Animal death before the Fall
Cruelty to animals is contrary to God’s nature
Biblical creationists teach the historic Christian view that all kinds of death, corruption, decay, etc. (anything less than ‘Very Good’ according to God) are ultimately a result of God’s just punishment for the sin of Adam in the Garden. Prior to the Fall and the Curse, this creation existed in a state which exactly matched God’s original will. One may call this ‘paradise’. This idyllic state would have been pervasive across all of creation, and all domains; there would have been no corruption or death in the animal kingdoms just as there was none for mankind.
In fact, we can even read in Genesis 1:29–30 that all animals and people were given only plants for food prior to the Fall and the Curse. There would have been no carnivory or predation in the animal world prior to the entry of sin. And in Isaiah 11:6, the prophet reveals that God promises to restore this paradise to earth in the future, including its lack of predation, by promising, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.” Commentators say that Isaiah was making an allusion to the pre-Fall world. Furthermore, he summarizes this future state as “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain”—i.e. unlike the current world with animals tearing each other to pieces.
Sadly, many in the church are being led to forget this basic biblical teaching by individuals and organizations who have adopted various compromise positions, seeking to mix-and-match their worldview with both biblical and secular, non-Christian ideas. One of the key arguments on this front is the argument over animal death. Does the Bible teach that animals were free of death and suffering before the Fall, or were the consequences of the Fall limited only to humans?
If one is to accept the secular (old-earth) interpretation of the fossil record, the conclusion that death, suffering and disease predated humanity is part of the package—as we find strong evidence of all these things in the fossil record. This is a problem that plagues (nearly) all forms of old earth-ism,1 whether it be full-blown theistic evolutionism or a milder form, like old earth or progressive creationism. All of these viewpoints seek to harmonize secular deep time with the Bible’s history.
What kind of God do we serve?
However, the Bible clearly teaches that death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). So why would God purposely create the world in a less-than-perfect state from the start? Old earthers, such as Hugh Ross for example, argue that when the Bible says God called the original creation ‘very good’, he only meant that it existed exactly as God intended (not that it was literally perfect).2 But what does this response imply? It means God purposely engineered death, suffering, and disease in the animal world, apart from the Curse, and called that state ‘very good’. What sort of god would do a thing like that?
The earliest historic Christian understanding of death and suffering (including in the animal realm) is that it exists only as part of the Curse which came about as a punishment for the Fall of mankind.3 Tampering with that position, suggesting that animals have always suffered and that God intended them to suffer from the beginning (as the Rossites do) raises serious issues about the nature of God, and has ramifications for the Problem of Evil as well. Why would God needlessly and purposely engineer conscious suffering and pain (even in animals)?
Did God have good (but incomprehensible) reasons for all that suffering?
One common Rossite response here is to suggest that the animal suffering was not needless, but we simply cannot fathom what God’s good reasons might have been. But this fails because God is both omniscient and omnipotent. Barring any considerations of free choice (which are the reason why God allowed sin and the subsequent Curse to enter in the first place), how could God have needed to engineer such suffering? In this case, the animals would have been morally incapable of any wrongdoing of their own, and their suffering predated any human wrongdoing (you don’t punish crimes that haven’t happened yet)! Not only that, but this suffering would have gone on for an unfathomable length of time: millions of years! It’s inconceivable that God (an omnipotent being) would have needed to cause millions of years of suffering prior to the existence of any moral beings (humans) to react or respond to that suffering.
It gets worse: what would Adam and Eve have concluded, had they come innocently into this world of disease, death, and suffering? They would have looked around them and naturally concluded that death and disease were good, and were God’s will! In such a world, how could the Curse be viewed as a bad thing? Is God the author of confusion?
Was the Garden of Eden a ‘safe zone’?
At this juncture, another Rossite retort might be to suggest that Adam and Eve would not have been exposed to this animal suffering because it was exclusively confined to the world outside of the Garden of Eden (which was somehow an island of paradise among an otherwise dangerous and bloody world).4 But that serves to undercut the original justification given: that somehow God needed to engineer things this way. If Adam and Eve were to have no contact with the outside world anyway, then what possible purpose could all those millions of years of suffering have had, even for people? (And as an aside, just how long can a human population continue to grow within the confines of a single garden, anyway?) Doesn’t this view imply that most of the planet was useless and pointless until Adam and Eve sinned? Doesn’t it also imply that Adam and Eve really had no choice but to sin? But no matter, because nowhere in Scripture do we find this idea that the Garden was a protected zone in the midst of a scary, dangerous planet.
Imagine being in God’s position, able to do anything, and out of that limitless sea of possibility, choosing to create a planet full of creatures capable of experiencing pain and misery (both physical and emotional), and then making sure they would experience lots of both for millions of years, and doing nothing to help them. What would the character of this god be like? Would this at all resemble the God of the Bible? Based upon everything we know about God from his Word, this is simply not the sort of thing God would have done.
The biblical basis for animal cruelty laws
The history of animal cruelty laws in the west is tied to Protestantism, which was very much an attempt at a back-to-the-Bible movement within Christendom.5 One of the earliest legal documents from the American Colonies, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), makes heavy reference to the Bible, and includes the following line:
92. No man shall exercise any Tirranny [tyranny] or Crueltie [cruelty] towards any bruite [brute] Creature which are usuallie [usually] kept for man’s use.6
While this document doesn’t specifically reference a biblical text to justify this law, I have a good idea for a place in the Bible where one might find such a principle set forth. Proverbs 12:10:
“Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Note there is no escape route provided in this verse: it says, “whoever is righteous”. Is God righteous? Absolutely! That means God must have regard for the lives of beasts. But we know independently of this verse that God does regard beasts, because he comes right out and says so in Jonah chapter 4, in response to Jonah’s spiteful desire for the suffering of the city of Nineveh. God said,
“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” [emphasis added] -Jonah 4:11
Here we can see from God’s own explicit words that he does, in fact, regard even cattle with mercy. So why the millions of years of death, disease and suffering, then? It’s a major problem in old earth theology. The Bible clearly teaches:
“The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.” Psalm 145:9
That simply doesn’t square with the picture of God painted by old-earth compromise views, as a god who purposely engineers death and suffering for his creatures from the outset, and then sits back and watches for literally millions of years and does nothing to help. The true biblical teaching on this is that all death and suffering are a result of the Curse, which came about as a punishment for the Fall of mankind. The animal world was affected because of the headship of Adam over all of God’s creation. God sent his Son (God the 2nd Person of the Trinity) to die on a torture device--the Cross—on our behalf so we could be restored to a right relationship with Him. He has also promised to restore this creation back to its original idyllic state as well in the New Heavens and New Earth.
Corruption, death and disease—they are all part of the Curse
As Paul wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). Greatly increased pain in childbirth is actually specifically mentioned by God as part of the Curse in Genesis 3:16. By implication and extension, Paul is suggesting that all of Creation was affected by the Curse. God did not create death and suffering from the outset; they are a result of disobedience to our perfect and loving God, who desires only good for all that he has made.
References and notes
- I cannot say ‘all’, because technically there is a viewpoint called Young Life Creationism that essentially proposes a roughly biblical perspective of life (going back only around 6000 years), but then attempts to insert billions of years prior to the creation of first life. Handling this view is outside the scope of this article since these individuals would not believe in animal death prior to the Fall. But see ‘Soft’ gap sophistry for problems with this view. Return to text.
- See Ch. 6, Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, 2014; also Was God’s finished creation perfect?. Return to text.
- Zuiddam, B., 2nd Century Church Fathers: God will make lions vegetarian again, Creation 36(3):46–47, 2014; Early Church Fathers on creation, death and eschatology, J. Creation 28(1):77–83, 2014. Return to text.
- This concept is alluded to by the old earth perspective given at Could thorns have existed outside of Eden, and what about the Framework Hypothesis? though specifically thorns are mentioned. Return to text.
- Davis, J., The History of Animal Protection in the United States, oah.org, accessed 2 December 2019. Return to text.
- The Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), history.hanover.edu/texts/masslib.html, accessed 2 December 2019. Return to text.