Death Before the Fall
Copyright 1999 G.R. Morton. This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made.
Glenn Morton is a former young earth creationist, who has written for young earth organizations. This gives him a unique perspective into the world of young earth creationism.
Over the past few years it has amazed me how often we theologically conservative Christians, believe things that are not actually stated in the Bible. For instance it is not ever stated that ‘animals give birth to animals after their kind,’ yet Christians often believe that is what the Bible teaches. Another misperception of what the Bible actually says is that the the world was created perfect. God specifically did not inspire the writer to use ‘tawmiym’ which is Hebrew for ‘perfect’. Instead, God used the word ‘good’, ‘towb’ to describe his creation in every case. The Bible does not say that Eden was perfect, yet many YECs act like it was a perfect place. Whitcomb and Morris misquote God when they state,
The Bible teaches a perfect Creation followed by a Fall and subsequent deterioration, requiring the intervention of God Himself, in Christ, to bring about redemption and salvation. Evolution postulates a gradual progress from crude beginnings through innate forces, to higher and higher levels of achievement and complexity.
John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1961), p. 447
The Bible (in the Hebrew word choice) teaches a ‘good’ creation not a perfect one. The misunderstanding this note will address is the one that claims there was no death before the Fall. Nowhere does the Scripture state “animals were immortal” or “no living being could die”. These beliefs are inferences from one’s manmade theology but are not found in the Bible.
Let us start with an assumption that all can agree with. God created the living life forms. If God created the living life forms then it follows that God created all the marvelously complex biochemical systems, as well as the complex developmental process which takes a fertilized egg and turns it into a human being. Let us look at this with the view of elucidating God’s role in death.
We have seen that God designed the developmental pathways as part of His grand design of life on our planet. Yet what is little know in YEC circles is that death plays a big role in the creation of a human. In order to understand this we need to look at how cells die.
A cell can die in one of several ways but what concerns us here are starvation and apoptosis. Killing a cell via starvation (either oxygen or food) is an ugly way for a cell to go. Clark describes this type of cellular death. The lack of oxygen causes the mitochondria, the cells energy generators, to shut down. Finding the power source dimming, the cell kicks in back up systems which burn emergency stores of starch and fat and maybe even protein. Messages pile up all over the cell as instructions are ignored. The lysosomes, the garbage collectors are overworked as cellular trash pile higher and higher As all sources of energy run out, metabolic stillness comes over the cell. The last crucial system to cease are the pumps that man the cell walls. The pumps at the cell wall which keep potassium in and water and calcium out of the cell finally fall silent. The calcium rushes in and distorts the mitochondria. Next water pours through the cell wall in untold quantities, placing a huge pressure on the outer cell wall. Finally the cell wall bursts spilling cellstuff all over the place. The cell is dead. The macrophages, cellular cannibals, come and eat the remnants of the dead cell.
There is a second form of cellular death which is more peaceful, but it is death nonetheless. It is apoptosis, cellular suicide. A cell that has been instructed to commit suicide behaves very differently. There is no inrushing of water and no explosion as the water bursts the cell. The cell, in this case, chops its own nucleus into millions of small snippets of DNA. The rest of the cell doesn’t even notice for a while but the cell is already irreversibly dead. The cell then physically detaches itself from all of its neighbors. The cell begins to undulate with small pieces of cell pinching off and floating away. These small pieces are called apoptotic bodies. Inside each apoptotic body, the cellular machinery continues on, mitochondria making ATP and cellular pumps continue pumping. The apoptotic bodies are then eaten by neighboring cells.
What is interesting is that God uses apoptotic death to create each and every animal. In the case of human development, our hands look like paddles at the end of the sixth week of development. But then the cells between the fingers undergo apoptosis and die. What they leave behind are the fingers. Look at the inside of one of your fingers now. The ancestor of the cells you are now looking at barely escaped death during your development. If they had been a smidgen closer to the webbing, they too would have been instructed to die.
So, what does this have to do with Eden? Well if God created the cellular biochemistry, then He also created the instructions for cellular death and God himself used death to create us!
What is even more amazing is that God created a system in which death is the primary state. Clark states:
The death of cells by suicide is involved in a great deal more than just the shaping of fingers from a webbed hand. In the developing human fetus, cell suicide also plays a major role in the formation of the nervous system. Nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord (neurons) are connected to other parts of the body by nerve fibers-long, thin extensions of cells residing in the brain or spinal cord and carrying electrical impulses that stimulate targeted cells to perform specific functions. At a certain stage of fetal development, these neurons begin generating enormous numbers of nerve fibers, which they simply cast out in the general direction of tissues and cells needing nerve connections. If a particular nerve fiber happens to find a cell with a nerve attachment point on its plasma membrane (a muscle cell, for example), it makes a connection. That fiber and the brain or spinal-cord neuron from which it came) survives and becomes the nervous system’s communication line to the targeted cell for life. If, on the other hand, the nerve fiber fails to establish contact with an appropriate cell-and fewer than half do-the neuron that sent it out must commit suicide, dying the same quiet apoptotic death that helped to form the hand.
The role played by cell suicide in the genesis of the nervous system represents an interesting and fundamental fact about the biology of this kind of dying in many cells: death is actually the default state for each of these neurons. From the moment a neuron is spun out of the central nervous system toward potential target cells, it is destined to die. Only if it finds a connection with another cell will it be rescued from an otherwise certain death; it will receive chemical substances (called growth factors) from the target cell that in effect switch off the death program. In some respects this seems an incredibly wasteful way to build a nervous system.
William R. Clarkson, Sex & the Origins of Death, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 37-38
The same thing happens with the cells of our immune system. Death is the default state.
Cells of the immune system, including the warrior cells we met earlier, are also generated in great excess. These cells-white blood cells called lymphocytes-are allowed to circulate throughout the body for several weeks after they are formed. If they encounter a threat to the body-a foreign protein in the bloodstream, or a virally infected cell-and eliminate it during that time, they will be granted longevity. As when neurons make contact with a targeted cell, lymphocytes detecting a foreign protein or engaging a virally infected cell are rewarded with growth factors that switch off their death program. The resulting cell may survive five years, or ten, or even for the life span of its host, providing a type of ‘memory’ of pathogens previously encountered by the immune system. But if they fail to find and eliminate a foreign invader during the allotted trial period, they are invited, in effect, to fall on their swords. Again, death is the default state for these white blood cells. They undergo exactly the same kind of death as cells in the webbing that binds embryonic fingers together. The phenomena of cellular overproduction, selection, suicide, and memory are examples of the many ways in which the nervous system and the immune system seem to parallel one another."
William R. Clarkson, Sex & the Origins of Death, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.39
But what is even the most amazing thing, God created a secret code which instructs any cell given this code to self-destruct.
Cells selected by CTLS [cytotoxic T lymphocyte-grm] for death are not murdered; they commit suicide. “So it turned out that all of the years spent looking for special CTL weapons had, after all was said and done, been wasted. CTLS are not equipped with weapons for destroying altered cells. What they are equipped with is knowledge of a special security code. Every cell in the body-not just a few extraneous cells in the developing fetus-has embedded in it a self-destruct program. What CTLs know, uniquely among all the cells in the body, is how to punch in the security code that activates that program and ultimately causes the selected cell to commit suicide.”
William R. Clarkson, Sex & the Origins of Death, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 43-44
And as we develop from a single cell, our cells become mortal. The death gene, designed by God, is still active.
The death genes themselves are never fully shut off. Again, as we saw earlier in a different context, death is the default state. Tumor cells appear to have found a way to turn some or all of the death repressor genes back on, or to turn the death genes off, and to a greater or lesser degree mimic germ cells.
William R. Clarkson, Sex & the Origins of Death, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.100
So the question for the YECs who believe that there was no death before the Fall is: Why did God Himself create special security codes, instructions and machinery for death if there was NO death before the Fall?
If cells could not die before the Fall, how were animals created when cells didn’t die between their fingers?
If cells didn’t die before the Fall, would one of Adam’s cells that fell off of him end up creating a clone of Adam?
Furthermore, God took steps to avoid cellular death from starvation by telling the animals to eat in Genesis 1:30. If cellular death could not occur, then there was no need for food.
Many young-earth creationists will then respond that cellular death is not real death. But it is. If the cells in a small region of your heart die due to lack of oxygen, your heart will stop beating effectively and cut off the oxygen to your brain. If the cells of Adam’s children’s brain could die during development (as God intended and designed) then it proves that they are not immortal. If they are not immortal, then they could also die from lack of oxygen. If, when the heart stopped beating, the brain cells died from oxygen deprivation, then that human would die.
One natural question concerns whether or not Adam and Eve were immortal. Traditionally it is believed that they were born immortal. This is also not stated in the Bible. God gave them food to eat. If they couldn’t die from starvation, why did they need food? If they couldn’t die from starvation then the cells of their body couldn’t die either. (One can’t have all the cells of Adam’s body die while Adam continues to live. That makes no sense.)
I would contend that God intended man to live forever but they were not yet immortal. The Tree of Life was in the Garden to impart immortality. If they already possessed immortality, then the Tree of Life was useless because it was giving them something they already had. But if they were not yet immortal, they could die. God’s intention was to prevent that death via the Tree of Life but man’s sin circumvented God’s intention.
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