Death by Design by Greg Koukl
by Greg Koukl
I went to Washington for a few days this week and we went to a flower garden in Victoria, British Columbia. I was watching a bumble bee on a flower and I suddenly knew for certain that there was physical death before the Fall.
Let me set this up for you because it's important that you understand where I'm going with this. There is some considerable debate in Christian circles about the age of the earth. There are those who are literal 24-hour day creationists who are committed to the notion of a young earth. There are other Christians that are compelled by what seems to be substantial scientific evidence for an old earth, and also what seems to be a legitimate reading of Genesis 1. And they believe that the earth is ancient and the animal and plant kingdom is ancient, though man may have been created relatively recently.
A significant factor in this debate has to do with the question of physical death. Was physical death part of the Fall, as Scripture seems to indicate? Or was it part of the natural created order with an added element after the Fall? On the one hand, if there clearly was no physical death of any kind before the Fall, then it seems impossible for there to be any significant time gap between the creation of living creatures, and the creation and fall of man. In other words, it happened in a very short time--just a couple of days--which is the point of view of those that hold to a young earth creation. However, if the Scripture leaves open the possibility of some form of physical death before the Fall, and if Scripture doesn't explicitly disallow this, and if there is scientific evidence for it, then it seems that an ancient creation with a recent advent of humans is a legitimate possibility.
The key fact to remember here is: if all physical death was a result of the Fall, as some hold--especially 24-hour creationists--then in the original creation God never intended even for animals to die. So if we can show that God intended for animals to die before the Fall then it seems a pretty good argument that there was at least animal death before the Fall.
Now as I've reflected on this and I've argued it a particular way in the past I've argued this other view. I've argued that the earth was ancient, and the living realm was ancient, and there was death before the Fall. The 24-hour view which doesn't allow for any death prior to the Fall has always troubled me. Did God really intend for all creatures to multiply and fill the earth but never die? Was this His plan? Because if it was, as those who hold to a seven day creation argue, then I'm reminded of Malthus' theorem which some called the "Dismal Theorem".
Malthus observed population increasing as animals multiply in a finite space. He observes that they multiply in a finite space. They increase in numbers but because they have finite resources they increase to such a point that they use up all of the resources and then the population curve drops to zero. That's why it was the dismal theorem because it seemed like everything was going to consume everything and pretty soon everything would die. It seems to me that if God intended gross multiplication of beings with no death you would run into that problem.
In addition, larger animals inadvertently eat smaller animals when they're trying to eat vegetation. I've got tomato plants out in my backyard. You know what they are covered with? Aphids. You know what an aphid is? It's a one centimeter long green bug that thrives in packs on your vegetables. And there are other little critters that crawl around--insects and worms. All of these things are small. Now if an animal bent over to eat this vegetation guess what they are going to get a mouth full of? Other insects. So it seems even vegetarian animals are inadvertently going to cause the death of smaller animals. Single-celled organisms that thrive in a pond get ingested when another creature drinks. Large animals like dinosaurs just walking around are going to kill many of these smaller organisms. It seems hard to envision a natural realm that has this wide variety of animals that never die, that never inadvertently even kill each other. I've always thought about that and it seemed to be a problem, and that's why I've looked for another answer.
I have argued in the past--feeling confident that there is strong natural revelation (read, "scientific evidence") for an ancient earth, yet I'm deeply committed to the authority of the Scriptures--I've argued that the death spoken of in Genesis 3 is a spiritual death of man, not necessarily a physical death. God said that in the day that Adam and Eve would eat they would die. Yet when Adam and Eve ate they didn't die physically the day that they ate, as God said, though it's clear they died spiritually. So it seems reasonable to argue that the death that's in view here in the Fall is a spiritual death not a physical one. Romans 5 seems to make the same point.
My argument was that physical death was part of the natural order, even for man, and had no sting until spiritual death resulting from the Fall became part of man's experience. This seemed to be an explanation that would fit the evidence of both the Scripture and natural revelation. So it is theoretically possible that, given the Biblical text, man experienced physical death as part of the natural order, but that spiritual death--separation from God--was the particular death that resulted from the Fall.
Then I read something in St. Athanasius on the incarnation last week which suggested something else to me that I became convinced of when I looked at this bee on the flower. I was reading a piece by St. Athanasius entitled St. Athanasius on the Incarnation, (New York: SVS Press [St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary], 1993). Athanasius was a fourth century Christian theologian who was very instrumental in defending the notion of the trinity against the Arians. There was something he wrote about in this book, though is not related to the trinity per se but talking about the Fall of man, that caught my attention.
Regarding men, Athanasius wrote, "But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in Paradise, but, dying outside, continue in death and corruption." (p. 29)
This phrase "natural law of death" caught my eye. I thought that he was suggesting that death is a natural part of the natural world, though it became unnatural when it comes to man. So I read a little further and he continued, "For, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word with them shielded them even from natural corruption." (p. 30)
Did you follow that folks? It seems that Athanasius' view of the Fall was that death was an appropriate part of the physical world. He calls this the "natural law" and "natural corruption," but apparently man was exempted from that by God's grace until the Fall, and then the Fall interrupted the grace and so man became capable of death as well. The point is this: even if we were to argue that death came through sin and that death was not just spiritual death but physical death, Athanasius seems to think that it applied only to man and not the rest of the natural order for which death was a natural thing. Meaning that there was natural death before the Fall, and if there was this removes a significant theological objection to the idea that the earth is millions and millions of years old and also the rest of creation, though my view is that the creation of man is recent.
That objection is removed and this brings us to Victoria Island, Buchart Gardens and the bumble bee. I was bending over looking at the flowers and I saw the bumble bee. It was such a beautiful calm wonderful environment you almost felt like reaching out and touching the bee in this benevolent atmosphere. And it occurred to me that bees have stingers--or most of them I guess So I asked my friend, "Do you think this bee has a stinger?" And just then the thought struck me: Where did he get that stinger? Well, he got it from God, of course. God gave him the stinger. Then it occurred to me, what was the stinger for? Its purpose is protection. That's obvious. Protection from what? And in a flash of insight I knew there was physical death before the Fall, at least animal death, because God had actually designed some animals as predators and designed others--like the bee--with defense equipment.
Now think about it for a moment. When one is confronted with the teaching that there was no death of any kind before the Fall, he generally wonders how all of the carnivorous animals survived before there was any death. "Wild cats and other carnivores could eat vegetables. That's the answer. Remember, "the lion will lay down with the lamb"? It's true. It seems that canine teeth could serve reasonably well at tearing vegetables as it does tearing flesh. But that strains at the gnat and swallows the camel. The camel being this: God has designed many creatures with features meant solely for taking life or solely for defending against deadly assault.
Think of a spider. Do you think God taught him to spin a web so he could catch leaves? And spiders have poison in their mouths. What's the poison for prior to the Fall?
Spider webs were not meant to capture leaves.
Think of the scent glands of the skunk. Why does the skunk has a scent gland? So that he can fight away predators. Ever heard of an angler fish? This is a fish that looks like muck, muck and vegetation. It opens its mouth and way back in the throat of its mouth it's got the glottis hanging down there, kind of like we have, and it opens its mouth and wobbles this thing back and forth. Now if you are looking from the outside you don't see the camouflage, which is also a part of the program. All you see is this opening in the back of which is this little worm dangling down wiggling. A fish swims inside the cavernous opening to eat the worm and guess what? Gobble, gobble. He's lunch for the angler fish.
Now where did the Angler fish get this dangling worm in his mouth and all the camouflage if he wasn't meant to eat other fish with it?
Archer fish can also shoot a stream of water up into the leaves to knock insects off a tree into the pond so they can eat them. Where did they get that ability?
Amoebas are designed to physically engulf their prey, destroying it prey in the process.
These are all design features that are all complex and have one purpose and one purpose only: the destruction of other living things.
Virtually every carnivorous animal has highly specified behaviors and equipment that are specifically for the purpose of killing--instinctive attack behavior, instinctive killing modes, stealth and crouching, and all of that kind of stuff. You see cats out in the yard doing it. Where did they get that? Where did they get these retractable claws? What are they for? For climbing? They don't need to climb. They don't need to climb to anything or away from anything. The grass is on the ground, remember? The natural realm is overflowing with examples of particular things that were designed specifically with the capture and killing of prey in mind, therefore they must have been part of the plan in my view.
They aren't an evil part of the plan because God made these things, and then having done so with all the creatures of the world, looked at it all and said that it was a good thing. So the natural law of death that must have been in place before the Fall is not bad, it's a good thing created by God.
There is a possible objection--actually two of them--that could be raised against this.
I'm talking about this question of whether it's possible there could have been animal death before the Fall; and it's an important question because if there could be, then it leaves open the possibility of an ancient earth without at the same time causing theological havoc with the theological nature of the Fall of man. It seems that Athanasius is arguing this way.
There were two things that I noticed as I looked at this bee and the rest of the natural realm and reflected. One, the presence of design features specifically for capturing and killing; and two, the presence of designed defense mechanisms to protect creatures from being captured and killed. It seems there is no explanation for these things if there was no physical death in the animal kingdom before Adam's Fall.
Now, when I'm toying with a new idea I try to anticipate the objections to test the strength of my own ideas. As I reflected on this I can think of only two possible objections to this and I'll give them to you and show you why I don't think they work.
One way to object to my point is to say that after the Fall God created these mechanisms in animals in order to enable them to both capture food and survive. But I don't think this objection really works. First of all you'd have God creating after He was finished with creation, which seems to create a problem. Secondly, why would God need to alter anything at all? If all living things were created with the capacity to survive on vegetable matter, nothing keeps them from continuing to be vegetarians after the Fall. The Fall only requires death, not carnivorous eating patterns. It doesn't follow that just because natural organisms now are subject to death that members of the animal kingdom will now start eating each other. So there is no need for God to add something to the program after the Fall (except maybe morticians). This response just strikes me as an ad hoc explanation to save the hypothesis. It's obviously reaching.
One might suggest that these things developed naturally afterwards. But that's an unusual rebuttal from a 24-hour creationist because it would depend for its force on the capability of chance working with matter over time through natural selection to develop complex physical and instinctual systems that enable them to forage for living prey. In other words, it requires evolution to be true. So I don't imagine a 24-hour creationist would use that as defense.
The other way to argue my point is to say that God designed these things beforehand in anticipation of the Fall. This also seems a strange argument. If death in the natural realm is cruel and evil in itself, as is argued, how is it that God designs things with the intent of inflicting this cruel and evil result? It would also mean, by the way, that God would have created destructive mechanisms, agencies of death, before the Fall and then call them good, as He did seven times in the first chapter of Genesis.
Finally, it seems that some creatures--say a spider, for example--have no option of being omnivorous. It can't eat plants. In that circumstance, because some creatures can function only as predators, the creature would have to wait around for the Fall of man until it could have its first meal.
So the only way out that I can think of, other than saying that it evolved after the Fall which isn't going to work, is that God either created it beforehand or created it afterwards. Both seem problematic to me. If God created it beforehand--though there was no death, anticipating death afterwards--then He designed agencies of death and called them good when death is bad. Or He created after the Fall, and then I wonder why He needs to create these carnivorous animals when they could continue eating plants as He originally created them. And then, of course, you have God creating after the seventh day which is another problem. So neither of those rebuttals seem to work.
It seems to me that a 24-hour creationist is going to have a hard time arguing against this because they're going to have to say that all of these things were added later, either evolved or created. But they weren't created, because after the seventh day God rested. And we know they haven't evolved because natural mechanisms can't produce that kind of new detail. That means they must have been in place before the Fall.
My simple question is, For what purpose? (Because God creates for a purpose.) My answer is that it seems pretty obvious that from the outset God intended for living creatures--not necessarily man here--but living creatures to prey upon each other. If He intended that then there was a natural law of death that was operating quite nicely as part of the system before the Fall of man which makes it entirely possible that there were millions and millions of years of this natural law operating in the natural realm before God created Adam and Eve.
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