An Odd View of an Old Debate

Mr. Strock's book
Carl Strock is a journalist-turned-columnist who recently retired from the Schenectady Gazette after 25 years of service. After he traveled to Israel and wrote some decidedly anti-Israel columns, the Gazette received numerous complaints. In response, his editor told him to stop writing about Israel for a while and submit all of his columns to her for editing. This bothered Strock, because he saw it as censorship. After continuing his columns with less frequency, he eventually retired. However, he has not stopped writing. He has a blog at the and has written a book, From D’burg to Jerusalem, The Unlikely Rise and Awful Fall of a Small-Town Newsman.

Why am I writing about Mr. Strock? Because in his book, he mentions a debate he had with me back in 2006. I had actually forgotten about the debate, but when a reader in Schenectady told me about being mentioned in his book, I recalled the event. I got his book and planned to read the entire thing, but it just isn’t my cup of tea. However, I did read some parts of the book, including the chapter that discusses the debate. I found his view of that event to be very odd.

Here’s what prompted the debate: Strock had written some columns in the Gazette regarding creationism and intelligent design. Since he obviously knew little about either subject, his columns provoked some rather heated responses, which he seemed to find surprising. Eventually, he tired of people pointing out his ignorance, so he said:

I will meet any of them in open forum, and we’ll see who’s ignorant of what. (p. 161)

A student who was using one of my textbooks at the time contacted me, and (of course) I agreed to meet Mr. Strock in open forum. Strock was surprised, but he agreed to the debate. I thought the debate was amatuerish but informative. Based on what he has written in his book, he obviously disagrees.

Mr. Strock seemed very disappointed in the turnout. It wasn’t that the turnout was low. Quite the contrary. The auditorium was packed long before the debate started, and the organizers had to turn people away for safety reasons. Instead, he didn’t seem to like the makeup of the audience:

The place had been packed for an hour, the teenagers being Christian home-schooled students who had arrived that early, many of them by bus, from all over creation, to make sure they got seats and not incidentally to make sure no one else did. (p. 157)

I am not sure how Mr. Strock knew the method by which the students were being schooled or the area of “creation” from which they came, but he seems convinced that there was a conspiracy to keep non-Christians out of the debate. Perhaps there was. I have no idea. I am more inclined to think that Christian students (especially ones who are homeschooled) tend to be more interested in such debates, so I suspect that’s why the Christian students outnumbered those who were not Christians.

More importantly, I am not sure why Mr. Strock saw this as a bad thing. After all, his bombastic columns indicated that he was quite sure the data back up his position. Why wouldn’t he have rejoiced to have such a large number of students to whom he could show this convincing data? After all, not long ago I did a creation/evolution debate in Indianapolis, IN and was disappointed that there were so few evolutionists in the crowd. I want people to hear the real scientific data so they can see what science actually demonstrates. Why wasn’t Mr. Strock thrilled that there were so many rubes in the audience who he could patiently educate?

I think his book gives us an answer to this question. Despite the bravado expressed in his columns, it turns out that Mr. Strock really hadn’t investigated the science behind the hypothesis of evolution. Instead, after he had decided to make good on his word and meet me in open forum, then he started learning about the issue:

I had three months to educate myself – we had agreed on a date that far off – and I began to scramble. I reread On the Origin of Species, and I read The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, the best exposition for the layman I have read to this day on the workings of natural selection and one that I recommend to both the begining and the intermediate student… (p. 163) [As an aside, I agree with him on The Blind Watchmaker. I also recommend it to high school students.]

He goes on to say that he “prowled the internet” for creationist materials and read from both young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists. No wonder he didn’t want a lot of creationists in the audience! He hadn’t bothered to educate himself on the issue, and he was afraid that fact would show.

Well, it most certainly did.

In the debate he asked me a couple of questions that elementary-aged kids ask their parents. For example, he asked why the order of creation in Genesis 1 is different from that presented in Genesis 2. Genesis 1 says that animals were created before human beings, while Genesis 2:19 implies they were created after human beings. I explained to him that the Hebrew word which is often translated “formed” in Genesis 2:19 is more properly translated “had formed,” which shows that Genesis 2 agrees with Genesis 1 on the order of creation. He said something like, “Hebrew according to Jay Wile.” I said something like “No, Hebrew according to Hebrew scholars.” Indeed, the NIV uses the “had formed” translation, and its translators didn’t call me for advice. The key is that anyone who had spent any serious time studying this issue would have known there was an answer to the question. The fact that he didn’t showed what his book clearly indicates – he hadn’t studied the issue much.

Here’s another reason Mr. Strock didn’t enjoy the debate. The audience was interested in serious discussion, not nonsensical insults and appeals to authority. Mr. Strock tells his readers:

I submitted Wile’s textbook to the aforementioned geneticist, Ricki Lewis, who lived in nearby Glenville, and also to the aforementioned geologist, George Shaw at Union College, both of whom liberally papered it with notes saying things like, “this guy knows a lot of facts and is good with twisting things,” “this is so wrong I can’t bear to read it,” “this entire section is absurd,” “pure rhetorical obfuscation” and “classic logical error (though probably intentional, either that or he’s just plain stupid),” the last of which I would actually read aloud in the debate, to a reception of dead silence. (p. 164)

It seems Mr. Strock thought that appeal to authority was all he needed. He thought that because an “expert” claimed my book was wrong, then it must be wrong. Of course, any audience with a modicum of reasoning skills understands that bias can strongly affect the opinions of an “expert.” Thus, if Mr. Strock wanted to attack my book (or my position), he needed to use serious arguments. He did not. In addition, he couldn’t counter a single scientific argument that I proposed. No wonder he was disappointed in the crowd! They were there for a serious debate, but he wasn’t.

The thing that I now remember about the debate was the end of the formal portion, before we opened it up for questions from the audience. We each had to provide a short closing statement. His was pre-written! I think that really sums up the way Mr. Strock looked at the debate. To him, it didn’t matter what happened in the debate. Regardless of what was said, he would fervently hold to his faith. My closing statement was not pre-written. I referenced things he and I said in the debate and demonstrated to the audience what happens when an educated person who has seriously studied an issue is challenged to defend his position.

If Mr. Strock decides to do another debate (on any issue), I suggest that he use Dr. Robert A. Martin as an example of how to approach a debate properly. Dr. Martin has studied the creation/evolution issue long and hard, and he has serious arguments to back up his position (see here and here). He also listens to what his opponent says and responds to his opponent’s arguments. Why? Because he wants the audience (regardless of their beliefs) to learn.

If Mr. Strock took Dr. Martin’s approach, he would find that debates are enjoyable not only for the audience, but also for the participants!

33 thoughts on “An Odd View of an Old Debate”

  1. Interesting read. I enjoy debates between knowledgeable people, on interesting topics. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    Unrelated, but I’ve seen creationists do this as well (have strange debates,lacking the knowledge to properly refute/debate a topic and somehow declare them self the winner). Have you heard of Kent Hovind? We actually had a video of a debate between him and Hugh Ross(or maybe still have….wonder where they are at?). I believe KH actually published and sold the videos. He obviously thought he did quite well.

    As bad as it is to watch a debate where both parties are not knowledgeable, it’s even more painful to watch a creationist attempt to debate something they are not knowledgeable about pertaining to science.

    Thank you for participating in debates and sharing your knowledge. I think you are making a difference for people who struggle with their faith due to evolution (this was me at one time).

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michelle. Unfortunately, I am aware of Kent Hovind. He is in prison right now, so he is not currently debating, which is a good thing. Just as debaters like Carl Strock give a bad name to evolutionism, debaters like Kent Hovind give a bad name to creationism.

  2. Dr. Wile,

    Thank you for the article!

    I am interested in the comment you made in the ‘comments’ section about Kent Hovind. I saw that the article you referenced from Forbes said he was inducted into the Creation Science Hall of Fame! Now, I’m not aware of any of his previous works, but from the comments you and Michelle made, it doesn’t seem like he is deserving of this title. Do you think that this is because there are few avid creationism apologists out there?

    By the way, I am curious as to which evolutionist you would like to debate the most that you haven’t already.

    Thanks for publishing regularly on this blog!

    1. That’s an interesting question, Enoch. I don’t know much about the Creation Science Hall of Fame. Thus, I don’t know what their criteria are. Perusing their list of “living inductees,” I see some deserving names and some undeserving names. I also know of several deserving names that I don’t see on the list. It seems to me, then, that their criteria are not the ones I would use to select serious creationists.

      I haven’t really thought about who I would like to debate the most. I enjoy debates that actually discuss serious scientific issues. That’s why I like debating Dr. Martin. Unlike Mr. Strock, he isn’t interested in appeals to authority or insults. He is interested in education. Thus, my debates with him focus on the data, not superfluous nonsense. I am afraid that debates involving the “big names” in evolution (like Dr. Richard Dawkins or Dr. Jerry Coyne) would have a lot of superfluous nonsense and not much serious science. Perhaps debating someone like Dr. Kenneth Miller or Dr. Francis Collins would be better. Based on what I read from them, I would suspect them to be less likely to descend into insults and other such nonsense.

      Thanks for reading regularly!

  3. Dr. Wile, who do you regard as some of the more responsible scientists who are Christians 🙂 who hold to a young earth and who also have books of worth?

    1. That’s a great question, Scott! There are many I would suggest. However, I will limit myself to four:

      1. Dr. John C. Sanford. He is a Cornell University geneticist whose research in genetics led him to reject evolution. He is a young-earth creationist and published a book several years ago called Genetic Entropy and the Mystery of the Genome. It is excellent. He is also continuing to do peer-reviewed research. I have discussed a couple of his papers (here and here)

      2. Paul Garner. He is a fellow of the of the Geological Society of London and has published a book called The New Creationism. I reviewed it here.

      3. Dr. Andrew Snelling. He is a geologist and has done a lot of original research in the young-earth paradigm. He has a wonderful two-volume set called Earth’s Catastrophic Past. It’s some heavy geology, but it is worth getting through it if you are interested in the geological aspect of creation at all.

      4. Dr. Todd Wood. He is a leader in baraminology, the currently-fashionable young-earth creationist classification system. He has an excellent book on biology called Understanding the Pattern of Life: Orgins and Organization of the Species. I also link to his blog in my “links to investigate” section.

  4. Dr. Wile, I read your review of Garner’s book and the comments. Could you point me to anything you’ve written on why you believe in death before the Fall? Thanks again.

  5. Good list, Dr. Wile, but I would suggest that anyone who wants a good understanding of creationist geology would do well to read Mike Oard’s books. He is always very open about the problems facing creationist geology theories, but does an excellent job of addressing them in a logical, evidence-based style. Mike is a retired meteorologist, but has in my opinion a far greater knowledge of both conventional and creationist geology than many professional geologists.

    Two of his books that I would recommend are “Rock Solid Answers” (co-authored with John Reed, another excellent creationist geologist), which addresses many of the challenges to creationist geology, and “Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries,” which describes a very plausible theory within a Flood context for the existence of dinosaur footprints and eggs all over the world.

  6. I read your article. Please correct me if I misunderstand. You seem to be saying that both Rom. 5:14 and Gen. 2:17 indicate that the death spoken of with regard to Adam’s fall is spiritual death not physical death. So then, do you believe that it was possible that Adam in his pre-fall sinless state was capable of physical death? IOW, was the only penalty for his sin spiritual death but not physical death?

    If that is the case, then was it necessary for Christ to experience physical death as an atonement for sin? Or for that matter what was the purpose of animal sacrifices in the OT? If human physical death was not a consequence of sin does that render animal sacrifices unnecessary as a substitutionary atonement for sin? I don’t want to draw the wrong conclusions from what you were saying in that article.

    Also as a side note, are you aware that thanotos is used in Gen. 2:17 in the Septuagint translation? The noun is combined with the Greek verb for die (apothnesko) which literally means, “you will die death” which I think explains why it is usually translated “you will surely die.” Without consulting the commentaries, I think this construction is used to indicate emphasis. It is true that Greek words do not necessarily convey Hebrew meanings, but then again unless new words were invented, what terms could be used to convey such meanings? Semantic ranges can cover a wide variety of connotative meanings. That certainly doesn’t prove the NT writers thought of Hebrew meanings whenever they used particular Greek words, but it doesn’t rule it out either.

    1. Scott, Romans 5:17 definitely is talking only about spiritual death. That’s the clear meaning of the Greek. Genesis 2:17 in the Hebrew tells us the rest of the story. If one were to translate the Hebrew word for word, it would come out something like, “dying you will surely die.” That’s probably why the Septuagint renders it with a Greek equivalent of “you will die death.” In each case, death is mentioned twice. I think the Hebrew is telling us that once Adam died spiritually (which Romans 5:17 clearly tells us is the result of the Fall), then he was destined to die physically. So in the end, spiritual death was the consequence of the Fall, and that ushered in the physical death of human beings.

      But that’s the key. Animals can’t die spiritually, so whether or not they died before the Fall is completely unknown. There are only two things we know for certain from Scripture: plants died before the Fall, and people did not die before the Fall. Any other statement is, at best, extraBiblical.

      As the Old Testament says, animal sacrifice was for the atonement of sin. I am not about to speculate on why God chose this particular method of atonement. Since Jesus is the perfect Lamb and the Ultimate Sacrifice, He had to die in the same way.

  7. Dr. Wile, thanks for your response. I am not convinced that Rom. 5:17 is speaking only of spiritual death. I think it likely speaks of both. The context of Romans 5 is contrasting sin, transgression, disobedience, death, and condemnation connected to Adam with the righteousness, obedience, grace, justification and life that comes through Christ. If one is seeking to understand what the “one of act of righteousness” (vs. 18), and “obedience” (vs. 19) of Christ is one needs to go back to verses 6-10 where Jesus’ physical death (note blood in verse 9) is what justifies and reconciles sinners to God. Thus, Adam’s sin which resulted in death is contrasted with Christ’s righteous act which resulted in death as well. His death was not spiritual but physical. That suggests at the very least Adam’s death included the physical although not initially (see below) and that is why I can see both physical and spiritual elements here.

    If we understand that Jesus’ death was substituionary, taking on the penalty of sin for others, what is that penalty? It could not merely be spiritual death. Jesus did not die a spiritual death but a physical one. Furthermore, death, being a separation from God as you point out, culminates in the second death which is eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 21:8). Thus, we might say that sin results first in spiritual death which leads inevitably to physical death and culminates in the eternal second death. I do not believe God designed humans to inherently experience these forms of death. All are the result of sin and the cursed creation. Thus, when Rom. 5:21 says that sin reigned in death, the reversal of that condition for the redeemed is to reign in “eternal life.” I understand eternal life to be the immortality Paul speaks of in 1 Cor. 15 which describes the restoration of the pre-Fall design for man. Human death in all its forms does not appear to be part of the initial “good” creation. Thus, it is not part of the new heavens and earth which is a restoration of the initial good creation. When Paul says the last enemy is death and death is swallowed up in victory, this is all in the context of physical resurrection from the dead. Physical death here is tied to sin (1 Cor. 15:56). Thus, Christ conquers sin and all the forms of death that result from sin. None will be part of the new creation because they are not good.

    Now none of this necessarily proves that there was not animal death before the Fall. But I have a few thoughts on that. I don’t think there is warrant in Scripture to speak of plant death in the same way as animal and human death. One way animal and human life is distinguished in scripture is that they have “the breath of life.” This is said of Adam in Gen. 2:7 and it is said of all the animals that came unto the ark in Gen. 7:15. Noah was not told to bring plants onto the ark for saving because they don’t have the breath of life. Furthermore, life is connected to blood in scripture (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11, 14; Deut. 12:23). Animal sacrifices were connected to the pouring out of its life blood to symbolize its substitutionary atoning character for human life/ blood. The word “blood” is used 3 times as much as the word “cross” and 5 times as much as the word “death” in the NT when referring to Christ’s sacrifice. The connection of blood to life seems to be a powerful image in the Bible.

    While the argument is not air tight, I think it strongly suggests that the connection between animal sacrifice, the sacred value of creatures with blood and its connection to life suggests that animal death was not a part of the pre-Fall design of creation. Death to animals and humans speaks of pain and suffering. Rom. 8:18-25 speaks of pain and suffering as something connected to the curse upon creation which I think happened in the wake of Adam’s sin and fall. Plants experience no pain and suffering in their so-called ‘death.’ Of course you would know much more about the biological realities of blood, suffering and pain in animals or the lack thereof, so I cannot speak to that in specifics, but rather in generalities. But then again, the Bible does not speak with scientific precision in such matters, but more in terms of generalities. In either case, I think these connections make a strong case for both animal and human death as something foreign to God’s original “good” creation. The Fall changed all that and physical death came to be part of the cursed creation.

    One last thought. I think the injunction in Gen. 2:17 about eating the fruit resulting in death is not necessarily making a prophetic announcement that reveals the sovereign decretive will of God, rather it point out God’s preceptive will as some theologians call it. IOW, He is speaking of the consequences of sin in much the same way Rom. 6:23 does. It is like God saying the moment you first sin who are surely deserving of immediate physical death. The fact that Adam and Eve did not immediately die is not because God reneged on this principle truth, rather He had mercy and did not kill them immediately as they deserved. They did experience spiritual death and I don’t think that can be denied. But as I think the rest of Scripture makes clear, physical death is also part of the penalty for sin and of course Adam and Eve did eventually die physically. The fact that God had mercy is demonstrated in his providing animals skins to cover their newly experienced shame and nakedness. I also happen to think this is the first animal death although that is not explicitly stated. The fact is, up to this point, the Genesis narrative gives us no reason to think animal blood was shed prior to this moment and OT Jews reading this part of the narrative would have to be struck by the atoning implications of the animal skin covering. It’s theological implications as a precursor to the massive bloody animal sacrificial system God employed in their cultic rituals is quite palpable. Conceiving of animal death before this moment seems to take the force out of what is taking place.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts for whatever they are worth and of course much more could be said.

    1. I appreciate your thoughts, Scott. I agree with your statement, “Thus, we might say that sin results first in spiritual death which leads inevitably to physical death and culminates in the eternal second death.” However, I disagree that the Hebrew concepts of life and death have any bearing on the Greek in which the New Testament is written. Since the only place where you can find a reference to sin causing death is in the New Testament, Hebrew concepts have no bearing. Thus, to try to make a distinction between plant and animal death using Hebrew concepts and the Old Testament really doesn’t work when trying to figure out what the book of Romans is saying about the relationship between sin and death.

      Once again, the rules of Greek are very specific. When thanatos is personified, as it is in Romans, it refers not to biological death, but to “the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell” or “all the miseries arising from sin.” Thus, in my mind, it is very clear that Romans is speaking only of spiritual death. As you point out, this leads to physical death, but it has no bearing on whether or not animals died before the Fall, because animals cannot die spiritually.

      I agree that Romans 8:18-25 speaks of pain and suffering, and I agree that those are direct results of the Fall. However, that still has no bearing on animal death. Even today, death can occur with no pain or suffering, so there is no reason to think that it couldn’t have occurred without pain and suffering pre-Fall. However, I still think you are reading Genesis 2:17 incorrectly. As I have said, the Hebrew is best stated “dying you shall die.” That seems to make it clear that spiritual death would occur immediately, and physical death would then follow at some point after. Thus, this is a prophetic announcement, just as it reads. It says exactly what will happen if Adam eats the fruit: he will die spiritually immediately, and that will lead to eventual death. Once again, since animals can’t die spiritually, this has no bearing on animal death before the Fall.

      I think your very argument makes my point well. In order to argue that animal death didn’t occur before the Fall, you have to make excuses about Genesis 2:17 not being a prophetic announcement (even though that’s how it reads), that the Greek rules of translation don’t apply to Romans 5, that Hebrew concepts somehow apply to New Testament verses, and that suffering and pain is another way of speaking about death. That’s a lot of work to try to read something into Scripture that I don’t think is there.

  8. You may be right about the unique translation of Gen. 2:17 and that is quite intriguing in a way I never thought of before. However, my argument doesn’t hinge on this one passage or on how the Greek may or may not reflect Hebrew concepts. My main argument hinges on the nature of atonement, both in the OT and the NT. In this regard, animal death correlates to human death in an analogous manner which explains why God chose to use it in the OT sacrificial system to prefigure Christ’s death. Both serve as substitutes for the penalty of physical death which sin incurs.

    Obviously, some in the history of the Church have rejected penal substitutionary atonement and I think they are wrong. In either case, penal substitution presupposes physical death as the penalty for human sin and subsequently that argues that the concept of death did not exist prior to the Fall. I think the Hebrew concept of life as I stated in my last comment thus includes animal death. We might say animal death is part of the larger curse upon creation as part of the collateral damage of human sin.

    In this regard, I agree that not all death involves suffering or pain, but few people (apart from those that understand Biblical redemption) see death as a good thing unless they are Evolutionists who see it as a natural thing. Death brings with a sting (Hos. 13:14; 1 Cor. 15:55-56) that goes against what humans long for and God created them to desire. It speaks of loss, destruction and pain in ways that go beyond the physical dimension of it. Furthermore, even the concept of spiritual death is really a metaphor that presupposes literal death. It would be difficult to conceive of the concept of spiritual death without physical death as the antecedent benchmark that humans intuitively understand. Death is abhorrent and thus can’t be good.

    Of course, this is more of a theological argument then an argument by proof text. Thus, I don’t think you can look at Gen. 2:17 in isolation to the broader context of Scripture and its theology. And of course the whole purpose of exegesis is to form a coherent theological narrative by which to understand God’s purpose in the world. I happen to think the arguments I have presented (as inarticulate and in-exhaustive as they may be) forms a more compelling case for why it makes sense that there was no animal death before the Fall. Plant death is okay, but I think that is a misnomer. I don’t think the Bible (OT or NT) conceives of plants as having the capability of life and death in that they have no breath of life and no blood. However, I am open to be shown otherwise.

    In either case, you have given me some things to think about. Hopefully this is iron sharpening iron.

    1. I also hope this is iron sharpening iron, Scott.

      I would rather say that penal substitutionary atonement presupposes physical human death is a consequence of human sin and subsequently that argues that the concept of human death did not exist prior to the Fall. I don’t think it makes any argument about animal death. Animals can’t sin, so there is no reason to think that penal substitutionary atonement has any relation whatsoever to animal death. I agree that death brings with it a sting that goes against what humans long for, but once again, that says nothing about animals. Thus, I do not see that your argument has anything to do with the nature of atonement. I would also say it is not a theological argument. It is a philosophical argument, because it contains concepts that simply do not appear in Scripture.

      I agree that you can’t look at Genesis 2:17 in isolation. In fact, Romans 5 helps inform our interpretation of Genesis 2:17. Since the Hebrew uses the word death twice, it must be speaking of two kinds of death. However, as far as I understand, it is hard to know the kinds of death mentioned using just the rules of Hebrew translation. Using just the rules of Greek translation, however, we know that Romans 5 is talking only about spiritual death. This allows us to understand what Genesis 2:17 is saying: the spiritual death brought about by the Fall led to physical human death.

      The key is that you can’t make a theological argument about a concept that appears nowhere in Scripture. Since animal death before the Fall is simply not addressed in Scripture, you are left with making a philosophical argument about it. Such arguments are interesting and informative, but they should not be the basis on which doctrine is developed.

      I would be interested in any New Testament verses you can provide that indicate plants are not alive. This is not a concept I find in the New Testament.

  9. Thanks again. I may be arguing for more than may be warranted, since there is nothing explicit about the matter one way or another. This point I agree to. However, the same could be said for your notion that Genesis 2:17 speaks exclusively of spiritual death, since it is not explicitly stated that way. The whole notion of spiritual death is a theological construct deduced from Scripture and not an explicit statement. Ephesians 2:1, 5 comes as close as we get and of course I think it is warranted to say that being dead in transgressions and sins = spiritual death.

    Subsequently, I disagree that my argument is merely philosophical and that there is absolutely no basis from scripture to suggest my thesis unless there are explicit statements to that effect. The same could be said about other theological conclusions we draw from Scripture. For example, we have nothing anywhere near the Athanasian Creed in terms of defining the Trinity from Scripture itself. Yet that does not prevent us from formulating a theological definition that conforms to deductions from Scripture which we regard as orthodox. Of course please don’t let this example suggest that whatever one thinks about pre-Fall animal death that I regard it as a matter of orthodoxy.

    Nonetheless, I think a strong case has been made for my thesis based on the nature of OT and NT concepts of atonement involving animals as corresponding to human death. Furthermore, the Hebrew concept of death that shows a correspondence between human and animal death, albeit absent the notion of spiritual death in animals which of course I concede. Also, the way death is described in Scripture that shows it is not something good and of which so-called plant death is exempt because I believe there is no such notion of plant life and death in Scripture that is anything like animal and human death. Since death will be absent from the new heavens and new earth, it suggests that such death was not part of God’s initial creation. To add to that case, some believe there is warrant to expect animals in the new heavens and earth (Isa. 11:6; 65:25) and thus I think that mitigates against the presence of animal death there, if indeed they are present which I see no reason why they will not be. If physical animal life corresponds to human life (i.e. life being defined in the OT as “the breath of life” and “in the blood”) which both share, then there is reason to think both will share immortality in heaven. I see no other way to explain why Paul sees death as an enemy in 1 Cor. 15 if it continues even just among animals in the new heavens and earth.

    Now of course I am repeating myself a good deal here. The point is, I don’t think this is a philosophical argument at all. Everything I have stated is an inference from Scripture and I think a reasonable one at that. At the very least, the thesis cannot be regarded as an unbiblical inference anymore than the Trinity can be. I’ll sign off for now unless you have something new to add. Thanks for your time and the exchange of ideas!

    1. I definitely agree that there is nothing in Scripture that explicitly deals with animal death before the fall. However, Romans 5 is quite explicit in that it is speaking of spiritual death only. That’s simply the way the Greek reads, at least according to the standard rules of Greek translation. Once again, the rule in Greek is that when thanatos is personified, as it is in Romans, it refers not to biological death, but to “the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell” or “all the miseries arising from sin.” Thus, the concept of spiritual death is explicitly stated in Scripture. It is, in fact, straight from the Greek.

      I would disagree that the Trinity is not found in Scripture. There are many verses that say Jesus is God, such as John 1:18. There are also verses that say the Spirit is God, such as 2 Cor. 3:17-18. There are also verses that say the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct, such as Matt. 28:19. Thus, there is no need for philosophical arguments. The Scriptures are clear on the matter. This is the difference. When it comes to animal death before the Fall, the Scriptures are silent. As a result, one is left only with philosophy.

      I agree that death is the enemy in 1 Corinthians 15. However, the verses involved are clearly discussing only human death, which is a consequence of spiritual death. Once again, then, this has nothing to do with animals. I agree that in the Old Testament, there is a difference between animals and plants. However, in the Old Testament, there is a huge difference between animals and man. Man has been given God’s image (Genesis 1:27), while animals have not. Thus, I see no real Scriptural parallel between animal death and human death. Animals have more in common with plants than with humans when it comes to death, as they do not die spiritually.

      I am familiar with the article you linked. I am very familiar with the works of AiG. Indeed, it is their sloppy theology that I am mostly discussing in my post on animal death before the Fall. The idea that somehow the verse doesn’t mean immediate death simply doesn’t work, since the verse says, “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” I find it very ironic that the same theologians who insist that the only possible translation of the word “day” in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day then turn around and say that in Genesis 2, “day” means anything but a 24-hour day. Instead, it means the lifetime of a person. You can’t have it both ways. The verse is clearly discussing something that happens in the day in which the fruit is eaten. That’s why Romans 5 helps in understanding what it means. Spiritual death occurred immediately (in the day the fruit was eaten), and physical death is a consequence (what happens later). Once again, this only applies to people, so the only thing we know is that people did not die before the Fall.

      I agree that 1 Cor. 15:20-22 is a parallel to Romans 5. This is because it is talking only about human death, which is a consequence of spiritual death. Thus, once again, we know that people did not die before the Fall. We have no idea whether or not animals died before the Fall.

      Thank you for your time and your exchange of ideas.

  10. Dr. Wile, if you permit me a few more comments after further reflection, I would first like to mention a helpful article I discovered in ARJ by Simon Turpin found here: Are you familiar with it? He argues that some Hebrew scholars see that the grammar of Gen. 2:17 does not indicate immediate death, rather that death is inevitable once the fruit was eaten. I will not repeat his arguments but they are worth considering.

    Also, I think it is worth considering 1 Cor. 15:20-22 as a parallel passage to Rom. 5:17, et. al. Vs. 20 speaks of Christ rising from the dead. Thus death there is clearly understood as physical death. In vs. 21 the death that came by a man has to be physical death and that man is identified as Adam in verse 22. Otherwise, resurrection from the dead has no meaning. Verse 22 is clearly parallel to Rom. 5:17-19 since both passages contrast Adam and Christ; Adam brings physical death through his sin and Christ brings life through His death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 5:6-10). I think that nullifies that Rom. 5:17 is speaking of spiritual death or at the very least it must include physical death in the idea of death.

    This may be a moot point because I think you have agreed that if Gen. 2:7 is only speaking of spiritual death it also inevitably leads to physical death and I assume that means you agree that physical death is part of the Fall. Again, that does not automatically apply to animal death and thus I suggest your argument from Gen. 2:7 and Rom. 5:17 does not contribute to the matter one way or another unless you were arguing that there was no possibility of human death before the Fall which I don’t you are unless I am mistaken.

  11. Dr. Wile, I must challenge your statement here, because it simply does not hold up to scrutiny. You say:

    “Romans 5 is quite explicit in that it is speaking of spiritual death only. That’s simply the way the Greek reads, at least according to the standard rules of Greek translation. Once again, the rule in Greek is that when thanatos is personified, as it is in Romans, it refers not to biological death, but to ‘the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell’ or ‘all the miseries arising from sin.’ Thus, the concept of spiritual death is explicitly stated in Scripture. It is, in fact, straight from the Greek.”

    I decided to check the instances of thanatos to see if you were correct and I believe the opposite is true. While some cases in which thanatos is personified might be regarded as spiritual death (cf. John 8:51; Rom. 7:24; and 2 Cor. 4:12 are the best candidates), in most cases the personification of death speaks of physical death. For example, death is the enemy in 1 Cor. 15:26. It is swallowed up in 1 Cor. 15:54. In 1 Cor. 15:55 Paul says, “O Death, where is your victory?” The whole context of 1 Cor. 15 is talking about physical resurrection from the dead. In 2 Tim. 1:10 death is said to be abolished by Christ so that He might bring life and immortality. Heb. 11:5 says that when Enoch was taken up he did not “see death.” Rev. 9:6 says men will “seek death” but it will “flee from them.” And in Rev. 20:13-14 death and hades “gave up” the dead and then the two were “thrown into the lake of fire.”

    D. A. Carson deals with NT word study fallacies in his excellent book “Exegetical Fallacies.” I believe your notion that thanatos personified can only refer to spiritual death has been dis-proven by the aforementioned evidence. I believe Carson would regard this as a “false assumption about technical meaning” (p. 45f.) as well as an “unwarranted restriction of the semantic field” (p. 57f.). Moises Silva’s book “Biblical Words and Their Meaning: An Introduction to Lexical Semantics” deals with some of these sorts of problems in greater detail.

    Now of course this does not argue against the possibility that thanatos in Rom. 5:14 and 17 can be regarded as spiritual death, but that is by no means clear. Two of the best current Evangelical commentaries on Romans disagree. Both Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner regard thanatos in this passage as encompassing both spiritual and physical death. Moo says Paul likely sees death here as a “physico-spiritual entity” or “‘total death,’ the penalty incurred for sin” (p. 320).

    1. Thanks for your diligence, Scott. Unfortunately, I don’t think you understand the issue of personification. As the theological piece I quoted in my article says:

      Although in the large majority of cases the use of the word thanantos in the NT does not show any tendency towards personification, there are some clear (and some less clear) examples of this phenomenon. In Romans 5:14 and 17 Paul writes that thanatos ruled as king from Adam [to] Moses because of the trespasses of one man…

      To be explicit, then, there must be clear personification. In 1 Corinthians, the personification is not clear at all. An enemy need not be a person. If you fight a tiger, for example, the tiger is your enemy. If the tiger beats you, the tiger has victory. There is no reason to consider thanatos personified there. Death need not be a person for one to see it. You can see inanimate objects. Death need not be a person for it to flee. If you scare away the tiger, the tiger flees.

      In Rev. 20:13-14, death is clearly personified, but once again, it is not talking about physical death. Indeed, the clear context of the passage is “the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell.”

      Douglas Moo and Thomas Schreiner might think that thanatos in Romans 5 refers to both spiritual and physical death, but that doesn’t contradict my position. Remember, spiritual death leads to physical death. Given the fact that thanatos is clearly personified and thus clearly means spiritual death in Romans 5, this implies physical death in people as well. Once again, however, this has absolutely nothing to do with animals. Thus, the very best you can pull from Romans 5 is that people didn’t die before the Fall. I agree with that, since the spiritual death clearly referenced in Romans 5 leads to physical death.

      Also, if we want to line up theologians to support our positions, I’ll start with Lewis Sperry Chafer, Benjamin B. Warfield, Gleason Archer, Norman Geisler, and Charles Hodge. While there are many more theological luminaries than these, they are excellent examples of learned and devout theologians who accept animal death before the Fall.

  12. Dr. Wile,
    Some of the cases I mentioned could be regarded as personification and yes I do understand what personification is. And the idea of an “enemy” is more likely to be a person than a non-person. I encourage you to read Carson and Silva on the matter of semantics because you are attributing too narrow an meaning to particular cases. Language is far more flexible than that as both Carson and Silva make clear. As an aside, if one wanted to strain gnats you could see a lion (i.e. king of the pride) as the subject of “reign” in verse 14 and 17 although I doubt that.

    The authority you quote speaks of the limited use of personification for thanatos, but it says nothing about what the term would mean in those cases. Simply to quote a lexical source (NAS NT Gk. Lexicon) for figurative uses of the term does not do. As I said language and semantics is far more flexible than you allow. Again Carson and Silva deal with slavish use of lexical sources without understanding the context of specific usages.

    The other commentators you mentioned are fine men (although Geisler is mercilessly taken down by Carson in “Exegetical Fallacies” – Geisler is a theologian not a NT scholar, as are Chafer and Warfield). Older commentators are divided on the matter as you point out, but most newer commentators tend toward accepting the physical-spiritual combination of the word. Most of these newer commentators have the advantages of advances in linguistic studies that some of the older NT scholars did not have, even 25-30 years ago. Their work is far more thorough in that regard and I think more trustworthy when it comes to these sorts of details.

    You say that Moo and Schreiner don’t contradict your position, but that is not true. Your argument from your quote is “Romans 5 is quite explicit in that it [thanatos] is speaking of spiritual death only.” I never denied that Rom. 5:17 or Gen. 2:17 might not include the idea of spiritual death, rather that physical death must be present because that is central to understanding the curse of the Fall.

    Furthermore, you are assuming I have an axe to grind with the interpretation of Rom. 5, but I never appealed to the passage to support my argument, you appealed to it to support yours. Your statements indicate that the passage could not be interpreted any other way than spiritual death and I have simply shown that is far from clear. I suggest you are being far more dogmatic about the matter than the evidence warrants.

    In either case, I think we have both exhausted this debate. I just want to say that I have been reading your blog for several months now and I really enjoy it. Blessings to you!

    1. Scott, I think you need to expand your reading list, because there is no difference between newer and older theologians on this point. Newer theologians are just as committed to Romans 5 referring only to spiritual death as are the older theologians. For example, Dr. Gerald Lewis Bray writing in the Evangel in 2000 says:

      The death that is referred to here is spiritual death, the state of being cut off from God, and this spiritual death has now spread to the human race. [Evangel 18:5-6, 2000]

      Dr. Peter Bouteneff says:

      If not from the Genesis texts themselves, then at least from Paul onward we must distinguish physical/biological death from spiritual death…For Paul, sin leads to spiritual death, and spiritual death is finally linked with biological death. [Peter C. Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives, Baker Academic 2008, pp. 42-43]

      There are others, including Sam Berry, T.A. Noble, and Darrel Faulk. I would encourage you to read Darwin, Creation, and the Fall to see just how many modern Evangelical theologians say that Romans 5 speaks of spiritual death only, and that physical human death is simply a consequence of spiritual death.

      You are incorrect that Moo and Schreiner contradict my position. In the end, physical death of people is linked to spiritual death, as the quote from Bouteneff above explains. When they say that spiritual and physical death occurred as a result of the Fall, that means only the physical death of people. After all, only people can have both spiritual death and physical death. Once again, then, the only thing we know for sure is that people didn’t die before the Fall. The Bible is silent on animal death before the Fall.

      I might very well be overly dogmatic on this point, because as someone who is not a Greek scholar, a lexicon is my best tool. However, I can find a wealth of theologians who agree with me. That doesn’t mean my point is correct, but it does mean that it goes beyond reference to a lexicon.

      Thank you so much for your kind words and your patience in this discussion. I will continue to study more, including reading Carson and Silva.

  13. Dr. Wile, when I first thought your position was that it referred ONLY to spiritual death and did not include physical death as a consequence I thought it needed refutation. The reason for this is because it seemed unclear to me whether you believed physical death was part of the Fall.

    I am not sure whether you answered the question about Adam being able to experience biological death before the Fall and I am still unclear. If Adam had not sinned and experienced spiritual death do you think he would have still died biologically? Or do you think that question cannot be answered? – similar to the way you think the question about animal death before the Fall cannot be answered?

    Moo and Schreiener noted a number of more modern commentators who see thanatos as both spiritual and physical and noted in fact that some older commentators actually saw it as only physical. I disagree with that. The whole question is a moot point in the debate unless somehow you believe physical human death was not a NECESSARY result of the Fall.

    1. Scott, had Adam not sinned and experienced spiritual death, then he would not have experienced physical death. This is what Romans 5 and Genesis 2 tell us. When we understand that Romans 5 says that spiritual death is a consequence of the Fall, then the phrase “dying you shall die” in Genesis 2:17 makes perfect sense. On that very day, Adam died spiritually, and that started a process of pain and suffering that results in physical death. So physical death is a consequence of spiritual death, which is what happened at the Fall. This is why I say we know for certain that people did not die before the Fall, but the Bible is utterly silent on whether or not animals died before the Fall.

  14. Let me clarify. I think you have already stated that physical death necessarily follows spiritual death in Romans 5 and presumably in Gen. 2. My question is do you think physical death is necessarily tied to spiritual death or could there have been physical death (we are talking only humans not animals) if Adam and Eve had not sinned?

  15. Dr. Wile, that is what I thought, but it did not seem clear throughout our exchanges and thus it is a moot point. I have no problem agreeing with the way you’ve interpreted those two passages except that I think physical death is more front and center than you would agree to. I also happen to think the unique wording of Gen. 2:7 does not contradict what actually happened. Adam died spiritually and began to die physically the moment he fell. All this has little to do with whether or not animal death occurred before the Fall.

    However, my argument has been that Adam’s fall affected the rest of creation including animal mortality which is more like human death than plant death based on the way the OT describes the physical deaths of animals and humans. You stated that animal death is more like plant death than human death because neither plants nor animals are created in the image of God and therefore do not undergo spiritual death. Here again we agree.

    However, I believe biological animal death is described in the OT the same way biological human death is described and therefore more like it. Furthermore, the Bible does appear to describe plant death in the same way and therefore it fits a different biological category distinct from animals and humans. That combined with my other arguments regarding atonement involving animal death suggest to me that one of the curses upon the creation as a result of Adman’s sin was animal death. In a perfect creation animal death is not good. I need not rehash all those arguments. You believe this is merely a philosophical argument and I disagree. I am not appealing to any philosophical concepts about death except those which are derived from Scripture. I will concede that they are philosophical arguments if I am allowed to call them a Biblical philosophy. If I am appealing to some other kind of philosophy please demonstrate what that would be.

    One thing I must say, is that I assumed anyone who held to a literal creation account and young earth would also hold to what I am arguing for. My debate with you has demonstrated that a differing view can be held without sacrificing key doctrinal concepts in Scripture such as original sin and the spiritual effects of the Fall. I still disagree with your overall viewpoint about animal death. I think my position is more compelling, but I cannot dismiss your position as being untenable. I did think that before our debate which has forced me to think through matters more than I ever had before. So in the end I think this has been profitable. If anything, it forces us to think through what we believe when it is challenged. Blessings!

    1. Thanks for your reply, Scott. I am sorry I did not make my position clear. We obviously disagree, and that is fine. I don’t see any Scriptural basis for connecting animal death and human death, and since the Bible is utterly silent on animal death before the Fall, I do not see how one can take a firm position on it. One thing I would note is that the Bible does not indicate that the initial creation was perfect. Instead, it indicates that it was very good. That’s a long way from perfect. In fact, the Hebrew word used there (towb) means “good.” There are other words in Hebrew used for perfect (like kalal, maklul, and shalem). It seems to me that if God had wanted to say that the initial creation was perfect, the Scriptures would have used the correct word.

      The very reason I don’t hold to the “no animal death before the Fall” idea is that I accept the authority of Scripture. As a result, I do not hold to positions that are not stated in Scripture, and that idea appears nowhere in Scripture.

  16. Dr. Wile, I do respect your position and I also appreciate your desire uphold the authority of Scripture. I think we can agree this is by no means a matter of orthodoxy. I also appreciate the fact that you have maintained this debate with respect and dignity. Thanks for giving me the time. I am honored that you would do so.

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