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When did animals become carnivorous?

Published: 31 August 2014 (GMT+10)
© iStockPhoto.com/JoeLena fighting-volcanosaurs

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  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.

God Bless!

Diana W.


Dear Diana

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:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Zuiddam, B., Early Church Fathers on creation, death and eschatology, J. Creation 28(1):77–83, 2014. Return to text.
  4. 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.
  5. Ostrom, J.H., The osteology of Compsognathus longipes, Zitteliana 4;73–118, 1978. Return to text.
  6. Chin, K. et al., A king-sized theropod coprolite, Nature 393:680–682, 18 June 1998. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover
Six-Day Creation
by Robert Gurney
US $8.00
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Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Charles R.
I have always believed that there were other catastrophic floods that created fossils after Noah’s Flood. The flesh-eating fossil dinosaurs and other animals could have been buried in later flood events.
Jonathan Sarfati
The problem is that dinosaur fossils are clearly in rock layers that must be assigned to a flood of global extent. Noah's Flood is the only one that fits. After that, God gave the rainbow promise that he would never again send a global flood. Woolly mammoth fossils on the other hand really are post-Flood, formed towards the end of the Ice Age caused by the single global flood. See Mammoth—riddle of the Ice Age.
V. M.
The earthworm is another enigma, as earthworms have blood, yet are not considered nephesh chayyāh, probably because their blood cannot be readily spilled nor do they have nostrils but ‘breathe’ (exchange gases) through their skin.
V. M.
Death before sin is scripturally untenable, hence if Adam stepped on an ant (not being nephesh chayyāh) it wouldn’t be considered ‘killing’ because life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11) and ants have haemolymph.

What would've happened, though, if Adam stepped on an Etruscan pygmy shrew (smallest living mammal), squashing it in the garden of Eden?
Jonathan Sarfati
This is begging the question that Adam would have stepped on a nephesh chayyāh before the Fall. If God preserved the Israelites’ clothes and sandals from wearing out during their 40 years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), then He certainly could have preserved small mammals and reptiles before the Fall.

Indeed, insects such as ants are not nephesh chayyāh, as your fellow countryman David Pitman documented in Nephesh chayyāh: A matter of life … and non-life.
M. K.
(Sorry, for my bad english writing. I'm just trying to improve my english.)
What did the meat eating animals eat in the first weeks or months after the flood? Because I think in the first weeks or months after the flood it wasn't good to eat the meat of an other land animal because this kind would be die out (There were only two of every kind).
Maybe the most meat eating animals ate fish in the first year after the flood. Or the remaining provision from the ark. Or some plants.
Best greetings and God bless you
Jonathan Sarfati
No problem; your English was easily understandable. The answer is largely what you suggest: there was much vegetation growing by disembarcation, and there would be fish trapped in pools left behind by the retreating floodwaters,. Another source of meat would be exhumed carrion. Even hunting animals usually prefer to save lots of energy by eating dead animals, even if decomposition has set in. See Refuting Noah’s ark critics for more.
Vickie W.
One thing to consider: if animals were not carnivorous, then why would they need to defend themselves? A momma bear only attacks if she feels her babies are threatened. If animals didn’t eat each other, then they would have no reason to defend themselves or attack if they felt threatened. They would have know that another animal is not a threat and ignored them. Much like a parakeet ignores a cat that is it’s ‘friend’ or a lamb that has been raised with a lion. Just my thought.

Thank you for all your wonderful science! As a chemist and a teacher, I appreciate true science!
Glad you have found our material helpful, and always good to hear from a fellow chemist. What you suggested was partly covered in the last paragraph of the response. Also, carnivores are not the only danger—here is a general knowledge question you might like to try out on your friends:

Q: Which vertebrate non-human animal kills the most people in Africa?
A: The hippopotamus, which is herbivorous!
Lonnie H.
I have no problem believing that animals became carnivorous after sin entered the world. However, I wonder what happened during the Flood? I suppose the Holy Spirit that led them to the Ark also kept them from eating each other or Noah and his family during the Flood.
Jonathan Sarfati
God also told Noah to build rooms for the different animals (Genesis 6:14) and to bring food for them (Genesis 6:21). Meat could have been dried for storage, which would have both preserved it and reduced mass and volume, then reconstituted with rainwater when needed. Fodder tortoises are another idea. See also Refuting Noah’s ark critics.
Chandrasekaran M.
Jonathan, your comment about crouching is interesting. So which came first—the crouching nature or the predator nature unless crouching nature cannot exist without predator nature? But using fossil science in ministerial role together with the eye witness history, predator nature among animals existed before Noah’s flood, as you have said, is clear. But the text Gen 9:7 implies that predator and prey relation between humans and animals came about only after the flood.
Jonathan Sarfati
Normally a literal usage precedes a figurative one. E.g. “Light as a feather” is a simile based on the literal truth that a feather is light. The former World Middleweight Boxing Champion Jake LaMotta was metaphorically called “the Raging Bull” because bulls were already fierce and powerful. That's why I suspect that animals crouching before pouncing on prey were known before God used the metaphor of sin crouching in a menacing way.

Yes, as stated, godly humans should not have eaten animals before the Flood; this was permitted only in Genesis 9:3. Also, God had made animals scared of humans for the most part in Geneisis 9:2.

Thus, instead of the harmony that existed between man and aminals in Eden, there is ‘fear’ and ‘dread’. The word for ‘fear’ is môrāh (מורה), which can also mean ‘terror’ (Brown–Driver–Briggs lexicon). ‘And the ‘dread’ is probably too weak a term for wəchittəkem, lemma chāt (חת), because it basically means ‘broken’ or ‘shattered’ (BDB). One reason may well be what follows—they would have every reason to fear man, because man would be allowed to eat them. Another is to protect man from the animals, as one sound commentator suggests:

The beasts, by their great numbers, as well as because of their more rapid propagation, and in many instances also because of their superior strength would soon have gotten the upper hand over man and exterminated him. God, therefore, makes a natural ‘fear’; even a ‘terror’, to dwell in their hearts. Even the birds, at least the stronger among them, need such restraint. ‘Cattle’ are not mentioned, for by nature the domesticated animals stand sufficiently under the control of man.… ‘Cattle’ are not to flee from man. The truth of the fulfilment of this word lies in the fact that wild beasts consistently shun the haunts of men, except when driven by hunger. No matter how strong they may be, they dread man’s presence, yes, are for the most part actually filled with ‘terror’ at the approach of man. (Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis 1:329, 1942.)

Peter Boaz J.
Clearly it was permissible to eat meat since Abel sacrificed, and the offerer was also to partake of the offering unless a whole burnt offering.
Moreover, God performed the first sacrifice since He clothed Adam and Eve, and in essence Christ “was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
Genesis 9:3 just reaffirms that God's laws along with the Ten Commandments were already known even after 2000 years, a third of all time up to the flood.
I concur with Damien S' Comment.
Jonathan Sarfati
Actually, the first statement doesn't follow. We have addressed such claims before in a book review, as follows:

‘The fact that Abel raised sheep also seems to indicate that he ate them, since that would be the typical behavior for a Hebrew shepherd’ (p. 65).
Not so; sheep were raised for their milk and wool more than for their meat, and even in later times only the well-to-do could afford to eat much meat. The fact that Abel sacrificed sheep does not mean that he ate meat, and even if people ate meat before the Flood, that doesn’t mean God gave permission before then. Otherwise, why would God bother to tell Noah, ‘Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything,’ if Noah was already eating meat?

Indeed, as stated, Genesis 9:3 clearly indicates that this was the beginning of a new permission to eat meat that had not been allowed before.

The phrase “from the foundation of the world” must logically refer to the writing of the names in the Lamb’s book of life, not the Crucifixion. That is, Revelation 13:8 should be translated:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world (apo katabolēs kosmou, ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου) in the book of life belonging to the Lamb who was slain.

This is explained further in The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?
Damien S.
Sin entered creation when Adam disobeyed God and the whole of creation was affected, therefore it is logical to assume that animal carnivory occurred prior to the flood. Given the moral depths that man had sunk prior to the flood, it is hard to believe that animals were not affected by the curse of Adam for over 1500 years.

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