Under God's plan, nature is balanced. Basil's example of differing fertility rates between prey and predators is but one way of maintaining stability. Since Basil writes that the animal kingdom was the same before and after the fall, it appears he did not share the YEC view of vertebrate death before the fall. Basil's Hexaemeron is a Christian classic, and his position on this issue was not called into question by other early church fathers, many of whom were quick to correct potential heresies.
It is difficult to argue that church tradition supports the YEC position on vertebrate death before the fall.
How Does Vertebrate Death Impact Ecosystems?
What would the world be like if there were no death among vertebrate animals? Would it, only then, deserve the commendation "very good," as YEC supporters argue?3 Not necessarily. As Basil observed—and many others since—the absence of the predator-prey relationship upsets the balance of nature.
Modern examples illustrate how negative unintended consequences usually occur when humans tamper with an ecosystem by upsetting the predator-prey balance. In the 1700s, European settlers brought jack rabbits to Australia. Without predators, the rabbit population exploded. To this day, they cause millions of dollars of damage to crops annually.
In the 1920s, grey wolves were eradicated from Yellowstone National Park "to protect livestock and ‘more desirable' wildlife species, such as deer and elk."4 The results were detrimental to the ecosystem and grey wolves have been reintroduced.
In the 1970s, "Asian carp" were introduced to aquatic farms in the US to control weed and parasite growth. However, without natural predators, these fish have spread throughout much of the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to crowd out native fish and devastate the area's fishing industry.
Such examples show that a world without vertebrate death is not "very good." It would be a world overrun by prolific small creatures, such as rabbits. Thus, the YEC scenario model faces daunting challenges.
The only viable option is to suppose that the fall in Genesis 3 took place almost immediately following the creation of Eve. For example, Archbishop James Usshersuggested that the fall occurred only four days after the creation of land animals and humans.5 He offered no justification for this timetable, and did not indicate he supported the YEC position on vertebrate death. Nevertheless, if YEC supporters believe such a short creation timetable because of the terrible impact of long-term unchecked herbivorous activity, they are, in essence, arguing that God created a world designed to fail. And such a world could hardly be described as "very good."
In summary, the idea of no vertebrate death before the fall seems implausible: biblically, traditionally, and practically.
Daniel J. Dyke, MDiv, MTh
Mr. Daniel J. Dyke received his Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary 1981 and currently serves as professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University in Cincinnati, OH.
Dr. Hugh Henry, PhD
Dr. Hugh Henry received his PhD in Physics from the University of Virginia in 1971, retired after 26 years at Varian Medical Systems, and currently serves as Lecturer in physics at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, KY.