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If there was no animal death before sin, why are many animals so well-equipped for killing? Bodie Hodge and Andy McIntosh explain.
Many people question the goodness of God when they see “nature, red in tooth and claw,”1 and therefore, they accuse those who believe in the Bible of not seeing reality in nature’s fight for survival, which in the view of the secular scientists substantiates evolution.
In the past, many Bible-believers looked to nature as evidence of God’s design in nature and attributed the features animals possessed to kill prey or defend themselves as all part of God’s original design.
For example, in 1802 William Paley wrote the now-classic book Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. In this work, Paley makes the argument for the design in nature being attributed to a designer—God—and included features that were “red in tooth and claw” as part of this original design.
Darwin, who read Paley’s work, realized that organisms have certain design features that make them fit for the environments in which they live. In other words, they were well designed for what they do—even the ability to cause pain, suffering, and death. However, Darwin later saw difficulties with Paley’s argument concerning design. To Darwin, a creation capable of inflicting pain and death seemed to deny a good and loving Creator God.
Darwin could see that the idea of a benevolent designer did not square with the world that he observed. How could a good God be the author of death and bloodshed? The answer of Darwin and many others was to turn from the God of the Bible to a belief in man’s ideas about the past that include millions of years of death and suffering.
A most notable adherent to this view in our present day is David Attenborough. Attenborough is the presenter of many popular nature documentaries produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In a similar journey to that of Darwin, he argues strongly for belief in evolution because of the suffering that the natural world exhibits. The quote below is very revealing as to what has moved Attenborough to an evolutionary position.
When Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that’s going to make him blind. And [I ask them], “Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy.”2
The examples of Darwin and Attenborough show why the issue of defense/attack structures (DAS) is important, and how it is closely related to the existence of suffering and death in the world around us. Defense/ attack structures include anything from claws and flesh-tearing beaks on birds of prey or the claws and teeth of cats, to a wasp’s stinger or a poison dart frog’s toxin.
Examples of defense/attack structures are numerous in the world around us, existing in plants as well as animals. Let’s look at a few.
A great example in plants is the Venus flytrap. This plant snaps two of its lobes on any unsuspecting fly that ventures inside. The mechanism by which the trap snaps shut involves a complex interaction between elasticity, osmotic pressure in the cellular plant material, and growth. When the plant is open, the lobes are convex (bent outwards), but when it is closed, the lobes are concave (forming a cavity). It is stable in both the open and closed positions, but it changes states to close quickly when triggered.3
A good example of DAS in the insect world is the spider. Spider webs are renowned for their potential to catch flying insects, such as flies and moths. The sophistication of silk production through special glands that keep the polymer soft right up until it is exuded behind the spider is still not understood.4 Furthermore, the ability of the spider to make some strands sticky and others not, so that the spider itself only walks on the non-sticky parts is clearly a clever design feature. Not all spiders make webs, but they are all capable of producing silk in several varieties. Though the predatory nature of spiders is universal, the actual prey-catching technique of web-building is not the same for each species.
Another example in the insect world, and probably the most extraordinary, is the bombardier beetle. This insect possesses a sophisticated defense apparatus, which involves shooting a hot (212°F/100°C) noxious mixture of chemicals out of a special swivel nozzle in its backside, into the face of predators such as rodents, birds, frogs, or other insects.
Of the numerous examples of DAS in the animal world, the meat-eating lion, tiger, and other large cats (cheetah, lynx, etc.) would be the most obvious. It should be noted though that these creatures are not solely dependent on a carnivorous diet because there are known cases of large cats being able to survive on a vegetarian diet when meat has been not available in zoos.5
Many animals in the reptile world also give us excellent examples of DAS. Chameleons have the ability to flick their tongues in only fractions of a second to capture their prey. Crocodiles and alligators have powerful jaws, and snakes possess poisonous fangs or deadly coils. The anaconda can kill bulls and tapirs easily with its extremely strong muscles.6
These are but a few of the DAS found around the world. If you check the plants and animals in your area, you can probably spot some of these and other defense/attack structures.
The biblical response to DAS is that the theology of Darwin and Attenborough has made a major assumption—the world is now what it always has been. The Bible, as early as Genesis 3, makes it clear that this is not the case.
The world (and indeed the universe) was originally perfect. Six times in Genesis 1 it states that what God had made was “good” and the seventh time that “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). A perfect God would make nothing less. In fact, Moses, who also penned Genesis, declared in Deuteronomy 32:4 that all of God’s works are perfect.The original creation was perfect, but we can see by looking at the world around us that there has been a drastic change. The change was a result of the Fall of man—an event which fundamentally altered the world.
When the first man Adam disobeyed his Creator, all of creation was cursed, bringing disease, sickness, pain, suffering, and death into the world.The original world had no parasites boring into children’s eyes or any other part of nature being “red in tooth and claw.” The death and suffering in the past and in the present is a result of man’s sin and rebellion against God. When the first man Adam disobeyed his Creator, all of creation was cursed, bringing disease, sickness, pain, suffering, and death into the world.
When God spoke to Adam, He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17–19).
God also told Eve, “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
And earlier still, the Bible records what God spoke to the serpent: “So the LORD God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life’” (Genesis 3:14). So in essence there were several changes at the Fall.
This is not just an Old Testament doctrine. The New Testament picks up on the inseparable connection between the world’s state and man’s condition. In Romans 8:22–23, Paul states, “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”
While the world has been cursed because of man’s rebellion in Adam, there is coming a day—a day for the “redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23) —when at the resurrection of God’s people, the world will also be liberated from the Curse. In Romans 8, Paul makes it clear that the extent of this Curse encompasses the whole creation.
|Verse||Some of the known effects||Said to|
When we look at defense/attack structures in the animal or plant kingdom, we must look at them in the context of a truly biblical theology. Let’s review the clear teachings from Scripture.
The Bible provides us with a big picture as we look at defense/attack structures.
Two primary alternatives can easily explain defense/attack structures from a biblical perspective: (1) the present features used in defense and attack were not originally used for that purpose, and (2) the DAS design features were brought in by God as a result of the Fall.
The first perspective—that the present features were not originally used for defense/attack purposes—indicates that DAS were used for different functions before the Fall. Another way to clarify this perspective is to say that the design was the same but the function was different.
Let’s take sharp teeth as an example. When people see animals with sharp teeth, they most commonly interpret this to mean that the animal is a meat-eater. When scientists find fossils of creatures with sharp teeth, they also interpret this to mean that the animal was a meat-eater. But is this a proper interpretation? Not really. Sharp teeth in animals indicate only one thing—the animal has sharp teeth.
Creatures with sharp teeth do not necessarily use them to rip other animals apart today. For example, the giant panda has very sharp teeth, yet it eats entirely bamboo shoots. Also, the fruit bat, which at first might appear to have teeth consistent with a carnivorous diet, eats primarily fruit. The Bible teaches that animals were created to be vegetarian (Genesis 1:30); so, we must be careful not to merely assume what an animal ate based on its teeth.
Other DAS can also be explained in this way. Claws could have been used to grip vegetarian foods or branches for climbing. And chameleon tongues could have been used to reach out and grab vegetarian foods, etc. This perspective has the advantage of never having to suggest that God designed a structure or system feature to be harmful to another living creature of His creation.
It is evident that for the silk-producing structure in spiders, it is hard to establish an alternative function for these glands, though spiders have been shown to catch and eat pollen.8 The evidence seems to point to such structures being designed as they are to effectively catch things like insects. However, we may simply not know the original harmless function of these structures.
Consequently, many have suggested the fact that some creatures have continued to eat plants, which actually indicates that predatory habits came due to altered function. Bears commonly eat vegetarian foods. There have been lions and vultures documented to refuse eating meat.9
Even viruses (genetic carriers that infect a host with almost always deleterious results) may have originally been used in a different and beneficial role before the Fall. In a similar manner, harmful bacteria may have had a different and better purpose than their current function.
However, this perspective does have some shortcomings, especially when we apply it to the whole of DAS. One such problem is that of thorns. It can be argued that trees, bushes, etc., use thorns solely as a defense mechanism. But the Bible indicates that thorns and thistles came as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:17–19). So, something indeed changed at the Curse.
This first perspective avoids God designing DAS in a perfect world for the purpose of harming something that was alive.
The second perspective—DAS design features were brought in by God as a result of the Fall—calls for design alterations after the Fall to allow such attack and defense structures. To clarify, this was the result of man’s sin, not God’s original design, and the consequences of sin still remain. Such “cursed design” is from God’s intelligence as a punishment for the man’s, the woman’s, and the serpent’s disobedience. This second perspective would then better explain some things like sharp teeth, claws, the special glands that make the spider silk, etc.
There is some warrant for this view in Scripture since we know that plants have been made such that now some of them have thorns (physically changed form) and that the serpent changed form to crawl on its belly (physically changed form). Since there was a physical change and this was passed along to offspring, then there had to be genetic alterations. Some of these changes could have been immediate, and others could have been slower in revealing themselves.
Regardless, the genetic blueprint of these systems must have changed such that DAS became evident. Remembering that God knows the future, it is possible that under this scenario the devices were placed latently in the genetic code of these creatures at creation and were “turned on” at the Fall.
Another possibility is that God redesigned the creatures after the Fall to have such features as DAS in them. Thus, the latter possibility still allows for the existence of such latent features in the design still being “very good.” However, since defense/attack structures are a reminder of a sin-cursed world full of death and suffering, it was more likely changed at the Fall as opposed to being simply dormant.
Scripture that gives implied support to this perspective is that after the Fall, man would know pain and hard work and would eventually die (Genesis 3:19). Some biological change is experienced. Pain and sorrow in childbirth are a direct result of the Fall, and the serpent is radically redesigned after his rebellion. So this overall position may be the better of the two, though we wouldn’t be dogmatic.
Both biblical perspectives explain the changes that occurred when man sinned and the world fell from a perfect one to an imperfect one, and both positions have merits. But the Bible doesn’t specifically say one way or another. In fact, there could be aspects of both perspectives that may have happened. Not all creatures with DAS need to be explained in the same way. For some it may have been that their existing functions adapted, while there seems to be every indication that other mechanisms came in after the Fall.
Regardless, the accusation that a loving and perfect God made the world as we see it today ignores the Bible’s teachings about the results of the Curse. A proper understanding of why there are defense/attack structures in the world today should be a reminder that the world is sin-cursed and that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.
After the Fall, God acted justly. He did what was right. But during the curses in Genesis 3, God did something that only a loving God would do—He gave the first prophecy of redemption. He promised a Savior. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
The One who would crush the head of the serpent would be born of a virgin, the seed of a woman. This is the first of many prophecies of Jesus Christ coming as the seed of a woman—a virgin birth. It was truly a loving and gracious God who came to earth in the form of a man and died for us and paid the penalty of our sins on the Cross.
DAS should remind us that when God says something, it will come to pass. When one receives Christ as their Savior, they will one day enjoy eternal life in a world that no longer has any curse or death or suffering or pain (Revelation 21:4, 22:3).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16–18).