Monday, June 29, 2009

No death in the Garden of Eden?

I have often heard Christians assert that the Garden of Eden was a paradise in which no death ever occurred. 

God's original creation was "very good". without blemish, death and suffering. Even the animals did not eat each other, they were all vegetatians (sic). Something happened to change all that and it was sin. After that the Lord cursed the universe but gave a way for man to be restored to him.

They cite sources such as Genesis 1:29-30, in which God gives the newly-created Adam and Eve and all animals "every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed" for food.  Lions, wolves, bats, sharks, alligators, eagles--all of them were strictly herbivorous.

While this might appear at first glance to an idealistic paradise, more investigation reveals this scenario is rife with problems.

The first problem with this scenario is that predators certainly look as if they were designed to catch and eat prey. What with the claws, the fangs, the forward-facing vision to track movement, the variation of hide coloring to conceal themselves, the digestive tracts suitable for consumption of flesh, hair and bone--all of those features are absolutely unnecessary for animals hunting plants. No cheetah needed to sprint up to 70 miles per hour to catch a bush.

So perhaps God created these creatures with useless features that not only would not help them consume plants but in fact would hinder them from doing so. It's hard to survive if your teeth can't properly chew cellulose and it passes right through you. This would be a colossal example of bad design. Or, perhaps God repurposed a large swath of the animal kingdom (and plants--think of venus flytraps and other plants that feed on insects) to be carnivorous after Adam and Eve's fall. Essentially this would mean that God took a lion with flat, plant-grinding teeth and performed divine dentistry to give it sharp incisors, along with a meat-preferring digestive system as well as the natural desire to consume meat to begin with. If that's the case, then I'd have to say that a plant-eating lion could hardly be called a lion in the first place.

What's more, the introduction of death would also require the creation of an entire group of creatures we call scavengers. Vultures, hyenas, even many bacteria feed off dead flesh. But according to the Creaion myth, they were not a part of the original six-day creation. They would have had to be created after the Fall, even though Genesis is clear that after six days God rested from creation. According to Hugh Ross, who sees Genesis as an uncannily accurate scientific treatise, we are still in this seventh day, which is why Ross asserts no new species are evolving today. (He's wrong about that, of course, but he needs it to be true for his premise to hold up.)

But we know what happens in situations today when predators are removed from an ecosystem--the herbivores overpopulate, consume all the food supply, then begin a massive starve-off.

And yet, according to the story, death hadn't entered the world, meaning no rabbits were starving to death for lack of greenery. So the only way that I can imagine this scenario panning out is for plant-eaters to not reproduce. At all. Despite God's command to increase and multiply, no animals or plants could reproduce. They certainly don't need to, since they aren't dying, and if they did, they would multiply unchecked. So again we have the same problem as the predators, in that every single species is equipped with organs and hormones and sexual characteristics with absolutely no purpose. The male peacock's beautiful plumage is completely pointless, because no female peacock will ever select a male for mating. No plant ever blooms, no tree ever launches seed pods. Even worse, no tree ever bears fruit either, since within each fruit is the seeds of future generations. And yet every single living creature is dependent on the plants bearing fruit for food--an unsolvable conundrum.

So either God created reproduction ahead of time for no reason, or he re-created all of creation after the Fall. Neither scenario is satisfying.

In a world without death, there can be no birth, either. Just unending, unchanging, static existence--as stagnant as a dank pool of brackish water. Certainly not the paradise we've imagined Eden to be.

All of these problems are what to be expected in a world with no death. I'm just an ordinary guy--I'm sure a trained biologist could come up with even more problems. These are the logical conclusions of holding to a primitive myth. Now there is no doubt that the idea of no pain, sorrow, and death is a compelling one. I completely understand the desire to believe that "Once upon a time nothing ever died." But like all fairy tales, they reveal our innermost desires and dreams and fears, but we must be very careful not to take them literally.

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