Death Before the Fall: A Review

Despite our differences, I have always liked Ron Osborn, still do, and I hope we can get together in San Antonio. I can relate to his struggle, but from the opposite side: anger at how my whole young life I was dogmatically taught as true something, i.e., Darwinian evolution, that I now see as false. He says the same thing, only from the perspective of rejecting the creationism that he had been dogmatically taught in his young life.

But his book, "Death Before the Fall" (IVP Academic; 2014), is just one more doomed attempt to meld evolution with Genesis.

Venting Sessions For starters, he should have called it My Beef with Those Narrow-Minded Fundamentalists. He goes page after page, lambasting the ignorance, the shallowness, the fear, the intellectual vacuity, the rigidness, the lack of self-criticism, “the spirit of censure,” the intolerance, the irrationality, the “foreclosed identities,” et cetera and et cetera that he claims characterize conservative creationists. He applied some psychology on us as well (surprised we didn’t get a Freudian, Jungian, or Adlerian scan to boot). He wrote an imaginative chapter conjuring up parallels (“Anxiety,” “Alienation and Suspicion,” “Nostalgia,” “Elitism,” “Salvation by Knowledge,” “Surrealism,” “Authoritarianism and Absolutism”) between creationists and the gnostic heretics of antiquity. With all due respect, his philippic on the motives, character and intellect of creationists sounded more like venting sessions than serious debate. Let’s hope Ron at least felt better afterwards.

The Creation: A Plain Reading He titled his first chapter “The Creation: A Plain Reading.” He must have found the Nagelian “view from nowhere,” which enabled him to read the texts “plainly.” In fact, he assures us that “My interpretation of Genesis . . . is strictly textual and in no sense dependent upon modern scientific models . . .”

Yet the “modern scientific” model of evolution dominates everything in this work.

Early on he writes: “The key refrain Let—‘Let there be,’ ‘Let the waters,’ ‘Let the earth’— should serve as a clarion signal that God’s way of bringing order out of chaos involves not only directly fashioning or controlling but also granting, permitting and delegating . . .. Rather than simply dominating the world, in the very act of bringing the world into existence God is in a certain sense already withdrawing himself from it— or perhaps better, limiting himself within it— in order for it to be free.”

The word “free” is theistic evolutionary Newspeak for rocks, germs, lions, all the earth, animate and inanimate, given the freedom to evolve, without divine intervention. According to Osborn’s “plain” reading of the text, the phrase “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” conveys “a strong impression or organic emergence.” Read: millions of years of evolution.

Yet he faces an exegetical problem with the Hebrew jussive “let.” Though acknowledging that it appear in Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”), which means God’s total control as opposed to allowing the light “freedom,” he focuses only on the few verses with the jussive (Gen. 1:11, 20) that he thinks makes his point, while ignoring its use in Genesis 1:6, 9, 14, 15, which clearly doesn’t.

Each of his “lets” is also followed by the refrain, “and there was evening, and there was morning, day” one, three and so forth. How a “plain” reading of these phrases fits his evolutionary interpretation, he doesn’t say.

Osborn’s incorporates into Genesis one the violence, predation and death central to the “modern scientific” model of evolution, and one way he tries is through the phrase tob meod, “very good” (Gen. 1:31). He argues that “very good” might not be as “good” as we have traditionally thought. He picks a few places in Scripture where the phrase, or those similar to it, are used in anything but perfect situations. But biblical words or phrases must be interpreted in context, and to take for instance a use of tob (“good”) from Ecclesiastes (as he does) and read it back into Genesis 1:31 does nothing for his case.

He claimed that other Hebrew words “closer to the English sense of ‘perfect’” could have been used, such from the root tmm, meaning “finished, completed,” as well “perfect” along with other terms. Again, we have to be careful when reading the sense of a word as it appears in one context back into a different one. At the same time, when Jacob (Genesis 25:27) is depicted as tam, he might be better off sticking with tob meod to make his point for a less than perfect original creation.

Modern Science Why turn the biblical paradise into a Darwinian jungle? Because, despite his assurance that he’s not “dependent upon modern scientific models,” that’s precisely what he’s dependent upon. Even with his railing against creationist foundationalism, he’s guilty of his own version—foundationalism grounded in “modern science.” Only problem? One hundred and twenty years ago they were doing “modern science” too, even if much of that science has been discarded today. And if time should last another 120 years, much of the “modern science” so foundational to his hermeneutics will be discarded as well.

Osborn fulminated against “creation science” and “intelligent design” but said nothing about the epistemological problems with science in general. I just came across an oft-cited article by a Stanford epidemiologist named John P. A. Ioannidis titled “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.” And Ioannidis was dealing with research about what’s alive and kicking now, as opposed to what happened supposedly 250 million years ago when—in its God-given freedom to work out “its inner principles according to its kind”— the Coelurosauravus evolved a pair of wings before vanishing into the Paleozoic ether. Nevertheless, so sure of his highly speculative evolutionary model, Ron has no choice but to try to fit it into the Genesis account.

Why? Because when the world’s greatest thinkers, the best and brightest, the feted experts, the Nobel Laureates in biology, chemistry, economics, physics, literature, and medicine; when the most educated, knowledgeable and informed among us, the PhDs, the fellows, the postdocs, the Rhodes scholars, the renowned, the famous, the brilliant—when all they believe in evolution, teach evolution, promote evolution, and just assume evolution, Christians like Osborn think that they must do the same.

Why don’t theistic evolutionists (or, as they now call themselves, “progressive creationists”) just say what they really think? We respect the Genesis account as the traditional means of expressing to the ancients God’s creative power—but given modern science—the Genesis account is useless for teaching us about human origins. Wouldn’t that be more honest than these futile attempts to jerry-rig billions of years of evolution into the biblical six-day creation?

The Fall Despite the title, Death Before the Fall, Osborn doesn’t have much to say about his own views on the “fall.” Maybe, given his model, there’s not much to say. If death, suffering and predation were part of allowing creation the “freedom of its own being,” where’s the need for the fall?

In the chapter “Creation & Kenosis,” he argues the following: “The creation was never a static golden age but always an unfolding story with an eschatological horizon.” And this: “One can be a strict literalist on Genesis without possessing a trinitarian understanding of the divine nature and without any reference to the God who walked among us, whose power and glory are paradoxically revealed in his weakness and agony.” And this: “God’s way of creating, in this understanding, cannot be separated from God’s way of redeeming and never could be separated from the beginning. God creates as he redeems and redeems as he creates so that the two are always part of the same act . . .”

If I am reading him right, he’s saying that an unfallen creation would have given us a Christ only as Creator, not Redeemer. A perfect, pristine, sinless world would have revealed an incomplete picture of God. Therefore, the need for redemption in a suffering Saviour on the cross was built into the creation from “In the beginning.” And what better vehicle for that end than the Neo-Darwinian synthesis, but only with God stepping back and allowing “free processes within a divinely ordered but not rigidly deterministic framework”?

If that’s what he is saying, then Osborn’s approach differs greatly from fellow traveler Des Ford, whose new book, despite the title—Genesis Versus Darwinism (Des Ford; 2014)—attempts to meld evolution and creation. Desperate to keep the fall in his paradigm, Ford argues that the Adam of Genesis 1-3:24 is a different man—separated by thousands of years—from the Adam in Genesis 4:1 onward (even if both Adams have wives named Eve!). Way too sophisticated to go that route in order to retain the fall, Ron just seems to ignore it instead.

Theodicy In his most powerful chapter (“Stasis, Deception, Curse”), Osborn admits “that there are no tidy answers to the theodicy dilemma of animal suffering.” I agree. In fact, some issues raised in this chapter could, arguably, be answered easier by his evolutionary model than by the one I hold. Doesn’t mean that he’s right, or that his arguments are defeaters; it mean only that even we literalists have to admit that our view of creation doesn’t come problem free, either.

Yet to argue that suffering, even animal suffering, is better explained as part of how God created our world from the start, as opposed to this suffering being one result of the fall, still doesn’t make God look so good. How does that view answer the difficult question of animal suffering any better than a creationist model does?

And though quoting everyone from Maimonides, to Slavoj Žižek, to Wendell Berry, he never quoted Ellen White, who, in one depiction of the earth right after the fall, presents a picture antithetical to Ron’s death-before-sin model: “As they witnessed in drooping flower and falling leaf the first signs of decay, Adam and his companion mourned more deeply than men now mourn over their dead. The death of the frail, delicate flowers was indeed a cause of sorrow; but when the goodly trees cast off their leaves, the scene brought vividly to mind the stern fact that death is the portion of every living thing.”

Yes, “death is the portion of every living thing,” not because death was built into the creation as Osborn’s book (given the model he’s working from) must teach. Instead, death, including animal death, arose because of the fall of a being made “in the image of God” on the sixth day of creation (Genesis 1:31), an event later fleshed out like this: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). And this living soul, according to Genesis 3 (Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15:22), fell into sin.

Isn’t that as “plain” a reading as one could get?

Clifford Goldstein is Editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. The views expressed in this article are his own.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6814
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Ah, well… we didn’t expect a favorable review from Cliff Goldstein… did we ???

Frankly… while I was not completely content with Ron Osborne’s book… yet still… in the way he addresses the very complex issues of sin, suffering and death… before the fall as well as after… I consider his handling of the topic to be much superior to Cliff’s exposition.

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Yes, a bad idea because the old universe (14+ billion years), old earth (5+ billion years), and evolution are historically accurate and the creation story isn’t.

This was debated over 1500 years ago by the early church, and rehashing it doesn’t really help. Even they could see the Bible is not a science textbook.

Augustine, who did not even know the world was round, wrote:

“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1:19–20 [A.D. 408]).

And…
“With the scriptures it is a matter of treating about the faith. For that reason, as I have noted repeatedly, if anyone, not understanding the mode of divine eloquence, should find something about these matters [about the physical universe] in our books [of the Bible], or hear of the same from those books, of such a kind that it seems to be at variance with the perceptions of his own rational faculties, let him believe that these other things are in no way necessary to the admonitions or accounts or predictions of the scriptures. In short, it must be said that our authors [of the Bible] knew the truth about the nature of the skies, but it was not the intention of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to teach men anything that would not be of use to them for their salvation” (ibid., 2:9).

In other words, the Bible is not a science textbook, but a book to teach us about salvation. I don’t think I could say it better.

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The epitome of respect.

Back atcha, bud!

Trust The Process.

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  1. Good to see Cliff engaged again.

  2. I think it helpful to begin the Biblical doctrine of creation at Romans 8 because it is easy for everyone to agree that the whole ecological order—right down to the principle of predation by which we ourselves live–is groaning in suffering and eagerly awaiting its redemption as a woman in labor.

  3. The question is whether the entire ecological order is necessarily and therefore everlastingly this way. Many religions and philosophies answer “yes” and then help us to cope with the grim consequences. The Biblical religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam answer “no.” They make the bold claim that not predation but symbiosis, collaboration rather than competition, is ecologically most basic. In other words, the way things now are is not the way they must always be.

  4. What’s more, they invite and encourage each other to live in this ecological order as though the other one is more fundamental.

  5. In order to make this point, The Biblical religions tell stories about the past and the future, and and about events in between, that are windows to that other ecological order. Some Biblical people take these stories literally. Others take them symbolically. Still others don’t “get” the difference in this context. In any case, the less time debating this the better.

  6. The important thing is to live–at least try to-- as if the other ecological order is a genuine possibly.

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And we didn’t expect Bille to agree with Clifford … Did we? :sunglasses:

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After 1600 years Augustine is still relevant and modern while in a few more short years no one will remember Cliff’s name. All his futile attempts lack any supporting evidence other than his personal opinions, while thousands of scientists and discoverers have repeatedly demonstrated the impossibility of his premise.

“The “Fall of Man” is an interpretation: Genesis says nothing of the kind; the “Fall of Man” is not found in the Genesis story, nor is there any mention of sinless existence in Eden, nor is the serpent identified in the story as the devil (he is just a talking snake). All of these familiar elements are actually the creation of ancient interpreters”.*

There are no original manuscripts of the Torah; it has been interpreted innumerable times before finally formally put into scrolls, and from those many scrolls scribes copied portions; there was no “Bible” as we have today, but portions and much later it was separated into “books” before finally being completed ca. the Persian Exile. The Septuagint, translated by the “70” in Alexandria ca. 200 century B.C. was the one used by theJesus and Gospel writers.

  • How to Read the Bible , James L.Kugel. emeritus professor of Hebrew, Harvard University and a practicing Orthodox Jew.
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Tell it like it is Cliff. I love it.

The only problem I see is that if anyone else would have spoken so strongly we would have been warned or had our post deleted.

C’mon moderators, allow some robust discussion in this place and get rid of the automatic deletion if enough people don’t like what you’ve written. It’s an unjustified restriction on free speech. I’d rather have delayed posts, each one vetted by a moderator following written guidelines than have posts automatically deleted because certain people don’t like them or you. Skews the conversations somewhat.

(While Discourse has the automatic delete feature often moderators override the action. Ultimately we decide what gets deleted, not voting. And let me also remind you, there is no “free speech” here - in the sense that anyone has the right to say anything they think. What we try to do is censor/tag for civility problems and inappropriate judgmentalism, not where you lie on the liberal/conservative continuum. . - webEd)

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Just a note, Augustine knew the world was a globe. It is even possible that the ancient Hebrews knew this, but that is more difficult to show.

That aside, there was a very lively split among theologians in the first Millennium of Christianity as to how to interpret the Genesis account. Everything from pure allegory, to the literalism of conservative Christians today. Amazingly, such diversity was tolerated and no one felt such things needed to be a test of faith. Even the Catholic Church, since Vatican II has loosened the reins on this issue. I find it discouraging that it is such a rancorous issue within the SDA Church.

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Cliff said:

Despite the title, Death Before the Fall, Osborn doesn’t have much to say about his own views on the “fall.” Maybe, given his model, there’s not much to say. If death, suffering and predation were part of allowing creation the “freedom of its own being,” where’s the need for the fall?

Indeed, and where’s the opportunity for a “Fall” if evolution is opportunistic, rather than directional?

Therefore, a fall from…what? Evolutionary fitness…or something…?

Interesting that Ron included “Fall” in his title.

Maybe Ron sees evolution as directional? Obviously, more information will help here, Cliff.

Cliff said:

He titled his first chapter “The Creation: A Plain Reading.”

A Plain Reading. Somehow, I think all “plain readings” suffer the same fate in the end: on the ever-growing mountain of all the other mutually exclusive “plain readings.”

Interesting article, btw, and glad to see you.

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I have often considered apologetics the poorer step-cousin of theology. and this article seems to support that view. Brother Goldstein’s repeated inferences that Brother Osborn’s usage of terms outside of their immediate context is flawed, seems a strange position within a denomination that has made such practice an art form. For example, the selecting of the “year for a day” to apply to as many prophetic passages as possible, or reapplying passages referring to other matters as health reform fundamentals.

This whole evolution vs, creation debate is dependent on a literalist approach to biblical narrative. It seems strange, does it not, that God would inspire the Bible to end with a book filled with metaphor and symbolism, but we refuse to allow Him the freedom to do so in beginning that narrative in Genesis. Sometimes I wonder which is more to our liking, to define God in such a way that He can comfortably occupy the box we have prepared for Him based on our, no doubt, educated and enlightened understanding, or to eschew such definitions, comfortable with the idea of a God who causes us to dwell within layered enigmas. There may be the possibility that such a Being would take delight in watching his creation grow by peeling back the layers of the puzzle to discover vistas never previously considered. Perhaps both evolution and creation can be at the same time mutually exclusive and mutually true. Impossible? Schrödinger’s cat begs to differ.

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I agree with Clifford Goldstein! The kind of gymnastics that it takes to bring together science and creation is an exercise in futility.

We all know that Goldstein believes that unless you take the most literal interpretation of genesis as fact, you can’t be a real SDA. Being a fake SDA I find the theodicy problem as one of the most compelling non-scientific argument against a loving creative god. Humans, and non-human primates are especially connected to the experience of suffering and other animals are variously so. It sees to me that creating this hierarchy of suffering is especially punitive for those who can experience suffering the most.

I don’t get the meaning of this. If God knew that death was the inevitable result of creating human beings and new that they would “fall”, what difference does it make whether death was not built into creation?

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Was Leibniz or Voltaire right? If this is NOT the best of all possible worlds, how can we know there was another and better one? Is there any evidence that the predation we observe today was worse or better now? Is not death necessary for life to continue?

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Dear Apostle,

Well, Rev plainly states that it is given in signs. Are we to assume that all the Bible is that way? Some in the early church saw it all as allegory. But that does not seem to fit the text, and especially the Creation story with its very concrete verbiage.

And evolution makes an ogre of God. Too much suffering.

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Bravo, Spectrum for finally balancing the equation by publishing an article that does not support evolution in any form. Although the disclaimer at the end is somewhat amusing. Perish the thought that the views expressed by Cliff Goldstein should ever be confused with the views of Spectrum.

And to Brother Goldstein–well done! As usual, you’ve gotten to the heart of the matter and given the unvarnished (and inconvenient–for some) truth. And so we see that the mindset of most of humanity has not changed much in 2000 years. It is best expressed in John 7:48–Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? Today it is, “do any of the PhD’s and or scholars believe the Genesis account?” As I have often said, too many Christians put their faith in scientists rather than in the Author of science, the One who inspired Moses to write what he did in Genesis.

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Concrete verbiage? I suppose one could consider poetry concrete verbiage as well - but that has little to do with what the style of literature Genesis actually includes actually is . . .

If we are to believe the Bible stories God is an ogre with the flood and killings ordered by the Israelites. Or is that symbolic or allegorical?

Was Epicurus wrong:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

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Prove it. You can’t. You only have the scientific propaganda, masquerading as fact, based on erroneous conclusions and founded on hopeful speculation. And you cannot prove the creation story false, since no one was there to witness it. We take it on faith, not blind faith, but because it agrees with what we can see, while evolution is fabricated out of thin air and wishful thinking. Evolutionists take their beliefs on faith, too, although they usually won’t admit it. They claim to have proven it, but when those claims are carefully analyzed they disintegrate into chaff.

You don’t believe Genesis. Do you believe Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? If you do, why? What gives them more credibility than Moses? They made claims just as absurd as creation; e.g., resurrection from the dead, instantaneous healing, angels and demons interacting with men. All of these claims go contrary to current scientific thinking.

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Cliff asks:
Isn’t that as “plain” a reading as one could get?

Depends on who you ask, I guess, Cliff. I just googled genesis plain reading and got 7,210,000 results. I’m not hopeful that they all agree. I’m not hopeful that any two of them agree.

This may not be a Cliff-and-Ron thing, it may be a Pelagius-and-Augustine thing…or something even more fundamental.

7,210,000 (+/- a few million) purported “views from nowhere.” A sobering thought.

Well, maybe we don’t read the Bible–maybe the Bible reads us–an even more sobering thought.

Maybe there’s no “view from nowhere.”

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I have not read the book, but have not heard an answer to I Cor 15:26 'The last enemy to be destroyed is death."

Now this is a NT text, far, far away from Genesis, but it does speaks of death, that curse introduced in Gen 2. It describes death as an enemy, and a thing that is to be destroyed. In fact it is the LAST enemy, and God seems to take special relish at its demise. It is only when you do away with the last enemy, that you can really celebrate. Revelation 20 says death is thrown into the lake of fire.

But how can this be when Evolution’s best tool for progress is death? How could it be an enemy when it has been so successful in bringing amazing diversity? I can think of three reasons:

  1. Ignorance: Paul was ignorant. He lived before we really knew about science and geology, etc (there were evolutionists in Greek science, however), and was just exuberant about Jesus. If he had lived on our day, he would not have written like THAT. Death is here to stay.
  2. Misinterpretation or allegory: Paul just missed the message that God was trying to convey. Paul THOUGHT that death was to be destroyed, but God didn’t really mean that. Or perhaps this destruction of death is an allegory of some sort. The issue is really a type of spiritual destruction.
  3. Fabrication: The Bible is just a fabrication, and this whole eternal life, garden of God thing is wishful thinking. The sooner reality is faced, the better. Science contains truth. And it is the only thing that does. So deal with it.

Perhaps some here can think of better ways to deal with the text.

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