An inductive argument: Is animal death the result of the fall of man, or merely incidental?

If we humans are the reason animals die, wouldn't you expect the Bible to mention that, at least once?

Editor’s note: Today’s post, the second in a two-part series, comes from our resident philosopher, Zachary Lawson, an engineering student at Texas A&M. He presents two simple arguments that demonstrate that — however distasteful it may be to some believers — the idea that animal death is incidental to God’s original created order is more consistent with scripture than the alternate idea that animal death arose as the result of human sin.

Last time, I presented a deductive argument which demonstrated that including “Animals died in Adam” in the theological premise set generated a troubling dilemma: either animals are included in the plan of salvation or Christ is not victorious over death. I suggested replacing this controversial premise with “Animal death is incidental” to escape the dilemma. For convention, this premise will be referred to as the “incidental hypothesis.” The gist of this second part is pretty simple. Essentially, if the authors of scripture had a certain view of animal death, then we would expect particular passages.

First, let’s consider the common view held by young-earth creationists. Suppose that animal death is indeed an effect of sin and one of the bleak realities of this fallen, cursed world. Take a moment to get into the mindset of an inspired author of scripture. The Holy Spirit has come upon him as he reflects upon the natural order. His thoughts turn to the ecosystem, the circle of life and animal predation. We would expect him to be overcome with sorrow at the dreadful system in place. He would pick up his pen and lament the death of antelope, zebras and the like.

Next, let’s consider the incidental hypothesis. All of the conditions are the same, except that the author doesn’t view animal death as something wrong with the world. Instead, animal death is something incidental, much like the sun rising in the east instead of the west. If this is the case, as he reflects upon the circle of life, we would not expect him to be overcome with sorrow. He would discuss animal predation in neutral terms as an inherent component of the world.

These two statements can be summarized as follows:

1. If animal death were a deleterious effect of sin, we would expect to find the biblical authors lamenting predation and specifically citing such things as unfortunate realities in a sin-cursed world: The probability of Lament (L), given death is an effect of Sin (S), is very high. Pr(L|S) ≫ 0

2. If animal death were incidental, we would expect the biblical authors to be silent about animal death or reference animal death in a neutral/positive light: The probability of Lament (L), given that death is Incidental (I) is very low. Pr(L|I) ≪ 1

Comments from leading young earthers make a nice mold for what we would expect the biblical authors to write if the incidental hypothesis is false. Here’s an example from Ken Ham:

[Irven] DeVore recognizes that the fossil record is one of massive extinction. If this has stretched over millions of years, enormous numbers of creatures have become extinct. …What kind of god would create such a scenario? The god of an old earth can’t be a loving God. … How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering, and death for millions of years? Christians who believe in an old earth (billions of years) need to come to grips with the real nature of the god of an old earth — it is not the loving God of the Bible.

It goes without saying that the authors of the Bible — unlike modern scientists — did not have access to the millions of years of fossil evidence. Nevertheless, they did have their own eyes and could witness predation around them. If it were the case that these authors were of the same persuasion as our friend Ken Ham, we would expect to find passages similar to what he expresses above.

But the scriptural data are quite sparse on this issue of animal death. This, in and of itself, is rather interesting considering that animal death is one of the chief arguments used by young-earth creationists today (Stephen Lloyd goes so far as to say it is the only issue in debate over the age of the universe).

As it turns out, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that explicitly references animal predation as an effect of sin. There are some passages that could possibly, implicitly, lend credence to this notion. For the sake of time and space, I’ll address the strongest, which is Isaiah 11:6-9:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Spoiler alert: This passage is probably not literal. Still, let’s think about if it were literal and that in the new universe, all animals will be fuzzy and friendly. It seems to me that God can create the new universe however he wants. Vegetarian tigers? Sure. Cotton candy clouds? Absolutely. But however God chooses to make the new universe really doesn’t say anything about the status of the current universe.

So, is this the type of passage we would expect to see if animal death is the result of sin or something to be lamented? Assuming it is indeed literal, sure, it’s consistent with such a view. Would we expect to see this if the incidental hypothesis is true? Fifty-fifty. It depends entirely on whether or not God wants lions and tigers and bears to be vegetarians in the new creation. I’m not God, so, I’ll have to say that it’s just as likely as unlikely.

Now, let’s turn our focus to the incidental hypothesis. What types of passages would we expect to see? It’s likely the biblical authors wouldn’t be too concerned with the issue of animal death and would mention it only in passing. As aforementioned, the scarcity of verses dealing with animal death seems to support this notion. In addition, the handful of passages would likely view animal death as something that is a neutral component of creation. There are a few verses that support this notion. As before, for the sake of time and space, I will only address the strongest instance which is found in Psalm 104:20-30.

You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things 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.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit,they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.

Interesting, isn’t it? The Psalmist looks out at the same creation that young-earth creationists do. He sees the same animal predation, et cetera, but, instead of lamenting this cruel effect of man’s sin, the Psalmist is moved to express praise to God for this magnificent creation. This is more than consistent with the incidental hypothesis. But, this is diametrically opposed to what we would expect to read if the incidental hypothesis were false.

While folks like Ken Ham and Stephen Lloyd may point to animal death and say “Gross! How could a loving God allow THAT?!”, the Psalmist says “Wow! God is truly a wise and powerful creator. Blessed be his name!” Let’s now summarize these data and add them to the premise set:

3. The biblical text has no lamenting in specific reference to animal death/predation.

4. The biblical text is silent on animal death in general and references animal predation specifically in a positive light.

When all four of these premises are put together we can draw the conclusion:

5. Therefore, the testimony of the Biblical text strongly favors animal death as incidental over animal death as a result of sin.

How then should we view animals? Are they just disposable components of this world? No! Of course not! The Bible actually is explicit when it comes to how humans should treat animals (Proverbs 12:10, for example). So, while the Bible seems to favor the incidental hypothesis, this is not a free ticket to be cruel to or harm animals. We are still the stewards of this planet and we are charged with taking care of all creatures, great and small.

Even if they do eat each other.

— Zachary Lawson

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  • Will

    Humans are given stewardship over all creatures including other humans. So, taking care of other species as best in our power to do so is part of the same grand obligation as looking out for the poor and downtrodden.

    These are my closing thoughts on Zachary’s closing paragraph about stewardship. I already mentioned in a comment on Part 1 that ALL physical death is “merely incidental,” in humans as well as in other species. See the original comment for details.

  • Evan Todd

    “As it turns out, there is not a single verse in the entire Bible that explicitly references animal predation as an effect of sin.”

    Animal predation is irrelevant. The real question is whether death itself is an effect of sin.

    I think there are many examples lamenting the fallen state of not just man, but creation itself. What about Romans 8:22? “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

    What about Genesis 3:21? “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” If animal death is incidental, the animals God killed for these skins were just one of many, and this verse is completely pointless. On the other hand, if animal death is a result of man’s sin, this was the first instance of death in the world, and a poignant object lesson to teach us that our sin must be covered by blood. In this case, animal blood.

    And don’t argue that God just created flabs of skin for the express purpose. http://www.askjohnmackay.com/questions/answer/did-god-kill-animals-clothe-adam-and-eve-or-did-he-create-new-skins

    • Hey Evan, thanks for your comment and for visiting my site. I look forward to discussing this matter with you!

      Animal predation is irrelevant. The real question is whether death itself is an effect of sin.

      It’s not really that irrelevant, since groups such as Answers in Genesis and ICR (which we oppose on this blog) teach that, according to the Bible, animal predation is a consequence of human sin. Since the Bible actually says nothing remotely like that, in fact, implies the opposite, then we felt it was worth addressing.

      The most important question, indeed, is whether physical death is an effect of sin, but I would also argue (and have argued multiple times on this site) that there is not a single passage in all of scripture that teaches that animal death is the result of human sin. Even passages like Romans 5 are explicitly limited to mankind, and I believe, for many reasons, that the death referred to therein is spiritual death, not physical death.

      I think there are many examples lamenting the fallen state of not just man, but creation itself.

      I believe mankind was given a role in creation, and we have not properly fulfilled that role. I believe that is what is most often lamented in the passages you allude to. None of them say that creation is “fallen” because of a single supposed act of disobedience that transpired thousands of years ago.

      What about Romans 8:22? “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

      What about Romans 8:22? I believe it speaks to the transitory nature of creation, which is inherent and was put in place by God (clearly the “him who subjected it” referred to in 8:20), not as a punishment, but “in hope” that something much greater would be revealed and created in us (8:21).

      What about Genesis 3:21? “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” If animal death is incidental, the animals God killed for these skins were just one of many, and this verse is completely pointless.

      I confess that I don’t follow you here. I agree that there would be greater meaning if this was the first death that ever occurred. There would also be greater meaning if the animals God killed were Adam and Eve’s beloved pets. Just because someone could imagine something that would give a passage greater meaning does not mean that the supposition is true. At any rate, I fail to see how the lack of the meaning you wish to ascribe to the verse somehow makes the verse “completely pointless.”

      It still serves as a witness to the dire consequences of our sin, and even prefigures the law and its requirements (which ultimately prefigures Christ and his sacrifice). As Hebrews says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” I don’t reject any of that. But what this passage simply does not say is that the reason the animals in question were capable of death is because of Adam’s sin. That is the young-earth faction’s theological assertion: that all animals were originally created immortal, and did not become capable of death until after the fall of man.

  • re zttop

    However in Genesis 1 it clearly states that all animals ate plants. No predation there. And if the old order of things was done away with, like death, then that passage about the new heavens and earth concerning animals would be literal. PS It may be weird but I’m an old earth creationist, I just personally think that animals (higher ones) woul’ve been affected by radiodecay. (Just say God did it and you’re covered).