[Answers in Genesis recently posted a critique of this article. I have responded here.] I have explored extensively the varied positions within Christianity about the origins and diversity of life. I come from a background in which I was a young earth creationist for quite some time, but my research has caused me to reject this position in favor of another. Those reading this article, please understand I do not wish to denigrate or devalue those who are young earth creationists (hereafter YEC and YECs). I appreciate that many who are YEC are doing their work in the field because they feel it is closest to the Biblical position and that they often believe science supports their view. That said, I cannot agree. In the following, I present a theological argument against the YEC position.
One of the theological arguments YECs use against other Christian positions (such as Intelligent Design or Theistic Evolutionism) is that it would imply death before the fall. I tried to track down an explicit syllogistic form of this argument and couldn’t find any in the literature with which I am familiar, however the argument is everywhere presented. For example, Ken Ham writes in The New Answers Book 1:
The book of Genesis teaches that death is the result of Adam’s sin… and that all of God’s creation was ‘very good’ upon its completion… But if we compromise the history of Genesis by adding millions of years, we must believe that death and disease were part of the world before Adam sinned… How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, suffering, and death for millions of years as part of his ‘very good’ creation? (36)
Elsewhere, we can find statements like this: “The Bible tells us very clearly that there was no death before sin from many passages. In fact, there are no Bible verses indicating there was death prior to sin.”
Now it is not my point in this post to cite every disagreement I have with such arguments (there are a great deal of them), but rather to show that the implications of an argument like this are absurd. One immediate problem with the argument is that it begs the question in the opening sentence by smuggling in a hidden premise. Namely, the notion that all death is the result of sin, as opposed to the death of mankind or a kind of spiritual death. Further, note the conflation of the terms in the second quote–just because there are no Bible verses which show there was death before sin, it does not follow that the Bible teaches that there was no death before sin. But those parts aside, I wish to show that this argument from YECs actually works against their position.
Suppose we lay out the argument:
- Death is the result of sin.
- If YEC is false, then things died before sin.
- Therefore, if YEC is false, God is unjust.
Now I know this is not the full argument. There are many premises I have left unstated, but it seems that is the gist of the passage cited from Ham. Why do I find this problematic? Well, it seems that the logic is that if death happened because of sin, then animals would not have died before the fall. But if that is the case, then why do animals die after the fall? The post on Answers in Genesis hints that it is because animals are cursed due to the serpent’s deception of Adam and Eve (cited below). One is still forced to wonder why all animals are cursed because a serpent–Satan–deceived Adam and Eve. Thus we are led to the following argument:
- If animals did not die before the fall, then their death must be the result of sin.
- Animals are incapable of sinning. (They have no culpability.)
- Therefore, their death would have to be the result of morally culpable agents’ sins.
But this argument, it seems, shows that YEC is morally impermissible. For on YEC, animals died because of Adam’s sin. The animals themselves didn’t do anything. One day, they were happily living potentially infinitely long lives, eating plants, and doing their animal things. The next day, Adam sinned, and so God decides to start killing them all, putting countdowns on their lifespans. But why? Because Adam sinned, not because they themselves sinned. Thus, animals, through no culpability of their own, suffered the punishment of death for Adam’s sin. This seems to be morally impossible.
Now it seems the YEC position could be modified to get around this argument, but it would have to drop the argument against the other positions that death could not have happened before the fall. The modification would essentially have to hold that animals were part of the natural world which lived and died. Or, the YEC position could charge that animals were moral agents, but that would seem absurd. Finally, the YEC position could hold that, somehow, the serpent’s culpability transferred to all other animals, but that would seem extremely difficult as well, particularly because the serpent is Satan.
The argument, therefore, has been that animals are not morally culpable because they are not moral agents. Because that is the case, if they died due to sin, it was through not fault of their own. This would make God seem unjust if He caused animal death due to Adam’s fall. I’ve noted that YECs can avoid this injustice, but only by dropping the argument that Ham and others use against other positions.
There have been some interesting reactions to this article, and some of them are confusing my argument. What I’d like to note is this post is written from a perspective inside of YEC. In other words, I’m using the presuppositions of YEC against itself. What I’m not doing is personally saying that the death of animals is a morally impermissible state of affairs. What I am doing is saying that, on YEC, they assert it is morally impermissible, and so they have to accept the consequences of that argument.
Finally, I’d like to note that even if readers are unconvinced by this argument, they still must contend with other theological problems with YEC. For example, the notion that YEC makes God a deceiver. For this and other reasons I am no longer a YEC.
But what of the argument itself from YEC? What of the argument that there cannot be death before the fall? I urge readers to check out the following post over at geocreationism: Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective. See also Luke Nix’s phenomenal post on the topic, “Cartoons, Animal Death, and Theology.”
Image Credit- http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R%C3%B8d_r%C3%A6v_(Vulpes_vulpes).jpg image by Malene
Answers in Genesis, “Biblically, Could Death Have Existed Before Sin?” - http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/03/02/satan-the-fall-good-evil-could-death-exist-before-sin
Ken Ham, The New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, Arizona: Answers in Genesis, Master Books, 2006).
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