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Dr. Craig Responds to John Walton

June 14, 2021


Dr. Craig has some disagreements with scholar John Walton on interpreting Genesis.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, we want to encourage people to go to the Defenders Series. We are going to talk a little bit about the Defenders topic and series today that mentions John Walton[1] and look at a response that he has made to you that is making the rounds on YouTube.[2] Tell us a little bit about what the series was and who John Walton is. We’ve discussed him before.

DR. CRAIG: I take it that this would be the series I did on the doctrine of creation. I looked at Walton’s views of the narrative in Genesis 1 where he argues for a mutually exclusive distinction between what he calls material creation and functional creation. Material creation is bringing something into existence that did not exist before. So, for example, when a carpenter makes a desk, that would be an example of material creation. Functional creation would be when something begins to function in a certain way. The example Walton gives is of a restaurant. Imagine a restaurant that is a renovated factory. You could ask, “When did the restaurant begin to exist?” The answer would be when it opened as a restaurant, even though the building was already there. You don’t go back to when the factory was originally created and say that is when the restaurant began. Rather it is when the building began to function as a restaurant. He uses this distinction to claim that Genesis 1 in describing God’s creation of the light, the seas, the dry land, the sea monsters, creatures, and finally man himself, that this is really just specifying the functions of these things and not actually bringing them into existence.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. This is from a podcast. It begins with a clip from you that Walton interacts with. Let’s go to that now.

INTERVIEWER: I think I have a clip here. Let me see if it’ll play. It is about 30 seconds, and you can respond to it.

DR. CRAIG: Whether Genesis 1 describes God as bringing into being the things that are described, whether he uses material or not, or does he merely specify the functions for things that are already in existence? I think that we have to guard here against erecting false dichotomies. Just because a text speaks of God’s specifying an object's function doesn’t exclude efficient causation as well. Walton has to show that the text of Genesis 1 is concerned exclusively with functional creation. It is not enough to show that functional creation is involved. He has to show that efficient causation does not come into the picture at all.

INTERVIEWER: That was William Lane Craig, obviously. He speaks of you very highly. He said that you are a super-bright person, that you are a prolific author. He obviously spoke about you very highly. He said he had correspondence with you, so he obviously understands that you are a scholar of top rank. But he has...this is one of the critiques that he has. And I just wondered – did you want to respond to that and tell us what did you see wrong with that critique?

DR. WALTON One of the most common critiques – Dr. Craig didn’t make this up – is why can’t it be both? It is all well and good to talk about how order and function, role and purpose, are significant in the biblical text, but why can’t it be material, too? That is basically the nature of his question. I don’t have to prove that it is only function and order. It is not like the burden of proof is on me. I had to prove that there was function and order involved. Now, he sounds like he is assuming that material must be involved. You can’t assume that. Prove it to me. Show that material is involved. I go through day 1 – nothing material. It is time, light. They are not material. Day 2 – space. Nothing material. Day 3 – it says let the plants grow, let the dry land emerge. It doesn’t say he made them. Nothing material. Day 4 – he made the sun, moon and stars (or he did the sun, moon and stars). OK? Those sound material, but of course they are not to the Israelites. Therefore an Israelite wouldn’t read Day 4 and say “here God is making material objects.” They don’t think they are material objects. They think they are lights. Day 5 – let fish swarm. Let birds teem. When day after day after day after day it doesn’t talk about the material, that leads me as a hopefully sensitive reader to say that wasn’t very interesting to them. But, again, I have to emphasize it doesn’t mean that God did not create the material world. Of course he did. When he created the material world, our theology tells us he created that out of nothing because there is no material that was not created by God. So I absolutely believe in creation out of nothing, but I don’t think Genesis 1 is talking about creation out of nothing because creation out of nothing is a material category and if it was not talking in material categories then that is not its interest.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s let him finish right here.

DR. WALTON In that sense, I feel like there is a burden of proof that they need to pick up to say, “Why do you think that it is material?” They are trying to say I have the burden of proof to prove that it is not material. And you heard what my proof is.


DR. CRAIG: Anyone who proposes a particular interpretation of a text has the burden of proof to give supporting arguments for that view. Walton supports and enunciates the view that Genesis 1 is exclusively about God specifying the functions for the things, not bringing the things into existence. And if he's going to maintain that, then he does have a burden of proof to support that point of view and to show that it can't be both – that it can't be both material creation of objects and specifying their functions. Now, those who maintain that this is about material creation are not saying that these are created out of nothing. That is a red herring that needs to be not pursued. Whether there is material stuff out of which the animals and plants and seas and so forth are made or whether it's out of nothing is immaterial, no pun intended. The question is: Does God bring these things into existence over this six day period? And that's very obvious that they do. Over and over again God says “Let there be” and there was. So he creates light, he creates seas, he creates the dry land, the lights in the heavens. These things didn't exist until God created them. The whole narrative is about how God either said “Let there be” and these things come into being, or it even says God made them and before they were made they didn't exist. For example, in Genesis 2, reflecting back on the creation of man, it says that before God created man there was no man to till the soil and that before he created Eve there was not found any creature that would be fit as a helper for the first man. So clearly material creation of these things is being described as well as then assigning to these material things various functions to carry out.

KEVIN HARRIS: Clarify a little bit for us what we mean by “material.” We're talking more in a metaphysical sense here because he's listing some things that, scientifically, you'd say, “Yeah, that has matter.”

DR. CRAIG: You're right. Professor Walton is an Old Testament scholar. He's not a philosopher. So he uses this phrase “material creation” and for any philosopher that's just completely misleading. Aristotle delineated four kinds of causes: efficient causes, material causes, formal causes, and final causes. When Aristotle talked about material causation he means the stuff out of which things are made. I mentioned the carpenter making the chair – the carpenter is the efficient cause of the chair and the wood or the lumber is the material cause of the chair. Walton is using terminology that is very confusing in talking about whether or not Genesis 1 involves material causation. What he is really talking about, as in the clip from Defender's class, he's really talking about efficient causation. Is God the efficient cause who brings into being these various objects? And it's not a question of God's bringing into being the matter or the material. The question is: Does he bring into being light and the earth and the heavens and the seas and the swarming things in the water and the birds in the air, the lights in the firmament? Well, of course he does. God in each case says, “Let there be” and these things come into existence. So what is described in Genesis 1 is one exercise of efficient causation after another of various material objects.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. A couple of minutes left on Dr. Walton here. We'll continue.

INTERVIEWER: That's a great point. I really like both of you guys, of course, and I'm sure you guys like each other obviously. I'm sure you've appreciated some of the work of Craig as well. I've actually talked to Craig's people. I may end up having him on the show. They said perhaps. So we'll see. But I would love to hear a discussion between you two in the future at some point. Maybe that would be fruitful.

DR. WALTON: He mentions that we've communicated, and we have. And I've told him these things, and I've told him about places where he's misunderstood or even misrepresented me, and he hasn't changed anything. So that makes me feel like he's not really much interested in productive thinking, and I'm just not interested in arguing with people.

INTERVIEWER: I understand.


DR. CRAIG: Right. We had some correspondence, and I felt that he was confused as I just explained, and that therefore my criticism stuck. There was no need to change these criticisms because they were accurate. I think in the clip that we just watched you saw some of those same confusions where he talked about whether the things were material objects or not and whether or not this involved creatio ex nihilo and so forth. It's a very confused discussion. But at the same time I do want to emphasize my appreciation for John Walton, and in my forthcoming book In Quest of the Historical Adam if you look for his name in the index at the end of the book you'll find that he is cited over and over again, sometimes with approval but also then sometimes he comes in for criticism. So I both appreciate him and also disagree with him on certain things.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. I'm not sure what you would change or where you would change it even if you wanted to. In other words, he's interacting with a clip that you've already recorded with Defenders. The only way that if you could acknowledge a change or a sea change or acknowledgement of his view after interaction with him would be on one of these podcasts or on a future Defenders.

DR. CRAIG: I think what he may be thinking of is the time in between Defenders 2 when I taught doctrine of creation and offered these criticisms of Walton and then we had this correspondence because somebody sent him my lesson or something. And then I taught Defenders 3 where we went through that section again, and I didn’t change anything substantially because I felt that I had responsibly exposited his view accurately and then offered some very telling criticisms. He is absolutely right when he says, “This criticism isn’t original.” He says everybody says, “Why can’t it be both?” Why can’t Genesis 1 be both God’s bringing things into existence and specifying the functions that they shall fulfill? And I think that that is certainly the majority view – that that is what is involved. It is both.

KEVIN HARRIS: Thank you, Bill. We’ll see you next time on the next podcast.[3]


[1] See Defenders Series 2, “Creation and Evolution” parts 7 through 10 ( and Defenders Series 3, “Excursus on Creation of Life and Biological Diversity” parts 7 through 9 ( (links accessed June 14, 2021).

[3] Total Running Time: 16:09 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)