I am raising this topic as a result of discussions with @John_Harshman, having also read @Ronald_Cram’s question “Is Genesis 1 coincidentally accurate?” and having been encouraged to read John Walton by @deuteroKJ.
In John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One, he proposes 18 propositions regarding how Genesis should be interpreted in the light of Ancient Near Eastern culture.
Proposition 1 states: Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology. This proposes that Genesis 1 does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions. It contains no revelation to improve the scientific understanding of the ancient Israelites.
In saying this, Walton is primarily referring to what he terms cosmic geography . Cosmic geography deals with such questions as: the shape of the earth, the nature of the sky, the location of the sun, moon, and stars. Walton criticizes concordism because it tries to connect the terminology used in Genesis 1 with modern scientific terms.
Concordists believe, asserts Walton, that the Bible must agree–be in concord with-- all the findings of contemporary science. Personally, I think Walton is overstating what concordists claim, but I agree that caution is necessary.
Given this warning, is it yet appropriate to talk about cosmic history in contrast to cosmic geography? If God was not trying to improve the Israelite concept of the natural world, was He instead trying to tell them something about its past history? After all, Genesis 1 starts with “In the beginning God…” and not “At the center God…”. The toledot in Genesis 2:4 reads “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” ESV This toledot is taken to be a summary of the preceding text by some scholars. The word toledot is alternately translated as historical records . Furthermore, the content of Genesis 1 lays out a sequence of Days, typically observed as implying a sequence of events.
From this discussion, we should not rule out that God did mean to improve the Israelite’s understanding of the history of everything, namely cosmic history , even if God did not address cosmic geography as defined by Walton which is also understood as the snowglobe problem of Ancient Near Eastern cosmology.
Therefore, if we scope a concordist approach that primarily focuses on the scientific history of Earth, we are contending with a different set of concerns. This consideration allows for formulation of a new hypothesis: What was the meaning of e vening and morning in Ancient Near Eastern culture and the significance of the Days of the creation week?
In our modern culture, we are quick to think literally in terms of daylight hours followed by a sunset, nighttime, and sunrise. But that is exactly the kind of modern literalism that Walton warns against. In the ANE, the focus might have been drawn to God’s work of creation being punctuated by periods of darkness. No other ancient creation story features this metaphor. The darkness implied by morning and evening communicates chaos and what Walton might label as either non-order or disorder.
Not until the creation is complete and very good can the ANE culture think of the benefits of nighttime. The sun goes away, only to return. Darkness is no longer a time of chaos but a time of rest . But, at the start of the story, the darkness was one of the first aspects of non-order that God addressed.
The period bracketed by morning and evening in Genesis 1 is not directly labeled as darkness or night . Those terms are already used and contrasted: light vs darkness ; Day vs Night. The separation between the light and darkness is established on Day 1 – one degree of order achieved. But the rule over light and darkness by the greater and lesser lights is not achieved until Day 4 – a higher degree of order achieved.
This frees morning and evening to serve another narrative purpose: that of highlighting a period separating each day of creative work - a time of non-order or disorder . In the not-yet-fully-ordered cosmos, the periods separating each day may represent chaos events or times when some level of non-order is allowed or disorder is eliminated. Think of it this way: the Earth starts out in a state of chaos or non-order ; God introduces some order; then He switches gears to address disorder (which can also be thought of as contrary-order or anti-order ) which could entail allowing some level of non-order to return; God steps in again and introduces the next higher level of order; this process repeats.
In the ANE mind, this could prompt understanding the preparing of the heavens and the earth for humanity as occurring in phases. In modern cosmic history, what we would describe in terms of the geologic record, we see a similar pattern. The early earth is chaotic - scientists term this phase the Hadean for good reason - hellish conditions prevailed. By degrees the Earth evolves into a more habitable world. None-the-less, this progress is not smooth. There are periodic set backs and dramatic chaos events that occur. Some of these include the Late Heavy Bombardment, the Great Oxygenation Event, the Great Unconformity, and a series of major Extinction events.
Do any of these geologic events coincide with Genesis 1 chaos events ?
Revelation is replete with chaos events leading up the the new heavens and the new earth.
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. Revelation 8:8
While this refers to a yet future event, and could possibly be metaphoric, it certainly brings to mind a past event - when a fiery comet crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago leaving behind the Chicxulub Crater and wiping out all the dinosaurs along with 75% of all species on Earth. This event marks the boundary between the Cretaceous (K) and Paleogene (Pg) periods as defined by geology.
What happened immediately following this event? The origin of all modern birds and the dramatic proliferation and diversification of teleost fish, which now comprise 96% of all extant fish species.
This sounds a lot like a biblical chaos event followed by God’s creative intervention.
And there was evening and there was morning, the forth day. And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” Genesis 1:19-20
Immediately after the K-Pg Extinction event, the waters were in dire need of swarms of living creatures. Virtually nothing that could fly still lived, save perhaps some species of insects. As few as 7 species of birds survived according to some estimates. Yet from these few survivors, all modern birds were apparently formed.
God’s decree explains what happens next and attributes the restoration to His work.
Let’s have a look at how to apply this hypothesis by thinking about dinosaurs .
So what about the dinosaurs? God created them too. For a while (even just 24-48 hours ,YECs?) the dinosaurs stomped around digging holes in the ground, eating fruit, and outputting fertilized seeds. But God saw that just as it would be not good for the man to be alone in the Garden, it would also be not good for man to have to deal with dinosaurs. The description of the Leviathan in Job 41 makes it clear that God created some creatures for which man was no match and no ruler. Having a few of them around might be permissible but not like during the reign of the dinosaurs. Having served their purposes, God allowed the night to claim them.
So the question is, Is this approach to concordism valid? Can one think of God revealing something of cosmic history while not addressing cosmic geography ? What do you think?