We have noted that some carnivores, such as bears and dogs, have herbivorous or omnivorous members of their families, and thus it is easy to imagine how, after the Fall, these animals gradually diversified to include carnivores. However, other animals, like cats and pit vipers, appear to be so specialized to be carnivores that it is hard to imagine that they could be herbivores. Is there an alternate way to explain how these later carnivores came about?
A possible clue comes from Genesis 3:18. This is part of God’s curse on Adam for eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In it, God says of the ground, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” Remember that God originally created Adam to tend the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) and ultimately to care for the whole Earth (Genesis 1:26-28). Presumably, since thorns and thistles are part of the curse of the ground, they did not exist in the pre-Fall world. Where did they come from?
A verse to help us understand where thorns and thistles came from is Genesis 2:1, which says, “[t]hus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” Note that this is a description of the world immediately before the seventh day, so it is right after Creation. The fact that we are told that the Earth was finished and everything on it suggests that God did not create new types of plants with thorns and thistles when He cursed Adam. Otherwise, He would have created new things on Earth. Thus, it suggests that thorns and thistles were added to existing plants. Imagine that rose plants, for example, were in existence before the Fall but lacked thorns. After the Fall, as part of the curse, thorns were added to rose plants. God didn’t create a new type of plant, He just modified an existing plant.
Some creationist are not terribly comfortable with this, because a thorn is still a thing, and it implies that God had to “re-make” large sections of His creation at the time of the Fall. Thus, it has been suggested that the genes for thorns were already present, but were only expressed, perhaps miraculously, at the time of the Fall. The effect is the same, in the sense that thorns only appear on plants at the Fall, but the series of events is different, since thorns, or at least the genes for them, existed from the beginning, but were not put into effect until the Fall.
Personally, I do not think we can distinguish between either of these explanations. For one thing, the pre-Fall world is the one time of Earth’s history about which we have the least information. The Flood preserved fossils from the pre-Flood world, so we can at least use those to reconstruct what life was life back then. However, it is clear from the fossils that they are post-Fall, since carnivory is evident in the fossils, in the form of stomach contents that contain animals and bite marks on bones. In short, we have no physical evidence of the pre-Fall world: all we have is the record of Genesis 1-3. If we look at the verses cited above, we can ask questions like, “Does ‘all of the host of them’ in Genesis 2:1 mean every single detail of living things, or does it simply mean, every kind?” If the answer is “every single detail,” that would suggest that thorns, or at least the genes for them, had to exist before the Fall, while “every kind” would allow God to modify His creation without contradicting Genesis 2:1. Ultimately, which idea is correct comes down to semantics, and as such, I do not feel comfortable making a claim that one idea is true.
However, I think the curse of thorns and thistles does at least illustrate that some features of living things were new (in the sense that they were only expressed or created) after the Fall. Perhaps there is a similar explanation for cats and pit vipers: both existed from the beginning of creation, but they were given their carnivorous lifestyle, and the necessary features to live that lifestyle, at the time of the Fall. After all, when God cursed Adam and death came into the world, God surely knew that the good world He created was going to change. As it is now, predators are a natural part of the world. One could even argue that in a world governed by death, they are necessary to regulate the populations of the herbivores. While carnivory was not an original part of God’s creation, because of its importance today, perhaps God immediately re-created some animals as carnivores, or expressed existing genes so they could become carnivores, at the Fall so that they could become an integral part of the newly fallen world.
Even though carnivores were not part of the original creation, they are part of God’s current creation, and He is responsible for them, in the same way He is responsible for all of His creation. Consider Luke 12:24, which says, “Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” While the point of the verse is to show God’s care of His people, note that God illustrates that care by pointing to His care of the natural world. Considering that ravens are omnivores, and do not turn up the opportunity to prey and small animals, we would have to conclude that God cares even for those animals that eat other animals. While death and destruction in the natural world is a reminder that the world is fallen and corrupt, God has not abandoned His creation and still cares for it. Thus, we can still see the creative hand of God even in the carnivores. Thus, we can marvel at the design of chameleons, pit vipers, cats, and other carnivores without worrying that we are glorifying the corrupt world.
Whew! It has taken a while, but that is the end of my series on the origin of carnivores. I will go back to single subject posts for a while, until a new long topic strikes my fancy.
Thoughts from Steven