Reasons to Believe (RTB) is an organization that seeks to syncretize the biblical account of creation with certain evolutionary theories, especially the belief in millions and millions of years of earth history. Many organizations (including AiG and ICR) continue to write well-researched critiques of many of RTB’s positions. In this post, I look at one aspect of RTB’s view on animal death before the fall.
In an article entitled, “Animal Death Before the Fall: What Does the Bible Say?” on RTB’s website, Lee Irons defends the position that animals died before the Fall. Irons notes:
According to the fossil record nature was “red in tooth and claw.” In view of the vast ages between the first evidence of life and the appearance of man, this description would necessarily be true prior to the Fall. But this conception of the pre-Fall state presents a jarring contrast with the typical Sunday School picture of Adam and Eve in the garden, dwelling peacefully in an idyllic state, where all the animals were herbivores and the wolf was dwelling with the lamb. (Irons 2001)
Irons goes on to detail why the Scriptures do not preclude animal death before the Fall. For the sake of space, I will only comment on one of Irons’ arguments in this response.
One of his arguments in favor of animal death before the Fall is taken from Psalm 104. Verse 21 says that “the young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God” (ESV). Later, in verses 27-28, we read: “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Verses 19-20 speak of the pattern of day and night as it relates to the “beasts of the forest” creeping about. Irons notes that the “poetic meditation [of Psalm 104] then goes beyond the Genesis account and explains that God appointed the day-night cycle so that the beasts of the forest might prowl about at night and hunt for their prey.” He infers that this Psalm means lions ate prey prior to the Fall, contrary to the YEC claim that there was no animal death before the Fall.
Several things are wrong with Irons’ analysis. He says the pattern of night and day (Ps 104:19-20) was set up by God so that man could be safe from predators: “This timing is perfect, for when the carnivorous hunting beasts are asleep during the daytime, man can go about his daytime labors in safety until evening” (Irons 2001). If there was animal death prior to the Fall, but not human death, as Irons (and RTB) asserts, how does the nocturnal hunting habits of carnivores protect mankind from death? Lions (and other animals) maintain the same pattern of resting during the day (Psalm 104:22) in modern times. While this makes human casualties less likely, it certainly does not prevent all such deaths! Rather than seeing this as proof that animal death was present before the Fall, we may take this pattern as an element of common grace after the Fall. If animal death was present prior to the Fall, the only way humans were spared was by the supernatural intervention of God, not the nocturnal habits of predators.
Another error in Irons’ thinking is that God’s blessing upon a certain activity in a fallen world means that such actions were also present prior to the Fall. Irons says that since God blesses carnivores by giving “them their food in due season” (Psalm 104:27), we should believe that carnivorous activity has nothing to do with the Fall. Irons explains:
Such provision is a testament to the goodness of the Creator in caring for His creation…There is no suggestion in this text that we are to view the provision of prey for carnivorous beasts as anything but a blessing from the hand of a good Creator. It is certainly not pictured as an abnormality resulting from the entrance of sin into the world.
Irons’ reasoning is seriously flawed, however. Consider another Psalm in which God blesses an activity which only occurred after the Fall:
He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze…You gave me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip. I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and did not turn back till they were consumed. (Psalm 18:34, 36-37)
Using Irons’ logic, we could say that “there is no suggestion in this text that we are to view [the death of one’s enemies in war] as anything but a blessing from the hand of a good Creator. It is certainly not pictured as an abnormality resulting from the entrance of sin into the world.” However, such a view disregards the clear teaching of Scripture elsewhere.
Irons’ application of God blessing post-Fall activities in support of the presence of such activities before the Fall is specious. God is able to bless activities that entered into creation due to sin, but are not sin themselves (i.e. war, carnivorous behavior among animals, and church discipline). The Fall drastically altered our world. Certain activities were not necessary prior to sin, but now are needful. Corporal punishment of children (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13) is a good example of this. God certainly blesses the faithful use of the rod in children rearing (Proverbs 23:14), but such an activity is only necessary because of the folly that is bound up in the heart of the child (Proverbs 22:15)—a condition not present prior to the Fall.
Irons and the folks at RTB mistakenly assume that because God provides for lions (and other meat-eating animals) that such carnivorous activity was present prior to the Fall. Rather, the Bible teaches that sin has brought many such activities into our world and the culmination of Christ’s kingdom will remove every aspect of the curse.