This topic difficult for both evolutionary creation and young earth creationists (hereafter to be referred to as YEC’s). The consistent position of YEC’s is that physical death, disease and suffering was a consequence of the fall, but it is clear from the evidence that death has been around since there has been life which is long before the fall took place. The challenge often placed to EC’s is that why would a loving God establish a creative process that involves death and disease? These are not, and we should not try to give easy answers.
Because the evidence is so clear, I am going to assume death before the fall, and that the earth is as old as scientists say it is (about 4.5 billion years old, life being about 1-2 billion years old). I will dedicate future posts to an explanation of the reliability of dating techniques, but I want to stick with the issues for now that are obstacles to Christians accepting the theory of evolution. Logically, the question we need to deal with is what kind of death is introduced by the fall if it’s not physical death?
In order to answer what the death that results from the fall is, we must address what it means to live. I think we can actually find this answer in John 17:1b-3 which says, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Here we have a clear definition of life, to know God. Next, we should look at a verse that speaks of both death and life. Romans 6:23 states “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We have here the contrast between death and life. Sin leads to death, but the gift of God is eternal life, which we just saw means knowing God. However, the Bible also says that it is appointed to every man once to die, and then judgment. So it seems safe to say that Paul is not referring to physical death when he is speaking of the wages of sin. I think that actually to reduce it to being the end of one’s biological life is to actually make light of the death that Paul is driving at. The much more diabolical death is to be alienated from God, and I think that is the kind of death we see in Genesis 3, and I think it’s actually taking the texts more seriously than those who try to get physical death out of “the day you eat of the tree you shall surely die”, and they most certainly did die. We were alienated from the one who is the source of true life, God, because we wanted to be gods.
With the curse we see what this alienation from God means. There is now a corruption in our relationships with each other, a corruption in the relationship with our children (and children with their parents), and a corruption in vocation. Death is widespread in all facets of life, simply because we became alienated from God, which is true death. We also see that as a consequence we no longer fulfill the role God gave us as his image bearer’s, to be a royal priesthood in administering his loving rule over creation and draw the praises of creation to the Father. Because we have forfeited this vocation, all of creation has suffered. We don’t treat our fellow man, or animals and the environment as we are supposed to. In refusing to steward creation, we spoil it. I am no liberal by saying this. It is in Genesis 1 that we are to have dominion over creation so it is logical and it is clearly within our power, that if we use our dominion wrongly we can damage creation.
The death from the fall, our alienation from God, and the curses resulting from it, are what Jesus came to earth to provide a solution for. Through his life he healed relationships between God and us and each other. He taught us what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, and revealed how dire our condition really is, and through the cross and the resurrection, he provided the remedy that defeats sin, evil, and death and provides new life that we can have in Jesus. In the next post, I will explore the issue of theodicy. Why would a good and loving God, use the process of evolution by natural selection to create everything?