Death in Creation

A couple of years ago, I pondered the meaning of physical death in terms of the predicted result of eating the forbidden fruit. Given that in the Genesis story Adam and Eve lived on several centuries after eating the fruit, the prediction seemed wrong unless it was spiritual death of which God was speaking.

Bob Robinson recently posted on this topic, quoted two preeminent evangelical scholars (N.T. Wright and Douglas Moo), both of whom believe that physical death was a part of the original created order–or, at least, that if humans were immortal it was by grace and conditional (i.e. obedience to God prerequisite), rather than something innate or essential to humans.

Robinson refers to the seasons, which are a cycle of death and rebirth, and to the food chain of carnivorous animals. Some might argue that the seasons and carnivores would not have existed prior to the fall, so this may not be the best example.  But the point is that death appears to be essential to creation as we know it, including elements of creation which would not have changed after the fall.  I’m thinking, for instance, of reproduction.  I’m not well-versed in biology, but it seems to me that there is a pattern in nature of death preceding or accompanying new life: for example, a fruit must die and decay in order for its seed to be able to germinate and grow into a new plant, or for every sperm that successfully reaches its destination, millions die.

If I’m wrong on my biology, please correct me.  And I suppose, too, that the question must be asked, What is life?  Theologically, is it only those things which have breath that can properly be said to die or is life broader than that? Interesting topic, at any rate.

This Thursday the Providence College Lectures will be given by Dr. Glen Klassen, with the topic, “A Scientist Reflects on How God Makes the World”: “He will be exploring topics on how traditional ideas of creation are challenged by the scientific approach and will ask the question, “is there any middle ground between Creationism and Darwinism?”  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to most of the day’s seminars.

9 thoughts on “Death in Creation

  1. Scott

    Good post… As for your biology: Life does not have to cease in order for new life to arise. A single bacterium splits into two new individuals, and they can continue splitting indefinitely. A fruit is only a part of the plant. It has evolved to attract organisms that will spread its seed in order to expand its territory. Plants actually could live forever – many plants can reproduce by vegetative reproduction – cloning. Cancer cells are essentially cells that will not die when they are supposed to. Life does not have to end, but an even more interesting way to look at immortality is that our genes are immortal. The information they encode is passed from one generation to the next. We are merely vessels for that information (the Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins)

  2. Toni

    An interesting topic indeed. One could argue that a fruit was already effectively dead at the time of being picked, which is why it will rot after a period of time.

    You’re probably aware that human reproduction is an area I’m professionally interested in. The process of ovulation is one of wounding and repair (the ovum literally digests it’s way through the ovary wall) and likewise the menstrual cycle causes a woman’s body to create new tissue and then discard it if it won’t be required. Giving birth is arguably immuno-rejection on a catastrophic scale, with a huge amount of trauma to both mother and child.

    I’ve often wondered whether this wounding process is a reflection of a fallen creation, and shows us a system in derangement that otherwise might work in harmony. A part of the curse was that a woman would bring forth children in pain, and we can see that is absolutely true.

    How would women have children if we’d not fallen? I have no idea how it might have worked and consider there to be 2 possible answers:

    1) That the human body holds or held the ability to work differently from the way it currently works in the reproductive area.

    2) That God, being aware of what would happen, designed things to be as they are now, knowing that Eve would never have children before the fall.

    My optimism about God’s character leads me to reject this second possibility. If He looked at His creation, knowing He’d built in flawed systems deliberately I do not think He’d have seen it as ‘very good’. On this basis I’d suggest that the seasons as we now see them are also a result of the fall, and the whole cycle of death and rebirth springs from that. What we perceive as natural now is the un-natural order of things in God’s biosphere.

    I’d also draw your attention to a creature that apparently didn’t fall quite as far as everything else, and is something of a biological oddity. The Panda is a carnivore that eats only plant matter. It has to eat a huge amount of bamboo simply because it’s not ‘designed’ for that kind of food. Makes me wonder if it somehow never learned to eat animals post-fall. (I wouldn’t build too much theology around this though!).

  3. Ian H.

    Unless God created the world in stasis, it would have to incorporate death from the beginning – the only place organisms can get needed nutrients for life is from cast-off husks of former organisms (a.k.a. dirt). The earth is a closed system, therefore there is no source for nutrients other than what exists on it already.

    As to the matter of seasons, they exist because of the axial tilt of the earth, and its elliptical orbit. Unless YE creationists are willing to say that the Earth’s original axial tilt was zero, and it had a perfectly round orbit (and somehow it got knocked askew), there had to have been seasons since the dawn of creation.

  4. Toni

    “I’d suggest that the seasons as we now see them are also a result of the fall, and the whole cycle of death and rebirth springs from that.”

    There is a school of thought which suggests that the pre-flood earth was covered with clouds completely, rather like Venus presently is. In such circumstances the seasons would be much less noticeable, and although the period of dark and light would change, temperature variations would be quite small, thanks to the insulating properties of the cloud blanket. You do however once again make me wonder whether ‘life’ in a biblical perspective is viewed differently when it comes to plants etc.

    I can idly speculate about this quite a bit, but that’s exactly what it would be, and I’m not inclined to build theology from hopes and spun sugar.

  5. Scott

    The only cause of the seasons is the axial tilt of the earth. This tilt causes the rays from the sun to strike over a larger area in the north and south hemispheres than at the equator. Venus is covered in not only clouds but an atmosphere that is much denser than ours. This is because our moon possibly stripped excess atmosphere from the earth, whereas Venus does not have such a luxury. If the earth was ever completely covered by clouds, plants would soon die out and so would pretty much all other life. The only source of energy for the earth is sunlight (though there are a lot of archae and bacteria that obtain their energy from the heat and chemicals in the earth, they do not support any surface of the earth ecosystems). The only way organisms such as humans (heterotrophs – life that consumes other life to obtain energy and matter) need to consume plants (autotrophs – life that manufactures its own food from sunlight…) or organisms that eat plants. There are times in Earth’s distant past where the climate was much warmer and colder, but there were still living organisms thriving in the seas and on the surface.

    The “schools of thought” that postulate a “pre-flood” cloud cover are essentially YE creationists. The evidence that the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old is overwhelming and there is no evidence for any worldwide flood.

  6. Toni

    Ah, just got it. Young Earth.


    I’ve read stuff that suggests there is evidence for a flood (more than 20 years ago) but I’m no geologist and can’t appraise it critically.

    :shrug again:

    This will remain an area of mystery for me until the day I die.

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