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There are several ways that Christians have tried to reconcile evolution with the Biblical narrative of creation. Theistic evolution is one option. Another is C.S. Lewis's way of how while the bodies undergo evolution, there was one historic couple Adam and Eve to whom God breathed "a new kind of consciousness" making the couple to be the one truly made in the "image of God" and that we all biologically descended from that couple thus sharing in their Fall consequences (see this article referencing The Problem of Pain).

Regardless, evolution over hundreds of thousands of years necessitated many deaths before the first species (or before 2 special members of a humanoid species) whom God stamped his image, and from whom we descended biologically, which young earth proponents adduce as one of the KEY theological obstacles if we take seriously Gen 1 where God pronounced his pre-Fall creation as "good".

One Young Earth proponent said:

God can make use of death, but for it to be one of his primary creative tools paints the character of God in a very different light.

with these as Biblical support:

  1. Death itself is described as "enemy" (1 Cor 15:26):

    The last enemy to be abolished is death.

    so how could God use death as a means of creation?

  2. In the restoration (presumably to the condition before the Fall), there is no death per Isa 11:6-9:

    The wolf will dwell with the lamb,and the leopard will lie down with the goat. ... An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit, and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den. ... They will not harm or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain, ...

  3. In Rom 8:19-23 we read

    ... For the creation was subjected to futility -- not willingly, but because of him who subjected it -- in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God's children. ...

    But groaning, suffering and decay is usually seen by YECs as referring to the consequences of the fall wrought by God's curse ("because of him who subjected it", see answer to the question "Who subjected the creation to futility in Rom 8:20-21"). If death is part of the creative process then it's not decay.

Thus, my question is: How do Christians holding some role of evolution defend against Young Earth proponents' charge that the many deaths required by evolution is adding blemish to God's character, or is counter to God's pronouncing creation as "good"?

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    I'd suggest you add in some of the passages that talk negatively about death, it's too easy to just handwave "death's not really so bad" if the question doesn't bring them to the forefront. I'd suggest 1 Cor 15:26, Rom 8:19-23, Isa 11:6-9.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 28, 2023 at 23:45
  • @curiousdannii I included 1 Cor 15:26 and Isa 11:6-9 with appropriate context for citing them. But I don't think Rom 8:19-23 supports a death-free pre-Fall because in fact it says "For the creation was subjected to futility -- not willingly, but because of him who subjected it -- in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God's children." In my reading, it is God himself subjected "decay" (and death) to non-human creation either before the Fall or because of the Fall of Adam. Jul 29, 2023 at 4:01
  • @curiousdannii I want to make this a very strong question, so I invite you to edit it as you see fit. Jul 29, 2023 at 4:02
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    I suggested Romans 8 because that groaning, suffering and decay is usually seen by YECs as referring to the consequences of the fall. If death is part of the creative process then it's not decay.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 29, 2023 at 4:40
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    @GratefulDisciple interesting note on Romans 8 - the word "futility" there is the same as the Septuagint translation of "vanity" (hebel in Hb.) in Ecclesiastes. I'm sure that's an intentional reference. Jul 29, 2023 at 15:13

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Augustine answers this question in The Literal Interpretation of Genesis book III chapter 25:

Someone is going to say: 'Then why do beasts injure one another, though they neither have any sins, so that this kind of thing could be called punishment, nor by such trials do they gain at all virtue?'

For the simple reason, of course, that some are the proper diet of others. Nor can we have any right to say, 'There shouldn't be some on which others feed.' All things, you see, as long as they continue to be, have their own proper measures, numbers, and destinies. So all things, properly considred, are worthy of acclaim; nor is it without some contribution in its own way to the temporal beauty of the world that they undergo change by passing from one thing into another. This may escape fools; those making progress have some glimmering of it; to the perfect it is as clear as daylight.

Note that he takes for granted the fact that there was death (in the animal world) before the Fall. He answers the question of the justice of animal death by pointing out how beautiful ecology is - how animals are designed to live together in a food chain in which some are the proper food of others, and through this whole process, the beauty of nature emerges. He did not know about evolution, but I think his words in these paragraphs can clearly also be applied to evolution - out of the individual chaos of animals living and striving and dying, a beautiful system and balance emerges, even a creative process.

He goes on to say that "all such goings-on in the animal world provide us human beings with plenty of salutary admonitions," i.e. that by us rational creatures observing the animal world, we can know that we ought to treasure our spirituality, otherwise we will simply live as animals do, which is not very desirable. If I may take a step beyond what Augustine says in this book, when God told Adam that "in the day you eat of it, you will surely die," it would have been clear to Adam the implication that eating the forbidden fruit would make him like an animal.

Continuing this chain of thought: If we suppose that animal death is bad on the basis of its similarity to human death, we actually demean our own status. We would thus put ourselves in the same category as the beasts. In reality, us being God's image-bearers makes us radically different, morally speaking, from animals. Death of animals is more akin to death of plants or even death of bacteria than it is to death of humans, because animals, plants, and bacteria are all non-image-bearing life forms. The superficial similarity of humans to beasts does not imply a spiritual similarity, so I really do not even buy the premise of the YEC argument on this point.

Speaking for myself, I think that there is a clear argument from design that animal death preceded the Fall: Go outside and look around. All the animals you see have features specifically designed either to kill other animals or to protect themselves from being killed. Many of the plants you see are filled with toxins to harm animals that try to eat them. The plants and fungi grow out of the corpses of dead animals. And, of course, it is difficult to imagine a stable world anything like ours where animals could reproduce but not die. Postulating that there was no death among animals before the Fall would require us to believe that God made huge alterations to world at that time, which is hard to reconcile with the fact that he finished creating on the 6th day.

If you haven't read The Literal Meaning of Genesis, I highly recommend taking a look. Augustine did not take the six days of Genesis 1 as six 24-hour periods of time. And yet Augustine was a staunch defender of a literal approach to Bible interpretation (see for example City of God book XV chapter 27) against allegorizers like Origen, and consistently insists that authorial intent must take precedence in hermeneutics. His reasons for not taking the six days literally are based on the text itself. He was obviously not motivated by modern science, nor was he motivated by the science of the day - he was perfectly willing to postulate, based on the Bible, things that were thought scientifically impossible by contemporary secular scholars. He also gives a shorter discussion of the topic of Creation in City of God book XI.

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  • Thanks. Excellent summary of salient points from St. Augustine applied to modern times. I especially appreciate distinguishing various meanings of "literal" all of which are properly contrasted with Origen's allegorical. Jul 28, 2023 at 19:15
  • Funny how Augustine answers so many of our modern-day questions. Jul 28, 2023 at 20:14
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    Anyone that doesn't think animal death is bad is either a monster, or has never had a companion animal. Meanwhile, it's interesting that both you and Augustine miss the boat so thoroughly. Yes, plants have defenses against being eaten, and Genesis 3:18 is quite clear why. God did make significant alterations post-Fall, besides that, being omniscient, He probably Created life with "contingency features". It's hard to imagine a world with no Death, yes, but it's also hard to imagine a world in which clothes and sandals don't wear out... but Scripture is clear these things will be.
    – Matthew
    Jul 29, 2023 at 4:33
  • "All the animals you see have features specifically designed either to kill other animals or to protect themselves from being killed."--sheep? (they are usually the first animals that I see when I go outside).
    – user59106
    Jul 29, 2023 at 6:13
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    Domestic sheep still have hardened heads with extra brain protection, allowing them to butt other animals. I've seen a hornless ewe use this method to scare off a large dog that was close to her lamb. They also have legs longer than they need for grazing - running away is an effective defence against being killed. Aug 1, 2023 at 12:16

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