Saturday, July 19, 2014

Carnivory and wildlife: Normality, Creation and the Fall

The idea that the lions in Eden were docile vegetarians with dagger-sharp claws originally designed by God for tearing the bark off tress appeared downright silly [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 16]

One objection to the idea that animal death came before the Fall is the idea that the current world with the presence of carnivores and the eating of meat is good. Another like it is the idea that carnivores are ideally adapted to eat meat. As Osborn says, it appears downright silly to imagine lions tearing the bark off trees for food.

The major problem with such objections is that it often misrepresents what young earth creationists actually believe. For example, I absolutely agree with Osborn that lions tearing off bark for food is silly. But which scientifically informed creationist actually hold to such a ludicrous position? As I have often said, and will say again, there is a terrible ignorance of what creationists actually do hold to. So for those like Osborn who are trying to argue against the YEC position, who exactly are they trying to convince? How is it intellectually honest for someone, anyone, to claim to disprove the YEC position on this issue when they can't even represent the YEC position correctly? Disagree if you wish, but misrepresentation shows disrespect for one's opponents and converts no one.

With regards to the first objection, there is nothing wrong with saying that meat-eating now, i.e. after the Fall, is good. No creationist that I know of objects to this. Firstly, even before the Fall, death was not withheld to those which are not nephesh chayyah (נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה). In other words, strictly according to Scripture, biological death is not precluded of those which are described biblically as being "living." So whales for example can still eat krill, and zooplankton, phytoplankton. Secondly, since as we know God in Genesis 9:3 gave animals as food to Man, meat-eating at least since the Flood must be considered good before God. Furthermore, it is not necessary to read God's allowance of meat-eating in Genesis 9:3 as being the first instance where meat-eating is allowed. In the Fall, God killed animals to provide Adam and Eve with fur clothes to cover them. Abel tended flocks and sacrificed some of them to God. It is therefore not inconceivable for meat-eating to exist since the Fall, and Genesis 9:3 merely states what is already practiced while regulating it (i.e. with the prohibition of drinking the blood). So one wonders how the proof of the goodness of meat-eating after the Fall can have any relevance at all on the question of whether meat-eating is good before the Fall.

In response to the second objection, the first thing that must be said is there were no "lions" in Eden. There were only the first animal type of the various created kinds, or baramins. Since lions belong to the cat kind, there were probably some primordial cat that is the ancestor of all the cats we have today. This should immediately invalidate Osborn's example, since young earth creationists do not believe there were lions in Eden in the first place! In fact, I would venture to say that many of the animals we see today probably did not exist in the primordial world. Secondly, the whole idea that sharp claws must correlate with carnivory is false. Koalas have sharp claws, but they are not carnivores! Thirdly, who ever said that "lions," or rather the original cat kind, ate tree bark? We don't even know how the primordial cat looks like, much less what it ate. Maybe it ate fruits and nuts, and climbed trees to get to them (which would also explain the sharp claws)!

In conclusion, this apologetic for the idea of animal death before the Fall falls flat. It shows a shocking ignorance of the creationist position. As for me, after reading so many of these "academic" works, I find it depressing that this represent the best scholars can come up with.

8 comments:

Ron said...

Daniel, thanks for taking the time to read my book. Let me see if I understand your position. The reason massive canine teeth and claws in lions pose to quandary for young earth or young life creationists is because in your view: a) God didn't create lions (they somehow rapidly evolved after the fall?), and b) the prelapsarian ancestors to lions would in any case have used their claws to climb trees and their teeth to eat coconuts or some such hardened fruit or nuts?

PuritanReformed said...

a) Speciation happens, and that's an empirical fact. Dogs for example were artificially bred by humans selecting for traits they desire. I don't think that's "rapid evolution after the fall," in the same way that the breeding of a chihuahua should not be considered "rapid evolution after the fall." Speciation is natural and happens all the time even now; it is not a one-time event happening after the Fall.

b) I'm suggesting that as a possibility, since we know that modern great cats like leopards climb tree. Besides this, it's speculation. Even then, it is much more plausible than any speculation of the supposed reconstruction of human evolution.

Ron said...

Given what we know about how long speciation takes for large mammals and how soon lions appear in the biblical text, the evolution of lions, tigers, and other large cats from some now extinct ancestor would have to be very rapid indeed, at least if you are confining yourself to the most traditional creationist timeframe of six to ten thousand years from the creation of all of life to the present. Presumably you believe lions were included on Noah's ark. In any case, your theory that God created an ancestor to the great cats that also possessed canine teeth and claws for the purpose of eating fruits and nuts will strike many as being of exactly the same kind as a theory that they used these dagger sharp tools for stripping bark off of trees: it is a purely ad hoc "just so" story to sustain a prior conviction about what Genesis is saying. As you know from my chapter on Lakatos, where ad hoc theories proliferate we are moving into the realm of degenerating research. I wish you the best in your ongoing search for truth. My own search has led me from a starting point quite similar to yours to very different conclusions.

PuritanReformed said...

@Ron:

I must disagree with you on the rate of mutation and speciation. For someone who believes in evolution, I am disappointed that you underestimate the capability of nature to adapt to changing environment. Also, given that present day genomes are generally less varied in their alleles (i.e. tend towards homozygosity), I do not see why a much more varied genotype could be found in the primordial species, in which case less mutations would be necessary to introduce all the phenotypic features found in their descendents.

As for being purely ad-hoc, in the sense that it is not arrived at from an inductive approach from the evidence, I admit. The issue however is that you misunderstand the nature of science. In the next few posts, I hope to speak to this issue, because I am most certainly not convinced that your application of Lakatos' proposal actually works.

Ron said...

Daniel, we simply do not see speciation happening among large mammals in nature at anything like the rate of required by young earth or life creationists (approximately 2,000 years from the creation to Noah's flood?). The scientific consensus is that it was hundreds of thousands of years from the appearance of the original cave lions to the emergence of the subspecies of European cave lions. You might reject this scientific consensus and assert that "the primordial species" in the Garden of Eden had a "much more varied genotype". But as one who purports to know much about the nature of science, let us at least be clear that your speculations are not scientific but rather, once more, ad hoc imaginative leaps as a way of insulating your theological commitments from critique.

In any case, I have no particular stake in this part of your argument since whether we are talking about lions or lion ancestors my point remains: felines with massive claws and canine teeth for eating coconuts or durians or whatever fruit or nut you prefer sounds at least as silly as felines with claws for tearing the bark off of trees. And the riddle of animals perfectly adapted for predation remains. Did these animals evolve in a naturalistic way after Adam's fall? Were they supernaturally cursed by God? Did the devil do it? None of these answers are satisfying to my mind for the reasons I offer in Part Two of my book.

Regretfully, this must be my final posting since other writing assignments call. Pax vobiscum.

PuritanReformed said...

@Ron,

that is simply not true. See http://creation.com/speedy-species-surprise. Or if you wish to get it from the primary scientific literature, you can look at the referenced scientific journals, which include articles in Science and Nature, Tier 1 scientific journals. Surely these journals aren't owned by creationists, are they?

The questions to be asked are these:

1) Do sharp claws necessarily indicate usage for attacking animals and tearing meat?
Answer: No, see Koala.

2) Do sharp teeth necessarily indicate canivory?
Answer: No, see example Indian Rhino (See this for example http://listverse.com/2010/01/10/top-10-herbivores-you-probably-want-to-avoid/)

3) So why is it silly?
Answer: No reason.

As for being naturally adapated for predation, have you heard of dual use functions? Something adapted for climbing tress for example would have a function for killing other animals. If you're so set on tying supposed phenotypes with diet, could you explain why the animals I have stated as having either sharp claws and/or sharp teeth aren't carnivores?

I will start to address your other claims as soon as I can. I wish you the best in your writing assignments, and though you might not have the time to write back, I hope you will reconsider your positions in light of what I have said. Peace be with you too.

Ron said...

Daniel, I pointed out to you that the scientific consensus is that it took hundreds of thousands of years for the emergence of a SUBspecies of cave lions to appear and you respond by saying this isn't true with a link to an article on guppies? I suppose whether or not one finds arguments like the ones you are making convincing or silly will depend to a high degree on one's prior beliefs. Could Great White Sharks (or their ancestors) have also been docile vegetarians following the logic of your ad hoc "just-so" stories? I am not convinced. Neither are a great many other Christians who have spent their lives wrestling with both the scientific and the biblical evidence.

PuritanReformed said...

@Ron:

it is not just guppies. Those scientific articles prove an unusual rate of speciation, which occurred in years. Extrapolate that to hundreds and thousands of years and it is not inconceivable that lions and leopards and tigers could have arisen from one primordial ancestor in that time.

And I have been wrestling with this issue for a very long time also, ever since I was in high school. You Sir are not the only one to wrestle with the same issues.