Was There Death Before Sin?

For many years now I have enjoyed the articles on godandscience.org. At the time of this essay they are celebrating 10 years on the Internet. Although I do not agree with their position on the issue of origins, I find much of their website very helpful, and I believe there is much common ground. I'm sure I've read through their section on young earth creationism before, but I just happened to look at it in more detail today. I would like to respond to Rich Deem's rebuttal of the young earth creationist argument that there was no death before the Fall.

First of all, he claims that plant death is the same as animal death. It's hard to imagine someone actually arguing this, but I suppose there is precedent for it in religions like Buddhism (some Buddhists have actually starved themselves to death to avoid "killing" vegetables). Plants do not have consciousness, and furthermore, they do not have the "breath of life," nor do they have blood (the Bible notes that the "life of the flesh is in the blood").  The same goes for microorganisms, so there is really no problem with the "death" of these biological forms.

Deem goes on to claim that the "decree [that prohibited the eating of meat] was never rescinded [for animals] as it was for humans." Now, I love Dr. Doolittle as much as the next guy, but I don't see the point of God giving a decree to animals. That God did not rescind a decree for animals not to eat meat does not mean that they were not prohibited from doing so, and that they were prohibited from doing so does not mean that God gave them a decree.

He also claims that carnivores were created on Day 6 of Creation. He uses Genesis 1:24-25 as his proof text:
Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind"; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Is the main difference alluded to here between cattle and beasts the fact that one is an herbivore and the other a carnivore, or is it that one works for man and the other does not? I would say that it is the latter. To argue otherwise is to beg the question. Going into later parts of the scripture to apply rules to the situation in the original creation does not prove anything, since young earth creationists believe that the world is fundamentally different now.

The next argument is that Adam gave the animals names that would seem to indicate that they were carnivores from the beginning. Deem says himself that "...it is possible that Adam named the animals in some language other than Hebrew, and that those names were entirely different than the Hebrew ones...," but then he rejects the idea saying that "there is no biblical evidence for this idea." I disagree.  Again, he is begging the question. It is unlikely the names for animals used in Hebrew today are the same ones that Adam gave to the original created kinds. Some may be, but I would think that the majority are not, because the kinds in Genesis cover a much broader scope than the term "species" covers today. For example, in English we have different terms for "dog" and "wolf," but these would have been the same "kind." Some species of birds have developed strong claws, and others have not. Lions are considered "violent" today, but the original created kind (which would have included more than just "lions") would not have been aggressive.

Deem also says that God telling Adam he would die is evidence that Adam knew what it meant. I think Adam would have obviously had a general understanding of the concept just based on plant "death." However, I think it is likely that Adam did not fully understand what death was. If he did, that would have been a pretty strong deterrent to sin, wouldn't it? I mean, here you have the first human who has seen and conversed with the Creator. It is hard to understand why he would disobey God in the first place. But if he actually knew that he would die, i.e. cease to exist, would he really have sinned? Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't, but I don't think I would have. I'm not saying that I'd have done better than Adam; I'm just saying I can't imagine knowing what death is and then choosing to experience it. In any case, I don't think that this is evidence that Adam had seen animal death.

In addressing the argument that animal death is inconsistent with the character of God, Deem says,
God Himself is implicated in the death of animals. First, God killed animals to clothe Adam and Eve after the fall and then killed many animals during the flood. God set up the system of animal sacrifice for atonement for sin.
So the point is that animal death is not evil because God killed animals? God killed humans, too, so that would mean that human death is not evil, either, wouldn't it? If killing an animal was not a big deal (animal death is not evil, right?), then why was it used to atone for sin? If animal death is not a bad thing, then does animal sacrifice not say that sin is not really a bad thing? Furthermore, will we die in heaven? God said that his creation was "very good." If death was in existence at the time of creation, then it is "very good," so why would it need to be eliminated? Deem says,
What does the Bible have to say about animal death? Since animals lack a spirit with which to communicate with God, they have no concept of God and are not under any of God's laws or judgment. Therefore, death and pain inflicted by animals on other animals is not evil.
Can anyone really watch the Discovery channel and say that a lion ripping a gazelle's flesh apart while it struggles to live is a "very good" thing? I'm sorry, maybe I'm nothing more than a sentimentalist, but watching those things makes me sad.

Deem also says that "Although the original creation was very good, it was not perfect, with even part of it being described as "not good," referring to the fact that "the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.'" (Genesis 2:18) He must be mixed up in his understanding of the chronology, because this statement was made before the creation work was finished. Genesis 1:27 tells us "Male and female he created them," and we see that Day 6 is not complete until verse 31. Genesis 2 gives us further detail of what happened on Day 6; it is not a continuation of the first chapter.

The article concludes by saying,
Young earth creationists say that God judged the animals on the basis of man's sin. However, the Bible says that God is completely righteous in His judgment and does not judge the innocent with the wicked. This young earth doctrine maligns the character of God.
Old earth creationists, on the other hand, say that God designed animals to die. Which is worse? In fact, the animals have not been judged. They are experiencing the consequences of our sin, but they are not being judged for our sin. When a child dies of AIDS because his or her mother was promiscuous, the child is not being judged for anything. He or she is merely experiencing the consequences of someone else's sin. This is truly a sad situation, but it is not what God intended. God intended for us to remain sinless so that we could be in fellowship with him and never experience death and suffering nor cause someone (or something) else to suffer or die.