01/30/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 2

© Camillo Maranchon | 123rf.com- skeleton of a velociraptor dinosaur

In an appendix to their classic book, The Genesis Flood, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris discussed the question of “Paleontology and the Edenic Curse.” They questioned the validity what they referred to as “uniformitarian paleontology,” which dated the formation of fossil layers in hundreds of millions of years, not the thousands of years allotted in their own timeline for creation. This uniformitarianism assumed the death of billions of animals by natural or violent means and the extinction of untold species of animals, like dinosaurs, before the Fall of Adam. “Long ago before the Edenic curse giant flesh-eating monsters like Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth, slashing their victims with ferocious dagger-like teeth and claws.”

But how can such an interpretation of the history of the animal kingdom be reconciled with the early chapters of Genesis? Does the Book of Genesis, honestly studied in the light of the New Testament, allow for the reign of tooth and claw and death and destruction before the Fall of Adam?

In Part 1 of this article we looked at some of the challenges to the modern young earth (YEC) theodicy that Whitcomb and Morris birthed with their book.  The organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG) seems to be at the forefront of the current debate over how to interpret Genesis 1-11 from this perspective. For AiG, the age of the earth, the day of creation in Genesis 1 and whether there was animal death before the Fall are all tied together into the same bundle. Writing for AiG in “Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?,” Simon Turpin said:

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

Along with others, the work of David Snoke in A Biblical Case for an Old Earth was presented as evidence countering the YEC and AiG claim that their interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the only biblically valid one. Dr. Snoke said that if you were to acknowledge that the Bible taught animals died before the Fall, many of the other objections to an old earth melted away. Here I’d like to further unpack another of his statements, “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.”

Dr. Snoke noted where YECs like AiG and Whitcomb and Morris identified the Edenic curse in Genesis 3:14-24 as the origination of carnivorous animals. Before the Fall they were said to have been herbivores. Whitcomb and Morris stated that the sharp claws and teeth of the carnivores came from the Fall: “The point is that such specialized structures appeared for the first time after the Edenic curse.” Yet there is no discussion in Scripture of how these modifications (dare we say evolved?) or new species emerged, according to Snoke. “Nowhere does it say that new species of animals [or alterations to existing species] will appear or that the entire order of the physical world will change.”

Snoke suggested that two different interpretive models of the creation, fall and new creation played a role in the debate over whether animal death occurred before the Fall. The models are illustrated below in the following table reproduced from A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. 

View I

World of

Genesis 1-2

World of

Revelation 21-22

Our world

(digression)

View II

World of

Revelation 21-22

World of

Genesis 1-2

Our world

In the first model, the original created world and the new heavens & earth of Revelation are essentially the same. The lost, perfect Edenic world is restored; and our present world is radically different from either. In support of this perspective, the imagery of the Garden of Eden found in Revelation 22:1-3 is noted: There is the Tree of Life, a river and the declaration that “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Snoke does not further elaborate on this model, but the assumed lack of death, disease, and suffering for animals (what AiG calls natural evil) and humans before the Fall would fit in equating them.

In the section of his article addressing whether there was natural evil before the Fall, AiG’s Terry Mortenson said the declaration by God was that his creation was “very good.” Not only did this indicate that land creatures were vegetarian before the Fall, but how could “millions of years of death and other natural evil be called ‘very good’?” He went on to Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25-26, which speak of a future state of creation, where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together; the lion eats straw like the ox; the cow and the bear will graze together and their young will lie down together.

The scene in view is one of complete peace and harmony. For some animals to hunt and kill other animals is described as hurting, destroying, and doing evil. Given this language, is it really possible that carnivores would be destroying other animals (whether healthy or diseased) and earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and asteroid impacts causing animal death and extinction would be happening for hundreds of millions of years in God’s “very good” creation before Adam sinned?

In the second model, the original created world and our current world are essentially the same. The old earth premise is that things are as they appear. Here, the world to come in Revelation is utterly different. Dr. Snoke illustrated the differences by comparing Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-3. Revelation 21 said there will be no more sea, night or sun, while the sea, sun and night are part of the created order in Genesis 1. Also it’s “the first heaven and the first earth” that has passed away in Revelation 21:1.

In other words, the heaven and earth of Genesis 1 (presented in Gen. 1:1) are lumped in together with our present heaven and earth, as a unity that will be destroyed when Christ comes again to make all things new. There is no mention in Scripture of a major physical change of the world at the fall.

The Garden of Eden is a type of heaven in the second model, but not equal to it. Other types in Scripture include the temple in Jerusalem for the true temple of God in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-5). King David was a type of the Messiah.  The Garden gives us a picture of heaven as the temple in Jerusalem does of the holiness of God in his heavenly throne room. “The Garden was a space of special protection made for human beings, where God walked with man.”

John Walton seems to have a similar sense to David Snoke of the Garden of Eden in The Lost World of Genesis One. He said scholars have recognized the temple and tabernacle contained a good bit of imagery from the Garden of Eden. They also point out how gardens commonly adjoined sacred space in the ancient world. Strictly speaking then, the Garden of Eden in Walton’s view was not a garden for man, but the garden of God. Walton then quoted biblical scholar Gordon Wenham, who said:

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.

Outside of this Garden, according to Snoke, was the dangerous natural world. The model fits with God forcefully driving the man from the Garden he had been originally charged to work and keep. Instead of dwelling in the pleasant and peaceful Garden, God banished him into the outer darkness where “nature, red in tooth and claw” was the rule. There the ground was cursed and he would work it by the sweat of his brow and eat of it in pain. He said:

In my view, the powerful forces that existed outside the Garden, which included darkness, the sea, and carnivorous animals, existed prior to the fall as judgments held in readiness, as visible threats to Adam and Eve of the contrast between their protected state of grace and the possible consequences of leaving God’s presence.

There seems to be enough biblical evidence to say animals died before the Fall. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is also credible biblical evidence to allow for the old earth creation acceptance of millions of years for the process. Things in our world today are as they appear. The nature of animal life was not changed from grass eaters to meat eaters by the Edenic curse. Nature, red in tooth in claw existed outside the Garden before the Fall, apparently for millions of years, and became part of human existence when we were banished from the Garden—until Christ comes again to make everything new. Maranatha.

01/19/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 1

© master1305 | stockfresh.com

In this short video, you will see two lions stalking, and then one of them killing, a zebra. The two zebras are caught by surprise; but one got away unharmed. The photographer then seems to have edited the incident to show a somewhat later confrontation between one of the lions and the unharmed zebra over the downed and dying zebra. Eventually that zebra runs off when it is apparent its partner isn’t getting up. Now let’s see how your interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis will influence your understanding of what you see in the video.

How does “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” fit into God’s plan? Tennyson wrestled with this question his 1850 poem, In Memoriam. Under the influence of geologists like Charles Lyell, there was a growing acceptance of uniformatarianism over catastrophism in Victorian England. Uniformatarianism suggested the earth’s geologic processes in the past acted with essentially the same intensity as they do in the present. Catastrophism held that the earth originated through supernatural means; while a series of catastrophic events, such as the biblical Flood, formed what geologists saw in rock formations and anthropologists found in fossils.

The acceptance of long, geologic periods of time in uniformatarianism challenged the belief originating with Bishop Ussher that the age of the earth was around 6,000 years old. See “Crumbling Pillars?” and “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on Ussher. However, catastrophism fits with a younger view of the age of the earth. Belief in the truth of the Bible seemed to be undermined by this new geologic theory. “After the discoveries of Charles Lyell, and other geologists, discoveries which undermined the literal truth of the Bible, could one retain one’s faith in Christianity?”

A better way of stating the above dilemma would be that the discoveries of Lyell and others undermined a literal interpretation of biblical passages that had been used to support a younger age for the earth. An older earth was at odds with interpreting Genesis 1 to mean God accomplished his creative works in the space of six consecutive twenty-four hour days. A variety of approaches to interpret the creation days in Genesis 1 have been suggested, as Vern Poythress reviewed in his booklet, Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1. Some of the approaches are: the mature-creation theory, the gap theory, the intermittent-day theory, the analogical days theory and the day-age theory. See the link for a free pdf of the booklet and a description of the various approaches noted here.

Young earth creationists, like Answers in Genesis (AiG), will argue that all death, human and animal, was the result of the Fall. Writing for AiG, Simon Turpin said in Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?, “Human physical and spiritual death, together with the death of animals, came about through the disobedience of one man.” That man, of course, was Adam. Turpin laid out biblical support for linking human and animal death as the result of the Fall by looking at nine “key passages” from Genesis 1, 2 and 3 through Revelation 21-22. Although he gave the impression that he has thoroughly researched and exegeted the issue, I have serious reservations with his discussion of the evidence and his conclusions.

For example, he gave the standard AiG argument for why the days of creation in Genesis must be understood as 24-hour days and should not be understood in any other sense. The genre of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not poetic, according to Turpin. Genesis 1-11 is historical narrative in the same way Genesis 12-50 is: “There is no transition from non-historical to historical and it is not treated as a separate literary category from Genesis 12–50.” Additionally, “The days of Genesis 1 are six literal 24-hour days (Exodus 20:11) which occurred around 6,000–10,000 years ago.” This is the crux of the AiG argument against old earth creation and their rejection of animal death before the Fall. See “Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is?,” “What’s In A Day?” and “Genealogies In Genesis” for challenges and alternatives to an AiG position on Genesis 1 and the age of the earth.

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

A second given reason by Turbin and AiG that Genesis 1 suggested there was no death before Adam’s Fall was “the vegetarian diet prescribed to both man and animals in Genesis 1:29-30 ruling out any carnivorous behavior before the Fall.” In his commentary on Genesis 1-4, C. John Collins pointed out that while Genesis 1:29-30 does say humans and animals were given plants to eat, “it does not say they ate nothing else.” Moreover, if we take the passage to mean a vegetarian diet for these animals, it only applies to creatures living on the land. “It says nothing about anything that lives in the water, many of which are carnivorous.”

Collins also said it was a mistake to read Genesis 2:17 as implying that physical death did not effect the creation before the Fall. He thought the focus of this death was spiritual death, addressed to Adam alone (the “you” is masculine singular); and is then appropriated by the woman in Genesis 3:2-3. “It applies to human beings and says nothing about the animals.”

From all of this we may conclude that Genesis does say that changes have come into human nature as a result of the fall—pain in childbearing, other afflictions of body and soul, death, frustration in ruling creation—but it does not follow that nonhuman nature is affected in the same way.

Turbin also cited Geerhardus Vos’s seminal book, Biblical Theology a couple of times in support of his assertions. Vos’s discussion in the passage both quotes by Turpin were taken was from was a section where Vos addressed “the principle of death symbolized by the dissolution of the body.” Vos was countering the view that human death preceded the Fall and had nothing to say about animal death. We could go on, but my intention was to illustrate how there are alternate possible interpretations of the passages cited by Turbin and other views of the six creation days of Genesis 1 that can fit with a biblical sense of the text. The AiG way to interpret Genesis 1-11 is not the only biblically legitimate way.

Ted Davis wrote a provocatively titled article for BioLogos, “Does Death Before the Fall Make God a Liar?” He addressed the same young earth creationist (YEC) and AiG claim that animal death was a direct result of the Fall. Davis reflected on a critique of a special issue of the Christian Research Journal devoted to the question, “Where Do We Come From?” The author of the AiG article, “Compromised Creation,” said she appreciated how the articles demonstrated “the impossibility of Darwinian evolution and the bankruptcy of theistic evolution.” But she found the issue dangerously compromised since many of the authors accepted an old earth. There was a general assumption of millions of years of living and dying.

There can be no argument that the fossil record is a graveyard full of evidence of disease, violence, carnivory, suffering, and death. To assume (as many authors implicitly do in this journal) that such miseries were all part of God’s “very good” creation (so named by God in Genesis 1:31) is to impugn God’s character. If God had called a world already full of bloodshed and death “very good,” then He either had a cruel sense of irony or didn’t know what He was talking about, or worse, He is a liar.

Davis pointed to Psalm 104, which praises God for the many wonders in creation; including the young lions who “roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” There is the sea, which teams with innumerable creatures, both small and great. “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” (Psalm 104:27-28). Davis said he doesn’t see how to reconcile this Psalm with YEC theodicy.

In A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, David Snoke said if you conceded that the Bible teaches that animals died before the Fall, many of the objections to an old earth fade away. “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.” He thought that from a scientific standpoint, either the earth was old, or simply appeared old. However, there are theological problems in the mature creation or appearance of age view for both science and YEC/AiG.

In Redeeming Science (pp. 116ff; a pdf copy is linked here) Vern Poythress noted several different objections to the appearance of age view. First, a mature creation view implies that God has deceived us. Second, it makes scientific investigation illegitimate. Thirdly, from an AiG perspective, it would falsely imply that death preceded the Fall. Lastly, again causing problems for the YEC and AiG understanding of the Flood, it would undermine their understanding of the biblical teaching of Noah’s flood.

Dr. Snoke presented what he saw as two valid interpretive options on the age of the earth from a scientific viewpoint, meaning he accepted that scientific evidence in both would suggest an old earth. Vern Poythress then showed how a consistent mature creation view of creation could lead into both theological and scientific problems for a young earth that only give the appearance of being old.

So it seems the “nature, red in tooth and claw” illustrated in the opening video can fit within an interpretation of Genesis 1 consistent with an old earth view. Attempting to combine the origins of human and animal death in the manner done by YEC and AiG is both scientifically and theologically invalid. Look for more discussion on this issue in Part 2 of this article.