Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bedrock Tenets

The paradigm of “No Death before the Fall” of Adam and Eve has become one of the bedrock tenets of the belief in a young earth currently held by many millions of evangelical Christians. Young earth believers must adhere to this belief in order to preserve their fundamental doctrinal belief that at the introduction of sin into the creation--Adam and Eve’s sin--the occurrence of death also entered the creation for the very first time for all created animal life.

This belief provides a serious dilemma for two reasons. First, it is contrary to the information gained from the reading of several biblical creation passages which speak of the diet of certain forms of carnivorous animals. Second, it necessitates denial of the record of paleontology. Birds of prey were created on day five; carnivorous animals were created on day six. Both of these life forms were created prior to man no matter what creation time frame we accept.

Several scripture passages describe the wonder and awe inspired by our observation of certain birds and mammals, including predatory animals. In addition to Genesis 1-3 there are many other creation passages in the Bible offering detailed, specific information on the beauty of nature and the characteristics of the creation. In each passage God is credited with the majesty of creation events as well as the behavior of created beings. Job 38-39 and Psalm 104 present outstanding examples.

Both passages provide detail concerning the food supplied for these birds and mammals by God. Job 38 speaks of ravens, omnivorous birds which clearly rely on living matter for their dietary needs: “Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?” (Job 38:41 ESV) In Psalms the message is even more specific: “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” (Psalm 104:21) Before the appearance of Adam and Eve, therefore, death was a reality. After the appearance of Adam and Eve, death remained a reality. The onset of death was not an outcome of the sin of Adam and Eve.

In 2003 I conducted an extensive letter exchange with a well-known young earth creationist. Among many other issues, I referenced a Discovery Channel program in living color portraying hundreds of different sea animals both large and very small using a unique lighting system. Wholesale death of those creatures existed all along the food chain up to its top. That entire ecosystem was an example of a predatory food chain hierarchy.

I challenged my young earth creationist brother to deny that a “recreation” of the pre-fall ecosystem would have been necessary had Adam’s sin initially ushered in mass predation and death of creatures in post-fall ecosystems. Supernaturally produced fundamental change of the anatomical, genetic, and behavioral characteristics of countless quadrillions of animals is difficult to imagine. Abundant fossil evidence exists of a complex predatory ecosystem during the Cambrian explosion. He responded: “Since this was not a natural event, but a supernatural divine act of judgment, it had to involve some major acts that I suppose could be called a ‘recreation’ (or better, ‘tweaking’ of the creation).” Genesis 2:1-3 proclaims “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. I urge my readers to investigate the complexities of this argument.

These arguments are not offered as proof for any point of view. Resolution of discussions of this sort often hinge on the meanings of words, the divergent interpretations of scripture passages, and variant understanding of evidence collected from the natural world. We must acknowledge the broad spectrum of meanings, interpretations, and understandings. Most important is the necessity to use correct exegesis--the critical explanation or interpretation of scripture texts. “No death before the fall” is not a tenet established firmly in scripture.

Less familiar to Bible students is the term eisegesis. It means, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.” Scripture is the special revelation of God’s truth given to man. God gives man the ability to search and discover the intentions of the inspired authors of scripture, understand the context of their writings, and comprehend the complexities of language they used. Many biblical scholars have risen to this challenge.

The record of nature is also the subject of interpretation by science researchers and scholars. Many disagreements on the meanings of scripture and the record of nature result from errant interpretations. Eisegesis applies primarily to Bible interpretation. But science scholars are guilty of a similar faulty interpretation of evidence they gather from the natural world. They see genetic commonality across living things and infer only common ancestry. In both scripture interpretation and interpretation of evidence from the natural world, substantive disagreements result from the interpreters’ tendency to impose their own personal interpretational preferences upon the evidence.

The professional science community is mostly governed by commitment to a naturalistic worldview. The young earth creationist community is governed by a commitment to a recent creation only several thousand years distant. In turn, this results in their confidence in a recent, globe-encircling flood and the paradigm of “No Death before the Fall.” In both cases we desire to put eisegesis aside and search humbly for answers to the question, “What really happened?”