The most obvious challenge to Theistic Evolution (TE), from a Christian perspective, is that evolutionary theory seems to glaringly conflict with the unique, successive special creation events depicted in Genesis 1–2. Any TE who views scripture as in any sense authoritative must deal with this issue. How did I handle it? As a TE, I argued that the reason why we don’t need to worry about any “conflict” between the Genesis creation accounts and the process of evolution is because Genesis is providing us with a functional and theological account of creation, not one that is interested in telling us “what really happened” in material terms. By “functional,” I meant that the Genesis creation accounts are telling us how the world functions in relation to God and humanity, not detailing the specific way in which God actually created the world or the material properties of the world. I argued that Genesis is really just telling us that God is the creator of all things, God is distinct from his creation, humans are uniquely made in God’s image, and that creation is very good and ordered to a particular purpose. Like many other TE’s, I adopted this view from Old Testament scholar John Walton, which he most clearly articulates in his 2009 book The Lost World of Genesis One. As Walton argues, “Genesis 1 is not an account of material origins but an account of functional origins, specifically focusing on the functioning of the cosmos as God’s temple.” It’s an especially attractive view for TE’s since it allows one to essentially not worry about the tension between science and the text because, lo and behold, the text isn’t making material or “scientific” claims. No muss, no fuss. Or so I thought.
Despite defending this view for a long time, Walton’s “functional only” thesis concerning the creation accounts has become untenable to me. I continue to maintain that the Genesis creation accounts are certainly not interested in giving us a contemporary “scientific” account of origins in the way that we would understand science today since that would be an absurdly anachronistic and eisegetical reading of the text that strips Genesis out of its historical context. However, I can no longer accept that the functional aspect of the creation accounts exhausts their content. In other words, while I think scholars like Walton are correct that the Genesis creation accounts clearly involve and perhaps even prioritize the functional aspect of creation, there unavoidably seems to be a material aspect to the accounts as well. While I’m not going to attempt to offer a full critique of Walton’s position here, the primary issue I have with Walton is that his dichotomy between “functional” origins and “material” origins strikes me as far too simplistic and even false.
First, for Walton’s proposal to work (especially for TE’s), the creation accounts in Genesis cannot be making any real, concrete claims about the material nature of the creation of the natural world, only functional ones (or risk conflicting with contemporary evolutionary models). However, the text of Genesis 1 itself significantly problematizes this view. Genesis 1 speaks of a tangible distinction between light and dark (1:4), an expanse that physically separates the waters (1:6–7), water moving to a physical location and land appearing that is described as dry (1:9), plants and trees that are specified as seed and fruit-bearing (1:11–12), a distinction in brightness between the sun and moon (1:16), just to name a few. Walton himself admits that the creation of the “firmament” or “expanse” on the second day of creation “has a potentially material component” as well as a functional one, however Walton rejects this idea because “we then find ourselves with the problem of trying to explain the material creation of something that does not exist.” Walton is referring here to the issue of translating the Hebrew word rāqî‘a as “firmament” or “expanse” and whether that implies a solid dome holding up a heavenly sea. But even leaving that particular exegetical issue aside, notice that the key reason Walton rejects a material understanding of the creation of the firmament/expanse on the second day is not because the text itself specifies a functional understanding only, but rather because of what he considers to be the absurd consequences of a material understanding of the rāqî‘a. This may or may not be a valid concern. However, the key element to realize is that Walton’s reasoning here does not stem from textual considerations, thereby undermining his proposal that the text itself supports a purely functional understanding of the creation accounts to the exclusion of a material one. Moreover, since the 2009 publication of The Lost World of Genesis 1, Walton has changed his opinion on the identification of the rāqî‘a as a solid dome or sky. In a more recent work (2015), Walton says that “further reflection and more recent research” has led him to conclude that rāqî‘a most likely refers to “the space created by the separating of the waters” and that this space is “a living space for all creatures,” which comports quite well with the interpretation that the rāqî‘a is simply an ancient phenomenological description of the sky (where “phenomenological” simply means a first-person description of how the author would have seen and experienced the object in question). As Vern Poythress notes, the “material” aspects of an object involve not only its material composition, but also its physical appearance, and “Walton has given no evidence that Genesis 1 implies nothing about physical appearance.”
Second, Walton slips between arguing that (1) the Genesis creation accounts are not giving a material account of origins and (2) the Genesis creation accounts do not prioritize a material account of origins. These are two fundamentally different claims. The creation accounts can readily be understood to be speaking of both function and materials, where the material aspect is not prioritized or emphasized over the functional aspect. But this is quite different than saying they don’t speak to the material aspect at all. For example, Walton argues that “To the author and audience of Genesis, material origins were simply not a priority” and “there wouldn’t have been any need to stress a material creation.” But saying it’s “not a priority” and there was no need “to stress” the material aspect is not saying it’s absent. Additionally, in his other works, Walton allows materiality to be a part of the creation accounts. Speaking of the conceptual world of the Old Testament, Walton emphasizes that “it is important to realize that their cosmic geography was predominantly metaphysical and only secondarily physical/material.” Further, Walton comments that “The Hebrew term used for ‘sky’ (rāqî‘a) is of unspecified material.” Again, speaking of the physical/material aspect of creation as “secondary” is still claiming a material aspect, which Walton affirms by speaking of the “material” of the sky. In short, Walton runs afoul of his own dichotomy between “material” and “functional” aspects of the creation accounts. This difficulty arises because a hard and fast distinction between them cannot be sustained on the basis of the text. C. John Collins, responding to Walton’s position, similarly questions whether “material” vs. “functional” actually provides a meaningful antithesis. Collins argues, “Without question the nature of Gen. 1… means that it will use imagistic and phenomenological language to focus on functions and relations more than on the inner workings of the material components, but that hardly requires that it deny any interest in the material. After all, it is things with material existence that perform the functions.” Indeed, as John Currid concludes, “To interpret Genesis 1 as merely about functions and not about origins is a failure to account for some of the very prominent features of the narrative.” Interestingly, Walton himself seems to have shown some movement on this issue. In his most recent book (2018), co-authored with Tremper Longman III, Walton offers an analysis of the ways in which Genesis 1–11 reports events in terms of “metaphysical” and “empirical.” Walton writes,
“Events found in Genesis 1–11 concern what can be called cosmic events, which means that they are located much more towards the metaphysical end of the spectrum. But unlike what we call myth in the ancient world, which we consider as having no empirical aspect and therefore located at the far end of the metaphysical side of the spectrum, Genesis 1–11 retains some empirical aspects.”
While the issue is not framed in terms of “functional” and “material” here, Walton nevertheless agrees that Genesis 1–11 contains some “empirical” aspects or, in other words, physical and tangible aspects which are in principle observable and open to experience through the senses. Walton contrasts this with “metaphysical” aspects, which he understands as essentially “spiritual.” However, by claiming that Genesis 1–11 retains elements that are empirical, Walton has therefore allowed for Genesis 1–11 to be making material claims. Walton again stresses that “the metaphysical remains more important than the empirical,” but as we’ve seen with the functional vs. material dichotomy, claiming that the metaphysical is more important clearly doesn’t eliminate the empirical element. In sum, Walton has not offered a good case that the “material” elements in the Genesis creation accounts are absent in such a way that material claims about the natural world are not being made, nor has he demonstrated that functional aspects of creation are elevated to the exclusion of the material. To the contrary, both functional and material aspects appear to be intertwined throughout the creation accounts.
In the next post, I’ll discuss in more detail what the implications of Genesis making actual, material claims about the natural world were for me as a TE.
 This is not to say that all TE’s adopt John Walton’s “functionalist” account of the Genesis creation accounts. Merely that it has become an incredibly popular view among many TE’s (particularly through the work of the BioLogos organization) since it so readily removes the perceived tension between evolution and the order of creation described in Genesis. There are a variety of views TE’s may adopt on the creation accounts. For example, some TE’s prefer a “framework” view of creation, in which the days of creation are literary devices to explain the creation of the world in theological terms. However, Walton argues that the framework hypothesis doesn’t go far enough (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 111). The framework view leaves the question of material origins open in such a way that Genesis can still potentially conflict with evolution, and thereby be unsatisfying for TE’s. For a clear, succinct description of the “framework” view, see https://www.opc.org/GA/creation.html#Framework. Regardless of which position is taken, any TE who wants to maintain the authority of scripture must find a way to remove the conflict between Genesis and evolution, whether that comes in the form of a particular interpretation of Genesis or a qualification on what is understood by “biblical authority.”
 John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 92.
 It is worth emphasizing here that Walton himself is not advocating TE, nor is his functional understanding of Genesis merely an attempt to make Genesis fit with evolutionary theory. However, Walton does contend that “In the interpretation of the text that I have offered, very little found in evolutionary theory would be objectionable.” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 169). It is this quality that makes his view so attractive to many TE’s.
 While Walton’s book The Lost World of Genesis One obviously focuses on his proposal that Genesis 1 is only interested in giving a functional account of creation, Walton also extends his claims about “the functional interests of the text” into the second creation account in Genesis 2. See John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 89.
 Walton is quite clear, “the Genesis account should not be considered both material and functional because the analysis of the text fails to support the material aspects.” See John Walton, “Material or Function in Genesis 1? John Walton Responds (Part 2),” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/material-or-function-in-genesis-1-john-walton-responds-part-2. Accessed August 1, 2018.
 Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 93.
 Walton’s incredulity depends a great deal on the idea that many Ancient Near Eastern cultures understood there to be a solid “dome” holding up a heavenly sea of water, possibly made of crystal. For Walton, since no such “dome” exists, it would be foolish to think that we should believe that Genesis is making a material claim here. However, the text never specifies that the rāqî‘a is made of crystal, it just says God made it and it separates the waters. Even if there was an ANE concept of a hard dome holding up a heavenly ocean, this is not actually what the text is claiming that we ought to believe. Additionally, several commentators disagree with Walton here and argue that the text readily lends itself to speaking figuratively of the atmosphere and giving an ancient phenomenological description of the sky and the clouds. See C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2006), 45–46; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 20.
 Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 37. Walton still argues that we should not think of the rāqî‘a in “material” terms, but again for the reason that it would be absurd to posit that God created a “solid sky” (Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve, 213n3). However, contrary to Walton, this is not what the text is actually claiming we ought to believe.
 Vern S. Poythress, “Response to John Walton on Genesis,” https://frame-poythress.org/response-to-john-walton-on-genesis/. Accessed July 24, 2018. Walton acknowledges that it’s impossible to completely avoid “material” language in Genesis 1 because “some level of material language is necessary to describe the functions of the cosmos” (John Walton, “Rejoinder to Vern Poythress,” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/rejoinder-to-vern-poythress. Accessed July 31, 2018). However, the challenge for Walton’s perspective is how to make the material language in the creation accounts not actually make any real material claims, which remains fundamentally problematic for Walton since the text appears to do precisely that. Indeed, I take the need for there to be “some level of material language” to describe functions to be indicative of the problematic nature of Walton’s dichotomy between the two.
 Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 95.
 This was pointed out by David Buller in the BioLogos companion blog series to Walton’s book. See David Buller, “Creation is the Temple Where God Rests,” https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/creation-is-the-temple-where-god-rests. Accessed July 25, 2018.
 John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 167.
 Ibid, 169.
 To avoid a potential misunderstanding, Walton is not suggesting that God did not create the material world. Walton clarifies, “Viewing Genesis 1 as an account of functional origins of the cosmos as temple does not in any way suggest or imply that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not that story” (Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 95). However, as we’ve seen, it’s not apparent that Walton is correct that Genesis 1 is not telling a story of material origins.
 C. John Collins, “Response to John Walton,” in Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation, ed. J. Daryl Charles (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 180.
 John D. Currid, “Theistic Evolution Is Incompatible with the Teachings of the Old Testament,” in Theistic Evolution: A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, eds. J. P. Moreland, Stephen C. Meyer, Christopher Shaw, Ann K. Gauger, and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 851.
 Tremper Longman III and John Walton, The Lost World of the Flood (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 19.
 Ibid. Emphasis mine.
 Ibid, 18.
 Ibid, 19.