OBJECTION #1: “How could the moral Fall be true if we know that Pain and Death existed for millennia before the Fall?”

Atheist Michael Martin argues, “We know from science that the conditions and causes of human hardship, disease, death, and other natural evils existed before the emergence of human beings, hence before human beings first sinned.”[1] If these causes existed before the moral Fall in the garden, how can we claim that humanity brought sin into the world?

First, the Bible teaches that pain existed BEFORE the Fall. That is, God’s original design of the universe included pain. God told Eve that her pain would “greatly multiply” in childbirth (Gen. 3:16). If Eve had no pain in childbirth, then multiplying her pain would have no effect. Pain, however, is not inherently bad. In fact, God called this world with pain “very good” (Gen. 1:31). God probably engineered pain as a defense mechanism for animals, so that they wouldn’t easily kill or hurt themselves. Pain was originally designed to be a helpful device for humans.[2]

Second, while the Bible teaches that HUMAN death began at the Fall, it does not teach that ANIMAL death began at the Fall. Isaiah 65:25 states that “the wolf and the lamb will graze together.” However, this refers to the future of the Earth –not the past (c.f. Is. 11:6). In the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be peace, but this hasn’t occurred yet. Any attempt to project this back onto the past is beyond the range of this verse. Instead, during this era of history, the Bible teaches that God will give us meat dinners (Is. 25:6). Therefore, animal death will still occur.

Others point to Genesis 9:3, where God told Noah that “every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you.” However, this refers to God’s provision –not his sanction. Noah had already distinguished clean from unclean animals (Gen. 7:2), which implies that he had already been eating animals before this time. Therefore, Genesis 9:3 teaches when humans were prescribed to eat animals –not when animals were prescribed to eat animals. Similarly, Romans 5:12-21 explains the beginning of human death –not animal death.

Moreover, biologically speaking, there are many species of carnivores that cannot be sustained on a vegetable diet (e.g. Tyrannosaurus rex). The teeth of these animals demonstrate that they have always lived on animal prey –not vegetables. And yet, Psalm 104 –a commentary on creation –implies that predation was part of God’s original creation (Ps. 104:21, 29). Therefore, it is both a biblical and a scientific mistake to claim that animal death began at the moral Fall.

Third, pain and death could still exist in a “very good” world (Gen. 1:31). The entropy of animal life and star decay is necessary for a fertile planet of fossil fuels and rich soil. In this way, death could be considered “very good” in a pre-fallen state. If God had originally created the world without predation, animals would have slowly starved to death. Ross comments, “As game wardens will verify, a lack of carnivorous activity leads to the spread of disease, to starvation, and to genetic decline. Without the help of predators, game wardens find themselves forced to thin out the herbivore population in order to maintain its health and vitality.”[3]

Fourth, while animals experience pain, they do not experience pain as humans do. Animals cannot experience “third order pain.”[4] The portion of the brain associated with consciousness is the prefrontal cortex, and humans are the only animal species to have one that is fully developed. Therefore, in his mercy, God didn’t give consciousness to animal life. They experience pain, but because they lack the biological hardware, they don’t experience the idea: “I am in pain.”

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[1] Martin, here, is summarizing John Hick, but he agrees with Hick’s conclusion, so I’m quoting him with the thought. Martin, Michael. Atheism: a Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1990. 443.

[2] Consider a recent medical case. There is a genetic disease called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA), which causes people to be immune from pain. In one case, a little girl named Ashlyn Blocker has to be monitored around the clock in order to keep her safe. Ashlyn’s mother says, “Some people would say that’s a good thing. But no, it’s not. Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”

[3] Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998. 98.

[4] For a thorough treatment of this, see Murray, Michael Nature Red in Tooth and Claw. Oxford University Press. 2009.