Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented

From Walton — The Lost World of Genesis 1

  • We often define “existence” in a material sense, like a simple physical chair. But there are other ways.
  • What does it mean when a “company exists”? When the papers have been filed? When it has a building? A website?
  • Another definition is that a company exists when it is actually doing business.
  • Ontology as defined by Merriam Webster:
a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being
Ontology deals with abstract entities
a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence
  • In the chair example, that is a “material ontology”. Something exists by virtue of its physical properties and its ability to be experienced by the senses.
  • The company example is a “functional ontology”.
  • How should we think of cosmic ontology? Today, our culture views existence usually in material terms.
  • Ontology defines the terms of existence. Creation means bringing something into existence. So one’s ontology sets the parameters of creation.
  • Creation of a chair versus creation of a company.
  • In our culture, we often focus on material origins when discussing the universe.
  • But just as company creation is functional, can cosmic creation be function-oriented?
  • Our culture is steeped in using a material ontology as the only way to consider creation.
  • But we must consider the cosmic ontology of the original audience.
  • Verbatim from Walton:
In this book I propose that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system.
  • “Ordered system” in human terms, in relation to society and culture (as opposed to scientific terms).
  • The sun does not exist by virtue of its material properties, or even functioning as a burning ball of gas. Instead, it exists by virtue of it’s role in relation to humankind and human society.
  • In functional ontology, bringing something into existence requires giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, not giving it material properties.
  • In the ancient world, people had no problem understanding the physical nature of objects. But what matters here is what they attributed significance to.
  • Our ontology focuses on what we believe to be most significant. In the ancient world, what was most significant in regard to existence was the way the parts of the cosmos functioned, not their material status.
  • Evidence in Biblical text and in the ancient world. Later propositions (chapters) focus on the Biblical text.
  • These ancient Near East cultures have creation texts: Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians. From these texts, we learn:
  • Ancient cosmic geography is based on what they could see, similar for us today, it is based on modern science. E.g. if water falls, there must be cosmic waters in the sky. When it isn’t raining, something is holding it back, a solid firmament. Creation texts describe these structures starting or continuing these observed processes.
  • In Egyptian myths, cosmic structures (firmament, sun, moon, air, earth, etc.) are shown as gods. Attributes of the deities manifested in the structures. Cosmos an extension of the gods. Gods functioned within the cosmos. Gods represented authority and jurisdiction.
  • Functions of the cosmos tied closely with the jurisdiction of deities. Origins tied together and thus, functional in nature.
  • Creation is often accomplished after divine conflict with a battle for control of the pantheon and the cosmos.
  • Almost all creation accounts begin with no initial operational system in place.
  • Creation often starts with that which emerges from waters.
  • Names in the ancient world associated with identity, role, and function. Naming a typical part of creation narratives.
  • Separating is also a common creative activity. Often heavens and earth separated. Upper and lower waters. Waters from land.
  • Living creatures are almost never included in creation accounts.
  • Human beings often involved. Texts describe the constituent parts (e.g. clay, blood of deity, breath of deity). But these ingredients imply identity and relationship, and of course not chemistry or biology.
  • These ancient texts show nothing material is actually made in the accounts. Everything is function oriented. Gods are beginning their own operations. Starting up the operational cosmos. Bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition.
  • Today, we think of the cosmos as a machine and whether someone is running it. The ancients viewed the cosmos more like a kingdom.