(Gen. 2:17) Did death really begin at the fall of humans?

CLAIM: Modern science tells us that animals have been killing and eating each other for millions of years. And yet, Genesis teaches that animal death began at the fall of human –thousands of years ago. Which is true?

RESPONSE: This objection is mostly a problem for Young Earth creationism, because the Young Earth creationist needs to believe that the teeth of sharks and the Tyrannosaurus rex were originally designed for eating plants –not animals. However, this is clearly not the case. Predation occurred long before the moral Fall. In fact, Psalm 104 –a commentary on creation –implies that predation was part of God’s original creation (Ps. 104:21, 29).

Young Earth creationists will usually offer several verses to argue that animal death began at the Fall. For instance, 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. Others point to Genesis 9:3, where God says 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. Finally, Romans 5:12 states that death entered the world through Adam, but this refers to human death –not animal death.

God’s original design of the universe included pain. God told Eve that her pain would “greatly multiply” in childbirth (Gen. 3:16). If she had no pain in childbirth, then multiplying her pain would have no effect. However, pain 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 hurt or kill themselves. Pain is a great motivator to stay safe and alive.

However, while animals can experience pain and suffering, they cannot experience “third order pain.”[1] 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.”

Finally, 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.”[2]

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

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