When did animals become carnivorous?
Published: 31 August 2014 (GMT+10)
Diana W. from Canada is a fan of our Creation magazine, but had an objection to a Focus item that we used to support CMI’s position that animals were carnivorous before the Flood. Humans on the other hand were not given permission to eat animals until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). The response by Dr Jonathan Sarfati explains why we believe this, the primacy of biblical propositions and the secondary role of science where the Bible is silent.
Hello, my name is Diana and I absolutely love Creation magazine!
I have taught four Creation courses over the past several years and I use a lot of your resources.
My observation is from the Creation 36(2):10, 2014, ‘Creation News and Views’ article titled: “T.rex tooth found in another dinosaur’s tailbone”.
Specifically, I immediately became concerned when the author made an assumption that due to the fossil being found in Cretaceous rock (signs of widespread catastrophic burial), and the bitten dinosaur had obvious signs of healing growth over the attacker’s dislodged tooth, there were animal carnivores before the flood. When I read this, I first thought to myself, “Or it shows that an animal was simply attacked.” We know that Cain killed Abel so death was nothing new. Attacking others was not new. A protective mother will diligently guard her young and a male in search of a mate will fight for her. So, why assume that just because a tooth is found lodged in another animal during that geologic time frame implies carnivory? I have learned from your materials, etc. not to make loose assumptions when there are other implications to consider.
That being said, keep up the incredible work you do and thank you for all your diligent efforts to educate the world about God and His Creation.
Thank you for your generous comments about Creation magazine. Good on you for teaching Creation yourself, and we are glad our material has been useful.
The Bible and science
Our approach, as you have undoubtedly realized, is the primacy of the true propositions (basically facts about things) that God has revealed in Scripture—these are not negotiable. Scientific models must never be placed on the same level as Scripture, let alone placed in a magisterial role where ‘science’ over-rides the propositional revelation. However, there are places where Scripture is silent or equivocal, so there is a ministerial role for science in trying to elaborate in these places. The following articles should explain some of the differences:
- Biblical history and the role of science
- ‘But Genesis is not a science textbook’
- ‘Hanging Loose’
- Flood models and biblical realism
- The Importance of Evidence
- Presuppositionalism vs evidentialism, and is the human genome simple?
We have also contrasted operational and origins science. Even with origins or historical science, there are assumptions involved, but we also use the basic scientific principles of causality (everything that has a beginning has a cause) and analogy (e.g. we observe that intelligence is needed to generate complex coded information in the present, so we can reasonably assume the same for the past).
The Bible and original diets
When it comes to meat-eating, the Bible has some clear statements.
First, the original diet for both humans and animals was plants (Genesis 1:29–30). Originally, the nephesh chayyāh (‘living creatures’) were not for food. The famous passages of Isaiah 11:6–9 and 65:25 clearly make Edenic allusions to describe a future state,1 where nature was not ‘red in tooth and claw’.2 Significantly, both passages end with indications that this reflects a more ideal world that the current world does not: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” These indicate that hurting, harming and destroying animal life would not have been part of a “very good” creation. (More on the exegesis of Isaiah in The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals). Thus the early church understood that man and animals were originally created not to eat any other humans or animals.3
Second, God permitted humans to eat animals after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). The language God uses contrasts the animal diet with the previous plant diet: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” This refutes claims that Genesis 1:29–30 was merely talking about plants at the base of the food chain—no, it clearly was talking about eating only plants; after the flood, animal eating was allowed. So clearly, at least the righteous obedient humans would not have eaten meat before the Flood.
Third, there is no teaching here directly about animals being given permission to eat meat at this time. Since we now know that animals now eat meat (also Psalm 104:21), and also that God finished creating at the end of Creation Week (Genesis 2:1–3), it means that some previously plant-eating creatures must have given rise to meat-eating creatures. How this happened has been explained at length elsewhere (many articles are available at Death and Suffering Questions and Answers). But when this happened is another question.
We can say for sure that there was no meat eating before the Fall—this is the major downhill discontinuity in world history. However, there is nothing to say that there was no carnivory before the Flood.
Actually, there is a hint in the Bible that there was pre-Flood carnivory, although I won’t be dogmatic about it. That is, when Cain was enraged that God (YHWH) rejected his sacrifice, God counseled him that “sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7b). God pictures sin as ‘crouching’, but this means ‘ready to spring forth’. The same imagery is used in Genesis 49:9, “he crouched as a lion”. Indeed, in Genesis 4:7, the verb rōbets (רבץ) is masculine to agree with the implied wild beast, not feminine to agree with ‘sin’. So sin is like a lion waiting to pounce on Cain and consume him.
Such imagery could indicate that animal predation had already started by this time. This time could be a little under 130 years after Creation—Eve regarded Seth as God’s replacement for Abel murdered by Cain (Genesis 4:25), and Seth was born when Adam (and Eve) was 130 (Genesis 5:3).4
From the above, we can see that Scripture not only allows for animal carnivory before the Flood, but even hints that it occurred. So now we can see how science can elucidate this further.
Scripture doesn’t actually say explicitly that most fossils are from the Flood, but it does tell us that scoffers will have no excuse to deny it (2 Peter 3:3–6), implying that it left overwhelming evidence. And indeed, the fossils are evidence of rapid burial, and usually under water, so biblical creationists since geological pioneer Nicolaus Steno (1631–1686) have used them as evidence for a global Flood.
Not only do these fossils show death, they also show clear evidence of carnivory. For example, the fossil record includes a turkey-sized Compsognathus found with a lizard in its belly;5 a famous fossil of Velociraptor locked in mortal combat with a Protoceratops, and a T. rex coprolite (fossil dung) found with a “high proportion (30–50%) of bone fragments”.6 So this looks like clear evidence for carnivory. This is a serious problem for some long-age apologists, as explained in ‘Billions of years’ makes Christians dumb (and atheists loud).
The ‘Focus’ item you mention shows at least that a T. Rex bit a live hadrosaur—the wound showed evidence of some healing. This shows that T. Rex did not just scavenge dead dinosaurs.
In your email, you agree that animals were attacked, and that death was in the world. So there is no doubt that there was a sharp decline from the Edenic conditions. Carnivory among animals is no different in principle—the attacking and death are agreed upon. The only difference is what happened to the carcasses. We are not sure why the extra step of carnivory should be a problem, since there is really no difference as far as the dead animals are concerned: did they decompose, were they scavenged by other animals, or eaten by the animal that killed them?
I hope this explains CMI’s positions on both the role of science and the onset of animal carnivory.
References and notes
- Premillennialists believe that this is a literal Millennium, lasting for 1,000 years, followed by a creation of the new heavens and new earth. But these comments, in line with the ministry of CMI in general, will take no stand on such issues in eschatology. One major reason is that such debates on eschatology (‘last things’) presuppose the authority of the Bible, and merely disagree on what it means. But debates on protology (‘first things’) are debates about whether the Bible is the final authority in the first place, or whether uniformitarian ‘science’ trumps it. See Batten, D., End-times and early-times, Creation 27(4):43, 2005. Return to text.
- The memorable phrase from the very long 1850 poem In Memoriam, A.H.H. by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892). The fact that Tennyson’s poem predated Darwin’s Origin indicates that Darwin was greatly influenced by philosophical ideas of his day. Return to text.
- Zuiddam, B., Early Church Fathers on creation, death and eschatology, J. Creation 28(1):77–83, 2014. Return to text.
- Indeed, the same issue of Creation that Diana refers to contains the article Carter, R., How old was Cain when he killed Abel? Creation 36(2):16–17, 2014. Return to text.
- Ostrom, J.H., The osteology of Compsognathus longipes, Zitteliana 4;73–118, 1978. Return to text.
- Chin, K. et al., A king-sized theropod coprolite, Nature 393:680–682, 18 June 1998. Return to text.