I think there is a lot to the claim that, to the ancients, something ‘did not exist’ until it had a function. But I suspect it is misunderstood even by most of those who claim it.
As far as I know, all who make that claim understand that the ancients’ conception of things as ‘existing’ is specifically to things’ functioning in support or benefit of life.
But I would expect that this sense of ‘existence’ was, to the ancients, unlike, say, a body of placid, drinkable water that has no life in it. Such water is available for life, but, so long as no life is benefiting from it, it does not function for life, and, in that sense, does not exist. In other words, in order for something to exist as properly for the support of life, life must be integrated with whatever merely material functions that that thing has.
Thus, for the prime example, though the water cycle is a function for life, that cycle is not fully functional until life is part of that cycle. Thus, the water cycle, in terms of its sustained existence, does not exist unless it includes life as proper members of that cycle. As is known today of that cycle, plants and animals do not ride that cycle like people ride a roller coaster or an ocean raft. Rather, the output-and-intake cycle of life contributes to the maintenance of the water cycle, such as by helping maintain the atmosphere’s thickness and life-critical constituency.
So here’s what I’m thinking as to the ideal beginning to the ideal Literal material Creationary account of origins. Life is concerned always-and-mainly for itself and for its providential supports. In other words, life does NOT, even occasionally, mainly care for universally trivial matter, space, and energy. Therefore, life’s concerns are like that of wedding guests for the bride’s dress. They did not come to the wedding hoping to hear an ‘Introduction to the Bride’s Dress’ that begins with the fact that it ultimately is made of the same trivial stuff as everything else.
Surely, the ancients were akin to those wedding guests, not to the particular kind of modern autistic savant whose most dependable sense of the world is bound up in observing how everything is made of atomic elements. That savant may be more inclined to joy in conceptually reducing, say, entire fields of crops to atoms. But that’s just not how normal, more fully integrated, brains see things. The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing, even from the very first sentence.
So it most naturally would be insulting to the wedding guests to insist to them that it is appropriate to begin that ‘Introduction to the Bride’s Dress’ by not even mentioning the dress. For, this would not even give a proper clue as to what that ‘introduction’ actually and ultimately even is about: the dress.