Also Available in:

Is cancer ‘very good’?

Does the Bible allow pre-Fall animal death?

commons.wikimedia.org, Martin Bennettsquirrel-warbles
Eastern Gray Squirrel suffering from warbles


Does Fluffy drag his back legs around the house now because he is crippled with arthritis and covered in fleas? Relax! Did Fifi get cancer and you had to put her down? Praise God! Did Rover get run over? Hallelujah! It’s all part of God’s ‘very good’ initial creation.

How many Christians could say “Amen!” to ridiculous statements like this? Surprisingly, seemingly more than you’d think …

Death before sin

Many Christians have been influenced by the powerful ‘no death before sin’ argument that biblical (or ‘Young Earth’) creationists have long argued. Verses like Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 make it abundantly clear that one man (Adam) brought sin and death into the Creation at the time of the Fall.

The argument is therefore that if the rocks containing fossils (dead things) that are found all over the world are really millions of years old (rather than the result of Noah’s Flood) then there was clearly death before Adam sinned and the Bible is wrong. It follows then that because God’s word is true, the billions of years interpretation of earth history is wrong, there was no death before the Fall.

Theistic evolutionists have largely avoided the problem by simply assigning Genesis to the mythological trash heap and not even trying to synchronize scripture with science, denying Adam and Eve were real people; and some even heretically saying Jesus was wrong about history.

Only animal death?

More biblically minded individuals have attempted various ways to harmonize the Genesis account with deep time. Almost all of them try arguing that these Bible verses are simply talking about the death of humans, not animals before the Fall, and so the idea of animal death before Adam sinned is intellectually sound.

commons.wikimedia.org, Jack Merridewdog-demodectic
This animal is suffering from demodectic mange

Granted, Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 are certainly speaking of human death. But there are several scriptural verses that counteract the idea that animals died pre-Fall. Number one is Genesis 1:29–30 where (pre-Fall) God commands His creatures (people and vertebrate animals) to eat plants. God Himself spoke this and He ends the verse with “And it was so.” That would mean there could be no carnivorous activity pre-Fall.

In further support, Isaiah 11: 6 –9; 65:17–25 speak of a future restoration of peace and harmony between creatures as it was in the beginning before the Fall. “The wolf will dwell with the lamb” and “the lion will eat straw like the ox”, etc. “They will not hurt or destroy” and “they shall do no evil or harm”. A simple summary of the meaning of Isaiah 11:6–9 is given by British theologian Nigel Cameron.

Essentially it has two thrusts of teaching—it implies that there is, in fact, something fundamentally awry in the animal kingdom; that the predation and animosity which characterise it are not as they should be. And, secondly, it asserts that it is man’s religious condition that is responsible for this state of things; the absence from the earth of the ‘knowledge of the Lord’. Human sin and evil in nature are interconnected in a relation of cause and effect. 1

Indeed, Isaiah was alluding to the conditions in Eden before the Fall. Irish biblical scholar Alec Motyer, former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, explains:

There is an ‘Edenic’ element in Isaiah’s thinking … There is also a change in the very order of things itself: the herbivoral nature of all the creatures points to Eden restored (Gn. 1:29–30). … The enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent is gone (Gn. 3:15ab). Infant and ‘weaned child’ have nothing to fear from cobra and viper.2

Fossils. A record of death …

However the fossil record is rife with examples of carnivorous activity, with countless creatures exhibiting terrible wounds inflicted by other animals. Many show that entire creatures were devoured by others (including a mammal that had eaten a dinosaur). Since most of the fossils were the result of the Flood, it shows that animal carnivory was already occurring by then, although God didn’t permit humans to eat meat until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). If all of this death occurred millions of years ago—as all long-age beliefs entail—then the Bible is wrong again.

Still undeterred because of their confidence in (or sometimes seeming idolatry for) ‘millions of years’, some Christians on one hand seem to simply shrug this off. On the other end of the spectrum, some have gone to the extreme of trying to argue for retroactive death (the inane idea that God ‘pre cursed’ the Creation because He foresaw Adam’s Fall) to explain why we supposedly see a record of death in the rocks before Adam fell.

Mental gymnastics like this are tolerated in the mainstream Christian community as ‘theologically viable options’ even though they are only accepted to accommodate the non-biblical and un-provable concept of ‘millions of years’, which has much genuine scientific evidence against it. Why not simply accept the account of the global Flood written in the Bible to explain the majority of the fossil record? Accepting the Bible at face value means no conflict because that would be a record of death after the Fall. Why? Because ‘science’ (read naturalism) says the earth is millions of years old …

The fact that none of these ‘options’ ever occurred to the Church Fathers and Reformers, and only appeared in the church after the rise of uniformitarian geology and Darwinism, makes it blatantly obvious that none of them were derived from the text of scripture. They are efforts to accommodate scripture to ‘science’.

Biblical compromise never works

Such compromises don’t work anyway. Anyone who has gleaned the Scriptures realizes that the only place to try and add long ages to the Bible is in the six days of Creation. There is no way to add hundreds of thousands of years in the Genesis chronogenealogies. The furthest anyone has proposed so far is Progressive Creationist Hugh Ross who has postulated that Adam and Eve may have been created around 60,000 years ago.

But these people (such as Hugh Ross, William Lane Craig, and John Lennox) have overlooked a major flaw with their compromise: their models inevitably have human death before the Fall. This is a result of accepting long-age dating methods, which ‘date’ Homo sapiens fossils to almost 200,000 years old. This is far older than the biblical date of Adam, even if we stretched them past the breaking point with unwarranted gaps in Genesis 5 and 11. Further, many of these dead people were the victims of sinful actions such as murder and cannibalism

So according to the scientific interpretations these Christians are using to propose deep time, there was death of fully human people before Adam sinned (not ‘ape like’ hominids or sub human animals)!

Not just death, but what kind of death?

Even setting aside the huge hurdles we have discussed so far (and there are many more, for example see the books Refuting Compromise by Dr Jonathan Sarfati and Creation Without Compromise by Donald Crowe), there is another aspect that seems rarely addressed by those willing to allow for the death of animals before Adam sinned. What kind of death occurred?

Many seem to have the idea that before the Fall perhaps creatures lived out happy little lives and then simply went off somewhere to expire quietly. But that isn’t what the fossil-bearing rocks show—yet they are the real reason why respectability-craving theologians want millions of years in the first place! This same fossil record shows that death of the most hideous fashion occurred all over the world.

Cancer, arthritis, tooth decay, bone infection, vertebra fusion, parasitic infections, abnormal teeth, tumours, bite wounds, ossified tendons, avascular necrosis and fractures are only some of what is found in the fossil record.3 A team from the University of Kansas researched the rate of cancer in dinosaurs, and concluded there was no difference to the rates of cancer seen in modern vertebrate animals:

We statistically test this data for consistency with rates extrapolated from information on bone cancer in modern vertebrates, and find that there is no evidence of a different rate.4

What this means is that if the death of animals was occurring before the Fall (in no matter what scheme proposed; Gap Theory, Progressive Creation, etc.), there must have been death and agony of animals on earth for billions of years. And there is no reason to believe then that Adam and Eve would not have been brought into a world where animals were dying of cancer, suffering from parasitic lesions, hobbling around because of arthritis and living in terrible pain because of vertebrae fusion etc. This would all have to be categorized as ‘very good’ according to God’s word.

Is death ever good?

One argument frequently brought up by old earth proponents to try and defend this ‘animal death’ scenario is Psalm 104 where it talks about lions seeking food from God (Psalm 104:21). It later mentions (verses 27–28) that it is the Lord that gives them their food and they are filled with ‘good things’. This is used to show that predation is therefore ‘good’. But they are missing the point regarding the initial creation entirely.

While having a steak today may be considered good in my mind, the thought that a cow had its head smashed in by a metal bolt prior is something I’d rather not dwell upon, because frankly the thought of its brains spilling out just so I can eat a meal is quite revolting. These verses speak about the condition of the earth after the Fall, not before and so what could be considered somewhat good today cannot be used to interpret the initial ‘very good’ creation.

Eating a creature today might be seen as good in the sense it is better than a human going hungry. Sacrificing an animal for sin as per the Old Testament Law might be seen as good after the Fall because of its meaning. But these were not needed in the original creation because the plants were sufficient for food and sin wasn’t present. The reality of the wrongness of death and why it happens today cannot be overlooked.

When we read “ … without the shedding of blood [specifically of animals—‘under the law’] there is no forgiveness … ” (Hebrews 9:22) we must ask; what would the shedding of animal blood have to do with the concept of forgiveness of human sin, if animal blood had been shed for millions of years prior to forgiveness by people being needed?

Why would we be looking forward to a regenerated new heavens and a new earth where lions eat straw like an ox, if lions crunching through the flesh and bones of creatures while they are still alive was considered ‘good’ before? How many people can watch even a tabby cat slowly tear a mouse to pieces while it squeals in pain, and call it ‘very good’?

Cancer. Very good?

All cancers begin when one or more genes in a cell are mutated (changed), creating an abnormal protein or no protein at all. The information provided by an abnormal protein is different from that of a normal protein, which can cause cells to multiply uncontrollably and become cancerous.5

Creatures get cancer because DNA does not replicate perfectly and becomes ‘abnormal’ (i.e. cancer is a corruption of a good code). The fact that there are repair mechanisms in creatures to fix mutations indicates that God designed them to be able to replicate perfectly, but due to genetic load all creatures’ genomes are degenerating at an alarming rate. This makes perfect sense according to God’s word, that there was a perfect initial creation a short while ago, then the Fall occurred, and it has been suffering under a curse and ‘wearing out like a garment’ ever since.

Most cancers are called sporadic cancer, meaning they occur from damage to genes from acquired mutations during a person’s life. But about 5–10% of all cancers are germline mutations inherited from parent to offspring because of mutations in the reproductive cells. Because mutations in the germ cells cannot be repaired, all creature’s genomes are accumulating more and more mutations (aberrations) all of the time. Which means cancer is on the increase (while many other new diseases are being discovered as well).

So old earth proponents must face the fact that under their paradigm animal DNA was already able to be corrupted from the time God created them (not due to a change at the Fall). The fossil record then supposedly tells the tale of creatures suffering from cancer and dying not to feed another (what could possibly be reconciled as good in some way in this sin-cursed, post-Fall world today), but simply because its genetic code was inherently flawed.

Thus in this scenario the stench of death, the horror of parasitism, bloodshed, cancer and suffering in the animal world were all very normal and ‘good’ in God’s sight. But can a Christian really say the following sentence with true conviction? “When an animal gets cancer and dies, it is very good!”

We recognize these things as ‘bad’. Why do we have such an aversion to animal and human death? Because death is an intrusion in this world brought in by the sin of the federal head of the human race, Adam. What is the last enemy to be destroyed? Death. That is the Biblical view (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Published: 30 December 2014

References and notes

  1. Cameron, N.M.de., Evolution and the Authority of the Bible, Paternoster Press, Exeter, UK, pp. 58–59, 1983. Return to text.
  2. Motyer, A., The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 124, 1993. Return to text.
  3. Rothschild, B.M. and Tanke, D.H., Paleopathology of vertebrates: Insights to lifestyle and health in the geological record, Geoscience Canada 19(2):73–82, June 1992; academia.edu/233412/Paleopathology_of_vertebrates_Insights_to_lifestyle_and_health_in_the_geological_record Return to text.
  4. , L.C. Natarajan, L.C., Melott, A.L., Rothschild, B.M.,and Martin, L.D., Bone Cancer Rates in Dinosaurs Compared with Modern Vertebrates, Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, 2007; ; arXiv:0704.1912. Return to text.
  5. The Genetics of Cancer, Cancer.net, cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/genetics/genetics-cancer Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $12.00
Soft cover
Refuting Compromise
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $10.00
epub (ebook) download