When someone in our society suffers because of circumstances beyond their control or the misdeeds of someone else, an investigation is often launched to fix the blame. We feel satisfaction when the guilty party is identified. In particular, the suffering party feels relief and the pain is easier to bear.
Young earth creationists claim the physical death of man and “nephesh” creatures (birds and mammals) is due to sin. It is true that death may be hastened and illness may be intensified by living dangerously and sinfully. Even animal life may suffer from man’s unwise stewardship of nature. Conversely, animals may benefit when man practices wise stewardship. More simply, harmful effects may have specific mundane physical causes, not merely Adam’s original sin. If we define sin as an action contrary to the law of God, man is the only created being able to sin, suffer the results of sin, and have a capacity for God-awareness and a relationship with Him.
Our post of 1/14/10 entitled Death’s Cause and Effect referenced the enormous advantage of bacterial death in forming today’s beneficial mineral deposits starting 3.8 bya. But we did not mention death by predation of the many creatures which explosively appeared during the Cambrian explosion 570 mya or in later eras. While some people might actually feel sorrow for deaths of the victims of ravenous trilobites in Cambrian oceans, or deer and bison preyed upon by Pleistocene saber-tooth tigers, predation was life-sustaining for thousands of those long-extinct earth species. Such animals were created uniquely adapted--with sharp teeth, for example--for intense predatory activity.
Many church leaders have made it a critical issue that death and natural disasters have their root cause in the fall of Adam in Eden. Neither scripture nor the record of historical geology justifies such belief. Frequently cited are two passages. Romans 5:12 (NIV) states, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” Mankind sinned; mankind, in turn, suffers sin’s effects. The apostle Paul refers to spiritual death. In I Corinthians 15:21-22 we read, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The man-caused spiritual death is paired with the glorious solution that “in Christ all will be made alive.” Spiritual death is the outcome for man only. The remedy for spiritual death, the gift of eternal spiritual life in Christ, is, in turn, a spiritual remedy for man.
Those who believe physical death originated at the moment of Adam’s fall must also deny the historical evidence for a very old earth where death was evident ever since life appeared on the planet. Moreover, belief in a very old earth does not compromise belief in Scripture or any orthodox Christian doctrine, including the doctrine of the atonement. We have confidence that we may trust the overwhelming witness of carefully interpreted scientific evidence as a means to gain knowledge--true belief.