R.C. Sproul Jr. blunders on plant death
another theologian who needs to do his homework
Published: 11 February 2015 (GMT+10)
One of CMI’s main thrusts is teaching in the churches. Our linking and feeding method has helped many to understand why creation is foundational for the Gospel. This includes a number of pastors, since their own seminary training often didn’t have much of a creation or apologetic component. This can be true of even sound seminaries, and many seminaries seriously compromise on Genesis and undermine the professed faith of attendees.
The cause is not helped when influential Christians don’t understand the basics. For example, we recently needed to refute misleading hatchet jobs on biblical (‘young earth’) creation by apologist William Lane Craig and by the soi-disant Gospel Coalition.
Unfortunately, such lack of understanding is even true of fellow biblical creationists. One such is R.C. Sproul, Jr., who teaches at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida, in a recent article ‘Ask R.C.: Could There Be Death Before the Fall?’1 Thus it’s important to respond to the relevant parts point by point.
Does the biblical truth that “death came through Adam” preclude the possibility of an old earth?
Yes! We have amply demonstrated this, as shown in the ‘Related articles’ below.
Before I address the question please allow me to lay down my bona fides. I believe in a young earth and in six literal days of creation. I believe Adam was fashioned out of the dust of the ground, and Eve from Adam’s rib. I have believed all of this for at least 25 years. And I’m not in danger of changing my mind on the issue any time soon.
That’s most commendable.
That I believe in a young earth, however, doesn’t mean that I find every argument ever used in defense of young earth to be helpful, much less compelling.
Neither do we! That’s why we have a page called Arguments we think creationists should NOT use, commended by none other than Clinton R. Dawkins, the Apostle of Atheopathy. But as will be seen, ‘R.C. Jr.’ doesn’t seem very familiar with many of the helpful arguments.
Why death before sin is a huge problem
This is one of those I find not especially helpful. The argument is made that since death did not come into the world until the fall, the world cannot be old because death would have had to have happened. Animals would have died over the course of a long time frame.
Indeed so. This should be clear from the ostensible reasons for adopting billions of years: denial of a global Flood, with the corollary that rock layers must have formed slowly and gradually over eons of time. But these rock layers contain fossils. So if they are as old as claimed, instead of being mainly caused by the Flood and its after-effects, we indeed have animal death before Adam and Eve ever appeared on the earth, and thus the sin they introduced.
My objection to this objection is simple enough—before there was sin in the Garden of Eden God invited Adam and Eve to eat of the trees therein. Plucking a piece of fruit and eating it surely involves the death of the fruit. Therefore, death at least would have had to have been present in the Garden even without a fall.
Such an argument could be made only by someone ignorant of mainstream creationist literature for the last few decades. Whether this is willing ignorance or just sloppiness cannot be decided from the available data, but there is no third option.
We have long pointed out that biblical ‘death’ can only apply to those things that were alive in the first place! As far as the Bible is concerned, plants are not ‘alive’. In the Old Testament, vertebrate animals are described by the Hebrew phrase nephesh chayyāh (נפשׁ חיה), translated as “living creature”, or in the case of man, “living soul” (2:7). But it’s notable that plants are never described this way. And they don’t die but “wither” (Psalm37:2). Instead, plants are God’s self-replicating solar-powered food factories, which also act as solar energy concentrators. One article explaining this is 10 years old,2 so Sproul should have been aware of the general creationist response. It should have been obvious even from Genesis 1:29–30—the diet prescribed for both humans and animals was vegetarian, so digestion of plants was clearly part of a ‘very good’ creation, thus part of God’s original design.
Human death before the Fall: logical outcome of long-age compromise
What then of Romans 5:12–21 and I Corinthians 15:21, both of which say death came into the world through Adam? Well, that’s the point isn’t it? Is it not at least possible that the death spoken of here in Romans 5 and I Corinthians isn’t the death of any organism but specifically the death of all mankind?
Yes, we think so as well. But Sproul Jnr., in common with many old-earth compromisers including William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and Hugh Ross exhibit a curious blind spot in this area: human death alone is enough to refute his claims. That is, according to dating methods accepted by long-agers, there are undoubted human fossils in those same rock layers ‘older’ than any possible date for Adam.
For example, Homo sapiens fossils with evidence of intelligent cultural activity3,4 have been ‘dated’ at 160,000 years old.5 Also, two partial skulls of Homo sapiens unearthed in 1967 near the Omo River in south-western Ethiopia have been radiometrically re-dated to about 195,000 years old.6,7 This is a real problem for biblical chronology, because the text of the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 doesn’t allow for gaps.
In fact, there are huge numbers of human fossils ‘dated’—by methods that old-earth compromisers must accept implicitly—long before any biblical date of Adam. And many of these humans are victims of sinful violence such as murder and cannibalism, and many others had diseases.8 Once again, they must have died after the Fall, which should undermine trust in any ‘dating’ system that places them before about 4,000 BC. So yes, those passages really are good evidence for what is now often called a young earth.
[Repetition of the “plants must have died” canard snipped] “Well, wait a minute,” my co-young earther friends say, “there is a huge gap between the death of plants and the death of animals.”
Indeed we do. But evidently Sproul Jr. wasn’t interested in the biblical reason for this: plants are not nephesh chayyāh.
And indeed there is. Just as there is a huge gap between the death of animals and the death of humans.
No one disputes that: God made humans in His image and likeness.
Why animals did not die before the Fall
What I can’t see is a compelling reason to suggest that the distinction between the distinctions, that is the difference between the difference between plants and animals and the difference between animals and humans is so much more significant.
Allow us to explain (again! And this is a biblical argument, not an opinion). Humans and (vertebrate) animals are nephesh chayyāh, so were not part of the original pre-Fall diet for either humans or animals. We should also consider two famous passages from the prophet Isaiah about lion/calf and wolf/lamb living in harmony (Isaiah 11:6–9, 65:25). Here, Isaiah is talking about some future state,9 which in some way is the restoration, at least in large part, of the idyllic state in Eden, where nature was not “red in tooth and claw”.10 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.
Irish biblical scholar Alec Motyer, former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, expands on the Edenic connection of the first passage:
There is an ‘Edenic’ element in Isaiah’s thinking … the life of nature itself is transformed. Verses 6–8 offer three facets of the renewed creation and verse 9 is a concluding summary. First, in verse 6 there is the reconciliation of old hostilities, the allaying of old fears; predators (wolf, leopard, lion) and prey (lamb, goat, calf, yearling) are reconciled. So secure is this peace that a youngster can exercise the dominion originally given to humankind. Secondly, in verse 7 there is a change of nature within the beasts themselves: cow and bear eat the same food, as do lion and ox. There is also a change in the very order of things itself: the herbivoral nature of all the creatures points to Eden restored (Genesis 1:29–30). Thirdly, in verse 8 the curse is removed. The enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent is gone (Genesis 3:15ab). Infant and ‘weaned child’ have nothing to fear from cobra and viper. Finally, in verse 9 the coming Eden is Mount Zion—a Zion which fills the whole earth. Peace (9a), holiness (9b), and “knowing the Lord” (9c) pervades all.11,12
In fact, this teaching goes back almost to the beginning of the Church Age. Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp, a disciple of John the Evangelist, wrote in the second century about a restoration to an original state where all animals would eat plants again:
I am aware that some try to refer these texts metaphorically to savage men who out of various nations and various occupations come to believe, and when they have believed live in harmony with the just. But though this now takes place for men who come from various nations into the one doctrine of the faith, nevertheless it will take place for these animals at the resurrection of the just, as we have said; for God is rich in all things, and when the world is re-established in its primeval state [conditione revocata] all the animals must obey and be subject to man and return to the first food given by God, as before the disobedience they were subject to Adam [Genesis 1:28–30] and ate the fruit of the earth.13,14
Indeed I would argue that conjoining the moral import of the death of animals with the death of humans actually diminishes the horror of what happened when our first parents fell.
Ah yes, when logic fails, resort to emotion. But the trouble with emotional arguments is that anyone can use them. For instance, I could equally well reply:
Indeed I would argue that disconnecting the moral import of the death of animals with the death of humans actually diminishes the horror of what happened when our first parents fell. That is, not only humankind was subjected to death, but since God gave man dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26–28), the rest of creation was cursed under him, which includes animal death. Indeed, Romans 8:18–25 shows the cosmic scope of the Fall—the ‘whole creation’ is groaning in pain, because it was ‘subjected to futility’. It’s notable that expert commentators on Romans, regardless of their view of Genesis, agree that Paul was referring back to the account of the Fall in Genesis 3.15
In the end, or perhaps I should say in the beginning, old earth creationism does not, in my judgment overturn or deny the inerrant Word of God in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15, but merely challenges one possible interpretation of those texts.
And to simplify, once again. Old ages are derived by interpreting that it took millions of years to lay down the rock layers. Those rock layers contain fossils, so it puts death (and human death as shown earlier) before the Fall. So, disconnecting human and animal death from sin undermines the logic of the Gospel—how then could Jesus’ death atone for our sin? It’s such a bad interpretation that it violates the Gospel itself. Thus, this is really a deference to general revelation (in nature that is cursed) over the inerrant Words of the Creator (Special Revelation). Rather, Scripture should be used to interpret nature.
The great problem with old earth creationism is that it misinterprets Genesis 1 and 2.
I would agree, except that it’s not “the great problem” but “one of the great problems”. For example, Genesis 1 and 2 do indeed teach six day creation. But by themselves, they don’t tell us how long ago this creation occurred. For that, we need the explicit teaching of the gapless chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and other biblical data, and the corollary that follows from no physical death of humans or vertebrate animals.
The real issue is: what is our authority?
It is not a conscious denial of the truth of the Bible but a misunderstanding of the truth of the Bible. Believers don’t deny the truth of the Bible, but we all have misunderstandings of it.
But then, why do old-earthers misunderstand the Bible? It is not foundationally an issue of interpretation, but one of authority. All other disagreements among believers presupposed that the Bible is our final authority. But all old-earth compromise is really placing uniformitarian science on an equal level to Scripture, and in practice above Scripture. That is, it uses a faulty magisterial approach to science instead of the correct ministerial approach.
For example, probably the leading proponent of the Framework Hypothesis, beloved of respectability-craving types in some Presbyterian and Reformed circles, was Meredith Kline (1922–2007) from Westminster Seminary California. In one of his seminal papers for this view, he admits that his primary rationale is to avoid a conflict with ‘science’. His abstract states:
To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article. At the same time, the exegetical evidence adduced also refutes the harmonistic day-age view. The conclusion is that as far as the timeframe is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.16
In this paper, Kline says:
In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical cosmogony according to which Scripture is open to the current scientific view of a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of the evolutionary origin of man.
Another leading Framework advocate is the French evangelical scholar Henri Blocher, who taught systematic theology at Wheaton College, Illinois, a well-known hotbed of theistic evolution. Like Kline, Blocher admits:
This hypothesis overcomes a number of problems that plagued the commentators [including] the confrontation with the scientific vision of the most distant past.17
However, Hebrew scholar E.J. Young (1907–1968), a staunch critic of the Framework view, pointed out the flaws in such reasoning:
Whenever ‘science’ and the Bible are in conflict, it is always the Bible that, in one manner or another, must give way. We are not told that ‘science’ should correct its answers in light of Scripture. Always it is the other way around. Yet this is really surprising, for the answers which scientists have provided have frequently changed with the passing of time. The ‘authoritative’ answers of pre-Copernican scientists are no longer acceptable; nor, for that matter, are many of the views of twenty-five years ago.18
Dr Todd Beall, Professor of Old Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, Maryland, provided the correct approach:
In fact, it is fascinating that the day-age advocates insist (correctly) that Gen 1 speaks of the days in sequential action, while the framework hypothesis advocates insist (correctly) that the days of Gen 1 are literal 24-hour days. Only the literal 24-hour day view holds that the days are both sequential and literal 24-hour periods. …
Why not take the words of Gen 1 at face value, as simple, straightforward sequential narrative of God’s miraculous creative activity? If that causes some intellectuals to label us as ‘narrow-minded clowns’, then so be it. The claims of Christ are narrow (John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me”); the Gospel is narrow; and the cross is regarded as foolishness by the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 1:18–31). But it is true nonetheless. Hebrews 11:3 says that “by faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” Do we really think that contemporary science is more authoritative than God’s revelation? Sometimes our intellectual pride may get in the way of our faith: if the inerrant Scripture in Gen 1 states that God created the world in six literal days, then why should we not simply accept it, rather than try to find all kinds of ways to explain it away? Sometimes the plain, simplest, most natural reading of the text is, indeed the best. Such is the case with Gen 1, despite all the attempts to explain it in some other, more complicated way.19
Douglas Wilson20 went to the heart of the issue:
The more we care about honoring God, the less we will care about receiving honors from men. The more we care about being approved as a faithful workman of God, the less we will care whether others condemn or oppose us on their own puny authority (2 Tim. 2:15). Modern Christians are constantly exhorted to care. This is legitimate; indeed it is inescapable. But the problem is that we are told regularly to care about all the wrong things.
It is said among us, “If we continue to maintain that God created the world in six days, we will not be granted academic respectability.” To which we must reply, well, who cares? Why should we care that the guardians of the academy believe we are not intellectually respectable? They believe that the moose, the sperm whale and the meadowlark are all blood relatives. Why do we want their seal of approval? It is like asking Fidel Castro to comment on the economic viability of Microsoft.21
We all therefore, ought to pray that His Word, and His Spirit would lead us to a more faithful understanding.
Indeed, and the Spirit will lead us into following what the Scriptures He inspired actually teach, according to the normal rules of language and historical context. As the Father of the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483–1546), stated:
When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.22
References and notes
- Sproul, R.C., Jr., Ask R.C.: Could There Be Death Before the Fall? rcsprouljr.com, 3 February 2015. Bold in original. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe, J. Creation 19(3):60–64, 2005; creation.com/plant_death. Return to text.
- Clark, J.D. et al., Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature 423(6941):747–752, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., and Sarfati, J., Ethiopian ‘earliest humans’ find: a severe blow to the beliefs of Hugh Ross and similar ‘progressive creationist’ compromise views, creationon.com/ethiopianskull, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
- White, T. et al., Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature 423(6941):742–747, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
- McDougall, I. et al., Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia, Nature 433(7027):733–736, 17 February 2005. Return to text.
- Wieland, C., Redating Leakey’s Ethiopian human finds: more problems for compromise, creation.com/redating, 18 February 2005. Return to text.
- Lubenow, M., Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils, J. Creation 12(2):222–232, 1998. Return to text.
- 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 this commentary, 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; Moritz, K.P., Why doesn’t CMI take a position on … ? The rationale behind CMI’s focus, 27 December 2011. Return to text.
- 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.
- Motyer, J.A., The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 124, 1993. Return to text.
- See also Gurney, R.J.M., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
- Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5(33), ad c. 180. Return to text.
- Zuiddam, B., Early Church Fathers on creation, death and eschatology, J. Creation 28(1):77–83, 2014; 2nd Century Church Fathers: God will make lions vegetarian again, Creation 36(3):46–47, 2014. Return to text.
- A fine detailed study is Smith, H.B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19 23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
- Kline, Ref. 47. Return to text.
- Blocher, H., In the Beginning, p. 50, 1984. Return to text.
- Young, E.J., Days of Genesis, WTJ 25(1):1–34, 1963; p. 11. Return to text.
- Beall, T., Christians in the public square: How far should Evangelicals go in the Creation–Evolution debate? Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting, 15 November 2006. Return to text.
- See interview by Weinberger, L., Answering the new atheists, Creation 30(2):18–20, 2007; creation.com/wilson-interview. Return to text.
- Wilson, D., Sanctified Apathy, Tabletalk, pp. 60–61, November 2002. Return to text.
- What Luther Says. A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Concordia, 1959, p. 93 Return to text.
I like how a recent CMI article on animal death mentioned that humans and animals both die in the same biological fashion—so since death came through sin, it’s logical animal death came through sin. It would be awkward if animals kept on living forever while only man dies. I believe God’s character is perfect and He hates the suffering and disease and death of both humans and animals.
Anyone who has ever studied a second language can tell you that sometimes a word does not match perfectly with what it’s translated as. So with the Hebrew words translated alive and life retain some but not all of their meanings in English. Sproul does not seem to understand this.
I think that RC's issus with the creation / death timeframe in the Bible is a faith issue. It seems he's not yet ready to surrender his logic for what God has given us in His Word because he can't or won't understand it. Complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior includes believing every word he has given us in the Bible, even when it seems impossible by our limited understanding.
Thank you again CMI for giving such clear explanations about so many issues. Thank you also for being unwilling to compromise on the authority of the Bible.
I find that many people interpret the Bible to suit their beliefs, instead of actually believing what it says. These same people often imply anyone that interprets the Bible differently than they do as having no faith. That is not obeying the Holy Scriptures which tell us to consider others above ourselves.
Here is a scripture about the most important death that ever took place:
Revelation 13:8 (KJV)
And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
So this scripture tells us that Jesus died from the very foundations of the world. So death took place before the world was ever created dear friends.
Now you can justify your beliefs, or believe what God says.
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
God decided to die for us BEFORE he created the world. So if God decided this, was it not as well as done. Can anyone keep His intentions from taking place.
I do trust that this article was also sent directly to RC Sproul Jr (and perhaps also to RC Sproul Sr) rather than hoping they happen upon it. I would be interested to know their response. Hopefully they will see the error and agree. Dr. Sarfati, thank you for your faithfulness to the word of God and your thoughtful, excellent articles, including this one.
Thank you for your generous comments.
Well, we had a pretty good idea that RC Sproul Jr would be made aware of this article. This indeed has happened—see his response and my reply above yours on the page)
As a general rule, we think it best if people we respond to are alerted by our supporters rather than by us. We also think that a public article can be answered just as publicly.
Let me get this straight: Sproul Jr. says:
… before there was sin in the Garden of Eden God invited Adam and Eve to eat of the trees therein. Plucking a piece of fruit and eating it surely involves the death of the fruit. Therefore, death at least would have had to have been present in the Garden even without a fall.
Does Sproul not know that we will eat on the New Heaven/New Earth? Does he reason that our eating then will involve death? Revelation 21 makes it clear that there will be no more death though. Obviously not all eating (like the eating of plants!!!) involves death.
This all reminds me of something I heard in an old Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon this week. The essence of what he was saying is that a Christian has to be determined to block out all the various voices of the world that are contrary to God's word, even the voice of your “own understanding”. ’Nuff said!
Thanks CMI for all you do. You are part of the reason I am a radical, fanatical biblical creationist. I can't wait to share a piece of fruit with you all in eternity from the TREE OF LIFE!!! No death.
Martin Luther and these other men are great but God reveals little by little to His children through the Holy Spirit. I just wrote a blog earlier today. [Website deleted according to feedback rules.] The world had no lunar calendar until the fourth day.
CMI believes in the sufficiency of Scripture. So we should all base our position on what God has already revealed in His written Word, either directly or by logical deduction. So we advise anyone confronted with phrases like “God told me”, “God has laid a burden on my heart”, “Have you prayed about it?” that they are not real arguments, but with all due respect to them, are a form of spiritual blackmail.
Indeed, there were no lunar and solar calendar until the fourth day, but there was a daily calendar from Day 1. See How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal if the Sun wasn’t created until the fourth day? And this daily calendar started a little over 6,000 years ago (see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? and Questions and answers about that article).
When Jesus told the mourners that the little girl was NOT dead, but asleep, was he lying? Of course not, Jesus can not lie, He is The Truth.
Jonathan Sarfati responds: Indeed not, but the classic Pulpit Commentary on Matthew 9:24 states:
Is not dead, but sleepeth. Our Lord looks forward to the result of his coming. So also probably Acts 20:10. To take our Lord's words here as a literal statement of a present fact, meaning that she was only in a trance, is to contradict the words of the messenger (parallel passages), our next succeeding clause, and Luke's addition to it, "knowing that she was dead."
LN: There are two kinds of death, real death ( spiritual death), and natural death of the flesh. Does sin necessarily bring death of the flesh. Some of the worse sinners live long. God told Adam, THE DAY you eat of the tree you will surely die. But Adam lived for 930 years after he ate the fruit. But that very day Adam hid from God, he was afraid because he did die that very day. He died in the spirit. There was no spiritual death before Adam sinned.
JS: It seems that R.C. Sproul Jr. is not the only one who hasn't done his homework. Back in 2000, I explained:
Genesis 2:17 is best explained by taking the promise of death in an ingressive sense. A literal translation is ‘dying you shall die.’ In other words, the focus is on the beginning of the action of dying, which results in the translation ‘ … for when you eat of it you will surely begin to die.’
LN: But there was certainly natural death and to say there was not is simply burying one’s head in the sand.
JS: We prefer to bury our heads in God’s Word, which explicitly states that Adam’s punishment was returning to the dust, i.e. physical death (Genesis 3:19). And Paul connects the physical death of the “first man, Adam” with the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “the Last Adam”. So if Adam’s death were merely ‘spiritual death’, then it would logically follow that Jesus’ death and Resurrection were not physical. Never mind that Paul’s argument hinges on the reality of the empty tomb and physical Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:21–22,45).
LN: One can not see if one does not want to see the truth if it is contrary to what they have been teaching.
JS: Tu quoque ↑↑ ;)
LN: The first ‘day’ could not be an earth day, for the earth was still without form. You can not have an earth day without and earth.
JS: But even a formless earth can still rotate, and relative to the light source God created on Day 1, there would have been a day-night cycle as Genesis 1:5 states, affirmed by Exodus 20:8–11.
LN: John says that any spirit that says that God did not become flesh and die for us is from antichrist. The creation declares the glory of God. The glory of God is that he was born of a woman and shed his blood for us. This was His plan from the very beginning.
So death was a part of creation from the very beginning.
JS: Non sequitur. There was no actual physical death before the Fall, even though it was foreknown.
LN: Stars were born and then died to form new stars with heavy elements that life required.
JS: Even more irrelevant than plant death, since stars, like plants, are not nephesh chayyāh.
LN: The earth produced the plants as God said. They produced seed and fell to the ground to bring forth 10 fold or 100 fold. Each seed that died was revealing that something innocent has to die for us to have life. Just as Jesus had to die for us to have eternal life.
JS: Yes, He died to pay the penalty for sin, showing that death was God’s punishment for sin. See ‘Just preach the Gospel!’ Or: how not to impress atheists.
LN: Jesus said, unless a grain of wheat dies and falls to the ground it can not bring forth life. Jesus was speaking of how the seeds die and fall to the ground to bring forth life are a shadow of [sentence incomplete in original]
JS: But here is a clear case of proving too much! The grain of wheat is not physically dead by a modern biological definition, but it changes form.
Jonathan, your biblical arguments and logic are unprecedented. Thank you for putting your gifts to work for the glory of God. I love and appreciate Dr. Sproul Jr. and I'm very much encouraged that he is essentially a biblical creationist, however, I hope he has the opportunity to read Refuting Compromise. I know it's been remarkably helpful to me. I particularly enjoyed the Doug Wilson and Martin Luther quotes—made me laugh out loud. :-)
As a pastor I am deeply grateful to CMI for this site and for the speakers like Calvin Smith and Jim Mason (who have both come to speak at churches where I have served). I do hold firmly to biblical creation (6 days) and love Creation.com—I read almost all of the featured articles, etc. But I am also deeply grateful to The Gospel Coalition for their service to my ministry in a number of other critical areas where biblical doctrines are challenged. And I know a number of TGC Council Members are also biblical creationists. I wrote a response to Justin Taylor’s recent article, and I know many others have, including Lita Cosner (excellent by the way). What I do not understand is the unnecessary snide tone you use, Dr. Sarfati, when referring to TGC as the “soi-disant Gospel Coalition”. Please know I ask this with respect. I have learned from you more than I can say, have heard you speak and read with benefit a vast number of your articles here. And I very much appreciate this article in response to Sproul. But why throw in that little “soi-disant” line as if to cast aspersions on the efforts of so many in TGC around historic evangelical essentials? Yes, I agree, undermining the Gospel by challenging the authority of Scripture like Justin Taylor did is serious business. But since your ministry has many allies within TGC, is it wise to stoop to sarcasm like you did calling them the “so-called Gospel Coalition”? The guidelines for posting a comment here include the exhortation to use a “Respectful and suitable tone …” That's all I’m asking for from you. A more respectful tone from you would likely widen the impact of your excellent ministry.
Thank you for our kind comments about our work. And we appreciate that your comments are made as constructive criticism.
As we said to another responder, comments on tone are welcome but of course they are subjective; different people have stated different opinions in the comments, as can be seen.
One reason for the phrase is explained because it is an organization that calls itself a ‘Coalition’, and says on its website:
We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus.
But then this organization broke this unity and coalition by publishing a badly-reasoned all-guns-blazing attack on biblical (young-earth) creation. Even worse, placing death before sin, as all billions of years views do, undermines the very Gospel on which they claim to promote unity. (See ‘Just preach the Gospel!’ Or: how not to impress atheists and Did God create over billions of years? And why is it important?
So TCG seriously needs to issue a retraction and apology, otherwise we may assume that the organization as a whole stands behinds the Taylor article.
Also, TCG’s vice-president is the anti-creationist Tim Keller, which is cause for concern. See A response to Timothy Keller’s atrocious article ‘Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople’ also by Lita Cosner. Note among other things that Keller made the same blunder as Sproul about plant death.
Since this error is evidently so widespread, it was important to refute it in a way that would alert people on both sides.
Seems like there is a better approach than discussing whether or not plants are living things. Does eating some of the berries kill the blueberry bush? Does eating some of the leaves from a tree kill the tree? Or am I missing something more fundamental here?
However, when we eat some plant food, it does ‘kill’ the plant as a whole. I doubt that the carrot plant can survive when we eat the orange root, or the onion plant when we eat the bulb, for example. Cows eating grass would destroy the whole plant. Hence we need to analyze in terms of what the Bible defines as ‘living’.
As you well know, not agreeing with an argument doesn’t mean one is unaware of it. I am, and have been well aware of the argument. As my article explains, I just don’t find compelling the distinction between the distinction between plant and animal death and animal and human death. We would do better if we didn't accuse one another of ignorance simply because we find an argument less than persuasive.
Thank you for responding to this article. May I suggest however that it would have been even better to contact us before writing your article rather than after?
I must confess that what you say seems to put you in a worse light than the article suggests. That is, if you knew our counter-argument, then you were knowingly knocking down a straw man.
After all, there was a whole paragraph and more about plant death, implying that leading young-earthers had never considered this. But it is one of earliest supposed objections that creationists ever dealt with. For instance, it’s been in our staple resource The Creation Answers Book for some 30 years.
Then it was implied that all creationists could respond is a vague claim about the difference between plant and animal death, without acknowledging the strong biblical reasons: plants are not nephesh chayyāh, and the original vegetarian diet for humans and animals affirmed in Isaiah's Edenic allusion. And as Brian W. pointed out in the comments (below), there is a further Edenic allusion in the closing part of Revelation, where both a Tree of Life exists for food, and there is “no more death”, once again showing that plant ‘death’ didn’t count. And of course, death is “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), so would not have been part of God’s “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31),any more than it is in the Final State.
In any case, it’s in your own best interest, as well as an ethical obligation, that if you address an opponent’s position, you address their strongest case. For example, when CMI addresses day-age or progressive creation, we took on its best known advocate, Hugh Ross (see Refuting Compromise). When addressing evolution, we refuted one of its most famous proponents, Richard Dawkins (see The Greatest Hoax on Earth?). However, we find that these guys never address the strongest arguments for young-earth creation. Given your stature in the Christian world, it would have been preferable to at least tell us why you find our actual explanations unconvincing. You state you are not convinced but don’t explain why.
Here is a comparison: a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim attacks R.C Sproul Jr for believing something as ‘absurd’ as the Trinity since the word is not in the Bible. Sproul responds: we believe that the doctrine is taught in the Bible as can be easily shown, and our opponent is clearly ignorant of the extensive teachings in the church about this. JW replies indignantly: “Don’t assume that I am ignorant of this claim just because I don’t mention it; I just don’t find it very convincing.” Would you not point out that he was remiss in not even acknowledging the argument?
We must also point out that the old-earth compromisers are crowing about your article, effectively saying “Welcome to the Club!” This is harming the biblical creation cause that we both follow. So we had to publish some damage control. We request that you do the same. In fact, it would be incredibly helpful we feel for your own ministry to admit some reconsideration of your faulty reasoning.
Finally, one person who seems to be favour of our argument is also coincidentally named R.C.Sproul Jr. :), in the article May the Best Man Win, Tabletalk magazine, 1 January 2015. Your namesake ;) notes the cosmic scope of the Fall to everything under man’s dominion.
Perhaps we miss the scope of the destruction because we want to subsume it all under God’s judgment against man. That is, the pain in the child-bearing, the presence of sickness and death, the thorns and thistles that infest the ground are not mere angry thunderbolts that God throws at us out of His anger. Instead, they are the natural consequences of the decidedly unnatural choice of the stewards of God’s creation. The earth groans not just because Adam and Eve took an illicit bite of fruit, but because they failed in their calling—to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue, to rule over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and every creeping thing that creeps upon the ground. The first Adam, in disobeying His Father, did more than earn His disfavor. He plunged the world into a vortex of death and destruction.
See, the Fall didn't just affect man, but everything under him. This is also why there has to be a total and complete destruction and then recreation at the end of time. Note especially that your namesake acknowledged that thorns are the result of man’s sin. This is yet another problem for all old-earth views, since old-earth ‘dating’ methods place thorns millions of years before man sinned, as explained by plant physiologist Dr David Catchpoole in his powerful article A thorny issue.
Please, please, please be careful to avoid gratuitous editorializing like the following quote from this otherwise excellent article: “… beloved of respectability-craving types in some Presbyterian and Reformed circles ”
This kind of ad hominem attack makes it much harder for those teaching falsely on this subject to listen to you and admit their error, and makes it so much more difficult for us ‘6-day, young-earth’ folks to keep communication open with those shepherds in our midst who need to repent. Derogatory remarks from CMI or any other creation group always get in the way of the truth and set us back.
Glad you like the article overall, apart from some ‘tone’ aspects. We have no problem with people letting us know about those things. In our defence, it really does seem to be the reason that many in such circles gravitate to bizarre Scripture-pretzelization like the Framework Hypothesis; no one had managed to find it in the text of Scripture until 1924. I'm actually not the only one who uses such language; some are far more scathing, e.g.:
We have seen countless examples of universities, colleges, and seminaries chartered with a strong commitment to orthodox Christianity, only to erode first into liberalism and ultimately to secularism. Why did this happen? There are multiple, complex reasons for the apostasy of such institutions, but one key factor is the desire of professors to be intellectually recognized in the academic world. A slavish genuflection to the latest trends in academia seduces our leaders into conformity. One apologist once described this pattern as the “treason of the intellectuals”. If the secular establishment ridicules such tenets as the inspiration of the Bible, then insecure Christian professors, desperate to be accepted by their peers, quickly flee from orthodoxy, dragging the colleges, seminaries, and ultimately the churches with them. It is a weighty price to pay for academic recognition.
Whereas you are always right to keep the biblical record straight about origins, and in this case the issue of death before the Fall, I am very uneasy about the tone of the article. It has a very hectoring and condescending tone to a man who is, after all, a genuine Christian with the same general approach as CMI. Not only that, but he is a mature man with a good reputation and a wide teaching ministry. Public humiliation does not endear people like that, nor does it encourage those he teaches. There are several lines of scathing sarcasm towards R. C. Sproul Jr. which I feel would have been better left unsaid. Even the subtitle of the article, “another theologian who needs to do his homework” seems to me to be condescending, and just a little spiteful. No-one is above reproach or perfect in all their ways.
I agree with the thrust of the article and the constant need to be vigilant on these matters. By all means set the record straight. However, a more sensitive and supportive tone may achieve better results. I am sorry to make a comment like this. It is because I hold CMI in the highest esteem, and have come to expect such well-reasoned and dispassionate arguments, that I think this one falls short of the very high standards set by CMI.
Please accept this comment as constructive critique. As a YEC myself, I often use CMI materials in my own ministry and I am grateful to all at CMI for all tireless the work they do.
We are glad that our material has been helpful.
We welcome comments on ‘tone’, although by their very nature they are subjective. As can be seen from other comments, not everyone agrees about this article either. As an aside, a while back, the following amusing satire was published: If Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians was Published in Christianity Today ;)
Also, it could be argued that the piece I was responding to was written in “a very hectoring and condescending tone” towards biblical (‘young earth’) creationists. After all, it implied that we had overlooked an obvious counter to one of our major arguments.
The reason for our article is that it was necessary to answer an influential theologian in a way that would get the attention of those who might have been misled by his arguments. It clearly has succeeded, as you will no doubt see in the comments.
The original source of this article is surely the same source as the manna from heaven! Just like the manna of old kept people alive, so articles like this keep 6 day creationists believing, even while living among high profile Christians who compromise on this issue.
Beautiful article. And this is the sum of it, for those who are perishing the plain reading of the scriptures reads as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18–31). They have abandoned the ultimate authority of God and made themselves as the judges over God’s Word based on introducing scientism into history (1 Timothy 4:3–4). Science and scientism is a generalization fallacy waiting for the current examples to be overturned by new research, hence their history is always changing.
Science studies the repeatable; history studies the unrepeatable. When we study historical events, we have to rely on written records and artifacts. There was, and could be, only one first creation. Forensic science is not only about scientifically testing artifacts in the present where the past event cannot be repeated, but also about trusted witnesses and recorded documentary evidences being presented to two opposing worldviews within court - the prosecution and defence.
Believers of God’s Word have all that is necessary for a reasoned defence within their worldview whereas others who deny God’s Word have no witnesses, no recorded documentation just a prior commitment to naturalism. It’s not science v creation but God’s history vs naturalistic history (without the witnesses or recorded documentation).