If the universe is billions of years old, and the fossils represent millions of years of life on earth, God’s method of creation was an immensely long process of death, disease, violence, pain, suffering and waste. This scenario is incompatible with the biblical account of creation. It is also incompatible with belief in a God who is omnipotent and absolutely good. Such a method of creation does not inspire awe and worship. If anything, it inspires contempt. As far as many non-Christians are concerned, God must be cruel and/or incompetent if this was His method of creation.
However, to many Christians who try to combine belief in the Bible with belief in billions of years, this is not obvious at all. Many cannot or will not accept that the plain meaning of Scripture is the real meaning, and that majority scientific opinion is wrong. (That is, the plain meaning as understood by the vast majority of the early church Fathers,1 all the Reformers,2 virtually all professors of Hebrew or Old Testament in world-class universities,3 and vast numbers of believers down through the ages. It is also obviously the meaning believed by Jesus and the New Testament authors.)
In various ways they try to show that millions of years of death, disease, violence, pain, suffering and waste are compatible with Scripture.4 This article looks at just one of those ways, encountered while debating by e-mail with an academic who teaches in a theological college. He wrote, “The insistence that creation being ‘very good’ means it was absolutely perfect and therefore without predation etc. begs a few questions. To equate the goodness of creation with an absence of animal suffering seems to reflect modern Western sensitivities about nature.” (emphasis added). The implication here is that most people in the world regard animal suffering as normal, and are not bothered about it—the real problem is modern Western sensibility (over-sensitiveness).
This argument may sound plausible to some, but it is unbiblical. The book of Isaiah prophesies of a time in the future with no bloodshed in the animal kingdom:
“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. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6–9 ESV)
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. … The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.” (Isaiah 65:17,25 ESV)
Whether these descriptions are symbolic or literal, they convey the clear message that there is something wrong about animal carnivory, violence, pain and suffering. If these things were normal and “very good”, why should they be remedied in a future restoration? Isaiah was not a Westerner, and he was inspired by God Himself. It is quite wrong, therefore, to say that animal carnivory and suffering is a problem created only by Western sensibility.5
In fact, these passages indicate very specifically that carnivorous activity is an evil—that is, a physical rather than a moral evil. The Hebrew word translated “hurt” (“harm” in some other translations) in Isaiah 11:9 and 65:25 is ra’a. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the most frequent translation of this word is “do evil”. Other translations include “afflict” and “do wickedly”. It is related to ra, the usual word for “evil” in the Old Testament—and that includes both moral and physical evil. As for the word translated “destroy” in the same passages (shachath), the core meaning is “mar” or “corrupt”.6
If animal carnivory, violence, pain and suffering is a physical evil, it cannot have been present in the original “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31). Therefore it has to be a consequence of the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Genesis 3:14–24, Acts 3:21, Romans 8:18–25,7 Colossians 1:20 and 2 Peter 3:7–13 indicate that the whole creation was affected by the Fall and needs to be renewed. The whole creation is “groaning” and is in “the bondage of decay”, and is looking forward to its future. Revelation 22:3 (see also 21:1–4) calls this punishment the “curse”, and it is clear that it was inflicted by God.
The present state of the natural world and universe was ordained by God, but it is not the ideal. It is a creation that is still incredibly complex and beautiful, but it has been marred and spoilt because of man’s rebellion against God. This needs to be remembered when we read verses like Psalm 104:21, which indicates that God provides lions (which are carnivorous) with their food (see also Job 38:39–41). It was not like this in the original ‘very good’ creation, nor will it be like this in the new creation, when God creates new heavens and a new earth. The same comments apply to verses like Job 38:39–41; 39:26–30; 41:1–34. (Note that Genesis 1:29–30—indirectly supported by 9:3—indicates that all animals were herbivorous in the original creation.)
The fact is, we are led into a morass of confusion and compromise if we try to reconcile the Bible with ‘millions of years’. This is so whatever ingenious stratagem we might employ, and the ‘Western sensibility’ argument is just another case of unbiblical clutching at straws.
Mankind and death—was it only ‘spiritual’?
The main text refers to animal carnivory, pain and suffering; but what about the so-called ‘hominids’? (Note that ‘ape-men’ as such did not exist as far as biblical creationists are concerned.1) Does the ‘Western sensibility’ argument apply to them also? According to theistic evolutionists, man’s hominid ancestors (who were nothing more than intelligent animals) had been fighting one another and suffering and dying for millions of years before Adam.2 Presumably they believe that these sufferings and deaths were just as normal and ‘good’ as those of any other animal. But what about the teaching of Scripture that pain, suffering and death came to man through Adam’s sin? Relevant passages are Genesis 2:15–3:24; Romans 5:12–21; 8:18–25; 1 Corinthians 15:12–58; Revelation 21:1–4; 22:3. Theistic evolutionists usually deal with this problem by asserting that it was only spiritual death which came through Adam’s sin. However, this contradicts Genesis 3:19, where God told Adam that he would return to dust, as well as the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:12–58 that the punishment must have included physical death—hence Jesus (‘the last Adam’) died physically on the cross and rose physically from the dead.
References and Notes
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, pp. 107–122, 2004. Return to text.
- Sarfati, ref. 1, pp. 122–130. Return to text.
- Barr, J., Letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984. Of course, most do not believe it, but they know what it is meant to tell us. Return to text.
- Gurney, R.J.M., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, Journal of Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004. The case for the reality of animal suffering is even stronger than described in this article. See Bekoff, M., Minding Animals, Oxford University Press, 2002. Return to text.
- ‘Western’ sensibilities about animal suffering undoubtedly come from the deep-seated influence of Christianity. The Romans before Christ had no qualms about animal or human suffering; it was only after the widespread acceptance of Christianity that the cruelties of the circus stopped. Return to text.
- Gurney, ref. 4, p. 71. Return to text.
- Smith, H.B. Jnr, Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a, Journal of Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007. Return to text.
I am not convinced that there was no death before the Fall. Although it is plausible that all terestrial creatures were herbivores, as there was, just as today, abundant plant matter for them to eat and most species are naturally herbivores, this is not the case with marine species. There is very little plant matter in the sea and presumably that was the case before the Fall. Almost all marine species today are carnivores. What did the marine species eat if not other creatures as they do today?
I suggest that it is not really appropriate to say that there is very little plant matter in the sea, as there is a great deal, huge in fact, if phytoplankton is taken into account in addition to the large amounts of seagrass/seaweed. Not only is there a great deal of plant matter, but I myself would not include zooplankton as part of the definition of nephesh life, and probably not all marine invertebrates. But even if some of those latter were included, then even with just the zooplankton added to the actual plant matter, then given the huge size of the oceans compared to the land, the total amount of non-nephesh biomass in the sea today (which could be eaten in a preFall world without violating the 'no death' concept) would likely dwarf that on the land. In any case, even if there were an apparent problem in this regardm deduction from Scripture is so definitive about no preFall nephesh death that our lack of ability to work out how the preFall biological economy could have worked seems insufficient to doubt the biblical reality. The relevant chapter of the Creation Answers Book on preFall death and violence may have some additional helpful thoughts in this regard, it is available free on our website for download as a chapter pdf. BTW, my colleague Dr Don Batten added this: "The oceans are just as much dependent on photosynthesis (plants, albeit mainly tiny ones; phytoplankton), as the land. 50% of the world's oxygen comes from the oceans. Carnivores in the ocean are, like on the land, the minority; most creatures are herbivores. This series of charts illustrates the ocean food web: http://courses.washington.edu/ocean101/Lex/Lecture26.pdf
Hello, and thank you very much for this website. I am truly astonished at the scope of material here, and it has been very helpful to my faith.
While I am a YEC, and agree with the article that animals were not carnivorous before the Fall, I'm not convinced that the animals were free of aging and eventual death. They didn't have access to the tree of life, but were given only the green plants. So wouldn't their bodies have eventually worn out and died?
Thanks again for your wonderful work for the Lord.
The Curse brought on by Adam's sin is described in Romans 8:22 as causing the creation to 'groan', and it refers to the 'bondage to decay'. Why would we look at the fact that bodies 'wear out' in today's fallen world, and then assume that the same has to apply in a perfect one? For one thing, that would then start to bring in questions of animal pain as e.g. joints started to wear out, etc. If God is great enough to sustain a creation without pain or suffering, He can also do that for death and for the wearing out which causes both death and some suffering, I suggest.
When creation fell, it seems as if God withdrew some of His sustaining power, and a glimpse of what it would have been like prior to that may be offered by when the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years and their sandals did not wear out. Or when the three in the fiery furnace were not consumed.
For me at least, it's hard to see a world which is 'all very good' involving a gradual wearing out, one in which Adam and Eve are going to suffer the pain of loss of one of their animal friends, for instance.
In one sense, perhaps all this is moot anyway, because God, who sees the end from the beginning and inhabits eternity would not have been caught napping by the Fall. Salvation is not his 'plan B' as someone has said; Rev 13:8 talks of names being written in the Lamb's book of life "before the foundation of the world". So the question of whether animals would have lived forever or not may have been quite irrelevant to Him, because the time in the Garden was not long enough for any wearing out to make a practical difference anyway (Eve had not conceived before Adam sinned, despite it being a perfect world and the pair having been given the command to multiply).