Is there Biblical evidence that animal death was a consequence of the Fall?

Protestants who subscribe to either Old Earth creationism (or progressive creationism) and those who subscribe to Theistic Evolution, often also believe that there is no Biblical warrant for the Young Earth Creationist to say that animal death must be the result of the fall. When one looks to Genesis one finds no explicit claim to the effect that death itself was introduced into the order of living things by sin. Therefore, the debate doesn’t take the passages in Genesis to be at the root of contention. Rather, it is in the book of Romans, where Paul is fleshing out his doctrine of original sin, that the debate begins. Paul says:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned”
~Romans 5:12

This passage seems to suggest that death came into the world through sin. However, the progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists will argue that when you continue reading from that point, successive passages make it clear that it is speaking of spiritual death, for it contrasts the death introduced by this sin, with the life introduced by the Grace of God through Jesus Christ, and suggests that eternal life and righteousness are the opposite of this ‘death’. Young Earth creationists respond by pointing out, however, that though Romans goes on to speak of spiritual death in particular, that doesn’t preclude this initial passage of speaking of death in all its senses. The Young Earth creationist thus reads the fall as a cosmic catastrophe. Thus they will point to other passages in Romans which may reflect this more cosmic sense of the way death is introduced into creation.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.”
~Romans 8:19-24

However, too hastily do Protestants of either the Old Earth creationist or Theistic evolutionist persuasions conclude that there are no passages in the Bible which directly indicate that the fall was also the cause of animal and even plant death. Evidence for such passages, however, may be found somewhere protestants wouldn’t think to look. In the book of Wisdom it says this:

God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.  For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
~Wisdom 1:13-14

Granted that this passage is taken more seriously by Catholics and Orthodox than by Protestants, precisely because the reformation removed this book from the Canon which Protestants use, still this passage may be a good reason for even the Protestant to change her mind. How? Well, when one reads Romans in the light of the book of wisdom one finds close parallels throughout. For example, the famous passage in Romans about the beauty of creation (Romans 1:20-23) is almost exactly paralleled by Wisdom (Wisdom 13:1-9). We can also point out, as I have elsewhere done, that Paul clearly makes use of the book of Wisdom in some other of his epistles. Clearly Paul was both familiar with the book of Wisdom, and freely used it in developing his articulation of Christian Kerygma. That doesn’t entail, to the Protestant’s credit, that the book of Wisdom is inspired, but as a merely exegetical point it seems worth asking whether in the controversial passage above (in Romans) he was not also drawing directly from the book of Wisdom. I think it plausible that he was, and moreover plausibly more plausible than not.

So, the Young Earth Creationist (with whom, for the record, I do not agree) may not be so obviously wrong about this point in particular. The Scripture, read properly, does seem to suggest that sin was cataclysmic, and introduced death of both physical and spiritual kinds into the world. However, I am approximately a theistic evolutionist (with some reservations about how the theory of evolution is best articulated, as I agree with the Intelligent Design theorists to this extent at least: that natural selection is not a sufficient mechanism on its own to produce the diversity of life we observe), and I would hold both of those beliefs by appealing to the idea of an angelic fall which precedes the fall of man, and argue that this cataclysmic event was what caused the introduction of death into the physical world. In that, the Book of Wisdom seems to articulate its theology such that it confirms this speculation:

but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
~Wisdom 2:24

As a further note, Dr. William Lane Craig recently argued on his Reasonable Faith podcast that Dembski’s view that Adam and Eve caused the fall from the point of the big bang, presumes middle knowledge on God’s part. However, I think he is mistaken – on the presumption of the B-theory of time, one need only appeal to two-way determinism (or else two-way causation) to argue that events in the future can cause events in the past. I have reservations about Dembski’s theory, as I have already said here, but it remains an intellectually live avenue by which one can concede this point to the Young Earth Creationist (that sin introduced all manner of death into the world) and yet not follow the YEC all the way to their Young-Earth position.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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5 Responses to Is there Biblical evidence that animal death was a consequence of the Fall?

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting post, on an interesting topic in theology, Although I don’t agree with you, I find your writing more intellectual than the other Christian blogs I’ve stumbled upon. I’m fascinated by how Christians today approach evolution, since the US has about 50% of its population believing in YEC. What position would you say best describes your view on evolution?

    1. Evolution is a natural process that was started by god in the beginning;
    2. Evolution is partly natural process that god occasionally interacts with and guides;
    3. Evolution is a process that is completely guided by god at every step; or,
    4. Evolution is false and doesn’t happen.

    • Thank you for your question Mike. This is an issue about which I have a lot to say, but I will attempt to keep it brief for now. I used to be a very ardent defender of Theistic Evolution when I finally came to understand the theory of evolution properly, in great part thanks to the work of Kenneth R. Miller. However, when I began to believe that the theory of evolution was correct, I got ahead of myself and adopted, rather uncritically, evolutionary psychology, along with various philosophical commitments which came along with evolution, unbeknownst to me. For instance, I became very sympathetic with Pierre Teilhard-de-Chardin, and even agreed with Daryl P. Domning’s view of original sin.

      Two different lines of evidence have since dissuaded me from adopting a facile and uncritical approval of evolutionary theory and what we might call the evolutionary paradigm. First, theologically, I became a Catholic, and it was in reading the papal encyclicals, particularly Humani Generis from Pope Pius XII, that I had found what I considered good reasons for taking a step back and reassessing some of my evolutionary commitments. Second, philosophically, I took a harder look at the Intelligent Design theory proposals of people like William Dembski and Stephen Meyer and became sympathetic when I realized that all of the objections raised against such proposals were very bad short-sighted objections. I became impressed with the way this issue has been discussed in the philosophy of science literature, and in particular found authors such as Howard J. Van Till and Alvin Plantinga raising interesting points on both sides. However, it was after I had to think seriously about teleology and substantial forms, thanks to the work of people like Leibniz, and modern thinkers like Dennis Bonnette, that I became more sympathetic to the intelligent design movement.

      I see no theological difficulty with affirming the theory of evolution in basic outline, though I do think that an evolutionary paradigm may be wider-reaching than the biological theory itself (for instance the biological theory is not contrary to God’s providential direction of the evolutionary process, as William Lane Craig has proved). Any problems I have with the biological theory, therefore, come from difficulties I see with the supposed adequacy of natural selection operating alone (for instance, in the absence of teleological causation in the natural world). I do not toe the line for either Intelligent Design theorists or for those who defend wholesale evolutionary theory, and I continue to describe myself as a theistic evolutionist, but that label is, in reality, not a tight fit for me given my concerns about teleology and the empirical inadequacy of natural selection.

      What I like to do with those who affirm evolutionary theory is to make them stipulate under what conditions they could imagine the theory as it now stands being falsified, so that a new post-darwinian evolutionary theory(i.e., one which appeals to something more than natural selection operating alone) would become an option. For instance, if they agree that intelligent design is logically possible, then I would ask them what kind of evidence would exist if it were true, and then ask whether such evidence doesn’t already exist. Most of the time the critic of ID will forfeit this gambit when they realize that any evidence we could imagine for ID already obtains given the empirical data, and argue instead that ID is not a scientific hypothesis or that it violates the constraint of methodological naturalism. At that point, though, the discussion has moved away from being a scientific one and has become a more basic and important discussion about the philosophy of science. That, I am convinced, is where the conversation needs to go if it is to advance.

      However, I’ll reiterate again in closing that I can see no conflict between theism and evolutionary theory, or even evolutionary theory and real thick-blooded orthodox Catholic Christianity. Where my problem lies is in the philosophy of science, and the modern presumption, even among ID theorists, that teleological causes do not exist. Hope that helps clear some things up. My commitments are such that I feel comfortable affirming both 1) and 3) of your list above (so long as by 3 you would permit me to mean that God is weakly actualizing, rather than always strongly actualizing, that which happens, by allowing it to occur under his guidance rather than directly bringing this or that evolutionary phase about), and I am open to arguments for or against 2). 4) seems absurd to me unless by evolution you mean ‘by natural selection alone’ in which case I’m agnostic about 4), leaning more towards dis-affirming it than affirming it.

      • Mike says:

        I like Ken Miller and think he’s a great educator on evolutionary theory. He’s even debated ID theorists. I’m just really glad that theists in large numbers now are embracing evolution after so many years of denial. But now it seems a new debate has arrived over whether the process is guided or not. If I was a theist, I would like Dr. Francis Collins, think that a good creator could simply start off the universe and have life self arise and be sustained by natural processes with no need to intervene. Where do you find inadequacies in natural selection?

      • Teleology could be a natural process. Where I have difficulty with natural selection operating alone is where the math doesn’t add up. Given the diversity and number of beneficial mutations in a given period of time natural selection doesn’t explain the data. If natural selection were operating alone then we wouldn’t observe so many beneficial mutations in such short periods of time.

        I recommend looking up the work of people like Dembski and Meyer for more. I could also recommend you listen to the podcast “Unbelievable?” Out of the UK, which hosts two guests ever show (usually a Christian and an atheist) and has them cordially debate on some topic. That show has often aired debates on intelligent design. I have also seen many debates with Ken Miller and others like him, and that is in part why I am not so impressed with him. Francis Collins practically is an ID theorist himself (he just opts for saying ‘biologos’ instead of ‘intelligent design’).

        Ultimately evolutionary theory is just a side issue. I think the bigger issue is over whether naturalism or theism are true. I can think of no good arguments for naturalism, and I think we can prove to a rational certainty that God exists. That is really the bigger issue, and that will feed into our philosophy of science (for instance by presenting our options differently).

      • Mike says:

        It seems that from a theist’s perspective there is the assumption of design for everything until there exists a sufficient natural explanation, and from the naturalist’s perspective there is the assumption that everything has a natural explanation until there exists a sufficient supernatural one. But the thing is, there has never been a sufficient supernatural explanation ever given to explain anything, but we have lots of natural ones. In fact, every sufficient explanation we have is a natural one. So considering this fact, whose perspective should appear more justified, the naturalist’s or the supernaturalist’s?

        A sufficient supernatural explanation means one that has thorough explanatory power, and addresses the ‘how’ question. If not, it just adds more mystery. But I cringe at the idea of the scientific community simply closing the book on a particular subject and simply adducing that “God did it”. Where would we be today if that was our preferred methodology? Also, a sufficient supernatural explanation means that there can never be and will never be a sufficient natural one for it. Are you prepared to stake your claim in specific areas regarding certain things you don’t understand on this presumption? What will you do if and when a sufficient natural explanation arises?

        And “prove” is a strong word. If we have proof, than where does faith come into play? Isn’t faith stressed above all else in almost every religion?

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