The Origin of Predators: Part 2

A sloth bear. It may be a surprise, but insects (specifically, ants and termites) are a major part of the diet of sloth bears. Could it be that the original created bears were free to eat insects and only began eating meat after the Fall of man?

In the last post, we established that predators did not exist in God’s original creation. In fact, there appears to have been no death, except for plants, which were made to be food, in God’s original creation. Now that we have established that, we can address the question of where predators came from.

It has been suggested that certain animals are not alive in the same sense as other animals. Obvious animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, cows, fish, and whales, obviously all have a similar type of life and originally did not eat each other, but perhaps some animals are not alive like these animals and were thus “on the menu” in a similar sense that plants are not “alive” and are meant for food. Some creationists have suggested that the invertebrates are not alive the same way that vertebrates are alive.1 If carnivores originally ate invertebrates, maybe they simply switched to other animals at a later time. For instance, maybe bears originally just ate insects (sloth bears still largely eat insects today), and then began eating meat later. Maybe sharks originally ate squids and switched to fish at a later time.

According to this idea, vertebrates, animals with backbones, have a type of life called nephesh. Having this special type of life, vertebrates would have fallen under the “never dies” provision of the original creation. The invertebrates, in contrast, lack nephesh life. Sure, they are alive in a biological sense, but lacking the special life possessed by vertebrates, they are not alive in the same way and thus were not protected from death. The term nephesh is derived from a transliteration of a Hebrew word that is often translated as “life” in English translations of the Bible. There is a closely related term, chayyāh, that is also a transliteration from Hebrew and is frequently translated as life, thus the term for this special life is sometimes given as nephesh chayyāh.

I disagree with this idea. There are two main reasons. The first is rather simple. Let us look again at the command God gave to only eat plants in Genesis 1:29-31:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that have the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Does anything stick out? Hopefully, since I highlighted two significant phrases. When God says that humans and animals were to eat plants, He specified “plant yielding seed” and “green plant.” Even if we were to stipulate that insects do not have nephesh life, they certainly do not yield seed nor are they green in the same way that plants are green (that is, they do not photosynthesize). I think that makes it very clear that, regardless of how we think about the lives of invertebrates, they were not given as a source of food to humans and animals, and thus even insectivores (animals that eat insects an other invertebrates) did not exist in God’s original creation.

My second reason for rejecting the idea that some creatures were insectivores in God’s original creation is because I believe that the distinction between biological life and nephesh life is splitting hairs. Why are invertebrates considered to be non-nephesh life? Several reasons are given. First, in the account of Noah and the Flood, it specifically mentions that “[e]verything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died” (Gen. 7:22). Since invertebrates do not have nostrils, it is argued that they do not have the same type of breath of life (which is the word nephesh). Additionally, the life of an animal is tied to its blood (Leviticus 17:11), and since most invertebrates do not have blood, and those that do have a different type of blood than humans and vertebrates have, they do not have the same life (nephesh) that vertebrates and humans have. Finally, it is claimed that the words nephesh and chayyāh are never applied to invertebrates, and thus they do not have the same type of life as vertebrates.

I think that the previous observations are mostly correct. However, notice that these are arguments by absence: invertebrates are NOT referred to as nephesh or chayyāh, therefore they do not have nephesh life. Invertebrates do NOT have blood or nostrils thus do not have nephesh life, which have been used both in the context of nostrils and blood. Why do I point out these arguments by absence? Nowhere is a definitionof nephesh given in the Bible. Without a proper definition, we do not know whether or not the word nephesh truly applies to insects. Instead, we have to presume that since nephesh is linked to nostrils and blood and has not been linked to invertebrates, that nephesh is exclusive to nostrils, blood, and vertebrates. This is illogical reasoning: just because a term is not used in a specific context does not mean that that term never applies to that context. Take Galations 5:19-21, for example. It tells us that

the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

Now, since Paul did not list “lying,” so are we to presume that lying is not a work of the flesh because of its absence? Obviously not, since lying is explicitly mentioned as a sin elsewhere (there is the ninth commandment, after all). However, the Bible takes time to explain and list sin and sins in multiple places. That is, after all, one of the purposes of the Law: to convict us of sin. It is not one of the purposes of the Bible to explain the meaning of nephesh as it applies to biology. As such, we do not know if the use of nephesh is comprehensive, thus we do not know that nephesh cannot apply to invertebrates.

The truth is, vertebrates and invertebrates are more closely linked than it may first appear. Consider the birds created on day five. What types of animals were included here? If we look at Leviticus 11:13-19, the word “bird” encompasses bats, thus the concept of birds in Genesis 1 is often thought to mean flying things, rather than feathered birds exclusively. Now Leviticus 11:20 says this: “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you.” Do you know what word is used for “insect?” The same word translated as “bird” in Leviticus 11:13 and Genesis 1:20 (day five creation of birds). In other words, flying insects are birds in the same way that bats are birds. Thus, some vertebrates and invertebrates are bound together by a single term “bird” used in the Old Testament.

Further on in Leviticus 11, we get this passage in verses 41-42:

Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable.

It is clear that the word “swarming” is not exclusive to vertebrates as a distinction is made between creatures with four feet (vertebrates) and creatures with many feet (various types of invertebrates). That shows that, once again, vertebrates and invertebrates can be bound together in a single group with no distinction. To be explicit, the word “swarm” here is a different Hebrew word from “creeps” in Genesis 1:24-25 (day six of creation), so we cannot say that both invertebrates and vertebrates were created with the same type of life on Day Six, but at the same time, since vertebrates and invertebrates are talked about collectively in Leviticus, it open the possibility that they were created the same way.

All in all, I think that the definition of nephesh as something special that is exclusive to vertebrates is a result of a splitting of hairs. Instead, insects and invertebrates are clearly grouped with vertebrates in Leviticus: there appears to be little distinction between them. Even if invertebrates do have a different type of life from vertebrates, it is clear from the command to eat plant yielding seed and green plants that invertebrates were simply not meant to be eaten in God’s original creation.

Thoughts from Steven

1. David Pitman (2014) “Nephesh chayyāh: A matter of life… and non-life” creation.com retrieved from https://creation.com/nephesh-chayyah on December 30, 2019. It is important to note that this article does not address the idea that nephesh animals ate non-nephesh animals, but that is the next logical question and it has been suggested elsewhere.