidence as a second “book” with additional revelation from God (albeit with a “provisional authority”).   Whether this is a legitimate method of approaching origins is really the key issue.  Because I am a Reformed Christian, I emphatically deny that it is.

I believe the Bible alone is our inspired, infallible, inerrant source for doctrine and life.  The Bible teaches that about itself.  Therefore, God’s Word always has to be our starting point.  It is not that the Bible is a “textbook” for science, as USTO and others allege creationists to believe.  Rather, science can only honour God when it takes its starting point from what God has said in the Bible.

I tried, but I could not read this book dispassionately.  In this book, I heard the whispers of Satan in the Garden of Eden:  did God really say?  If someone is questioning my Father or twisting his words, even if it’s done with the greatest sophistication, I cannot remain dispassionate.  I also think of the sad fact that this book comprises course material at Wheaton College.  Scores of impressionable youth have been and are being fed this content.  Because it is happening at a Christian institution, they could be led to believe that this is an acceptable Christian approach.  It is not.  It is unbelief.  I pray for students at Wheaton College that God will help them with his Spirit and Word to discern the truth regarding origins.

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 4)

See here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

Functional Kenotic Christology

Another major theme running through USTO is the theological significance of the incarnation.  According to USTO, the Holy Spirit’s work in the incarnation and in the life of Jesus is a parallel or analogy for how he continues to work in ongoing creation.  As the Nicene Creed says, the Holy Spirit is “the Lord and giver of life.”

A Bible-believing Reformed Christian will have no trouble with the Nicene Creed’s confession of the Holy Spirit.  He is the giver of life.  The Bible teaches that this is true for spiritual life (1 Cor. 12:3) as well as for physical life (Ps. 104:30).

However, USTO works that out in ways that are not only wrong, but verging on heretical.  The error is subtle and not easily discerned.  Here are some quotes to illustrate the teaching I’m concerned about here:

Jesus was fully and authentically human because of the energizing and enabling work of the Spirit. (25)

Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to the Father because he was enabled to freely and perfectly rely on the Spirit’s power to lead a humble, obedient life…In short, Jesus was sustained by the Spirit, perfected by the Spirit, served the Father’s purposes by the Spirit, lived, died, and lived again through the Spirit. (26)

Instead, what is most remarkable about Jesus is that he lived as an embodied person in perfect relationship with the Father, always enabled by the Spirit.  Moreover, he was sustained by the Spirit in his relationships with other persons and all of creation. (600-601)

All Jesus’ miracles were performed through the power of the Spirit. (601)

And Jesus’ humanity is the ultimate model from which we can learn by the Spirit’s power to exercise our capacities as means through which God is restoring all of creation.  (605)

There are many more such quotes from the book – as I said, it’s an important theme strung from start to finish.

The emphasis is on Jesus as a human being empowered by the Holy Spirit to do amazing things, including obeying God fully.  This parallels what creation can do in cooperation with the Holy Spirit – continue its evolutionary development.  It also illustrates what it means to bear the image of God as human beings.

This teaching has a name:  functional kenotic Christology (FKC).  In God’s providence, while I was reading USTO, I was also reading Stephen J. Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ.  Wellum identifies FKC as a contemporary challenge to orthodox Christology.  FKC is entrenched in “evangelical” theology; some of its advocates include well-known names like William Craig, J.P. Moreland, and Millard Erickson.  According to Wellum, FKC is sometimes associated with “Spirit-Christology” and it’s here that you find mention of Colin Gunton.  Gunton was a British theologian whose work is cited extensively in USTO, including in the portions speaking about Jesus’ reliance upon the Holy Spirit.

Let me explain a little more about FKC.  FKC does not deny the divinity of the Son of God.  It teaches that when the Son of God took on a human nature, his divine attributes became latent.  They were fully there, but not being used.  The Son of God chose to live his incarnate life within the bounds of his human nature, including all of its limitations.  This is the “kenotic” element of FKC.  “Kenosis” is the theological term derived from the Greek used in Philippians 2:7 to refer to Christ emptying himself.  Wellum explains further:

Thus when it comes to how Jesus has supernatural knowledge and exercises supernatural power in his miracles, FKC insists that Jesus does so, not by the use of his divine attributes, but by the power of the Spirit.  Thus, in all of the incarnate Son’s actions, even actions traditionally viewed as divine actions (such as his miracles), Jesus performs them by the Spirit, in a way similar to other Spirit-empowered men and parallel to the Spirit’s work in us.  This is why Jesus can serve as our example, as he shows us how to live our lives in dependence on the Spirit – although he is the paradigm, interpreted more quantitatively than qualitatively.  (God the Son Incarnate, 383).

The “functional” element of FKC comes from the manner in which this teaching addresses the work that Jesus did.

Debates about the doctrine of the person of Christ raged on through the early church.  However, eventually the church adopted what’s known as the Chalcedonian Definition.  Chalcedon is not officially part of our Reformed creeds and confessions, but the content of Chalcedon is found in both the Athanasian Creed (articles 29-37) and the Belgic Confession (articles 18 and 19).  Advocates of FKC affirm Chalcedon formally, but as Wellum points out, “they depart from it at significant points” (Wellum, 396).  This is particularly in regard to how they define “person,” their equating “person” with “soul,” and in their endorsement of the idea that the incarnate Son of God has only one will (monothelitism).

Wellum offers an extensive critique of FKC.  I’ll just briefly summarize it – interested readers should go and check it out for themselves.  He notes two main problems.

First, FKC does not readily account for what the Bible says about the divinity of Christ in his earthly life and ministry.  The works Jesus does are “ultimately acts identified with Yahweh” (Wellum, 406).  If you survey texts like John 5:16-30, Col. 1:17, and Heb. 1:3, it is clear that “in his state of humiliation, the Son continues to exercise his divine attributes as the Son in relation to and united with the Father and the Spirit” (Wellum 406).

Second, FKC sounds Trinitarian enough (and so does USTO), but in reality it fails to do justice to the Trinity, especially in developing Father-Son-Spirit relations.  If the incarnate Son never uses his divine attributes, then his actions on earth were either purely human, or they are the actions of the Holy Spirit.  Where there are actions surpassing what normal humans can do, the Son of God appears to be merely passive in his own actions.  Moreover, the work of the Father in all of this is ignored.  Wellum writes, “…it is not enough to focus simply on the Son-Spirit relations; we must also account for John’s Gospel, for example, which stresses predominantly the Father-Son relations” (408).

FKC is not a theological peccadillo.  This is a major concern.  Most readers of USTO are not going to have enough theological training to discern it.  USTO makes it sound plausible – and they have some Bible texts that apparently support their claims.  Moreover, it is a central part of their effort to integrate evolution with biblical teaching.  It has sometimes been said that acceptance of evolutionary theory requires an overhaul of every area of theology.  The presence of FKC in USTO illustrates that this overhaul is underway.

Click here to continue to Part 5 (the final part)…

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 3)

See here for Part 1, and see here for Part 2.

God, Evolution, and Death

Any model of origins which incorporates the idea of macro-evolutionary history over billions of years is going to have to involve death.  USTO discusses death in numerous places, oftentimes in a positive way.  One of these discussions is early in the second chapter.

USTO aims to maintain the sovereignty of God over creation.  However, it quickly turns out that, because of his love, God has actually relinquished control over his creation:

Parents practice freeing love toward their children when giving them relative freedom to develop and grow.  Similarly, God in freeing love gives creation relative freedom to develop and grow into what it is called in the Son and enabled by the Spirit to be.  God’s covenantal faithfulness to nature is what makes its relative freedom as a gift possible (20).

It ought to be noted that USTO provides no biblical support for these statements here.  The case is made on the basis of an analogy to parents – as if creation is like a child of God.

This personalizing of creation continues when USTO attempts to account for the processes necessary for the evolutionary scientific narrative:

Similar to how in freedom humans stumble and struggle as we grow and develop, the creation’s freedom in development is marked by its incompleteness.  Disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in God’s good cosmos due to the relative freedom God gives an incomplete creation to become what it is called to be in the Son as finite, created, being (21).

In other words, creation was not finished at the beginning, but is an ongoing work.  Moreover, it is something creation is working out from itself, using the relative freedom given to it by God.

In the midst of this ongoing creation over billions of years, disease, pain and death emerge:

Plants, animals, and insects all participate in their own becoming.  In this relative freedom that God graciously gives to the creation to participate in its own becoming, disease, earthquakes, pain, and death emerge in an incomplete creation (21).

This is a thematic thread through all of USTO.  Creation ministers to creation and so it participates in its own development.  Crucially, death is part of this process.  Life and death depend on one another in a sort of “ministerial dance,” troubling as that might be to us (340).  Because of its commitment to scientific “evidence” as revelation, they cannot escape the troubling notion that death is necessary for ongoing creation – including for the evolutionary development of human beings.

Behind all this is a quasi-deist understanding of how God relates to creation.  God created the raw material at the beginning, his child, and then let that child go and develop in relative freedom, on its own from out of its own resources – “creation ministering to creation.”  As already indicated, no direct biblical support is given for this notion.  An attempt is made to appeal to Psalm 104 as evidence of creation ministering to creation.  However, that Psalm speaks at length of what God is actively doing to uphold the creation he has already made – not a creation undergoing evolutionary development.  No, Scripture teaches that God, in his providence, is actively involved with every aspect of his creation.  The hairs of our head are all numbered, and even sparrows do not fall to the ground apart from our Father (Matt. 10:29-30).  He is directly in control.

Moreover, the idea of death becoming an intrinsic part of creation is reprehensible.  Death is an enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).  Death has a sting (1 Cor. 15:55).  Death came into the world through sin (Romans 5:12).  Death is not a good thing.  Of course, some will say that all these passages just referenced are speaking about human death.  But if you take an evolutionary perspective, it makes no difference.  Death is then part of human evolutionary history and there is nothing disagreeable about that.  However, if death is (or has become) an intrinsic part of creation, then why not have it remain so?  Revelation 21:4 says “death will be no more.”  According to the Bible, death is not normal, not normal for humans, and not normal for the other creatures either.

Deep Time and the Future of Evolution

USTO says the scientific evidence points towards the existence of deep time – in other words, “the best contemporary value for the age of our universe is almost 13.8 billion years old” (158).  Furthermore, the evidence supposedly says that the origins of human beings (Homo sapiens) are out there in deep time as well.  The fossil evidence indicates that humans originated in Africa by 200,000 years ago, but with an evolutionary history going back millions of years and potentially involving Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo antecessor and others (594).  Ultimately, evolutionary theory argues that, because of their evolutionary history, “humans appear to share the most common ancestor with chimpanzees/bonobos, and next-most recent with gorillas…” (586).  So, according to the scientific evidence USTO presents as credible, human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history.

The theological implications of this are not insignificant.  If deep time exists, we must allow for the possibility that it exists into the future.  In other words, we have to allow for the possibility that this present creation could continue for millions or even billions of years.  When it comes to human beings, if human beings have a deep-time evolutionary history, we have to allow for the possibility that they have a deep-time evolutionary future.  In other words, if the evidence presented by USTO is correct, we must allow for the possibility that Homo sapiens will evolve further into other species.  Perhaps just as with Homo erectus and the common primate ancestors, Homo sapiens will not exist as the species we know them today two million years from now.  Human beings will have evolved into some other species.

For the non-Christian scientist who does not believe in the Bible in any way, this is not a problem.  An unbeliever can easily rest with the idea that humanity is not done evolving.  But, for a Bible-believing Christian, there is a major theological obstacle to continuing human evolution over deep time:  the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  The incarnation is foundational to biblical, Christian faith.  The same nature which has sinned is required to pay for sin.  Human beings have sinned and therefore the Son of God had to take on a human nature in order to pay for sin.  Fast forward two million years from now and there are still sinful creatures, but they are no longer human beings, having evolved from their primitive ancestors.  Must the Son of God re-do his redemptive work for these new beings?  Hebrews 9:28 tells us his sacrifice was a once-off.  The next time he appears it will not be to bear the curse of sinners.

Theologically, there is a knotty problem with USTO here.  The only way out would be to argue that human beings will not have a deep-time evolutionary future — that Christ will return before the human race has the opportunity to evolve further.  But how do we know that?  The Bible certainly does not say that.  The Bible says no one knows when the time of Christ’s return will be except God (Matt. 24:36).  From my perspective, it could be two million years from now and I have no problem with that because I do not believe the human race will evolve into other species.

USTO ends up in these theological quagmires because it does not take God’s Word seriously.  For example, they completely ignore Luke 3:38 which affirms Adam as “the son of God.”  Adam did not have any biological ancestry.  He came directly from God.  Similarly, USTO ignores Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.”  Male and female human beings were made by God at the beginning of creation – not several billion years into a fabled deep-time history.

Click here to continue to Part 4…

 

Book Review: Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins (Part 2)

See here for Part 1.

Scriptural Perspicuity

According to USTO, understanding the Bible on origins requires an understanding of the broader Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) thought-context.  This method has been championed at length by one of the contributors, John Walton, in his other writings.  This method is related to his view of the authority in the Bible.  In USTO, Walton and his colleagues write that, in the Bible, God has vested authority in the human authors.  Consequently, “the message of the author carries the authority of God.”  But also:  “our only access to the message is through the human author” (10).

But where does the Bible teach this about itself?  Shouldn’t the Bible be our starting point for how we read and understand the Bible?  This misstep has massive implications.  The opening chapters of Genesis are treated as if they are any other ANE text.  They are treated as human writings bearing a divine message, rather than as writings inspired by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the rest of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21).  As a consequence, instead of going to the rest of Scripture for illumination on points requiring explanation, USTO goes to the ANE context.

This approach compromises on what we call the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture.  Scripture is a lamp for our feet – it sheds light (Ps. 119:105,130).  The meaning of Scripture is accessible, even to those without a background in ANE studies or the Hebrew language.  In referring to the Pentateuch, the apostle Paul wrote that the stories of Israel’s failings in the wilderness “were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).  Those Spirit-inspired words were written to the Corinthian Christians, some of whom may have been Jews, but many of whom were not.  Paul expected that the Word would be clear and he understood that the book of Exodus, though written hundreds of years before, was intended by God to speak clearly also to the Corinthian Christians.

If we heed USTO, Christians today need background in ANE studies before they can properly understand the message of Genesis 1.  In fact, with this approach, the church has been in the dark for centuries until these ANE studies were conducted and brought to light what had previously been dark.  To the contrary, there is a simple and clear message in Genesis 1 and we should not allow academics to propose darkness where God has given light.  Yes, there are difficult passages in Scripture and the doctrine of perspicuity does not deny that given what Scripture itself says in 2 Peter 3:16.  However, historically, Genesis 1 was not regarded as a difficult passage.  Taken in the context of the entire Bible (letting Scripture interpret Scripture), what it is saying is so clear that a child can understand it.  It only became a difficult passage because of the challenges posed by unbelieving scientists.

Creation Without Compromise has previously featured work done by the late Dr. Noel Weeks on John Walton’s views of biblical background:

The Ambiguity of Biblical “Background” (Noel Weeks)

Critique of John Walton (Noel Weeks)

The work of Dr. Weeks goes into much more detail and I commend it to you for your further study.

USTO’s Interpretation of Genesis

This brings us into a more detailed consideration of the arguments for how to understand the Genesis account of origins.  USTO argues that Genesis 1 is speaking in terms of a functional ontology.  In the ANE thought-context, things comes into existence by reason of their function.  Genesis 1 is therefore not describing the creation of material, but the taking of that material and ordering it and putting it into use (102).

We should note the false dilemma presented between material and functional.  Genesis could be working with both categories.  In fact, if we maintain the approach of letting Scripture interpret Scripture, this might well be our conclusion.  Recognizing the functionality of what is described in Genesis 1 does not rule out its material nature or its historicity as an account of what really happened in those six days.  Interestingly, this “both…and” approach is what we find in article 12 of the Belgic Confession.  God created heaven and earth and all creatures out of nothing (non-material to material), and he also gave every creature not only its “being, shape, and form,” but also to each “its specific task and function to serve its Creator.”

Related to the foregoing false dilemma, USTO overstates its case in regard to the Hebrew verb bara’.  They argue that the verb is always used in Scripture to refer to things not material in nature:  “The verb bara’ does not intrinsically refer to materiality….” (106).  However, readers should know this is a disputed claim.  This comes from one of the leading Old Testament dictionaries:

Though br’ does not appear with mention of material out of which something is created, it is regularly collocated with verbs that do (e.g. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7,19; Isa. 45:18; Amos 4:13).  More significantly, br’ is used of entities that come out of pre-existing material: e.g. a new generation of animals or humans, or a ‘pure heart.’ (Ps. 104:29-30; 102:18[19]; 51:10[12]; cf. 1 Cor. 4:6.).  (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 1.731).

In fact, NIDOTTE states that John Walton’s view (which is what we encounter in USTO) is “somewhat misleading.”

Click here to continue to part 3.