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Some thoughts on David Attenborough on evil design in nature

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He said in 2003:

My response is that when creationists talk about god creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, that’s going to make him blind. And I ask them, are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a god who’s full of mercy.

Note: Loa loa worm.

The obvious question is, why does Attenborough or anyone else think that the boy’s fate is noteworthy for any purpose or that he even has a fate? Let alone that it demonstrates something?

That is, if the boy is just an evolved primate, of whom some say there are far too many of us in the world, the critical question isn’t why this is happening but why Attenborough thinks anyone but the boy should care.

Not why they do care, but why they should. Why that’s somehow “right.” Put another way: Who told us we were naked? (Cf Gen 3:11)

The point of the question (God puts it to Adam and Eve when they attempt to make themselves clothes after doing something they know to be wrong) is that all judgements about what is right or wrong about the universe must come from beyond it. If Adam and Eve were merely animals, they would not have done wrong, known about it, or known that they were naked (= lacking a personal human identity).

If there is nothing beyond the material universe, judgments of right and wrong are no more informative than pan-hoots. If there is, Attenborough’s point is moot. That’s probably why he never fully committed himself to atheism. It actually creates more problems than it solves.

Note: Other, slightly different versions of this thought exist. This one is David Attenborough, 2003. “Wild, wild life.” Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March.

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37 Replies to “Some thoughts on David Attenborough on evil design in nature

  1. 1
    Peter says:

    Typical blind evolutionist thought – they don’t understand the harmful designs therefore they can ignore all the super complex designs. Typical blind Christian thought that God has only mushy, good feelings, “all loving.” What this Christian though fails to come to grasp with is that God destroyed the world with a flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.

    A thoughtful Christian understanding, which is generally quite hard to find, would counter that God’s house has many rooms and the universe was designed to fill them. Therefore God did not create one generation of people in a universe that lasts for billions of years, but created a cycle of life and death that could take thousands, or millions of years to fill all the rooms in his house. Yes God created death, pain and suffering. Genesis 1 says he created plants, the first living things, with the seeds in them. Why would he do that unless he expected them to die. An no, man’s sin did not bring death into the world. God created plants before man.

    So evolutionists get over it. The beauty and death are part of a plan because life on earth was always meant to be temporary.

    Wimpy Christians take your blinders off. God is the creator of all life, and if it does not suit God he will destroy it. Jesus is the vine and all branches that do not bare fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    Very punchy. But sane? No. Who are you to rubbish 3 to 4000 years of Judaeo-Christian wisdom concerning the Fall and its effects, on the basis of an apparent botanical anomaly in Genesis?

    We all know there’s more to God than ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild,’ from his minatory diatribes against the legalistic politico-religious frauds, but you worship your brutish, nihlistic, Christian God …. and see where it gets you. Take a wild guess. Here’s a clue: you won’t need winter clothes. But you will feel very wimpy.

  3. 3
    EvilSnack says:

    Genesis 1 says He created plants, the first living things, with the seeds in them. Why would He do that unless He expected them to die[?]

    Actually, because He wanted them to reproduce. Many kinds of plants do not have to die in order to accomplish this, and will thrive quite well alongside their descendants.

  4. 4
    scordova says:

    And I ask them, are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a god who’s full of mercy.

    Agreed, it seems to correspond more with the idea that the Earth is a cursed place to live.

    cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

    Gen 3

    The world looks intelligently designed to me, even the parasites which God has made and which God intelligently designed in the plagues of Egypt which killed many first born sons.

    The celebrated Bacterial Flagellum of ID also has propelled agents of suffering and death in humans….

    It grieves my heart that the Lord has expressed such fury against us. We cannot understand the Lord’s fury against humanity. It seems so disproportionate to our offenses.

    For all our days pass away under your wrath;
    we bring our years to an end like a sigh.

    The years of our life are seventy,
    or even by reason of strength eighty;
    yet their span[c] is but toil and trouble;
    they are soon gone, and we fly away.

    Who considers the power of your anger,
    and your wrath according to the fear of you?

    Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    and for as many years as we have seen evil.

    Pslam 90 (by Moses)

    from Exodus 4:11

    the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

    Blindness by parasites isn’t mercy! Mercy from God is found elsewhere (in heaven through Jesus, not Earth), not in parasites or this curses that seem in great abundance along with the few blessing of sun and rain…

    The Old Testament is a never ending litany of God’s harsh dealings with humanity, harsh enough that it would almost make me an atheist, but it always seemed to have a ring of truth when I look at the natural world — nature looks intelligently designed, but also a cursed design.

    I grieve for the mother and father of the boy, and the boy himself. God’s curses on humanity are beyond comprehension in their cruelty.

    The design of life says there is a supreme intelligence behind the creation of life, but it then raises the question why does the intelligently designed world look so cursed?

    I don’t like the answers in Genesis any more than any one else (that God would be so cruel to His creation), but I accept it as true. I may not like it, but it makes more sense of the world than any other explanation I’ve heard.

    Of course, everything I said one is free to disbelieve. If one accepts ID, one is confronted with the problem of malicious designs (like the Bacterial Flagellum of parasites). If one disbelieves Design, and disbelieves God, then one faces other problems….

    No worldview is free of complications. I accept that God has intelligently designed malicious parasites. I don’t like it, but I accept it, but I also accept the claim of Jesus being the avenue toward eternal mercy out of the cursed Earth that is passing away. Were it not for Jesus, all I would have left would be Genesis 3 for a worldview:

    cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

    Gen 3

  5. 5
    nightlight says:

    #4 “but it then raises the question why does the intelligently designed world look so cursed? “

    Compared to what?

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    A nicely measured and cogent post, scordova, if I may say so. It lays the matter out well, notably, the want of a more plausible option.

  7. 7

    My response is that when creationists talk about god creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, that’s going to make him blind. And I ask them, are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a god who’s full of mercy.

    Typical claptrap.

    This kind of thinking results from (i) a failed personal perception of what Attenborough thinks God would be like and what God would do if there were a God, coupled with (ii) a simple failure of logic (if something is “evil” then it wasn’t designed).

    Extremely naive. Extremely simplistic. The whole “bad design” argument is not so much an argument as it is a litmus test of whether someone is thinking clearly, which Attenborough clearly was not.

  8. 8
    bornagain77 says:

    The argument from evil, though often said to be the strongest argument for atheism, has always struck me as an extremely weak argument for atheism. The reason why I think it is an extremely weak argument is that the existence of evil necessitates the existence of good in the first place. C.S. Lewis put the problem for atheists like this:

    “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”
    – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    And indeed that are many fine arguments developed by Theists arguing for the existence of objective morality:

    The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris’ moral landscape argument – William Lane Craig – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xL_vAH2NIPc

    I think Peter S Williams’ version of the moral argument, at the 8:40 minute mark in the following video, is very impressive as to being very well thought out and nuanced,,,

    Peter S. Williams vs Christopher Norris – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?f.....inY#t=398s

    Ravi Zacharias, in a humorously fashion, recently showed a subjective moralist, who is questioning the reality of objective morality, to be wrong in his thinking by asking him simply ‘Do you lock your doors at night?”

    Subjective Moralist, Question, ‘Do You Lock Your Door at Night?’ ~ Ravi Zacharias – video
    http://www.mrctv.org/videos/do.....ring-q-and

    But there is an interesting thing in the Theists’ claim about objective morality, as Dr. King highlights here,

    “The first principle of value that we need to rediscover is this: that all reality hinges on moral foundations. In other words, that this is a moral universe, and that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws.”
    – Martin Luther King Jr., A Knock at Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

    i.e. Theists, particularly Christian Theists, are not merely claiming that morality is objectively real, but they are actually claiming that ‘all reality hinges on a moral foundation’. This claim is made clear in that Theists hold that God, who is morally perfect, continually upholds this universe in its existence.

    Colossians 1:17
    And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

    and is also made clear in that Christian Theists not only hold that God upholds this universe in its continual existence but that Christ, who lived a morally perfect life, was raised from the dead,,,

    Acts 2:24
    But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

    Moreover, Christians also hold that this ‘propitiation’ for our sins reaches backward in time to the old testament saints as well as forward in time to present Christians. What should be needless to say, this is quite a bit of work that Christians are placing on objective morality! Well do we, as Christian Theists, have empirical evidence for objective morality at such a deep level of reality so as to justify deeply held our belief? Yes we do! In the following study, ’emotional reactions’ occur before images are even viewed:

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.
    Per quantum consciouness

    Can Your Body Sense Future Events Without Any External Clue? (meta-analysis of 26 reports published between 1978 and 2010) – (Oct. 22, 2012)
    Excerpt: “But our analysis suggests that if you were tuned into your body, you might be able to detect these anticipatory changes between two and 10 seconds beforehand,,,
    This phenomenon is sometimes called “presentiment,” as in “sensing the future,” but Mossbridge said she and other researchers are not sure whether people are really sensing the future.
    “I like to call the phenomenon ‘anomalous anticipatory activity,’” she said. “The phenomenon is anomalous, some scientists argue, because we can’t explain it using present-day understanding about how biology works; though explanations related to recent quantum biological findings could potentially make sense. It’s anticipatory because it seems to predict future physiological changes in response to an important event without any known clues, and it’s an activity because it consists of changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin and nervous systems.”
    per science daily

    As well, the following experiment, from Princeton University no less, is very interesting in that it was found that ‘perturbed randomness’ precedes a worldwide ‘moral crisis’:

    Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – Random Number Generators – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    Mass Consciousness: Perturbed Randomness Before First Plane Struck on 911 – July 29 2012
    Excerpt: The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened – but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.,,
    Now, even the doubters are acknowledging that here is a small box with apparently inexplicable powers. ‘It’s Earth-shattering stuff,’ says Dr Roger Nelson, emeritus researcher at Princeton University in the United States, who is heading the research project behind the ‘black box’ phenomenon.
    http://www.network54.com/Forum.....uck+on+911

    Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research – Scientific Study of Consciousness-Related Physical Phenomena – peer reviewed publications
    http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/publications.html

    Thus we actually have very good empirical evidence supporting Dr. King’s observation that ‘that there are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws’. In fact, since the emotional reactions happen before the violent images are even viewed, or before the worldwide tragedies occurred, then we are justified in believing that objective morality abides at a much deeper level of the universe than the ‘mere’ physical laws of the universe do (just as a Christian Theist would presuppose that objective morals would do prior to investigation). Moreover, the atheistic materialist is left without a clue as to how such ‘prescient morality’ is even possible for reality.

    Verse and music:

    Mark 10:18
    “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.

    Black Eyed Peas – Where Is The Love?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpYeekQkAdc

    Of supplemental note:

    This following video refines the Ontological argument for God into a argument that, because of the characteristic of ‘maximally great love’, God must exist in more than one person:

    The Ontological Argument for the Triune God – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGVYXog8NUg

    i.e. without this distinction we are stuck with the logical contradiction of maximally great love being grounded in one person (putting self above others) which is the very antithesis of maximally great love.

    Verse and Quote:

    Philippians 2:3
    Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

    The light is the sum of all love… give love and your reward will be the love you gave and the love you received… If you do not give love then all you will have is the love you were given,,, and that is still wonderful but why not add to the sum of all love,, It is like ruby’s and sapphires in heaven when we give love… Love is the currency of the next life… so give love…
    Rudi – Near Death Experiencer

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    correction: Peter S Williams’ version of the moral argument starts at the 6:40 minute mark of the video not at the 8:40 minute mark.

  10. 10
    scordova says:

    #4 “but it then raises the question why does the intelligently designed world look so cursed? “

    compared to what?

    Thank you for asking.

    Compared to the ideals of “happily ever after” that seems deeply ingrained in most human hearts. I call that ideal, “the Garden of Eden” pattern that seems expressed in many ways in human culture. It seems also terribly elusive through Earthly means because so many who have all the blessing the world can bestow still find their lives wanting. And that is by design, imho.

    And even on a lesser scale, compared to the few good things and moments and places in human history where life is good. Most of those reading UD live in such a time and place, but most of world history is not quite so blessed.

    The evolutionists are right to some extent, the Designer could have made a world that is far more benevolent than it is — perhaps it is a statement from Him, the best place to be is where He is ever there to be with us and protect us and provide for us. In Christian theology, that place is not of this world, but in the New Heaven and New Earth.

    We have the sober scientific certainty that the heavens and earth shall ‘wax old as doth a garment’ . . . .
    Dark indeed would be the prospects of the human race if unilluminated by that light which reveals ‘new heavens and a new earth.’

    Lord Kelvin

  11. 11
    nightlight says:

    #10 Compared to the ideals of “happily ever after” that seems deeply ingrained in most human hearts. I call that ideal, “the Garden of Eden” pattern that seems expressed in many ways in human culture.

    When I get home from walking my Cairn terrier, I take a slice of prosciutto from the fridge, give half to him, half to me. He always looks surprised when I put the rest of the prosciutto package back into fridge. I can almost see him thinking — what’s wrong with him, he usually seems so powerful and smart, yet he didn’t gulp that whole package of the yummy meat; what if someone else sneaks in and eats it before the next walk; we could have a had paradise here, right now, with all that meat.

    There is a far, far greater gap in understanding as to what is going on and why, between the creator of the universe and me than between me and my dog. Hence, it seems incredibly preposterous and naive for any one of us, or all of us together, to question the wisdom that is upholding this entire universe every single picosecond in its tiniest detail. None of us could create anything out of nothing, not one electron, let alone uphold it in existence for even one nanosecond, to say nothing of all of the matter-energy in the universe for billions of years.

  12. 12
    Joe says:

    Talk about a strawman- I don’t know any Creationist who thinks that God created all the organisms that we observe. Creationists accept that today’s organisms evolved from the orginally created kind.

    That means darwinian evolution could very well be responsible for parasitic worms. It also means that God didn’t have to be.

    Then there is God’s plan- which is something tat we don’t know and most likely couldn’t understand.

    You know what I say about that kid in Africa- what were his parents thinking?

  13. 13
    jerry says:

    The evolutionists are right to some extent, the Designer could have made a world that is far more benevolent than it is

    Despite being mocked by Voltaire, I believe that Leibniz got it right. This is the “best of all possible worlds.” We just do not know or understand what is meant by “best.” A benevolent world is definitely not a “best” world. Why would an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God not create the best or all possible worlds?

    So the worm eating out the boy’s eye is part of “best.” I am sure with a little thought we can think of much more gross or horrible examples. But they are all trivial compared to what is being offered, at least by the Christian God.

    So Attenborough should look to other possible gods to condemn but not the Christian God.

  14. 14
    Peter says:

    #2 Axel, perhaps you should learn what ‘fear the lord’ means. What you call an anomaly is an admission that you refuse to accept the plain meaning of scripture. I wouldn’t go about making threats about eternal damnation if I were you. Who are you? I would appeal to scripture, not human authority. Perhaps that is your problem, you can’t think for yourself.

    #3 EvilSnack, the world is finite, eventually plants will run out of space. They can not expand forever. But having seeds is forever. After the world was completely full of plants seeds would be useless. There can be only one meaning that the biblical author had in mind, and why he didn’t mention seedless plants. Plants were meant to die and be replaced to form a cycle of life and death. Animals also procreated before man was created. The same argument applies.

  15. 15
    Robert Byers says:

    Did these people ever read Miltons paradise lost??
    the fall is the origin for death and bad stuff. Not gods creation. Dah!!
    They insist God is unrelated to the gOd of the bible. WHY?
    Complexity proves gOd and thats that.
    by the way if its not complex fix this kid with the wrm hole problem.

  16. 16
    Axel says:

    One problem with that, Peter, and unfortunately for you, it is seminal: the meaning of scripture is not always plain. Far from it.

    But I know better than to continue to argue with someone so bereft of understanding in this matter.

  17. 17
    Axel says:

    The Fall is pivotal to Judaeo-Christianity. Period.

  18. 18
    Peter says:

    #16,17 Axel, I am not denying a fall from grace. If you read the garden story you will notice that God says that Adam will die, and not the animals. The ground is cursed, but that only means he has to work hard to survive. Jesus repairs the damage in our relationship with God that Adam’s sin brought about. That has nothing to do with whether the animals die or not. Your interpretation of scripture vis-a-vis death is flawed and only supports the evolutionists cause. You say God is all loving and could not create death. Then the evolutionists says there can not be a god because of evil in the world. The evolutionists are using your incomplete understanding of scripture to promote their atheism. You are aiding them. If God is all loving, and incapable of causing pain like you suggest, then tell me were hell came from?

    I have studied theology for many years. The notion of death in Genesis 1, although I would like to take credit for it, is not mine, but one of my professors. The damage to the relationship with God in the garden is from another of my professors too. So I am just passing on what I have learned at a post-graduate theology level.

    My interpretation of scripture is devastating to evolutionists. Yes there is pain and suffering. That is part of the cycle of life and death. There is a god, and he wants us to get to heaven with him, not stay on earth for eternity. What was Jesus’ message? Almost every thing he says are instructions on how to get to heaven. Death is how we leave earth and go to heaven.

    Thank you for your exchange. Any critic you offer that can strengthen my argument is very appreciated.

  19. 19
    Axel says:

    Peter, I choose my authorities. In tertiary education, secular and religious, like your own professorial authorities, their teaching is imposed in the curriculum. So, pardon me if I am not, ipso facto, impressed by your post-graduate theological studies.

    When I was studying in a Roman Catholic seminary (all of three months), I denounced – not too strong a word – the leading liberal theologian, Karl Rahner (though only an Observer at Vatican II, at the instance of Pope John), and the then doyen of scripture scholars, a man called McKenzie.

    I was not pushed to leave. On the contrary. But I could see that my position as a neophyte denouncing pre-eminent scholars (at least in terms of celebrity) was too anomalous.

    The fact is, it’s not unknown by any means for extremely erudite scripture scholars to lose their own faith entirely. Understanding scripture is less a matter of book-learning than of growth in the Spirit, one’s interior life.

    As regards God’s infinite love and the existence of hell, all the deepest truths, even in physics, are paradoxical. How much more so, the spiritual truths of Christianity.

    Given that understanding, the point is that, while Jesus was not too proud to preach a salutary fear of hell for our benefit, his primary message was unequivocally that, as John reiterates so many times in his Gospel, God is infinitely loving.

    Look up Niels Bohr in Wikipedia and read what he has to say about the deepest truths of physics. Since QM interfaces with the Spirit of God, how could it be other than fretted through with paradoxes?

  20. 20
    Peter says:

    Axel, I too was harmed academically for unorthodox views, like the one here. No matter, I am looking for the truth, not necessarily a ivory tower, wimpy academic interpretation.

    One of your problems is that you are thinking in infinities which the human mind can not comprehend. God created the universe, but the universe is not infinite. Genesis 1 describes god creating the universe and all life on earth, but does not call god all-powerful. That is because ‘all’ or infinities lead to contradictions and ‘mysteries’ or faulty interpreations.

    A second problem is that you cherry pick your scripture.

    Psalm 2.11-12 ‘Serve the Lord with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.’

    Psalm 5.5-7 ‘The boastful will not stand before your eyes, you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies, the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house,’

    You refuse to acknowledge that God is capable of wrath as the bible clearly states. It is not a mystery. The bible explains to us the nature of God. Like mankind God loves and gets angry. He is not all loving, even though he has unlimited love. You will notice the biblical author does not make your mistake.

    In biblical exegesis the interpretation which is consistent with the most text is the better one. My interpretation, although difficult to accept by many people, is more complete than yours in my opinion. The fruit of my interpretation is that it is consistent among the bible, life, and science and is therefore devastating to evolutionists.

  21. 21

    I think a couple of commenters may be missing Peter’s point about the plants.

    Sure, seeds allow the plants to reproduce, and, yes, parent plants can live alongside the offspring (as do people and essentially all other fauna). But are we aware of any flora or fauna that live forever on this Earth? Reproduction is important not only to make offspring, but for the life cycle. Though the parent plant and the child plant live alongside each other for a time, eventually the parent plant dies. Otherwise, we end up with a situation in which everything is quickly overrun.

    An alternative would be to propose that the plants had seeds for reproduction, but didn’t really use them extensively until after the Fall. That is a fine idea, but itself isn’t supported by scripture.

    Furthermore, as far as our current understanding of biology goes, there exists a whole host of organisms whose very purpose is to break down dead and decaying matter into basic molecules, for use by new plants as they grow. Indeed, without these organisms (the fungi, for example), the ground can go sterile and isn’t useful for new plants. So did all these organisms suddenly come into being at the moment of the Fall? Or if they existed previously, did they suddenly change their characteristics or come out of hibernation at the moment of the Fall?

    The larger life cycle of biology is itself an irreducibly complex system, which doesn’t just come about piecemeal. Now, we could argue that the living, growing, reproducing part existed for a short time before the dying, decaying, breakdown part started up (i.e., if we said that the time before the Fall was very short). But again, that is not a scriptural certainty, but would rather be a gloss placed on the narrative in order for it to make more sense.

    Anyway, just throwing some thoughts out there.

    My experience is that some narratives of Eden and the Fall break down a bit once we start asking about the details.

    —–

    Incidentally, one very interesting proposal about death before the Fall (HT, Dembski, though he is probably not the first to propose it) is that we might consider the possibility that the Fall, like the Atonement, is not limited to a particular timeline. In other words, the fact that something is “caused” by the Fall, does not necessarily mean that it had to occur “after” the Fall in our particular mortal timeline. If the effects of the Atonement are able to reach back in time, then perhaps the effects of the Fall as well?

  22. 22
    vjtorley says:

    On the question of animal suffering before the Fall, I’d like to throw in my two cents’ worth.

    First, long before Darwin, some of the greatest Christian theologians taught that animal death and suffering was not a consequence of the Fall, and that animals would have killed each other, even if there has been no Fall. Here, for example, is St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.):

    But one might ask why brute beasts inflict injury on one another, for there is no sin in them for which they could be a punishment, and they cannot acquire any virtue by such a trial. The answer, of course, is that one animal is the nourishment of another. To wish that it were otherwise would not be reasonable. For all creatures, as long as they exist, have their own measure, number, and order. Rightly considered, they are all praiseworthy, and all the changes that occur in them, even when one passes into another, are governed by a hidden plan that rules the beauty of this world and regulates each according to its kind. Although this truth may be hidden from the foolish, it s dimly grasped by the good and is clear as day to the perfect. Indeed, this struggle for life that goes on in the lower order of creation does but admonish man for his own welfare to see how resolutely he must struggle for that spiritual and everlasting life by which he excels all brute beasts.
    (On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book III, chapter 16.)

    And here is St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):

    In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some. Thus there would have been a natural antipathy between some animals.
    (Summa Theologica, I, q. 96, art, 1, reply to objection 2, at http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1096.htm#article1

    Second, even the young-earth creation scientist Jason Wile admits, in his article, “Was there animal death before the Fall?” at http://blog.drwile.com/?p=259 , that Scriptural arguments that there was no animal death before the Fall are fallacious. Wile’s article is well worth reading: his exegesis of Romans 5 is devastating.

    Third, the view that there was no animal death before the Fall is philosophically absurd. For everyone agrees that plants would have died: God even commands humans and animals to eat them in Genesis 1. Some creationists acknowledge this point, but argue that in Hebrew, plants aren’t really alive anyway. Be that as it may, the point is that God looks at Hi creation and pronounces it “very good” (Genesis 1:30-31), even though it includes things that are destined to be destroyed (plants).

    Some might argue that the destruction of a plant is not evil, as plants don’t suffer. But that argument proves too much. As I’ve argued on many previous occasions, while nociception (the ability to respond to noxious stimuli) is found in virtually all animals (including invertebrates), the only animals which are capable of feeling pain are mammals and birds (and just possibly octopuses). Reptiles can’t feel pain; neither can fish and amphibia. See Dr. James Rose’s online article, The Neurobehavioral Nature of Fishes at http://www.nal.usda.gov/awic/p.....e/Rose.pdf for an explanation as to why this is the case. So if only sentient animals were protected from death before the Fall, that would mean that reptiles, fish and amphibia could have died before the Fall. But Jonathan Sarfati has argued that the Scriptural term for “animal” includes all vertebrates, and hence fish as well:

    Answer: the creatures affected by death were those the Bible calls … nephesh chayy?h. When it refers to man, it is often translated ‘living soul’, but, of other creatures, including fish, it is often translated ‘living creature’. However, it is never applied to plants or invertebrates. Therefore, there is a qualitative difference between the deaths of the (vertebrate) animals called nephesh chayy?h and plant death.
    (The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe at http://creation.com/the-fall-a-cosmic-catastrophe )

    I fail to see why a world in which octopuses die can still be called “very good,” but a world in which fish die cannot.

  23. 23
    CentralScrutinizer says:

    Sal: It grieves my heart that the Lord has expressed such fury against us. We cannot understand the Lord’s fury against humanity. It seems so disproportionate to our offenses.

    That’s because the important offenses we committed occurred in a pre-human existence that you have no memory of presently. The Adam/Eve story is an allegory of it. Open your mind and let that sink in.

  24. 24
    Axel says:

    ‘You refuse to acknowledge that God is capable of wrath as the bible clearly states.’

    Do you understand the meaning of the word, ‘paradox’, Peter?
    You are not reading what I have written, but creating fantasies.

    Moreover, I was not harmed academically for my unorthodox views. On the contrary, my views were ultra-orthodox, a simple iteration of what a young child learns from his catechism, and I chose to discontinue those studies, because the grave errors I saw were characteristic of the whole liberal mindset that prevailed in the seventies.

    Had it been a matter of erudition, I would not have stood a chance of matching their knowledge (however wretchedly they misconstrued its import).

    I’ll just give you one example: McKenzie, in his Dictionary of the Bible, described no less a giant of Judaeo-Christian history than David, as little better than a bandit. This, mark you was of the man of whom God remarked that he was a man after his own heart! that in his eyes, his throne was like the sun!

    It was from his line that Christ was to be born, and David provided his patronymic, Son of David – which meant so much to the ordinary people, less to the leaders; and that appears to remain the case today: he is, I believe, commonly regarded by the learned as an uneducated lout, a yahoo; also among the Gentiles, if McKenzie was any indication.

    When one sees the many entreaties for the poor in David’s Psalms, their correct belief in Jesus as the Messiah is understandable; likewise, his rejection by the Haves, who, like today’s ‘comfortably off’, must also be puzzled by Jesus’ desire for the freedom of the prison population.

    Not that they had not done bad things, but that our society is set up to sorely limit their options for survival, while itself being based on white-collar criminality (not always formally, even today), as a matter of routine, throughout history.

    The fact that there is an element of necessity in sending people to prison who act with criminal violence in one form or another, at ‘street level’, makes it no less lamentable that the chief miscreants in our societies who conspire to oppress the poor, are always the societies’ own leaders – whom they instal, and who lead the life or Reilly.

  25. 25

    vjtorley @22:

    Thanks. Some good thoughts. I’m curious about this sentence, though (probably due to my ignorance of Bede):

    “Nor does Bede’s gloss on Genesis 1:30, say that trees and herbs were given as food to all animals and birds, but to some.”

    Genesis 1:30 actually does refer to “every” one. Is he saying that it only refers to “some”?

  26. 26
    drc466 says:

    Responding to Dr. Torley @22,

    To your first point, it is perhaps telling that while some early theologians felt that there was animal death, the view was hardly universal (cf Basil, Wesley, Calvin from your Sarfati link). Additionally, the arguments you quote were not supported directly from the Bible – this does not make them invalid, of course, but it does pull them out of the realm of doctrine and into logical conclusion. Which, as we have seen, other theologians came to different conclusions.
    To your second point, after removing some unnecessary invective, Dr. Wile’s post at best resolves to “not proven” – he attempts to minimize the arguments without explicitly contradicting them. As he himself admits at the end of his post:

    Since I think the most likely conclusion from Scripture is that animals were not used as food before the Fall (but you can’t even be sure about that), it is probable that animals didn’t die before the Fall.

    To your third point, only God could tell us which animals were alive at the time of the fall, and which qualified as nephesh chayyah. Since we aren’t even sure what animals existed at the time of the fall, it is a bit premature to be placing genus-level qualifiers on which were affected, and which weren’t, don’t you think? I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that some group of animals greater than humans was affected by the Fall, the most visible evidence of which is the transition from vegetarian to carnivorous. Is it possible that Hebrew doesn’t have an exact word for that group of “living creatures”? I would think that also likely, given that the animals and language of Moses’ time bore little resemblance to what existed at the Fall.
    On the contrary side, you have to wonder why God bothered with telling us that plants were to be used for food and that animals were vegetarian, if the Fall only caused the death of humans, and nothing else. Similar to why would God use “evening”, “morning”, or “day” if He meant generic non-specific times of non-equal length not related to an actual physical time period.

  27. 27
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Eric Anderson,

    I’ve just been looking at St. Bede’s commentary, On Genesis here: http://books.google.co.jp/book.....38;f=false . If you go to page 94, you’ll see his gloss on Genesis 1:30. Bede writes:

    [1:29-30c] And God said: Behold I have given you every plant bearing seed upon the earth and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind to be your meat, and to all beasts of the earth and to every bird and to all that move upon /30/ the earth and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon.
    Now here it is clear that before the sin of man earth produced nothing harmful – no poisonous plant, no unfruitful tree. Since it is plainly said that every plant and all trees were given to men and to birds and to all living creatures of the earth for food, it is clear that those birds did not live by stealing the food of weaker animals, nor did the wolf search out an ambush around the sheepfold (114), nor was the dust the serpent’s food (115), but all things in harmony fed upon the green plants and the fruits of the trees.

    References

    114 Vergil Georg. 3.537.
    115 Isa. 65:25.
    (The book gives more detailed footnotes.)

    I have to say it looks like St. Thomas Aquinas is misreading Bede here. Perhaps he was relying on his faulty memory of what Bede said.

  28. 28
    vjtorley says:

    drc466,

    Thank you for your comment. I just want to ask you: are you arguing that there could have been no animal death (and hence no carnivory) before the Fall because then creation would not have been “very good” (Genesis 1:31), or are you arguing that there could have been no animal suffering before the Fall and hence no carnivory among sentient animals? If you are arguing the former, then I find it odd that you are willing to allow that plants could have died without impugning God’s goodness, but that non-sentient animals could not. If you are arguing the latter, then “the transition from vegetarian to carnivorous” per se is not an indicator of the Fall; only the transition among sentient animals would serve to mark this event.

    You also write that “we aren’t even sure what animals existed at the time of the fall” and “the animals and language of Moses’ time bore little resemblance to what existed at the Fall” (italics mine). You seem to be suggesting that animals evolved radically in the space of less than 3,000 years, to the extent that they “bore little resemblance” to the animals created by God. In other words, you seem to be implying that they literally lost their natures and became animals of a different kind. However, nowhere does Scripture say that they did so. Rather, it affirms that God made them “according to their kind.”

    You wonder “why God bothered with telling us that plants were to be used for food and that animals were vegetarian, if the Fall only caused the death of humans, and nothing else.” I would respectfully disagree with your premise: I don’t think Scripture tells us that the animals were vegetarian. I think Genesis 1:30 simply tells us that God made enough plant life to satisfy animals’ food requirements. (Whether they supplemented that plant food with meat, the Bible does not say.)

    Finally, even if you are inclined to view the occasion of carnivory among sentient animals as a result of the Fall, there is no logical reason why it could not have occurred prior to the Fall, if God infallibly foresaw that the Fall would occur. (God might have allowed creation to fall in this fashion because He knew what Adam would do.) Professor William Dembski made this point in The End of Christianity, and the American geologist Edward Hitchcock also made the very same point in the nineteenth century, as Dembski points out in his book.

  29. 29
    vjtorley says:

    Here’s some information on the Loa loa worm, for readers who are interested: http://www.nature.com/ng/journ......2585.html .

    Abstract:

    Loa loa, the African eyeworm, is a major filarial pathogen of humans. Unlike most filariae, L. loa does not contain the obligate intracellular Wolbachia endosymbiont. We describe the 91.4-Mb genome of L. loa and that of the related filarial parasite Wuchereria bancrofti and predict 14,907 L. loa genes on the basis of microfilarial RNA sequencing. By comparing these genomes to that of another filarial parasite, Brugia malayi, and to those of several other nematodes, we demonstrate synteny among filariae but not with nonparasitic nematodes. The L. loa genome encodes many immunologically relevant genes, as well as protein kinases targeted by drugs currently approved for use in humans. Despite lacking Wolbachia, L. loa shows no new metabolic synthesis or transport capabilities compared to other filariae. These results suggest that the role of Wolbachia in filarial biology is more subtle than previously thought and reveal marked differences between parasitic and nonparasitic nematodes.

    Figure 3:

    http://www.nature.com/ng/journ.....85_F3.html

    Maximum likelihood, parsimony and Bayesian methods all estimated an identical phylogeny using the concatenated protein sequences of 921 single-copy orthologs. To the left of each node are likelihood bootstrap support values/parsimony bootstrap support values/Bayesian posterior probabilities. The distributions of genes in the ortholog clusters are shown to the right of the phylogeny. Core genes are encoded by all genomes, shared genes are encoded by at least two but fewer than all genomes, and unique genes are found only in one genome. Orthologs specific to the nonparasitic (C. elegans, C. briggsae and P. pacificus) and filarial nematodes are also highlighted. Of the 6,280 L. loa genes with no functional assignment, 3,665 are unique to L. loa and 1,158 are filarial specific.

    From the article:

    Filarial nematodes dwell within the lymphatics and subcutaneous tissues of up to 170 million people worldwide and are responsible for notable morbidity, disability and socioeconomic loss. Although eight filarial species infect humans, only five cause substantial pathology: W. bancrofti, B. malayi and Brugia timori, the causative agents of lymphatic filariasis; Onchocerca volvulus, the causative agent of ‘river blindness’ or onchocerciasis; and L. loa, the African eyeworm. L. loa affects an estimated 13 million people and causes chronic infection usually characterized by localized angioedema (Calabar swelling) and/or subconjunctival migration of adult worms across the eye (‘African eyeworm’). Complications of infection include encephalopathy, entrapment neuropathy, glomerulonephritis and endomyocardial fibrosis. L. loa is restricted geographically to equatorial west and central Africa, where its deerfly vector (Chrysops spp.) breeds. L. loa microfilariae (L1) are acquired by flies from human blood and subsequently develop into infective larvae (L3) before being reintroduced into a human host during a second blood meal…

    Similarly to B. malayi, both L. loa and W. bancrofti lack the ability to synthesize nucleotides de novo. All three filarial genomes lack the majority of the proteins involved in the purine synthesis pathway, as well as the first enzyme involved in the pyrimidine synthesis pathway (Table 2 and Supplementary Table 24). Other nematodes have also lost portions of these pathways; the purine synthesis pathway has been largely lost in P. pacificus and M. hapla, whereas the first two enzymes in the pyrimidine synthesis pathway have been lost in T. spiralis.

    Sounds like there’s been a lot of devolution going on, over millions of years.

  30. 30
    drc466 says:

    Dr. Torley,

    Thanks for the response.

    – My position comes closest to saying that there was no suffering among sentient animals. Having said that, I’m not willing to erase the line between non-sentient animals and plants, as you seem to be – God appears to make a distinction in Gen 1, so I’ll take the “player-to-be-named-later” stance on whether death and carnivory occurred in non-sentient animal life prior to the Fall. Suffice it to say that since the vegetable/animal distinction is made, I’ll assume it is there for a reason.
    – Heh – I knew you’d jump on my “bore little resemblance” phrase, and you are right to – it was poorly put. I’ll replace by illustration – I do not think we would recognize the original “dog” kind of creation as being the ancestor of the pug, the dachsund, the Great Dane or the sheepdog. The amount of variability God put in the original kinds had to be immense, given even the un-extinct variation we see today, and the trouble we have discerning exactly what those “kinds” were, or grouping today’s species into those “kinds”. So, while we recognize “octopus” as a distinct species, I’m not certain we can say that there was an original “kind” that we would immediately recognize as such (maybe there was, that’d be cool).
    – I’ll agree with you that the Bible is equivocal on the issue of vegetarian-only. It makes more sense to me to read the emphasis of Genesis 1 and Romans 5 and the far-ranging effects of the curse as implying animals didn’t die prior to the Fall – however, it clearly isn’t explicit, and so I will leave it as a matter of personal interpretation. Consider me less dogmatic on that point now :).
    – As for God allowing carnivory prior to the Fall:

    And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it [would have been very good if God hadn’t known that Adam was going to sin and mess up the whole enchilada!]

    I’m very wary of having God place effect prior to cause, especially when it is not explicitly stated. I’d be interested to know if there are any places you can think of where God did so without explicitly stating He did it that way due to foreknowledge. If we start inferring that sort of behavior, all sorts of havoc could come out of the text that are not in there. Throwing in a one-off exception for the Fall is a hard-sell. Of all your points, this would be the one I would be most adamant against accepting. Apologies to Dembski and Hitchcock, but…No.
    At the end of the day, I’m still more of a Sarfati viewpoint, but I will concede there is room for personal interpretation. I still think the text is clear that the death was more far-ranging than simply human death, however unclear the exact kinds of life affected.

  31. 31

    I’m very wary of having God place effect prior to cause, especially when it is not explicitly stated. I’d be interested to know if there are any places you can think of where God did so without explicitly stating He did it that way due to foreknowledge.

    Not addressing your question directly, but just the latter clause:

    Why would anyone think that God didn’t know exactly, precisely, completely, what Adam and Eve were going to do, and that it was all part of God’s plan?

    The idea that God made some perfect paradise just the way He wanted it to be for the rest of eternity and then little ol’ Adam, who just by coincidence happened to be the first one on the scene, came along and messed up God’s plan is one of the silliest in all of Biblical discussion. Not saying that is the position you are taking, just pointing it out.

    If we are to give God any credit or if we are to take the idea of omniscience seriously at all (regardless of whether we are talking about literal omniscience or relative omniscience), then the only rational conclusion it seems is that God knew darn well what was going to happen when he put those two in the Garden in the first place.

    Why He would take that approach to the Fall is another question. But that He knew full well it was going to happen — and made contingencies to deal with it — certainly.

  32. 32
    jerry says:

    Why He would take that approach to the Fall is another question.

    I believe Milton speculated in Paradise Lost that the person being tempted was Satan, not Adam or Eve. Adam and Eve were just pawns. Satan rose to the bait and as a result we were blessed with the “Felix Culpa.” This is just Milton and not necessarily any accepted theology. But a fascinating perspective.

    Otherwise there would have been a bland happy ever after scenario starting at day 1 with about a trillion people in paradise in about 500 years. I hope they would have had good sanitation facilities.

  33. 33

    jerry:

    Thanks for mentioning Milton. Interesting thought.

    A related issue that seems strange to me is that some people act as though Eden was the original end goal and that it is a tragedy it was lost.

    You mention a “bland happy ever after scenario.” That reminds me of my time living in Soviet Moscow, and later Russia. During the Soviet era — despite the underlying, mostly-out-of-sight, iron fist — I was struck by the fact that there was almost a feeling of naive innocence everywhere I went. Everyone rode the same bus or drove the same one or two car models, everyone had the same style of clothing, everyone lived in a similar flat, everyone had access to the same books and the same few State-run television and radio stations. Entertainment was predictable and largely the same from one year to the next: the opera, the circus, walks about the park, and so on. The streets were clean — litter was virtually unheard of — crime was extremely low (real crime, not the trumped-up-fraternizing-with-the-West kind of allegations).

    Mind you, I am in no way suggesting that Soviet life was a paradise. But it was similar to Eden in the sense of almost childlike innocence, the sense of predictable order, the lack of opportunity for exercising one’s own individuality, the lack of — well, frankly — choice.

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the flood of Western influence (for good or ill), everything was turned on its head. Suddenly people didn’t fear they were being spied on at every turn. People began expressing themselves more openly and boldly. And on the downside, the baser aspects of human activity, things like theft and crime and litter became rampant.

    I’ve often reflected on how people could change their behavior so radically in just a couple of years. I finally concluded that after the shackles of the strong Soviet state dissipated, people were much more free to make their own choices, to exercise their own agency. And some of those choices turned out to be less than ideal. It wasn’t so much that people had changed overnight. Rather, it was a combination of people (i) not having been taught what it meant to live in a free society, coupled with (ii) the ability to now (largely) do what they wanted. It wasn’t that everyone was internally so proper and law-abiding before the Soviet collapse. It was rather that the Soviet society didn’t allow any other behavior and the internal compass had not had to be honed and refined and followed.

    Well, that is a gross generalization and is much too long of an aside. My point, though, is that I doubt Eden offered the kind of climate that is necessary for people to really learn, grow, develop, experience, rise above challenges, exercise faith — to become “perfect” as Christ challenged.

    So, no, I don’t see the Fall as a tragic loss of some idyllic Edenic state, but rather as a necessary step in the overall plan, a plan that would put us right in the thick of things and give us — indeed force us — to both rub shoulders and bump elbows, to experience the joy with the pain, to decide whether to live by faith, to come to grips with our mortality and learn to prioritize our limited time, to grow and learn and overcome.

  34. 34
    Querius says:

    Thanks for sharing your observations of people living in Soviet Moscow and then Russia. Fascinating!

    I’m not sure that Eden wasn’t a tragic loss, but it was also the beginning of a demonstration of the profound ultimate supremacy of life in God’s love over rebellion and death.

    -Q

  35. 35

    Querius:

    Thanks for your kind comment.

    I think the real clincher with respect to Eden is trying to square the simplistic storyline we sometimes hear of: (i) an omnipotent, omniscient God, with (ii) a couple of people coming along and messing up God’s plan. When we stop to think about it, it is absurd. Of course God knew exactly what was going to happen, precisely what Adam and Eve were going to do, before they ever did it. There was no surprise. There was no mad scramble to salvage things when God’s little Eden was thwarted by these two simple humans. There was only a well-planned, fully-expected, perfectly-coordinated outcome.

    Again, we can have interesting discussions on why Eden was set up the way it was, why God used man’s own agency to initiate a particular sequence of events, etc. But that God was well aware beforehand, was very much in control of the situation (whether directly or by planning with foreknowledge), and that it was ultimately all part of his master plan, we can be quite confident.

  36. 36
    jerry says:

    Eric,

    Thanks for your insight on the former Soviet Union.

    My main point is fairly simple, that anything that gets in the way of free will is bad. Others have obviously made this same point for thousands of years. It is impossible to have a meaningful life without free will*. If we really are automatons and have no choice over our decisions what does existence mean? Also if external situations also limit our choices (e.g. Soviet control of even the smallest of possible choices or a world that is extremely benevolent that no one would want to do anything different) then we are again less than fully human.

    Thus, in this world we must have doubt and there must be uncertainty and natural evil in this world is a necessary price to pay for it because it is part of that doubt. If we could eliminate all natural evil and uncertainty, it would indeed be a bland existence**.

    But few seem to understand this. Witness the number of people who cite natural evil as a game changer. I was recently on a trip and ran into a religious cleric at breakfast and we briefly discussed natural evil. It was his opinion that this was the biggest obstacle to belief in today’s society.

    My other point is that each natural evil, no matter how horrific is essentially trivial in the scheme of things. The Christian God promises something far far greater than any discomfort or unfortunate circumstance in this world. Yet we get absurdities such as Dr. Liddle wanting to take the Christian God to the Hague for trial and incarceration. Which goes to show how far shallow thinking runs among the so called elite.

    * I believe it was Sartre who was an atheist who expressed it rather well. That a prisoner shackled to a wall in a dungeon several levels below the ground has options and the ultimate nature of his being is determined by the choices he makes.

    We are determined by our free will and the choices we make. Without them we are meaningless blobs of organic soup. I find it amazing how so called intelligent people can argue for such a position.

    ** My experience is that if we eliminate a source of discomfort or risk or what might be called an evil, we will find something else to replace them as undesirable which also must be eliminated. These new undesirable events will be the new “evil.”

  37. 37
    Peter says:

    24, Axel

    How ironic, your criticize me for being bereft of knowledge and do not quote scripture once to support your interpretation that God is all (or only) loving. No it is not a paradox any more than a person can have different emotions at different times under different circumstances. I have met people like you who refuse to think, and refuse to quote scripture to support their point of view. You are no different than my wimpy professors that could not accept a wrathful God despite the overwhelming biblical evidence. They could throw out any part of the Bible if they thought it hurt the feelings of a woman, or a homosexual, regardless of what God’s message to us is.

    This is my last response to you because it is futile debating a person who can not think, or support their argument. Fortunately a person does not need to have a coherent understanding of the Bible for salvation, only faith is Jesus.

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