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Would the pre-Fall world have been overrun by animals?

Published: 18 January 2020 (GMT+10)
breeding-like-rabbits

A common complaint launched by skeptics against a historical Genesis and a lack of animal death before the Fall is that, if there was no animal death before the Fall, the world quickly would’ve become overrun by animals if Adam and Eve had never sinned. But is this true? Would the pre-Fall world have been an ecological disaster just waiting to happen? Or is there good reason to think God could have controlled this as needed? Daniel S. from Australia writes:

Hi,

I’m at Bible college, and I have a lecturer who believes that animals died before the fall. He says the lack of human death before the fall was due to them eating from the Tree of Life, and was not something that would automatically happen.

He pointed out a problem with the lack of animal death before the fall, which I had not considered, and which I haven’t found addressed on the site after a brief search:

Rabbits breed so fast that if they didn’t die, the volume of rabbits would increase exponentially, and they would overpopulate the planet so much that there would eventually be nothing else.

My lecturer acknowledged that God can do anything and he could deal with it “somehow”. After all, humans would eventually face the same problem, even with animal death. In the case of humans he said that we could come up with technological means to make more room, but animals don’t have this ability.

How could God deal with the sheer volume of animals with something other than death?

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for your email.

Notice God’s blessing on the creatures in Genesis 1:

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (v. 22)
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. (v. 28)

God blesses the living creatures with the purpose of them “filling” their respective domains. Thus, if Adam and Eve never sinned and the creatures filled their domains, clearly they would have had no need to further multiply, but it also means they would have fulfilled that purpose God gave them to fulfil. If they fulfil that purpose God gave them, why think God would let them multiply beyond the fulfilment of that purpose? The onus is not on us to stop ‘filling’; God would’ve stopped it if that aspect of His purpose for us had been fulfilled.

Just as we imagine how various aspects of the deathless world of The New Earth will work (see also Will the New Heavens and Earth be physical?), why think we can see problems from our post-Fall perspective in how God’s purposes would’ve been fulfilled in a pre-Fall world? The aspect that your lecturer is missing is that God’s providential care in the pre-Fall world was more abundant then than anything we experience now. And if God can maintain the clothes and sandals of the Israelites through the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:5), surely ecological control in a pre-Fall world is not a problem for God, especially when doing so would match the purposes God gave to His creatures.

For more information, please see How did bad things come about? and Was there really no death before the Fall?, as well as Was the Garden of Eden a ‘sanctuary’ from a hostile outside world?, Bodily functions and blue eyes in the pre-Fall world? and Did Adam and Eve have to eat before the Fall?, which address some related issues.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

James R.
I feel like there is some latitude within Christianity to answer this question. When I first learned about creationism, I was impressed by the argument of "no death before the fall -> dead bones in rock explained by the flood". But when it comes to making an airtight case from the Bible alone, this really isn't a requirement, and I've changed my opinion.

If we are talking about carnivory, Genesis 1:30 has clear answers. Whenever I bring it up, old earth creationists either say nothing or decide that we need to revisit the meaning of YOM once again to show how it could mean anything we want it to mean! But Genesis 1:30 says nothing of watery creatures, such as sharks, blue whales (are krills plants?), octopuses, tuna, eels. Water is a very interesting biome that God created, and right now I'm on the side that God created the ferocity in violence of the shark as we observe it.

For some reason He also decreed no such thing on land. I don't know why, and it doesn't matter if I did, and I will not try to explain it.

Furthermore Genesis does not mention senescence, and I don't see how this could be a core issue. This could be a solution to overpopulation: an eventual death of land creatures once they have lived out their purpose. The other one is of course an end to sexual reproduction, which makes a lot of sense as well, although I'm sure a pre-fall human society would have been able to address overpopulation very efficiently in either case.
Shaun Doyle
Please see The problem of evil: pre-Fall animal death?, which I think gives a wise and measured response to this issue. In this context it will of course be best to grant as much ground as we can to the skeptical objection, which is of course the idea that all nephesh life didn't die before the Fall (Nephesh chayyāh). I think that even if we grant that, there is no logical or logistical problem for God. But yes, we must do our best to stand on Scripture, and be careful not to go further.
Rod N.
If you study first year biology at university you will likely run into the case study of wolves (or foxes) and rabbits. There are two parts to the information, one where the rabbits die off when they overpopulate the ability of the environment to feed them (and the same happens to the wolves). The second part is where the rabbits, and wolves, reproduce at a lower level when food is not abundant. Since this is an existing mechanism, one could reasonably assume that the same mechanism existed in the pre-flood world and that as the population reached saturation, the birth rate would taper off until the command to fill the earth had been accomplished. At that time, in the absence of death, reproduction would have stopped.
Corey R.
Great answer! God is the One Who opens and closes the womb!
Fred C.
There is an island in the Gulf of St-Lawrence, Canada, named Anticosti where a deer population was introduced by man a while back. I was fascinated to learn that deer on this island are smaller than average and reproduce less than a regular deer population. It seems God has perhaps provided his creation with self regulating population mechanisms.
Cobus B.
The pre-fall period was long. How much time did Adam need to name ALL the animals, birds, insects plants etc. [Gen. 2:20}. However GOD in His wisdom regulated the non-human population on earth.
Shaun Doyle
The pre-Fall condition likely didn't last long (Timing of the Fall). Moreover, Adam would've been able to name in a single day all the kinds of animals he had to name on Day 6 (Naming the animals: all in a day’s work for Adam and How could Adam have named all the animals in a single day?).
Frank G.
Just a thought (and I agree with your conclusions about there being a short time before the fall, and that God would have already known about the fall).

But could God's plan for creating such a vast universe, also filled with other stars and planets, possibly indicate that mankind and and maybe even animal and plant kind were destined to fill the universe as well? I know it's conjecture, but maybe there was a deeper reason to creating such vastness. And I don't necessarily mean we had to build spaceships either, the passage of angels from heaven to earth and back again may indicate passageways or portals already created by God.

I also don't think that animals would necessarily have had to breed in such numbers as today (like rabbits) in a perfect world because their offspring would not die out in large numbers. The same would go for humans. Richer societies (with age pensions etc and good healthcare) tend to have less children, compared to poorer countries where children are needed to look after the old. And there was no "sweat of your brow" agriculture needed.
Ian M.
Not the topic of the article but it has been brought into the comments and is somewhat pertinent.

Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [tree of death] and they died. Everything reproduces after its own kind so they produced 'dead offspring'. A human comes into existence at conception. If Eve were pregnant before eating from the tree that offspring would not be a 'dead offspring' and thus would not be subject to death unless he/she also ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If such a person were alive even though not yet born then the earth could not be subject to a curse, so it is only logical to conclude she was not pregnant before the fall.
Lee S.
I believe that the question of how God would have dealt with overpopulation if Adam and Eve had never sinned is a moot question anyway as God knew we would sin and therefore his perfect creation was made already taking this into account. I am personally a little mixed on the option of whether animals died before the fall. I believe like the lecturer that we need to eat from the tree of life (it doesn't mention animals). In revelation its also says in chapter 22:1-2 says:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

this passage indicated more than one tree, its says on 'each side' of the river it also indicates water of life this could mean we drink this water. In the garden of Eden there was only one tree. This to me shows God provided only one tree in the garden as he knew we would sin and there wasn't going to me time enough for us to multiply in the garden of Eden. On writing this I have come to the conclusion that animals didn't die in the Garden of Eden as God new We would sin and therefore the garden would not become over populated.

Thank you Shaun Doyle.
Grace Y.
Shaun, with reference to your response to my comment: I say that you really haven't dealt with the points I raised but only gave the appearance of having done so. But let me just take the one you really didn't square up to. I said "And then, just before eternity "begins", that last sexually active animal or human would produce a child which had all the organs etc in place but couldn't produce. That child on reaching adulthood would be sourly disappointed or not?"

Now think of it: All the previous generations of people have had children; the last generation, by God's will, according to your "eschatology", has been prohibited having a single birth, despite having the same organs of reproduction as all the earlier born others. Some how or other, this last infertile group, every single member, would have to have no inclination to have children, or become grandparents, etc etc. What was natural to the previous generations, would become unnatural to anyone else in that last generation.

I would say your response is one of special pleading to save your theory. It makes zero sense.
Shaun Doyle
I haven’t dealt with your points? You haven’t shown how my response was special pleading. And before trying, please recognize that God’s increased providential care, especially with respect to the commands He gives, is integral to the scenario, not an ad hoc addition to it.

In fact, my previous response may have conceded too much to you. As several commenters have since pointed out, reproduction rates for many animals drop naturally as they approach ecological capacity. Of course, reproduction continues in a post-Fall world because everything dies. But what would happen in a world where animals didn’t die? Why not think that reproduction rates would drop to zero? Humans need be no different, since we too are biological creatures. I provided some suggestions as to how God might change physiology to achieve this. But ecology suggests that even this may not be necessary.

As to people being disappointed about not having children like previous generations—so what? People’s desires are highly changeable depending on circumstance. There’s no reason to think they would suffer some sort of mental breakdown or existential crisis because they can’t have children. If disappointment is the biggest problem with my scenario, it’s not a crippling logical or logistical problem for it.
Rob R.
Genesis didn't say eve was pregnant when they were kicked out. So perfect genes and perfect bodies back then would have gotten pregnant pretty quickly.
James M.
The question to be considered here is - How long did the pre-fall world actually last?

Given that God had directed Adam and Eve to populate the world and no children had been born before the fall, I think that we can safely deduce that it was a relatively short period of time, probably less than a year.

Further history recorded in the Bible shows that it does not take we humans long to go astray in any circumstance. So, I think, the most obvious answer is that there was not enough time between creation and the fall for any creatures to over-populate their particular niches.
Shaun Doyle
We agree (Timing of the Fall). Still, the question remains as to how it would've been dealt with if Adam and Eve had never sinned. That's the main issue this article aims to address. I have made a couple of edits to the article to clarify this point.
Courtney K.
The fertility rate of the rabbit's common ancestor (kind) might also have been less back then anyway. Mutations can do a lot of things.
Shaun Doyle
Animals can regulate their reproduction rates to some extent in response to the environment, so they may have had a 'built in off switch' for reproduction before the Fall. At any rate, it's clear that God can providentially control the situation.
Lassi P.
Wonder how Daniels lecturer could have lived as a christian for several years (for it is not fit, that a new convert would teach others) without ever coming to think that God could just have told animals not to mate when they've done their job on that respect! His point about the tree of life on the other hand might have deserved more of an anwer from Shaun.

I think the problem with that argument is of it being an argument from ignorance. Yes. We aren't told, what kind of a food if any would've kept rabbits alive eternally. But really, why should we be told that. Bible says a precious little about the tree of life as a sustainer of human life on the context of the original creation, so on what grounds should we expect it to tell us how animals woul've been protected from death. It's not been written for animals!

How ever we ARE told, that death is the last enemy, we ARE told, that animals and people were originally vegetarian and we have there the all important phrase "nephesh chayyad" (or something like that). So why not start from what bible does say?

Thank you CMI for upholding the truth of the bible!
Shaun Doyle
Peter M.
Lee Spetner on p16 of "Not by chance" starts with an historical survey, noting the influence of Malthus on Darwin, but points out (p16) 'Animal populations do not follow Malthus's prognosis for the human race...Animal populations generally do not hug the brink of disaster....Wynne-Edwards [1986] has suggested that animals generally manage their food resources by controlling their own numbers. Populations are kept in check not by the extrinsic forces of mass starvation or disease, but by intrinsic forces built into the animals themselves"
Grace Y.
So all those animals and humans would still possess reproductive and purely sexual pleasure organs, the corresponding hormones, the vast nerve networks and the areas of their brain which control for such, but which would, eventually, for eternity, become afunctional?

And then, just before eternity "begins", that last sexually active animal or human would produce a child which had all the organs etc in place but couldn't produce. That child on reaching adulthood would be sourly disappointed or not?
Shaun Doyle
There is a difference between something having had a function that is now fulfilled and something that never had a function. Consider, for instance, the human appendix. Some research tells us that it's main function is in the immunological development of the embryo (Cutting out a useless vestigial argument). Now, for argument's sake let's say that this was its only function. Question: does its lack of function in an adult mean it has to be done away with once its function has ended? Of course not. If it isn't troublesome, then we clearly don't have to discard it. (And remember that we're considering a perfect creation, here, so we don't have to worry about things like appendicitis.)

Moreover, some aspects of male reproductive anatomy have non-reproductive/non-sexual functions. Are we to expect those to be decoupled from the purely sexual/reproductive aspects? They are a highly integrated system. Indeed, the same could be said of the appendix with respect to the large intestine, which thus gives us precedent for thinking that some aspects of anatomy don't have to be discarded just because they've fulfilled their function..

Furthermore, women don't lose their reproductive organs just because they go through menopause. Why couldn't God produce some equivalent condition in the event of Genesis 1:22,28 being fulfilled?

And this all assumes that sex would've stopped in such a situation, which we don't have to grant. (Bear in mind that a world where we never sinned would be different from the eternal state we will experience where there will be no marriage (cf. Luke 20:35), since we don't know what God would've eventually done with marriage if we had never sinned.) Thus, the pleasure aspect of the sexual organs may still have been operative.

There are several different reasonable ways we can look at this question, all of which are consistent with Scripture. But in all this, where's the logistical problem for God? There is none. So, while the scenarios you mention certainly sound strange from our vantage point, I don't think they raise any real logical or logistical problems for the pre-Fall world continuing.
Dan M.
your instructor is thinking as an evolutionist would, (steady uniformitarian states). Also don't forget God is omnipresent, so He knows the future before it happens. He knew we would fall and so maybe there would have been no need to intervene? Also I seem to remember reading some time ago; some animal species can vary or even halt their reproductive cycle according to the amount of food present, (environmental pressure)? So maybe it would have happened automatically? Fact is, we can't know, It's the past.
Lester V.
The assignment to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" was not only given to the plants and animals, it was also given to Adam and Eve. It would be unreasonable to think that they would have waited years to start a family, since that is what they were "programmed" and told to do. Since they didn't have any children until after the Fall, it is reasonable to assume that the "pre-Fall" world didn't last very long. It is highly unlikely that it would have lasted long enough for animals to overpopulate the earth. As far as the teacher's claim that "the lack of human death before the fall was due to them eating from the Tree of Life" is concerned, Scripture rules that out. Genesis 3:22 quotes God as saying "lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever", Adam (and Eve) had to be driven out of the Garden of Eden. In other words, is Adam and Eve had already been eating of the Tree of Life, they would still be alive. Obviously, they hadn't eaten of the Tree of Life before, and, in their fallen condition, God didn't want them to start. Had they done so, they would have lived forever, without being able to escape their diseased and dying bodies. The teacher's lesson is full of unfounded and unbiblical imagination.
Shaun Doyle
We agree that it didn't take long for Adam and Eve to sin (Timing of the Fall). But hopefully this gives some pointers to address the ecological issues if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned.

On the Tree of Life, please see Interpreting the early chapters of Genesis and Why did God prevent Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned?
Donald V.
This student was listening to a lecture by someone who was assuming evolution and millions of years of breeding with no death. Maybe the student should find out were his teacher and school stand on true creation.
Nathan G.
Just a couple of quick thoughts.

1) A command to fill the earth means that the earth was NOT full at the start. It would take time to reach the critter maximum. Even if they bred like rabbits. (Pun intended.)

2) The maximum populations are not even a factor if Adam and Eve sinned within a relatively short time period. So this is only a problem if you want to believe in a very old earth.

3) Based on scripture, we cannot reasonably assume that Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden for hundreds (birth age of first child; pain in childbirth as punishment after the Fall) or thousands (the Flood) of years.

3) Observable biology shows that creatures regulate their populations based on food availabiliity, space (not a problem at the beginning), epigenetics, etc. Once again, not a problem if the Fall occurs relatively quickly.

Sounds to me like your professor desperately wants to be an old-earther or a thevo. What a shame in a "Christian" course.
Amee G.
To my mind the obvious answer is that there wasn't a very long period of time before the fall. So there wasn't time for rabbits to overpopulate the world.
AG
Shaun Doyle
We agree (Timing of the Fall). However, the question remains as to how it would've been dealt with if Adam and Eve had never sinned. That's the main issue this article aims to address.

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