Was There Animal Death Before the Fall?

The creation account of Gen 1 ends with the declaration, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 ESV). The key issue boils down to what is meant by the expression “very good.” Old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists agree that this is the issue about which they have the most disagreement. More than the proper interpretation of Gen 1-3, the age of the earth, or even the theory of evolution, this is the question that stands above all others: Did animals die before Adam and Eve fell in the Garden?

The fossil record presents us with a troubling past. It reveals a history of predation, disease, and intrinsic selfishness. The problem of immense suffering in the natural world was not lost on Darwin. In a letter to J. D. Hooker he observed, “What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low & horridly cruel works of nature!” Later Darwinists echo his opinion. David Hull asks, “What kind of God [would create the] Galapagos Islands?…The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray.” They see the tragic history of the fossil record as difficult to reconcile with the Christian understanding of the benevolent nature of God.

So, was there animal death before the Fall? Various Christians hold to four different views: one that answers “no” and three that say “yes.”40 questions creation evolution

Answer One: No—There Was No Animal Death Prior to the Fall. Arguing for the first view, Kurt Wise and Ken Ham contend that no creatures, including insects and bacteria, experienced death before Adam’s fall. For them and other young-earth proponents, the question of animal death goes to the very heart of the authority of Scripture and the nature of God.

Answer Two: Yes—But Animal Death Was Still Caused by Adam. William Dembski presents a second view. He makes the interesting argument that, though animal death predated the events of Gen 3, their deaths still are the outcome of Adam’s sin. Adam’s fall, like Jesus’ atonement, was a cosmic event, and as such had retroactive effects.

Answer Three: Yes—Animal Death Was Caused by Satan. Still others, such as C.S. Lewis and Charles Foster give a third view. They suggest that natural evil came about with the arrival of the first evildoer—Lucifer. Satan committed the initial moral evil when he rebelled against God sometime in the primeval past, and in so doing brought about natural evil. Therefore, suffering and death existed before Adam and Eve arrived on the scene.

Answer Four: Yes—Animal Death Was Caused by God. Finally, some such as Hugh Ross, David Snoke and Mark Whorton, say that animals died before Adam’s fall, but they do not hesitate to attribute the cause of death to God. They argue that the nature and purpose of death changed when Adam and Eve rebelled.

Personally, I find myself leaning towards the third answer—that Lucifer’s rebellion was a cosmic event, and it had cosmic effects. We need to remember that Adam joined a rebellion that was already underway. In addition, the biblical record seems to indicate that the Garden was a special place, unlike the rest of the world. If animal death existed prior the fall of the original couple, then this might explain the necessity of the Garden. This would also shed light on God’s mandate to Adam and Eve that they were to make the rest of the world look like Eden. Unfortunately, they failed their mission miserably. Thank God for the Second Adam, Who succeeded where the first Adam did not (1 Cor 15:22, 45)!

(Adapted from 40 Questions about Creation and Evolution)

This blog is cross-posted at www.theologyforthechurch.com

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  1. Patrick   •  

    Excellent article. I’ve heard one other proposal – that death refers to a spiritual death, not a physical one, and that physical death of plants/animals was part of God’s creation but spiritual death (separation from God) was not but rather came about due to the fall and man’s sin.

  2. Mac   •  

    Excellent article and very helpful. Thank you Dr. Aiken.

  3. Pingback: Was There Animal Death Before the Fall? | SEBTS | Between The Times | SBC Open Forum

  4. Shawn C. Madden   •  

    Physical death was built into the system. The ‘death’ (מות) of Gen 2.17 is separation from God-so called spiritual death.
    Man was told to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and in the garden he ate. Those are physical functions. So is physical death.
    To argue otherwise would imply there was no need for the Tree of Life as man was already going to live forever.
    We went through this at length in my Hebrew class as we translated chapter 2 of Genesis. A good gedanken exercise is to ask yourself, ‘what would be the fate of Adam and Eve had they not eaten from either the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowlege.’ So, no sin was committed but neither had they eaten from the Tree wherein was found eternal life. Note especially the end of Gen. 3.
    Shawn C. Madden (veracityomadden@gmail.com)

  5. Jim Pemberton   •  

    Because of the sovereignty of God, 3 and 4 are essentially the same. They differ only by means. 2, 3, and 4 are speculative based on apparent scientific evidence. However, because of the spiritual nature of the event any purely physical evidence is tenuous.

    In all of the four cases, each must interact exegetically with Romans 5:12. It seems that the most reasonable exegesis of Rom 5:12 results in the first view. The other 3 views must explain why it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. The problem is that there isn’t any other scripture that has bearing on it enough to mitigate the plain meaning, making it uncertain. The question is whether the physical evidence is compelling enough to deny the clearest exegesis of Rom 5:12 in favor of an uncertain one. That kind of exegesis such as to have the appearance of eisegesis is always one that should be approached with fear and trembling.

  6. Ronald C. Marks   •  

    I am one of those young-earth folks who believe insects, bacteria, even plants died before the fall. Young-earth creationists are also inconsistent on when the laws of thermodynamics began – particularly the second law. This law relates to the increasing disorder of the universe. It is clear from Genesis this law had to be in place and operational prior to Adam’s sin. Eating food is one example. The material in the food, both at the macro level as in chewing and apple (no link to the fall intended), and the digestive process. Both require an increase in disorder. It is both reasonable and expected that God established these operational events we have labeled as thermodynamic laws on Day One. When God spoke to Adam regarding death, it was Adam that God addressed. God didn’t speak to the sea creatures on Day Five, or the animals one Day Six. Only to Adam did God make this pronouncement.

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