A very controversial issue within the church today involves the question of millions of years of animal death, disease, predation, extinction and other natural evils such earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Can this evolutionist view of the history of natural evil be harmonized with the Bible’s apparent teaching that all of this evil is the consequence of the Fall of Adam in sin and God’s subsequent curse? This paper will discuss biblical and theological reasons in defense of the historically orthodox Christian understanding of the Fall. I will argue that to maintain a consistent biblical hermeneutic and to uphold the inerrant authority of Scripture Christians must reject the widely held belief in millions of years of natural evil in the non-human creation before Adam was created. Belief in young-earth creationism is biblically required.
This article was originally published in The Journal of Ministry and Theology 16 (Spring 2012): 122–158. It is posted here with the kind permission of the publisher, Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. BBS is a seminary committed to biblical creationism and a young earth. A subscription to the journal can be obtained here.
This paper was also presented at the annual conference of the International Society of Christian Apologetics Conference on April 29, 2011, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina. This is a revised and expanded version.
A very controversial issue within the church today involves the question of millions of years of animal death, disease, predation, extinction and other natural evils, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Can this evolutionist view of the history of natural evil be harmonized with the Bible? In particular, is the Bible’s teaching on the Fall of Adam and its consequences and on the character of God compatible with millions of years of natural evil?
Prominent New York pastor and author Tim Keller states the problem this way in a recent white paper for the theistic evolutionist group, Biologos Forum.
One of the greatest barriers to belief in God is the problem of suffering and evil in the world. Why, people ask, did God create a world in which violence, pain, and death are endemic? The answer of traditional theology is—he didn’t. He created a good world but also gave human beings free will, and through their disobedience and ‘Fall’, death and suffering came into the world. The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops. If God brings about life through evolution, how do we reconcile that with the idea of a good God? The problem of evil seems to be worse for the believer in theistic evolution.1
In his article Keller provides no real solution to this serious problem for his theistic evolution view. But careful attention to the Bible’s teaching on the Fall and its consequences as well as on Christ’s redemptive work in response to the Fall requires Bible-believing Christians to reject the idea of millions of years of natural evil before Adam. The character of God also militates against this evolutionary view of earth history.
Evolutionists say that during the course of millions of years, death, bloodshed, suffering, disease and extinction directionless natural processes of change in living creatures eventually led to man’s existence. The late evolutionary astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, “The secrets of evolution are time and death: time for the slow accumulation of favorable mutations, and death to make room for new species.”2
The fossils, which the evolutionists say represent millions of years of history, are not simply a record of life, but also of death. Creatures are not buried where they lived and in most cases not even where they died. They are buried where they were buried usually by catastrophic flood waters. And in many places around the world we see evidence of massive and violent carnage in fossil graveyards containing hundreds of thousands or even millions of former living creatures packed in high concentrations.3
So, whether Christians believe in Neo-Darwinian evolution, or they believe that God supernaturally created different kinds of plants and animals occasionally during the course of millions of years, they are still adopting an evolutionary view of death and natural evil when they accept millions of years.
But the biblical teaching on death is very clear and consistent from Genesis to Revelation. Genesis 1 says six times that during Creation Week God called the creation “good.” When He finished creation on Day 6, He called everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31). That “very good” state is reflected partially by the fact that man, land animals and birds were originally vegetarian, according to Genesis 1:29–30. In fact, Genesis tells us that man was not given permission to eat meat until after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). Given the connection between man and land creatures in 1:29–30, this would add further support to the idea that land creatures were vegetarian before the Fall. Another indication of the nature of the “very good” original creation is that the first thing God describes as “not good” is simply that Adam was alone (Genesis 2:18). If that is “not good,” how could millions of years of death and other natural evil be called “very good”?
Furthermore, Isaiah 11:6–9 and 65:25–26 shed light on the meaning of “very good.” These passages speak of a future state of the creation when the wolf will graze and lie down with the lamb, the lion will eat grass like the ox, and the child will play with a cobra. These creatures which are now dangerous carnivores “will not hurt or destroy” (11:9) and “will do no evil or harm” (65:25) “in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. 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?
Someone might object that Genesis 1:29–30 does not explicitly mention sea creatures. And since many sea creatures (such as sharks) eat other sea creatures, this means there was death in the oceans before the Fall and so there could have been animal death on the land, too. But this argument fails for several reasons.
First, it does indeed seem correct to say that verses 29–30 only specifically refer to land creatures. This is speaking of the sixth day of creation and the focus is on man and land animals, which were made with Adam and Eve on that day. Also, the fish of the sea are mentioned in v. 28, along with birds and land animals, as part of man’s dominion, but the fish are not mentioned again in v. 30. Additionally, man is told to eat from “every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed,” which clearly points us to the plants that God created on the dry land on Day 3. The reference to “every green plant” in verse 30 surely points back to the same plants in verse 29. Therefore, we cannot dogmatically say based solely on these two verses that no sea creature was a carnivore before the Fall. However, we also cannot say with any confidence that this means that some sea creatures were carnivores. That is an argument from silence. Also, what these sea creatures eat in this present post-Fall world is not proof of what they must have eaten in the pre-Fall creation.
Furthermore, since Genesis 1:29–30 indicate that neither Adam and Eve nor the land animals and birds were carnivorous before the Fall in the “very good” creation, it seems very reasonable (apart from any explicit biblical evidence to the contrary) to conclude that sea creatures were also not carnivores in that “very good” creation. There seems to have been plenty of plant life in the oceans before the Flood, as evidenced by the fact that most oil apparently comes from marine algae, zooplankton and phytoplankton.4 Seaweed would also be plenteous (which can be a source of food even for many land animals).5 Based on how the Bible defines “living creatures” (Hebrew: nephesh chayyah), we would conclude that neither algae nor phytoplankton nor zooplankton are living creatures and therefore eating them would not constitute carnivorous behavior or death.6 We would conclude the same about krill and many marine invertebrates.7
But evidence of carnivorous behavior is found in the fossil record, for example, one fish fossilized in the stomach of a larger fish. There is also evidence of land carnivores in the fossil record. This includes one creature fossilized in another creature’s stomach (e.g., a bird in the stomach of a dinosaur), or teeth marks in bones or the tooth of one animal in another creature’s bone.8 This death must have occurred after the “very good” creation was cursed at the Fall of Adam.
But since sharks, lions and many other creatures have sharp teeth, strong jaws and other features that were well designed for capturing and killing other creatures and other creatures have amazing defense structures and behaviors, doesn’t this prove that many creatures were carnivores right from the beginning? No, it is a demonstrable fact that creatures that are normally carnivores can survive on a vegetarian diet.9 Also, to change herbivores into carnivores God would not have needed to make changes to body parts. We know now that much of the genetic code that used to be called “junk DNA” has a regulatory role controlling the function of other genes. By His curse in Genesis 3, God could have simply “turned on some genetic switches” so that creatures’ behavior was changed.10 Using a computer metaphor, God didn’t have to change the hardware of creatures, but only turn on some of the software that He had built into the creatures at the beginning (but left in the “off” position) with the foreknowledge that man would sin and God would curse the creation.11 This is not a wild idea for it is implied by God’s judgment of Adam and Eve. Eve had increased pain in childbirth and the bodies of Adam and Eve began to suffer from processes that would eventually lead to death. Yet there is no reason to think that their body structures were significantly modified (or new body parts added) when God judged them.
Some Christians object to the young-earth view on death by saying that since people and animals ate plants, this shows that there was death before Adam. However, according to Genesis 1 and other Scripture passages, plants are not living in the same sense as people, animals, and birds are. Plants are never called “living creatures” (Hebrew: nephesh chayyah), as people, land animals, birds and sea creatures are called (Genesis 1:20–21, 24 and 30; Genesis 2:7 and 19–20; Genesis 6:19–20 and Genesis 9:10–17).12 So then, biblically speaking, plant “death” is categorically different than animal or human death.13 Since according to Genesis 1 animals were not carnivores in the pre-Fall “very good” world, we would expect that other natural evils (animal disease and death, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.) came after the Fall as well. The rest of the Bible confirms this expectation.
When Adam and Eve sinned, it resulted in the judgment of God on the whole creation, not just man. Instantly Adam and Eve died spiritually, evidenced by their hiding from God (Genesis 3:8). But they also began to die physically, as Paul clearly teaches in Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21–22. In the latter passage he says, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” That Paul had physical death in mind is seen from the context in both chapters. Paul links the death that Adam brought into the world through sin to the bloody death of Jesus for sin and the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the grave to give believers resurrection life and, in the future, immortal bodies that will never die physically.
But in Genesis 3 we also see that God’s judgment affected the non-human creation. The serpent, which Satan used to deceive Eve, was cursed, resulting in a physical transformation of some kind, either morphological or behavioral, as it began to crawl on its belly (Genesis 3:14). Since the same verse says that other animals were also cursed with the serpent,14 it is reasonable to conclude that they also were altered physically in some way, either morphologically or at least behaviorally.15 Eve was changed physically so as to have increased pain in child-birth (Genesis 3:16).16
Also, God cursed the ground itself (Genesis 3:17). The text is clear:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.”
It does not say that Adam would curse the ground later because of his future sinful activities, but rather that God cursed the ground at that moment because of Adam’s past sin of obeying his wife’s command instead of God’s command about the forbidden fruit. That this understanding of Genesis 3:17 is correct is confirmed by Lamech’s statement 1000 years after Adam at the birth of Lamech’s son, Noah (Genesis 5:29). Lamech said, “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.” In Hebrew the words for “ground” and “curse” are exactly the same as those used in Genesis 3:17. Genesis 3 continues in verses 18–19:
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face You will eat bread, till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.
One evidence of this curse on the ground was that thorns and thistles “shall” grow for you and you “will” eat the plants as a result of sweaty labor. While there is no reason to think that that the Garden of Eden was exempt from this curse,17 God is primarily referring to the ground outside the Garden, from which Adam was taken and to which Adam and Eve were expelled and in which they would battle thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:23).
The whole earth was cursed again at Noah’s Flood, which destroyed the surface of the earth (including the Garden of Eden18), just as God said in Genesis 6:13. And after Noah’s sacrifice, God promised that He would never again destroy every living thing. Genesis 8:21 says, “The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done’.” This again confirms the interpretation of Genesis 3:17 above: “curse” here in 8:21 is the translation of a different but synonymous Hebrew term to the one used in 3:17, but the Hebrew word for “ground” in 8:21 is the same as in 3:17.
So, as in the case of the Fall, God did not judge only man in the Flood. The non-human creation also was judged. Because of man’s wickedness, millions of land animals and birds perished. With tsunamis set off by the fountains of the great deep breaking open (Genesis 7:11),19 millions of sea creatures would have also died as they were washed up on the land or buried in sediments coming off the land. The massive flooding would have also ripped up all the land vegetation.
This connection of God’s judgment of man with the suffering and death of non-human creatures associated with man is seen elsewhere in Scripture as well. For example, the first recorded animal death is implied by Genesis 3:21, when God made coats of skin as a covering for Adam and Eve. This seems the most logical explanation for how Abel knew to sacrifice animals from his flock for his sin (Genesis 4:4), which is the first explicit description of animal sacrifice in the Bible. The whole later sacrificial system of Israel shows that God used the death of innocent animals (“without blemish”) as a covering for sin. Accepting millions of years of animal death before the Fall breaks asunder this connection between animal death, sin, and restoration of man’s relationship with God.
In Deuteronomy 28:15–68, God threatened to curse the land, the crops and the livestock of the Jews, as well as judging the people themselves, because of their disobedience. This threat was executed many times in Israel’s history as the people rebelled against God. Again, the text is clear that these were curses that the Lord would bring on the nation in judgment, not something the Israelites themselves would do to their land, crops, and animals because of their bad farming practices or animal husbandry.
Similarly, in 2 Chronicles 7:12–14 we read that God’s blessing or judgment on the land is conditioned on Israel’s obedience.
Then the LORD appeared to Solomon at night and said to him, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The book of Jonah indicates that God’s threatened judgment of Nineveh would also include the death of the people’s animals (Jonah 4:11). Other verses that speak of God’s curse on the land, animals, and plants because of human sin include Jeremiah 7:20 and 12:4, Haggai 1:9–11, and Malachi 3:9–12 and 4:6.
In the New Testament, we see again this connection between the sin and redemption of man and the corruption and liberation of the non-human creation. Paul tells us in Romans 8:19–23, that presently the whole creation groans in slavery to corruption and futility, waiting for the final act in the redemption of Christians—giving them immortal resurrected bodies.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
Most commentators in the history of the church have identified this subjection of the creation to futility and corruption with God’s curse at the Fall. This is understandable since it is the only interpretation that really makes sense exegetically and theologically.20 The reference to “pains of childbirth” points to God’s judgment of Eve. The liberation of the creation is linked to the final redemption of Christians and therefore it is most reasonable to conclude that the bondage of the creation is linked to the Fall of man which necessitated redemption. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that in Romans 5:12, Paul has already established the fundamental importance of the Fall with regard to the gospel. Also, there is nothing in Genesis 1 that would lead us to think that the creation was at that time already in bondage to corruption. Finally, it is contrary to the nature of God to think that God created the non-human creation enslaved to futility and suffering from the very beginning and then pronounced it all “very good.”21
When that future redemptive event happens at the return of Jesus Christ, we will see the “restoration” and “redemption” of “all things” to a state similar to but even better than the pre-Fall world, according to Acts 3:20–2122 and Colossians 1:15–20.23 Then there will be no more carnivorous behavior among animals (according to Isaiah 11:6–9) and no human disease, suffering, or death (according to Revelation 21:3–5) because there will be no more curse (according to Revelation 22:3).24 The curse came upon the creation at Adam’s Fall and will be removed at the Last Adam’s second coming. At that time there will also no longer be even the possibility of sin, so it will be an even better world than the pre-Fall “very good” creation.25
This understanding of the cosmic impact of the final redemptive work of Christ is the orthodox Christian view, as the systematic theology texts of Wayne Grudem and Millard Erickson affirm, though sadly they both have accepted millions of years of natural evil in the creation before the Fall.26
A few objections have been raised to this view of there being no natural evil before the Fall. One relates to the verbs used in Genesis 1:26 and 28. Here we are told that man was created to rule or have dominion (radah) over the sea creatures, birds and land animals.27 Radah does not necessarily mean abusive rule or that the ruler is having resistance from that which he rules. It can reflect a benevolent, peaceful rule.28 And that sense is consistent with the context in Genesis 1. The rulership of man over creation is part of God’s blessing on man and is a reflection of God's rule over His creation, which is benevolent, not abusive or oppressive. Man is to be sub-regent under God’s ultimate rule and so by implication man’s rule or dominion should be benevolent, not abusive. As Proverbs 12:10 teaches us, “a righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel.”
Furthermore, the use of radah in these verses tells us nothing about the nature of the creatures that Adam and Eve were to rule. Some sea creatures and most birds and land animals which man rules over today are vegetarian and not dangerous to man. In everyday life, man rules over (through domestication) many herbivores: camels, cows, water buffalo, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, elephants, chickens, turkeys, parakeets, etc., and man does not need to rule them in an abusive manner to be in control. Even dangerous animals like lions and sharks and crocodiles can be ruled in a non-abusive manner.
In Genesis 1:28 man is commanded to subdue (kabash) the earth. The text does not say that man should subdue the animals. Kabash means to take complete control of something, to make it subservient. The fact that God uses a different verb (radah) to refer to man’s “rule” over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything that moves on the earth, strongly suggests that “subdue” relates to the non-living creation and “rule” relates to the living creatures. But nothing in the context warrants reading into “subdue it [the earth]” the idea that the creation had been filled with natural evil (death, disease, extinction, asteroid impacts, tsunamis, etc) for millions of years prior to man. Man cannot really do anything about that large-scale natural evil even today with all his technologies. In the “very good” pre-Fall creation, “subdue” need not mean any more than taking control of the non-living resources of the earth and harnessing or managing them for the good of man. In modern terms it is a mandate to do science and develop technology, even as the early descendants of Adam mined ores, manufactured metals, and developed musical instruments, which undoubtedly involved much experimentation and observation (Genesis 4:22).
In Genesis 2:5 and 15 we read that Adam was to “cultivate” (’abad) the ground. Then after the Fall, Adam was sent out of the Garden to cultivate (’abad) the ground (Genesis 3:23). Would not this imply that the creation was the same before and after the Fall? No, because the ground was cursed at the Fall and thorns began to grow thereafter (Genesis 3:17–18). But why would the ground need to be cultivated in a “very good” creation? Several reasons come to my mind as possibilities: to aerate the soil for greater plant growth, to thin out vegetation to allow each plant more space for growth, to keep good plants from growing in undesirable places and to move plants to creatively make new plant arrangements in parts of the garden where there was open space. So the word “cultivate” cannot be declared to unequivocally prove that there were thorns and thistles and natural evils in the earth outside the Garden of Eden or even inside the Garden.
Genesis 2:8 says, “The LORD God planted a garden” within the existing creation. If the creation was already “very good,” it has been objected, why wasn’t it already as pristine as any garden could possibly be? Evidently God felt the creation outside His new garden needed some work. Hence, it could not have been “perfect.” In reply, the text indicates that God created the garden as a limited area in which to test Adam’s obedience. So, the presence of the special garden in a “very good” creation with no animal predation, disease, thorns, natural disasters, etc. is not a logical problem. Conversely, it is not logically or biblically necessary to conclude that the existence of the garden must imply that the world outside the garden was like today’s world, full of animal death, disease, predation, and natural disasters. Yes, “some work” was needed outside the garden: cultivation and care (Genesis 2:5, 15). But this in no way implies millions of years of natural evil.
So, to accept millions of years of animal death, disease and extinction along with hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural evil before the creation and Fall of man not only contradicts and destroys the Bible’s teaching about Creation Week and the Fall but it also undermines the Bible’s teaching regarding the full redemptive work of Christ.
Some important questions follow from the Bible’s teaching on the pre-Fall creation and the post-Fall curse. If God cursed the earth with thorns after Adam sinned (as Genesis 3:18 says, “both thorns and thistles [the ground] shall grow for you”),24 then why do we find fossil thorns in rock layers which the evolutionists claim are about 350 million years old?29 If the millions of years are true, then God lied about the thorns and thistles.30 Conversely, if Genesis 3:18 is true, then the evolutionist claim about millions of years must be a lie.
Another question must be considered. Did arthritis, gout, rickets, viruses, malaria and cancer exist in the “very good” world before man sinned? If the evolutionists’ dating methods are correct, the answer must be “yes,” because many kinds of disease have been found in animals in the fossil record,31 including arthritis, abscesses, and tumors in dinosaur bones dated to be 110 million years old. A researcher of these bones tells us that “diseases look the same through time . . . it makes no difference whether this is now or a hundred million years ago.”32 There is also considerable evidence of rickets, syphilis, dental disease, cannibalism, and other diseases in human fossil bones that evolutionists date to be tens or hundreds of thousands of years before any biblically plausible date for Adam.33 If the Bible is true, then those dates are false and there was no pre-Fall death and disease.
Furthermore, evolutionists insist that over the course of a half billion years there were five major extinction events or periods, when 65–90 percent of all species living at those particular times went extinct.34 They also claim many lesser extinction events or periods. If this was the way the creation was for millions of years, then what impact on the creation did the Fall and Curse have? None. Contrary to what the Bible teaches, the Fall would have only caused spiritual death in man.
In fact, we can go further and say that if the millions of years of death, disease, and extinction really did occur, then that “very good” creation of Genesis 1 was considerably worse than the world we now inhabit where occasionally habitats are polluted or destroyed and a few creatures are brought to extinction due to human sin. We have never seen in human history the kind of mass-kill, extinction events that the evolutionary geologists say occurred before man came into existence (unless, that is, we accept the global Flood of Noah’s day; but old-earth proponents reject the idea that Noah’s Flood was global).
Thinking in a logically consistent manner, we must rule out Noah’s Flood as a global Flood, if we accept the millions of years as fact. The reason is this. The same scientific establishment that dogmatically states that the geological record reflects millions of years of history also insists that there is no geological evidence of a global Flood, in human history or before man. To accept what the secular geologists say about the first point but to reject what they say about the second point is inconsistent. But to believe in a global Flood that occurred about 4000 years ago and left no lasting erosional and sedimentary geological evidence while believing that the geological effects of lesser floods occurring millions of years ago survived the ravages of time and Noah’s Flood until our day is most unreasonable. So we must decide: either we believe God’s Word about a global Flood or we believe in millions of years. We cannot consistently or logically believe in both.
So, if the millions of years really happened, then the Fall actually improved the world from what it was like in the “very good” pre-Fall creation. In this case, the curse at the Fall should actually be viewed as a great blessing!
We simply cannot legitimately argue what the pre-Fall creation was like on the basis of our experiences and observations in this present fallen world. We must draw all our conclusions from Scripture. But no statement in the Bible supports the notion that God’s “very good” creation was subjected to futility and in bondage to corruption involving millions of years of animal death, disease, predation, and extinction, along with natural evils such as tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanoes, and asteroid impacts.
I conclude then that if the Bible’s teaching on death, the Curse, and the final redemptive work of Christ is true, as it surely is, then the millions-of-years idea must be a grand myth, really a lie and one of the greatest deceptions designed (by men or demons) to destroy faith in the Bible and the gospel. Conversely, if the millions of years of natural evil really happened, then the Bible’s teaching on these subjects must be utterly false. But if so, this turns the gospel into the greatest deception, which in turn has great implications for the character of God, to which we now turn.
Closely related to this issue of death is the incompatibility of the idea of millions of years with the character of God, as revealed in Scripture.35
The events of creation in Genesis 1 were clearly miraculous. God spoke and things immediately came into existence. God did not speak and then wait millions of years for things to happen. The emphatic repetition in Genesis 1 of the phrases “let there be” or its equivalent (10 times), “and it was so” (7 times), “God saw that it was good” (7 times) and “there was evening and there was morning, the Xth day” (6 times) strongly indicates this.
It is also clear in Genesis 1 that God supernaturally created the first plants, sea creatures, birds, land animals, and the first human couple, because the description of those events is stated in a way that contrasts with the description of how other such creatures would come into existence after the original ones. The first creatures were the result of supernatural creation, the later ones were produced by natural procreation—i.e., by the natural growth of seeds in the fruit of the first plants or by the sexual reproduction of the first animal and human pairs.
Psalm 33:6–9 emphasizes this miraculous and instantaneous nature of the divine acts of creation when it says, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. . . . Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Likewise, the miracles of Jesus, the Creator who became man, show that when God speaks, the non-human creation responds immediately; all the miracles of Jesus were instantaneous in effect.
These facts support the conclusion that all the divine acts in Genesis 1 were essentially instantaneous or occurred in a miraculously short period of time, on the respective days they are reported to have occurred. Conversely, there is nothing in the text that indicates that God required or used thousands or millions of years to accomplish His objective in each act of creation.
Some questions follow from these observations. If the gap theory is true in placing millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, then what kind of God is it who would create the earth and all forms of life, except man, and then let them live and die for millions of years or die in a supposed flood associated with Satan’s fall (a flood for which there is no biblical evidence) before He recreated the world in six literal days with man in it and with creatures very similar to the ones He had already destroyed prior to man?36 What kind of God would create like this?
If the day-age view or framework hypothesis or any other old-earth interpretation of Genesis is true, then what kind of God is it who would create the earth instantly and then leave it covered with water for millions of years and then create dry land and plants and let them produce for millions of years before He made the sun or sea creatures, birds, land animals, and people, many of which use the plants for food? And what kind of God would make the sun, moon, and stars for the purpose of enabling man to measure the passage of time, but then wait billions of years before He made man to measure those years, seasons, or days by the movement of the heavenly bodies? Is any of this consistent with the wise God revealed in Scripture?
Or if we reject the order of events in Genesis 1 and say that the evolutionary order of appearance of the different creatures and the time-scale are correct, we have other theological problems. What kind of God would create the earth 4.5 billion years ago and let it exist for one billion years before He made the first microscopic creatures (protozoans37), and then wait another 2.9 billion years before He made the first metazoans,38 and then wait another 625 million years before He made Adam and Eve, who were the ultimate goal and pinnacle of His creation and who were made to rule over all the animals, most of whom lived and died before Adam and Eve were created?39 Again, is this way of creating consistent with the wisdom and omnipotence of God as He is revealed in Scripture?
And if God really created creatures in the order and over the long time-scales that evolutionists claim, does this not make God a deceiving liar or at least a very incompetent communicator when He inspired Moses to write the Genesis 1 account of the order of His creative acts?
If an old-earth creationist does not accept the order of things coming into existence in the evolutionary story, but only accepts the millions-of-years time-frame, then he is being very selective about what he will accept from the mainstream scientific majority just as he is selective about what to accept from the Bible. But this is inconsistent, since there is no scientific reason to accept the millions of years and at the same time to reject the order of events in the evolutionary story. If the order is rejected for biblical reasons (and there are good biblical reasons for doing so40), then there is no consistently biblical reason to accept the “scientific” claim of millions of years.
Furthermore, as we noted before, at the end of Creation Week God called everything that He had made “very good.” But could the God of Scripture really describe as “very good” a fossil graveyard of thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks covering the whole earth and containing billions of fossils of former living things? Could He really call cancer (as seen in dinosaur bones) “very good”? Could He call thorns and thistles “very good,” when in Genesis 3 He says they are the result of His curse? If God called all this death “very good” and if God told Adam that thorns were a consequence of his sin, when in fact they existed long before he was created, then again God lied, or He is totally incompetent in His use of language. But the biblical God is the God of truth, and as the Author of all language He is fully capable of saying exactly what He means. It is Satan who is a liar and a master deceiver (John 8:44, Revelation 12:9).
Additionally, if God created through a process (either progressive creation or theistic evolution) that involved millions of years of death, then He is very different from the God revealed in the post-Fall world. The God of the post-Fall world commanded His people (the Israelites) to take care of their animals and give them a day of rest (Exodus 20:10 and 23:12). The post-Fall God commanded the Israelites to help lost or trapped animals (Exodus 23:4–5). That God told them not to be cruel to their animals, such as muzzling an ox while it was threshing (Deuteronomy 25:4). The post-Fall God says that “a righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel” (Proverbs 12:10). That God says in many passages that He cares for the creatures of the earth in His fallen, cursed creation (Psalm 104:14–16 and 27–28; Psalm 145:14-16; Psalm 147:9; Jonah 4:11; Matthew 6:26; Luke 12:24).41
It has been objected that the same God ordered the Israelites to slaughter every breathing thing, including animals, in various instances (e.g., Deuteronomy 13:7–18, 1 Samuel 15:3). But the difference is that these were acts of divine judgment (to be executed through faithful Israelites) on wicked idolatrous people. Their animals perished just as did the animals living at the time of the judgment of Noah’s Flood. Neither of those situations is like the situation we have in the Genesis 1 “very good” creation or in the normal course of God’s care for animals and His commands for godly believers to treat their animals well.
If millions of years of death, disease, and massive extinction really occurred, then God is like the wicked man of Proverbs 12:10 and He was doing exactly the opposite of what He told the Jews to do. So then, those who accept of millions of years are assaulting (no doubt unconsciously and unintentionally) the character of Almighty God.
If God created over those millions of years, then He clearly was not intelligent enough and powerful enough to create a world right in the first place. Either He lacked the sovereign power to control His creation so that it did not destroy most of His previous work or He intentionally created obstacles to hinder Himself from accomplishing His intention of making a very good world. And then all along the way He kept making creatures very similar to the creatures that He had just destroyed either by intention or by incompetence and impotence. What a monstrous God this would be! He would be less competent than the most incompetent engineer or construction worker. And He would be grossly unjust and unrighteous compared to the God of Isaiah who said that when the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth, animals will not hurt or kill each other or people (Isaiah 11:6–9, 65:24–25).42 Such a cruel, bumbling, and weak God could not be trusted and would not be worthy of our worship.
And if these millions of years of death really occurred, then God’s Curse on creation really did nothing to the non-human creation, and therefore His promises about the future cannot be trusted. In fact, in this case none of His Word can be trusted.
This point has not escaped the notice of non-Christians. The evolutionist philosopher David Hull is one of many opponents of Christianity who could be cited. In his review of Phillip Johnson’s book, Darwin on Trial (1991), in the prestigious science journal Nature, Hull remarks on the implications of Darwinian evolution for the nature of God. But his comments equally apply to all old-earth views, even if we reject Darwinism as the explanation for the origin of the various life-forms. Hull reasons:
The problem that biological evolution poses for natural theologians is the sort of God that a Darwinian version of evolution implies. . . . The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror. ... Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history may be like, he is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about his productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the book of Job. The God of the Galápagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.43
As I discuss in my book, The Great Turning Point: The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology—Before Darwin (2004), many Christians in the early nineteenth century raised biblical, theological, philosophical and scientific arguments against the old-earth geological theories that were developing at that time. These authors collectively became known as the “scriptural geologists.” One of them, an Anglican minister named George Bugg, reasoned this way in his 2-volume work in 1826:
Hence then, we have arrived at the wanton and wicked notion of the Hindoos, viz., that God has ‘created and destroyed worlds as if in sport, again and again’!! But will any Christian Divine who regards his Bible, or will any Philosopher who believes that the Almighty works no ‘superfluous miracles,’ and does nothing in vain, advocate the absurdity that a wise, just and benevolent Deity has, ‘numerous’ times, wrought miracles, and gone out of his usual way for the sole purpose of destroying whole generations of animals, that he might create others very like them, but yet differing a little from their predecessors!!44
Similarly, the atheist French biologist and Nobel laureate, Jacques Monod, said, “The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process. . . . I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution.”45
Only young-earth creationism gives us a view that is consistent with the glory, wisdom, power, holiness, truthfulness, and omniscient intelligence of the God revealed through the pages of Scriptures. As the Bible presents them, the doctrines of death and the nature of God are utterly opposed to the millions-of-years view. If we believe the Bible’s teaching on death, redemption and the character of God, then we must completely reject all old-earth views being advocated by Christians.46
On a practical note, in our ministry to others, if we accept millions of years of natural evil, then we cannot deal effectively with people who are suffering greatly in the aftermath of events such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 earthquake/tsunami in Japan and the horrendous series of tornadoes ravaging the southeast United States in April 2011. If these kinds of events were part of the “very good” creation in Genesis 1, then they are not evil but rather good and cannot be called “natural disasters,” as every human calls them. But again, how can we trust a God who calls them “very good”? How can that be any comfort to those people who are so deeply grieving the loss of everything, including loved ones, in such events?
ID leader William Dembski recognizes the serious challenge of trying to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching on the Fall while at the same time embracing millions of years. His recent book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (2009) is a valiant attempt to resolve the conflict by arguing that the millions of years of natural evil did occur before the Fall but are the consequence of the Fall as God in His foreknowledge of the Fall worked preemptively, just as Jesus was “slain before the foundation of the world” and his redeeming death applied retroactively to people who lived and died before He died in time-space history. Dembski helpfully exposes the fatal weaknesses of many other old-earth theodicies. But his own proposal is equally fatally flawed for exegetical, theological and logical reasons, as I and Tom Nettles from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have argued elsewhere.47
Since writing that book where he advocates that Noah’s Flood was not global but was localized in the Mesopotamian Valley, Dembski has apparently changed his mind about the Flood.48 But if he now accepts Noah’s Flood as global, then he has no basis for trusting the evolutionary geologists regarding the age of the earth or dating methods, because a global, catastrophic, year-long Flood, as described in Genesis, would produce the kind of fossil-bearing sedimentary rock record like we see on every continent. In this case, the whole reason for Dembski’s theodicy vanishes.
The Bible clearly teaches the young-earth creationist view of Genesis 1–11. The belief in a literal 6-day creation about 4000 years before Christ and a global Flood and no death or natural evil before the Fall was the almost universal belief of the church for 1800 years. Progressive creationism and theistic evolutionism in all their various forms (day-age view, gap theory, framework hypothesis, analogical days view, local flood view, etc.) are recent and novel interpretations that will not stand up to scrutiny with an open Bible. 49
Prominent historian of science and former creationist Seventh Day Adventist turned agnostic, Ronald Numbers, recognizes the problem that so many Christians overlook or deny. He put it this way:
For creationists, history is based on the Bible and the belief that God created the world 6,000–10,000 ago. . . . We humans were perfect because we were created in the image of God. And then there was the fall. Death appears and the whole account [in the Bible] becomes one of deterioration and degeneration. So we then have Jesus in the New Testament, who promises redemption. Evolution completely flips that. With evolution, you don’t start out with anything perfect, you start with primitive little wiggly things, which evolve into apes and, finally, humans. There’s no perfect state from which to fall. This makes the whole plan of salvation silly because there never was a fall. What you have then is a theory of progress from single-celled animals to humans and a very, very different take on history, and not just human history.50
So, what is at stake in this issue of death and other natural evils before the Fall? Nothing less than the character of God, the authority, reliability and perspicuity of His Word, and the truth of the Gospel. While the age of the earth is not a salvation issue, it is a gospel issue. It is not necessary to believe in a young earth and global Flood to be saved. We only need to believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord to be saved. But the acceptance of millions of years of natural evil in the non-human creation undermines the reliability and authority of the Bible that gives us the gospel and destroys the whole reason for the gospel and Christ’s final redemptive work
It is only because the scientific majority claims that millions of years is scientific fact, that old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists reject what the Bible plainly teachings about the origin of natural and moral evil and the age of the creation. Among the many examples I could give,51 Pattle Pun, biology professor at Wheaton College, reasons,
It is apparent that the most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record, without regard to all of the hermeneutical considerations suggested by science, is that God created heaven and earth in six solar days,52 that man was created in the sixth day, that death and chaos entered the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, that all of the fossils were the result of the catastrophic universal deluge53 which spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith.54
Pun says that the young-earth view is the most straightforward understanding of Genesis. But it simply cannot mean what it says because of the majority view in science. Ironically, he does not apply this thinking in regard to the origin of Adam and Eve: he believes the Bible and rejects what the majority of anthropologists say about the evolution of man from ape-like creatures. Such an inconsistent hermeneutic does not impress or persuade skeptics.
William Dembski also is candid about why he does not accept young-earth creationism. He writes,
The young-earth solution to reconciling the order of creation with natural history makes good exegetical and theological sense. Indeed, the overwhelming consensus of theologians up through the Reformation held to this view. I myself would adopt it in a heartbeat except that nature seems to present such strong evidence against it. I’m hardly alone in my reluctance to accept young-earth.55
However, it is not “nature” that presents evidence for millions of years and against a literal understanding of Genesis 1–11. It is rather the scientific majority’s naturalistic interpretation of some of the observations of nature that leads this conclusion,56 as Dembski himself makes clear elsewhere in the same book. He writes:
A young earth seems to be required to maintain a traditional understanding of the Fall. And yet a young earth clashes sharply with mainstream science. Christians, it seems, must therefore choose their poison. They can go with a young earth, thereby maintaining theological orthodoxy but committing scientific heresy; or they can go with an old earth, thereby committing theological heresy but maintaining scientific orthodoxy.57
Similarly, in a 2009 interview on Canadian TV, William Lane Craig explained why he rejected the 6000-years age of the universe taught in Scripture: “I don’t think it’s plausible. The arguments that I give are right in line with mainstream science. I’m not bucking up against mainstream science in presenting these arguments. Rather I’m going with the flow of what contemporary cosmology and astrophysics supports.”58
But if we are going to give arguments in defense of Christianity that are “right in line with mainstream science” and will not “buck up against” what the majority of contemporary scientists say regarding the age of the creation and death and other natural evil in the non-human creation before Adam, then to be consistent we should reject the Bible’s teaching about the virgin birth and resurrection of Jesus, because mainstream biology says that virgins don’t have babies and dead men don’t rise from the dead. But then to be truly consistent, we should reject the whole Bible and abandon the Christian faith, because “mainstream science” (i.e., the evolutionist majority) rejects the miracles, the gospel, the return of Christ, and the new heavens and new earth. Otherwise we are being arbitrary about which parts of the Bible we believe and which parts we will not believe.
However, a large and growing body of scientific evidence shows that both evolution and millions of years are religiously and philosophically motivated myths masquerading as proven scientific fact.59 The majority of scientists that make up mainstream science are simply wrong about evolution and the age of the creation. Sadly, judging from the texts, footnotes, and bibliographies in the writings of most old-earth proponents (whether Bible scholars or scientists) in the church, such Christians seem seriously ignorant of this wealth of scientific evidence in confirmation of the young-earth creationism taught in the Bible.
Furthermore, the literal history of Genesis 1–11 is absolutely foundational to the truth of the rest of the Bible and the gospel itself. Taking these early chapters of Genesis in any other way undermines the reliability and authority of God’s Word, which is what people must believe to be saved. “Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Over the past 200 years the various compromises with evolution and millions of years of natural evil have done incalculable damage to the spiritual health and evangelistic and missionary efforts of the Church. That compromise is one of the greatest reasons that Western Europe is now appropriately labeled “post-Christian” and is arguably the toughest mission field in the world. And Britain and America are rapidly approaching that same spiritual state.
Pertinent to our topic, Martin Luther is reported to have said:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle fronts besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.60
Christian apologists and theologians must defend not just theistic creation (that God is the Creator) and the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, vital and true as those biblical teachings certainly are. But they must teach and defend all of the truth of the biblical revelation given to us by the only true God, who is the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Otherwise, they are not truly, fully Christian apologists or fully faithful Christian theologians. The truth we must defend includes the Bible’s teaching on the initial “very good” creation, the subsequent Fall and curse on the whole creation, the global year-long catastrophic Flood, and the future redemption of the whole non-human creation along with the resurrection of the redeemed to eternal life and the resurrection of unrepentant sinners to eternal death in hell. God has spoken plainly and inerrantly in His Word. Will we believe and defend His truth from the very first verse?
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