Many Christians believe that animals had been ‘savagely kill[ing] and devour[ing] each other’ for millions of years before people arrived on the scene to make a mess of things. This is obviously somewhat difficult to swallow. Is it proof that God doesn’t exist (e.g., Quentin Smith)? Or was it the only way in which God could have created us (e.g., Christopher Southgate)? Or is it a consequence of a much earlier angelic rebellion (e.g., Michael Lloyd)? Or is it a ‘retroactive effect’ of the fall of humanity (e.g., William Dembski)? Or is it a feature of a creation that is ‘very good’, but untamed and not yet perfect (e.g., Ronald Osborn)?
But hold on: wouldn’t the problem vanish entirely if we simply followed young-age creationism, and asserted that there was no violence and agony in creation before the fall of humanity?
Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. It seems neither plausible nor justifiable.
First, is it plausible? Many animals have complex structures that are perfectly suited for killing other animals. How did that happen, if this wasn’t part of God’s original creation? Various possibilities are considered in The Answers Book (I have the 1999 edition, by Don Batten, Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati and Carl Wieland: see chapter 6):
- Maybe these structures had a different use before the fall? This ‘risks stretching credibility to the limit’ (p. 97).
- Maybe God created predators after the fall? But creation was finished at the end of the sixth day, and there are no hints that the fall was a creative event.
- Maybe the genetic information was present before the fall, but only expressed afterwards? But it is difficult to imagine how that would have happened.
- Maybe God ‘redesigned’ existing creatures after the fall? There are hints that the nonhuman creation was changed as a result of the fall (changes to the serpent, Gen 3:14, and thorns and thistles, Gen 3:18).
Todd Wood and Megan Murray take up this final point (Understanding the Pattern of Life, p. 161). They argue that, in a fallen world, with animals getting sick and dying, it is necessary for animals to hunt and kill each other in order to ‘control population sizes’ and ‘eliminate sick organisms to keep populations healthy’. But it is far from obvious that this is true. Populations will naturally be limited by finite resources, and sick animals will die anyway.
In any case, the suggestion that God might have ‘redesigned’ creatures at the fall (1) involves massive extrapolation from the hints in Genesis 3, and (2) makes the fall sound awfully like a creative event, given how radically some creatures would need to be ‘redesigned’.
In terms of plausibility, then, the origin of animal predation remains one of the big unresolved problems for young-age creationism.
Second, is it justifiable? The problem is that it looks very unfair for God to punish innocent creatures for human sin, by making them start to kill and eat each other. Theistic evolutionist Ronald Osborn refers in his book Death Before the Fall to a conversation he had with creationist Nicholas Miller below one of the latter’s blog posts. Acknowledging ‘that predation in nature raise issues of theodicy for both creationists and theistic evolutionists’, Miller suggests why God might have introduced predation after the fall:
My view would be that, as Paul teaches in Romans, nature was subjected to the effects of sin so that it might create a path back to redemption for mankind. The thorn and the thistle, nature red in tooth and claw, show the outworking of the philosophy of egoism and selfishness, and are part of man’s education, making him aware of the importance of the principles of God.
Osborn takes him to task on this (Death Before the Fall, p. 138):
But what kind of Creator would punish Adam and Eve’s rebellion—whether retroactively or proximately—by bending the rest of his creation from a state of perfect peace into so many malign forms, supernaturally summoning into existence the snake’s venom and the jaguar’s teeth and commanding innocent creatures to begin devouring one another for the moral instruction or chastisement of humans?
Where does this leave us? Whether we are young-age creationists, old-age creationists, or evolutionary creationists, we are faced with difficult questions. Animal agony is clearly less than ideal. We do not expect it to continue into the renewed creation (Isaiah 11:6-9). So why is there so much animal agony in the present creation? I don’t think there are any easy answers.
I’m currently leaning towards Ronald Osborn’s solution. ‘Very good’ is not the same as ‘perfect’, and Osborn suggests that a ‘very good’ creation could still contain much that is wild, untamed, and fierce. After all, why else was humanity called to ‘subdue’ the earth (Gen 1:28)? This raises all sorts of questions, of course. But it could potentially provide a solution that would fit into both young-age and old-age frameworks. To be continued…