Faro, Ingrid. “The Question of Evil and Animal Death Before the Fall,” Trinity Journal 36 (2015): 193-213.
Faro begins her article by seeking to determine what should be considered evil. She argues that too often English speakers read the English sense of the word into Hebrew words with much broader semantic domains. Though not explicit, she seems to indicate that natural events like hurricanes, or falling off a cliff due to gravity, etc. should not be classified as evils because it is the way God designed natural laws to work in the world. Gravity and hurricanes both have good effects too. As the article develops Faro seems to extend this logic to predation as well. When she defines evil she leaves aside senses from Hebrew words such as “deficient,” “displeasing,” or “unpleasant.” He definition reads: “Evil, then, from God’s perspective is presented predominately as choices that conflict with God.”
The advantage of this approach is evident for the Christian who wishes to escape the problem of animal death. It simply redefines animal death as not evil. However, I’m not convinced of the sufficiency of this argument. The philosophers who are concerned about the problem of evil in the animal world are not thinking that the pain and suffering and death in the animal realm is evil because they’re reading narrow English senses into words with broader Hebrew senses. They’re looking at death and pain and suffering and recoiling with horror at it. In addition limiting evil to actions chosen by humans seems too narrow theologically. If God has built creational norms into his world, and if sin has disrupted these norms across the board, then it would seem that evil is anything contrary to these norms whether or not the violation is due to human choice in an immediate sense.
The latter part of Faro’s article seeks to find biblical support for the possibility of animal death prior to the Fall. She appeals to three passages: Genesis 1-2, Psalm 104; Job 38-41.
She mounts a number of arguments from Genesis 1-2. First, she says the numbering of the days of creation reveal that “the universe was not created to be eternal in its original physical form” (206). She appeals to several cross references in support: Psalm 102:25-26; Isaiah 34:4; 51:6; Revelation 6:12-14; 21:1-4. It is not clear how the numbering of the days in Genesis 1 indicates that the present earth will be destroyed. The other passages all refer to a post-Fall reality and does not speak of what would have happened had there been no Fall.
Second, while acknowledging that plant death is different from animal death, she thinks it is significant that the seed and the “cycle of plant life” is a picture of death and resurrection (206-7). It is not clear how this argument advances Faro’s point. She could be arguing that if death was not present from the beginning, God would not have built in a sign of death and resurrection into plant life. But does this does not seem to be a sound argument given God’s foreknowledge.
Third, she claims that both Adam and the animals were formed from the dust of the ground, which she says indicates they were created mortal (appealing to Genesis 3:19). Humans were to eat from the tree of life to avoid death, but animals were not to eat of the tree of life. Thus animals were created mortal, and God intended for them to die. But Genesis 3:19 presents death as a punishment for sin, not as something built into the nature of the creation. The historic position is that Adam was created immortal but was not confirmed in his immortality. This position best accounts for all of the data: death as a punishment, the possibility of receiving that punishment, and the tree of life as a sign of confirmation in immortality. Furthermore, Genesis nowhere implies that animals would have needed to eat from that tree to avoid death. Faro’s reading makes it seem as if the tree has some kind of magical power rather than recognizing that the trees are sacramental in nature.
The argument from Psalm 104 is simple. This is a creation psalm that celebrates animal predation as part of God’s wise ordering of the earth (v. 24). In response, Psalm 104 is clearly a reflection on a creation that has been affected by the Fall (v.35). God’s provision of food for animals (and humans) now includes the death of other animals. But from the beginning it was otherwise. Genesis 1:29-30 gives plants as food to humans and to animals. It is only after the Fall that God permits the eating of meat (Gen. 9:3-6; note that the passage places limitations on what animals can and cannot eat as well as humans). Whether or not Genesis 9 is establishing something new or reiterating a permission given before the Flood is open for debate, but it is clear that the shift to eating meat happened after the Fall for both humans and animals.
The passages from Job are of the same nature as Psalm 104. They refer to God providing food for predatory animals or to death among animals. Faro’s argument would seem to be that God’s wisdom is on display even in situations that include animal death. But she is able to take this a step further with Job 40—we should not claim that animal death is an evil, for to do so would be to find fault with God or to contend with him. The difficulty with Faro’s argument is that Job 38-41 is dealing with God’s wisdom in providentially ruling over a fallen world. It makes no claims about what life would ideally have been like before the Fall.
Later Faro appeals to Job to make the case that death and suffering do not “exist in the world due to human sin” alone. She notes that one of the points of the book of Job is that death and suffering have causes other than sin (here she also appeals to John 9:2). Yet, while it is true that Job’s sufferings were not caused by his own sin, it is difficult to move from this to the conclusion that the suffering he experienced was in no way connected to the Fall brought about by Adam’s sin. Were the loathsome sores that covered Job from head to foot the kind of thing that could have occurred to a man had Adam not sinned?
Faro wraps up her article by taking into account the Scripture passages that look toward a future in which animals live together in harmony. She claims, “Although animals of prey kill for food, animals are not capable of the savagery, cruelty, and terror that humanity can display. Humans, however, can teach animals cruelty, such as training pit bulls or roosters to fight and attack” (209). The human responsibility summarized in the creation mandate point in a different direction, Faro argues. She seems to indicate that part of the creation mandate is to improve animals from their original condition. The claim that animals are not capable of savagery or cruelty is a doubtful claim. Yet without this supposition Faro’s explanation fails to conform to the Creation, Fall, Redemption structure of Scripture. Key to this structure is an affirmation of the original goodness of creation.
The problem of evil as it pertains to animal death is one of the major philosophical challenges to forms of Christianity that seek to accommodate the current evolutionary consensus. Faro attempts to address this problem by claiming that animal death and suffering is actually not an evil. However, this claim rests on weak exegetical support and, at least in this article, fails to engage the philosophical/theological arguments to the contrary.