Why Pre-Fall Death Isn't A Problem For Old Earth Creationism
I think the primary objection young earth creationists have to old earth creation models (like that of Reasons To Believe and BioLogos) is that an ancient world requires that there was millions and millions of years of animals dying, suffering, and killing. I've heard many biblical arguments given in defense of young earth creationism (none of which I find compelling), but the pre-fall animal death seems to be at the very center of their disdain for old earth models.
With this objection comes several arguments as to why this prevents Old Earth Creationism or Evolutionary Creationism from being tenable.
(1): Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 teach that Adam's sin brought death into the world, and if death is a result of Adam's sin, then it couldn't be the case that death pre-existed sin.
(2): Genesis 1:29-30 says God gave man and the animals fruits and veggies to eat, not meat. This suggests there was no carnivorous activity in the time before the fall.
(3): God would be evil if He created a world with millions of years of animal suffering.
(4): Genesis 1:31 Says God's Creation was "Very Good". Millions of years of suffering and death doesn't fit that definition.
These 4 objections undergird the case that *no animals were harmed in the making of this world*. However, are these arguments sucessful? Does The Bible really preclude any death of any kind before the fall of man? I don't think so. These arguments seem plausible at first glance, but they fall apart under intense scrutiny. Let me explain why:
Argument 1: Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 teach that Adam's sin brought death into the world, and if death is a result of Adam's sin, then it couldn't be the case that death pre-existed sin.
Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15:22 are not talking about all death of all creatures, but only human death. Moreover, I don't even think it's talking about physical death only, but spiritual death also. So at most you could make the case that human death is a result of the fall. But you can't say that all death is a result of the fall. To do so would be to go beyond what the text warrants. Why do I say that this is only talking about human death? Let's look at the passages in question to see why.
First, a close reading of Romans 5:12 reveals that Paul (the author of the epistle) is not referring to the death of all living creatures, but only human beings. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—“ Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, God barred us access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). Because we can’t eat from the tree of life, we can’t live forever. We eventually grow old and die. If only Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, we could eat from that tree and live forever. Moreover, the last few words of this verse says that death comes to all people because all people sin. It specifically singles out human beings and states that we die because of our sins against God.
My friend Jt Perry from the Old Earth Creationists Facebook group once made a parody of Romans 5 to fit the YEC interpretation. This parody was the text of Romans 5, except he kept inserting [humans and animals] to show how absurd it would be to extend this text to creatures besides humans. Jt Perry wrote:
Rom 5:12, 14-21 NIV - Therefore, just as sin entered the world [of humans and animals] through one man, and death [of humans and animals] through sin, and in this way death came to all men [and animals], because all [humans and animals] sinned-- ...
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those [humans and animals] who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many [humans and animals] died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many [humans and animals]! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation [to humans and animals], but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification [to humans and animals]. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those [humans and animals] who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men [and animals], so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men [and animals]. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many [humans and animals] were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many [humans and animals] will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase [to humans and animals]. But where sin increased [in humans and animals], grace increased all the more [to humans and animals], so that, just as sin reigned in death [of humans and animals], so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life [to humans and animals] through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This passage is clearly talking about human beings and only human beings. Including animals renders it absurd. If this were about animals in addition to humans, we’d have to conclude that animals die because they sin, and they sin because they inherited a sinful nature from Adam, and that through the obedience of one man (i.e Jesus Christ) animals will be made righteous. This is ridiculous. As for the 1 Corinthians 15 passage, since this is a parallel passage to Romans 5, it would make sense to conclude that this too is talking only about human beings.
Moreover, while we're on the topic of passages about The Fall, let me point out that Genesis 3 doesn't say carnivorous activity came into existence either. What Genesis 3 says is that since Adam and Eve sinned, their work would often be in vein, patriarchy would exist, child birth would be extremely painful, and they would eventually die. That's all. Genesis 3:21 does say that God killed an animal to make fur clothing for Adam and Eve, but nowhere does the text say that it was the first animal to ever die.
Argument 2: Genesis 1:29-30 Proves All Creatures Were Herbivores
He says "Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.' And it was so." - Genesis 1:29-30
Young Earth Creationists have used this passage to try to argue that there was no carnivorous activity before the fall. All animals and humans ate vegitables and fruit, and they never ate any meat. God doesn't say that he gives them beasts of the field and/or birds of the air to eat. He says that He gives them "every seed-bearing plant", and "every tree that has fruit in it". He also says that he gives, not just Adam and Eve these things, but to the animals as well. This, the YEC argues, suggests that all living things ate a purely vegitarian diet before sin entered the world. They try to strengthen their case by pointing to Genesis 9 where God tells Noah that He gives them animals to eat. They argue that meat-eating only came into the world after the worldwide flood.
The problem with this argument is that it commits a logical fallacy known as argument from silence. Just because God doesn't mention animals in Genesis 1:29-30 doesn't mean He didn't allow Adam and Eve to eat meat or that animals didn't eat each other. All you can get from this passage is that God gave us fruits and veggies to eat.
Imagine you and your brother came to my house to babysit my pets while I went somewhere, and I said to you "I give you every box of Ramen Noodles in the entire cabinet. Every Maruchan cup with noodles and veggies in it will be yours for food. And to your brother, I give every Chow Mein brand of food." Would it follow from my statement that you aren't allowed to eat anything else in the cabinet? Would you infer from my statement that I only intended you to eat noodles all weekend long? Of course not! And if you did, you'd be commiting the logical fallacy; argument from silence.
This passage would only bother me if God said something like "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. But you shall not eat the beasts of the field, or the birds of the air, or the fish of the sea, or that which creeps along the ground. They are forbidden." But, God does not say that.
Argument 3: God Would Be Evil If He Created A World With Millions Of Years Of Animal Suffering
This isn't a biblical argument against pre-fall animal death, it is a philosophical one. I've heard many YECs tell me that if God created the world with suffering and death built in, He would not be a good God. How could a good and loving God subject innocent animals to millions of years of terrible suffering and death? How could a good God create a world "red in tooth and claw"? God would be evil, according to many YECs, if He created the world with suffering and death built in from the very beginning.
I am not unsympathetic with the YEC's objection. I had it myself before becoming an OEC. It certainly does seem at first glance to pose a challenge to God's goodness. However, one day Greg West of The Poached Egg posed a very simple question to me that made a difference. He asked me "If you think God has good reasons for allowing suffering after the fall, why is it inconceivable for Him to have good reasons for permitting it before the fall?" I had absolutely no answer. If I thought (and I did) that God has good reasons for allowing humans to suffer and die after the fall, why couldn't God have good reasons for allowing animals to suffer before the fall? It seems like if God could have morally sufficient reasons for one, it is at least possible that He could have morally sufficient reasons for the other. Of course, I have no idea what those reasons are in either case, but I trust that God does have them. I have this trust because I know based on several instances in The Bible that God has had morally sufficient reasons for certain historical instances of suffering. And as I point out in my blog post "The Problem Of Evil and Suffering", there are several illustrations (one of which involving the movie Sliding Doors) which illustrate how God's permittance of some instance of suffering could bring about a greater good, thus making the allowance justified. So even though we don't always know the specific reason for a specific evil, these illustrations demonstrate how God could do so.
If you want to say that God cannot have good reasons for permitting animal death before the fall, you are essentially conceding the problem of pain to the atheists. I highly doubt that YECs want to do that, but that is the logical entailment of the argument.
At this point, one might ask "What possible reasons might there be for God to allow pre-fall animal death?" That is a very good question. One of the possible reasons why God permitted carnivorous activity and animal death pre-fall comes from Hugh Ross in his book “More Than A Theory”.
“Why Did God Create Hominids?
The Bible does not mention any of the hominids that preceded humanity. The omission is consistent with the biblical practice of avoiding references to natural phenomena that only some readers over the centuries would find familiar. Scripture does address human responsibility for the natural realm (See Genesis 1:28-30) however, and warns of the negative impact of human sin upon other creatures (Genesis 3:17, Genesis 9:2). Because God gave soulish animals (birds and mammals) the desire to interact with humans, the evil that people manifested could have had a devastating impact. According to Genesis 9:2, God took protective action 'The fear of dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air.' From a biblical perspective, God possesses complete knowledge of the future. He knew before creating any hominids that future humans would rebel against His authority and become incredibly selfish and dangerously harmful both to each other and to the environment. The many bird and mammal species driven to extinction sadly testifies to such abuse. Of the 15,000 to 20,000 bird species present at the time of humanity’s origin, only about 9,000 remain. Of about 8,000 land mammal species, only about 4,000 are left. Humans have devastated the very creatures God supplied to improve humanity’s quality of life. Perhaps this impact would have been even worse had God not created a series of progressively more advanced hominids. Large bodied mammal extinctions studies support this premise. In Africa, where several hominid species predate humanity, the extinctions for large mammals during the human occupation period is 14%. In North and South America and Austrailia, where no such hominids preceded humans, the extinction rate for mammals stands at 73%, 79%, and 80% respectively. In such places as Africa, the fossil record reveals a sequence of hominids that spanned several million years, with each successive species slightly more capable of hunting birds and mammals than the previous. This increasing exposure to gradually improved predation skills may have allowed birds and mammals to adapt step-by-step to the shock of a sinful super predator.”
So one (out of many possible reasons) God allowed animal suffering pre-fall is for them to learn how to survive against human beings! If they hadn’t, more species probably would have gone extinct than what the current statistics show. Moreover, this possibility could apply regardless of whether God specially created over billions of years or if He used evolution. In fact, perhaps if He used evolution, this might be a reason why. The world was a training ground for "the sinful super predator". Perhaps if God snapped a rainbow-and-puppies kind of world into being, the environment wouldn't have survived against us as well as it did. Perhaps this is why an "Ape Man March" even exists.
Argument 4: Genesis 1:31 Says God's Creation was "Very Good". Millions of years of suffering and death doesn't fit that definition.
Genesis 1:31 records God finishing His act of creation, and He calls His creation "very good". Young Earth Creationists argue that if the world were full of animal death and predation, it wouldn't be "very good", but "very bad". The inference Young Earth Creationists make from the phrase "very good" is that creation was perfect.
I don't think we need to take "very good" to mean "perfect". There's a good chance that God created an ecosystem where life would flourish and be abundant. A predator-prey relationship is often essential for the ecosystem to do well. In Fasale Rana's article "Animal Death Prevents Ecological Meltdown", he writes "Ecosystem stability requires a means to regulate the levels of each category of organisms. The amount of sunlight, nutrients, moisture, and temperature regulates the abundance of primary producers. Herbivores also affect plant levels through consumption. If not checked, exploding herbivore numbers will cause an ecosystem to collapse by over-consuming the primary producers."
In other words, if herbivore population gets out of hand, plant life runs out, and everyone suffers. Carnivores eat the herbivores and that prevents all the vegitation from vanishing. This ties in with the previous subheader, in which God can have morally sufficient reasons for permitting pre-fall animal death. It would suck if by the time mankind was created, all the plants were gone.
As you can see, to have a functioning ecosystem, a predator-prey relationship is essential. It is even the case that certain species cannot even survive without the presence of predators in their environment because overpopulation and disease become prevanlent. There have even been cases in which people have had to purposefully introduce predators into an environment in order to ensure that the species they desire to hunt doesn't go extinct.
So, when God said that the creation was “very good” that could just be a reference to the flourishing ecosystem. "Very good. Everything is up and running."
As you can see, The Bible does not preclude animal death existing before The Fall. It doesn't say there was pre-fall animal death, but it doesn't say that there wasn't any either. The Bible leaves death before the fall an open question. How would the question be answered then? Since The Bible is silent on the matter, we must look to science for the answer.