Question: How does one correlate the witnesses of death within our observable universe, death and brutality (suffering) within the animal kingdom on our earth (includes fossil records) and the perfect Garden of Eden, prior to the fall?
This is a difficult and valid question.
I can understand how looking at what we see in Nature and the fossil record could cause a thinking person to say that what they see does not correlate with the Biblical picture of a loving God. We are NOT talking about what some might see as brutality within the Old Testament regarding Noah’s Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah etc, I will address that in a later posting. This question specifically deals with the subject of death as seen within the universe and more specifically the brutality within nature itself, here on earth, prior to the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Is our universe dying? Yes it is. Astronomers have known for a long time that the Universe was much more active in the distant past, when everything was closer and denser, and better. Currently, there are only 1 to 3 new stars formed in the Milky Way every year, which is pretty slow by Milky Way standards. Not even at the busiest time of star formation, our Sun formed 5 billion years ago. 5 billion years before that, just a short 4 billion after the Big Bang, star formation peaked out. There were 30 times more stars forming then, than we see today.
In a few billion years, star formation will be a fraction of what it is today. In a few trillion, only the longest lived, lowest mass red dwarfs will still be pushing out their feeble light. Then, one by one, galaxies will see their last star flicker and fade away into the darkness. Then there’ll only be dead stars and dead planets, cooling down to the background temperature of the Universe as their galaxies accelerate from one another into the expanding void.
Eventually everything will be black holes, or milling about waiting to be trapped in black holes. And these black holes themselves will take an incomprehensible mighty pile of years to evaporate away to nothing.
So yes, our Universe is dying. But God never said that this earth or this universe was permanent.
Revelation 21:1-2 ESV reads: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And I’m pretty sure it will happen before millions or trillions of our earth years go by, but that is another post.
That was the easy part of the question to answer.
If you follow my blog you will know that I adhere to Old Earth Creationism (OEC).
Proponents of OEC believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God and believe the Genesis creation account to be historical narrative—not myth, allegory, legend or poetic expression. OECs believe that textual and grammatical nuances of the original Hebrew suggest six long epochs of time. OECs contend a literal reading of the Biblical creation accounts in Hebrew provides certain exegetical clues pointing to prolonged creation “days.”
Old Earth Creationism:
There are many links available on the Internet that support this supposition. I have only selected 7 or 8 links to give you an overview of the OEC consensus:
Some Contemporary Theologians and Apologists who support OEC are: John Ankerberg, Bill Bright (Founder, Campus Crusade for Christ), C. John Collins (Chairman, Old Testament Committee, The ESV Bible; Ph.D., Hebrew linguistics), Chuck Colson, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler (author of numerous books, including Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics), Wayne Grudem (General editor, The ESV Study Bible; author, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine), Hank Hannegraff (Bible Answer Man), Jack Hayford, Walter Kaiser (President Emeritus, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), Phillip E. Johnson (founder of Intelligent Design movement), Greg Koukl (Stand to Reason ministry), J.P. Moreland, J.I. Packer, Nancy Pearcey, Vern Poythress, Earl Radmacher (President Emeritus, Western Seminary), Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ, The Case for a Creator), and Dallas Willard.
Just so that you are aware, I see no compelling biblical reason to deny the reality of microevolution (evolutionary change involving the gradual accumulation of mutations leading to new varieties within a species), as long as it is understood within the context of God’s providential control. Supernatural creation of the various kinds must be posited throughout the creation era, a fact that is attested both in the Genesis account and in the book of nature (i.e., the repeated appearance of new kinds in the fossil record). Once the kinds have been created by divine fiat, however, there is room for evolutionary processes, including the production of many distinct new species within the kinds.
If you would like to learn more about what and why OECs believe just click on this link: http://godandscience.org/youngearth/old_earth_creationism.html
I also recommend the free materials (i.e., articles and podcasts) at the websites of “Reasons to Believe” (RTB; Hugh Ross et al.) and “Evidence for God from Science” (Richard Deem). Imho, those are the best, solidly & specifically OEC resources online.
If you are interested in other perspectives on creationism please check out this link: http://creationwiki.org
Biblical Record of Creation
Genesis 1:20-27 ESV “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:24-25 says: “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts [chayah] of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. And God made the beasts [chayah] of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
The text itself does not say whether these animals are herbivores or carnivores. However, we can examine how the Hebrew word (chayah) is used in the rest of the Bible.
An examination of the Hebrew word chayah indicates that in the vast majority of uses, the word refers to animals that eat flesh. It seems likely that the creation account of Genesis is referring specifically to the carnivores, especially since a prominent herbivore (cattle) is specifically mentioned in the same verse. If chayah were meant to refer to herbivores, cattle could be left out, since they would be included in the chayah term.
So the question remains, did animals experience death and did carnivores eat meat before the Fall, that is, before Adam and Eve transgressed the creation covenant by eating the forbidden fruit?
It should also be noted that Genesis 3:22-24 ESV states “Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” If Adam and Eve were immortal they would not have needed to be kept away from the Tree of Life.
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.
Prior to Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil we see God giving mankind seed bearing plants, seed bearing trees for food AND to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds and land creatures, God gives them every green plant for food. Plant eating means herbivorous versus carnivorous (meat eating).
Genesis 1:29-30 reads: “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food.”
Now there are some who say that prior to the fall, man and beast alike were herbivores. Beasts are what we would call carnivores, meat eaters. That it was only after the flood that God gave permission for man and beast alike to be carnivores. But that doesn’t ring true when you look at the fossil record. There were meat eating dinosaurs, sabre toothed tigers, etc.
After the fall of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 9:1-4 it reads: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
The most common answer given by Christians is that the pain and suffering of animals is explained by the sin of human creatures, most notably the Fall of Adam. After all, Romans 8:19-22 seems to imply that the suffering we find in the natural world is part of the “groaning of creation”–a creation which cries out for redemption from the crippling effects of Adam’s sin. Isaiah 24:2-6 directly states that (at least much of) the natural evil in the world derives the fact that the peoples of the earth “disobey the laws,” “violate the statutes,” and “break the covenants.”
However, given the very powerful evidence that animals (and their pain, suffering, death, and predation) pre-existed the first human beings, that view seems incomplete. If the pain and suffering of animals predates Adam’s existence, it is hard to see how his (or our) sin could fully explain it.
But Genesis 1:29–30 does not explicitly say that meat was forbidden. It only says the positive: God gave man and beast “every green plant for food.”Kline (Meredith G. Kline (December 15, 1922 – April 14, 2007) was an American theologian and Old Testament scholar. He also had degrees in Assyriology and Egyptology.) suggests that this passage has a special literary purpose. It was not given to define man’s diet comprehensively, but to set the stage for the prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the following chapter (Genesis 2:16–17).
Furthermore, it is clear that God entrusted man with lordship over all the realms of creation, not just the plant kingdom. Man is to rule over the fish, birds, cattle, and every thing creeps on the earth (Genesis 1:26, 28). This rulership over the sub-human realms of creation is defined in the most general terms (“rule over … subdue”), suggesting not merely the use of certain domesticated animals for labor, but the also the use of milk, eggs, wool, animal skins, and so on. “You make him to rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field” (Psalm 8:6–7).
God did say that he had given the green plants to the animals for food. However, the verse only applies to certain animals, specifically the nephesh creatures (Nephesh (נֶפֶש nep̄eš) is a Biblical Hebrew word which occurs in the Hebrew Bible. The word refers to the aspects of life, and human beings and higher animals are both described as having a nephesh). Conspicuously missing from the list are all the sea creatures created on the fifth day. In addition, this verse (or subsequent verses) does not say that all animals ate only plants. Ultimately, all animals (even carnivores) rely upon plants for food. In addition, Genesis 1:24-25 directly states that God created the carnivores on the sixth day.
I believe that the various animal species, birds, sea creatures etc did die, which correlates with the fossil record. And I also believe that carnivores such as dinosaurs, sabre toothed tigers etc did eat meat prior to the fall of Adam and Eve.
The original question also asks why death is part of the equation. I think we have a tendency to look at what we see and think that this is all that there is. The physical world that we see is not all that there is, it is just the classroom, that which should make us look beyond the physical to the spiritual. God is a spirit. John 4:24 KJV “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”The whole purpose behind this gift called life is so that we can, of our own free will, see the value of coming to know and love our creator.
The earth and our universe is temporal. The laws of nature are temporal, pain and suffering is temporal, our separation from God is temporal if we accept the grace that God has provided us with, namely faith in God’s Son Jesus Christ and the work He has accomplished on our behalf, we have fellowship with our God and have the promise that when this physical body passes away, our spirit still lives and we will be given a new body.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5 NLT says “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.”
Because we are separated from God, because we have free will and because we have physical bodies, we do experience pain and suffering. How else would we know when we are hurting our physical bodies, how else would we know that our decisions have consequences? Don’t forget that originally, prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve, within the Garden or Eden, Adam and Eve could walk and talk with God. They didn’t sin and there was no separation between the creature and the creator. They had access to the Tree of Life and the bodies that they were given could have lived forever. Interesting enough, the Trees of Life are waiting for us in heaven, after we are resurrected in our new bodies. Revelation 22:1-3 NKJV states “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.“
I have addressed that in my opinion physical death did exist for all of God’s creation prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden prior to the fall so they did have the opportunity to escape physical and spiritual death, albeit they lost that option. Not so with the animal kingdom. What remains of the original question pertains to the suffering that is seen within nature where one animal eats another etc.
Here is another link that discusses the morality associated with animal death that occurred prior to the fall of Adam and Eve: http://lukenixblog.blogspot.ca/2014/02/is-animal-death-really-evil.html
There is a lengthy scientific study that has been done on what different species can in fact feel when it comes to pain – this relates to the “suffering” accusation. The results are surprising as the study shows a much lower percentage than one would think or expect. I will include the link here and strongly recommend that you read through it in its entirety. http://christianthinktank.com/pred2.html Summary extracts from these studies are as follows:
- The vast, vast majority of living creatures could not/do not experience agony or suffering. We came up with only 14.6k species (out of 1.55M) that could experience ‘agony’ at all…a whopping 0.94%…[If we counted the number of individuals, as opposed to species, the number would be infinitesimally small.]
- If these agony-possible creatures could experience suffering (through the presence of consciousness), this consciousness would likely be on a spectrum, with primates being ‘high’ and birds being ‘low’. This would mean that the suffering of a bird or rat would be much lower than that of a chimp. And this would mean that the higher the rate of predation (more smaller victims than large), the less the capacity for suffering to begin with.
- We found that only 20% of the predatory species actually kill their prey–mostly the prey survives. This means that “preying to the death” is a small fraction of the species considered “predatory” (including herbivores).
- There are more life-forms that eat food killed by others, than life-forms that kill what they eat.
- Parasitism, in which the prey does not die, and of which often the host is unaware (of the presence of the parasites) is much more common than “killing predation” (with parasites being as many as half of all living species).
- The combination of the scavengers and the parasites–neither of which kill their food–accounts for well over 2/3 of all species.
- Even the truly awesome, large predators often eat what they did NOT kill (i.e., they scavenge), and most tend to omnivory. [Every calorie of plant tissue “substitutes for” a calorie from meat, reducing the amount of predation necessary…]
- There are many more species (by a factor of 10) that derive life from a host without killing it; than there are predators who kill.
- Any possible conscious suffering is more likely to occur higher up on the food pyramid, where the numbers of actual individuals being killed will be minute to that below it...In other words, the more numerous and frequent are the deaths that occur per unit time, the less likely there is ANY ‘suffering’ at all. [For example, the largest number of ‘deaths’ might be tiny zooplankton eating tiny phytoplankton, but there is no feeling or agony there in the least…The more death there is at a trophic level, the more likely it is completely “painless”.]
- Most healthy individuals in a species are NOT the targets of predators, contrary to popular opinion.
- Most predators are unsuccessful, the majority of the time (the prey escapes).
- Most large prey animals live full lives anyway: “Whales, elephants, apes, and other large mammals in the wild… live through 50 percent or more of their reproductive spans, and a few survive beyond reproductive age” [EBE: s.v. “Biological Growth and Development: NATURAL HISTORY OF AGING: Reproduction and aging”]
- The observational data demonstrates that, for the vast majority of a prey animal’s lifetime, the predator/prey interactions are not “anxiety producing” at all.
- Our current understanding of ecological “niches” leads us to the conclusion that the vast majority of inter-specie relationships are “peaceful coexistence” (as opposed to constant ‘gladiatorial’ competition).
The world of nature seems (from our analysis above) to be wonderfully characterized by “more good than bad” and vastly so (in keeping with the general sketch we made of the biblical data)…all creatures have their roles to play, their start/stop times, their habitats to build/manage, their ecological community contribution to make, their food to catch, their relationships to experience, their kids to raise, and then to yield their resources to the next generation…including me…”There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—A time to give birth, and a time to die” (Ecc 3)
Summary: Physical death is a reality that is inescapable. It forces us to look beyond what we see. Of course, some refuse to accept their interruption of what they see, and that is their choice. Pain and suffering is also a reality that appears to serve an appointed purpose, both within the animal kingdom and within humanity. While the information I have presented on pain may not satisfy those who are offended at the brutality that is sometimes seen within nature, the information does significantly lessen or reduce the overall “red in tooth and claw” image of nature, to a much lesser extent than normally perceived. And even though we do see physical death for all of God’s created creatures, including ourselves, plus our universe and our planet, we are consistently reminded within the Old Testament and New Testament that this physical life is temporal.
The life God has given us is a gift, with free will choices, to bring us to an awareness of ourselves and our predisposition to sin, an awareness of our need for a Saviour, to save us from ourselves, an awareness of His love for us and our need to be at one with Him again through the grace He has provided to us through His Son Jesus Christ.
John 3:16 NIV: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Luke 12:4-5 ESV reads: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!