The thirteenth proposition in Walton’s book is that “the difference between origin accounts in science and scripture is metaphysical in nature. I am not certain that this is the best way of expressing Walton’s key point, which is that the Bible affirms purpose or teleology rather than a specific process. Science consciously eliminates teleology from consideration and examines natural processes. Walton therefore appears to be correct to highlight the circular character of the argument that, because science does not find evidence of God/purpose, therefore there is no God/purpose. Of course scientific investigation is not going to find evidence of things for which it is not looking, and which it is designed to exclude rather than discover.
There is a problem, however, in making this argument when one is operating within the context of classical theism. Inasmuch as God is defined as something or someone over against and distinct from the universe, then one is going to inevitably think of God as an additional and external entity who “intervenes”. And to the extent that science closes up gaps in our understanding and appears to offer a comprehensive explanation of phenomena in natural terms, its program will indeed offer challenges to theism. Human action on nature can be detected, and it is precisely this analogy that the Intelligent Design movement focuses on. And, to the extent that no external intervention or conscious agency appears to be required to account for what we find, claims that there is an intelligent designer will appear to be at best superfluous and at worst simply false.
On the other hand, in the context of views such as panentheism, which envision God as embodied in the universe and the universe as existing “within” God, it makes much more sense to work with analogies from human persons to the divine. Even though science may explain our bodily workings in chemical terms, and in biological terms, we find ourselves unable to do without the language of purpose and consciousness as well, while we also do not necessarily have to choose between these two sorts of language. Likewise, we may have reason to believe that there is more to existence, to reality, than we can detect on our own human level of it. There may be a “big picture” that we intuit and which we find helps us think about our place in it all, but which we cannot observe directly.
Walton’s way of expressing his own viewpoint is as follows: “Genesis is not metaphysically neutral – it mandates an affirmation of teleology (purpose), even as it leaves open the descriptive mechanism for material origins” (p.117). “It is not a scientific view of mechanism (naturalism) that is contrary to Biblical thinking, but exclusive materialism and its determined dysteleology is” (p.118).
There has been some discussion in recent days on blogs I read regularly about how and whether to distinguish religious and scientific perspectives. Hopefully this chapter from Walton will coincide well and contribute to that conversation.