John Walton insists that Genesis doesn’t “attempt to address cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions. The Israelites received no revelation to update their ‘scientific’ understanding of the cosmos.”
Then too: “Throughout the entire Bible, there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture. No passage offers a scientific perspective that was not common to the Old World science of antiquity.”
John Lennox (Seven Days That Divide the World, 139-41), who quotes these passages, finds them puzzling. Or worse: He finds them flat mistaken.
He notes that “the question whether the universe has a beginning or not has been around for millennia,” and Genesis answers the question in an unparalleled way. Where, he wonders, did Israelites learn their cosmology, if not from Genesis, which didn’t “update” earlier cosmologies but “was uniquely distinct from those cosmologies. . . . In contrast to the view that the universe was made from preexisting gods, Genesis teaches that the universe was created by one God who spoke it into existence from nothing” (140-1).
The claim that the universe was created by “word” is a “non-scientific” claim by the standards of modern science, but, Lennox argues, it has scientific import: “This revelation, that God by his Word imparts energy and information to create and structure the universe, is profoundly new. . . . it converges with some of the deepest insights of a modern science that has come to realize the fundamental nature of information and its irreducibility to matter and energy” (141).
Walton’s claims assume a particular view of the interests of ancient people, of the nature of science, and of the uniqueness of “modern” questions and concerns. He concludes that ancients weren’t concerned with the origins of the physical universe, and that therefore Genesis doesn’t address those concerns.
This looks like an effort to wish away challenging questions with a wave of the hand. It addresses some of the same questions that modern science does, as many readers – including many ancient ones – have assumed.
Scholars have longed claimed that ancients gave mythical answers to scientific questions. Walton won’t even allow his ancients to ask scientific questions. In the end, Walton’s position is, ironically enough, a retread of the old contrast of the contrast of primitives and the enlightened. And there is nothing more modern than that.