How Did Evil Come Into the World?

Dr. William Edgar discusses the question, How Did Evil Come Into the World?, which is also the title of his recent addition to the Christian Answers to Hard Questions series. Today’s conversation covers the same territory as the booklet, how a good God can be the creator and sovereign of a world now filled with evil, and how scientific developments related to Darwinism and evolution challenge or harmonize with the Biblical account of suffering and sin. Dr. Edgar guides listeners and readers to a view of God and evil that recognizes both the terrible reality of evil and the supreme reality of God’s good plan.

Dr. Edgar is Professor of Apologetics and John Boyer Chair of Evangelism and Culture at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelpia, PA. Dr. Edgar serves as part of the Christian Renaissance Foundation, the European Leadership Forum, and the Huguenot Fellowship, among other responsibilities.


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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program and learn how to subscribe.

25 Responses

  1. John Oliver

    Hello, Camden and all, Just finished listening to the latest Christ The Center. First let me say again how thankful I am for this program. I listen every week, and always benefit from the discussions. The topic today touched lightly on a subject that I would be very interested in hearing a more full discussion of – animal death before the fall. Dr. Edgar seemed to have some personal positions, but not really a well developed, and biblically rigorous position. That’s not being critical, just, I think, stating the obvious. But this topic deserve fuller attention, I believe.
    I realize that any position taken on this subject will have to rely on inference at certain junctures, but I also believe these inferences can be fairly persuasive.
    I have in mind a series of verses that must also be considered along with the passages in Psalm 104 that Dr. Edgar alluded to. Yes, Ps. 104 makes reference to lions seeking their prey, but Gen. 1:30 clearly says that the “green herb” had also been given to the beasts of the earth for food. The passage in Isaiah 11 which talks about the leopard lying down with the goat, even if it is symbolic, what is it symbolic of? Surely the lack of animals killing one another, right? Rom. 8, 1 Cor. 15., and others… Not that this holds much weight, but it’s also hard to imagine slaughtering an animal to eat it in heaven, don’t you think? Or of animals catching and tearing the flesh off of another animal in the new heavens and new earth. Just hard to imagine.
    Anyway, I would love to hear a discussion of this topic.
    Thanks again for all you do! Very happy to support your work!

    1. Jeff Waddington


      As you may have gathered, I do not share the view that there is animal death before the Fall. It would be food for a good discussion (pun thoroughly intended!).


      1. John Oliver

        Yes, Jeff, I did gather that – thanks for asking the question! A further question would be, why would we believe in animal death before the fall? In other words, is there anything in the inspired text which would lead us to that conclusion? If not, why does there seem to be such hesitation on the position? Is there some other influence affecting our hermeneutic? I’d love to listen in on the discussion! Thanks again for all you guys do!

  2. To John’ Oliver’s question of ‘why would a Christian believe in animal death before the Fall’? The answer must lie in an attempt by those who believe in an old earth, old cosmos to justify their position. In other words, a belief in an old earth (billions of years old) ‘requires’ dead animals as fossils in the sedimentary rocks of the earth’s crust. There is no other way around it. An old earth also requires some kind of evolutionary development, they are two sides of the same coin.

    For 1800 years the orthodox Christian position was a complete and perfect Creation with no death whatsoever (animal or otherwise) in any of the created order until Adam sinned. This has now changed with acceptance of the secular interpretations of physical features of the earth and cosmos concluding billions and millions of years, and Christian theologians accommodating the secularists. A travesty all the way around.

  3. Mark G

    Yeah, we know that super novas 170,000 light years away photographed by secularists could really never have happened since the universe is no more than 10,000 years old. God must have sent the secularists light to confound these fools who are wise in their own eyes.

      1. Mark G

        Science “proved” that Piltdown man was a hoax, and the fact that scientists can be duped or make errors doesn’t keep anyone from having faith in electricity (which is “just” a theory) when they turn on the lights or buy the latest ipad. It doesn’t “prove” a thing.

        However, it’s highly unlikely that no galaxies exist outside the Milky Way, but only their light. If it is in fact the case that only their light exists it is difficult to see how nature could witness to the God of the Bible (Romans 1), i.e., unless there is no basis for science in general revelation which wouldn’t seem to leave anyone “without excuse.”

    1. John Oliver

      My intention was not to raise the whole issue of the age of the earth, young earth/old earth, etc, but simply to start a discussion about an even more fundamental issue – that of death. However, I do think there is a connection between the two subjects, so I can see why you raised the point. Distant star light is certainly a difficulty for the young earther, but there have been a number of theories proposed to deal with that problem. And as you may be aware, there are also several problems for the old earthers when it comes to star light as well. But one comment that Vern Poythress has made is that he doesn’t understand why young earthers don’t rely on God creating things with the appearance of age more often. Some say this would invalidate all of science, since we could not rely on the reality of what we observe. But I think it’s important to remember that we’re dealing with a miracle here. Creation is not a “normal” scientific event. How old did Adam look five minutes after he was created? How old did the wine taste that Jesus made from water, etc. Creation is a miraculous event and it is not unreasonable to assume that some things took place that are not “natural” in the process. But again, there are a number of scientific theories that have been brought forth to deal with the problem of distant star light. None are without controversy, but again, the other side has issues as well – CBR, the horizon problem, etc. Thanks for the comment!

      1. There is most definitely a connection between ‘nephesh chayyah’ death of animals before the Fall and a billions of years old earth and cosmos, and I think the two should be studied and discussed together. When one studies the history of ‘deep time’, it’s discovery, formation and promulgation with the men of the so-called “Age of Reason”, one finds a philosophical commitment to either a deistic God, or an outright philosophical naturalism. Martin J.S. Rudwick’s book, “Bursting the Limits of Tiime; The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution”, Steven Jay Gould’s book “Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time”, and Jack Repcheck’s more popular read “The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity”, all bear this out.

        Deep time was “discovered” first, theologians catching up to the exegetical and doctrinal issues, i.e., animal death before the Fall, an historical Adam, the implications of Christ’s work and what He was doing in Creation over billions and millions of years, came later.

    1. John Oliver

      Thanks for the Bavinck reference. I checked the section he mentioned in Calvin’s Commentary on Genesis, and Calvin does not say that he is comfortable with animal death before the fall, but before the Flood. In fact he says it is reasonable to assume that men and animals only ate herbs and such before the flood, but not conclusive. But again, his point is not to assert that there was animal death before the fall, but simply that between the fall and the flood God permitted the eating of flesh. Check the reference out yourself, and let me know what you think. Thanks again!

      1. John Oliver

        Thanks so much for this link! That message was water to my soul! I loved how he saw the connection between Adam and creation and Jesus and the New Creation. I also appreciated the point about the life being in the blood of both man and animals, and how when God brought judgement, it always included both men and animals. Very good! One thought I’ve had regarding those who try to point out that plants die before the fall, therefore there must be death before the fall: one fundamental difference between plants and animals is that when man dies his potential to produce life ceases as well. Whereas with plants, it is as they die that life is produced (John 12:24). Also, in many cases, we eat the fruit of plants without the necessity of the plants death – fruit, etc. These are significant differences between plants and animals, to me. Thanks again for the link!

  4. John Oliver

    Pastor Mark Holst, whose sermon was referenced in this discussion, would be a great person to include if you ever decide to have a discussion on Christ The Center. Thanks again for all your work on the Reformed Forum!

  5. Mark G

    Thanks for engaging. Messaging is not a very useful way of carrying on much of a discussion but I will make a couple points. 1) The length of days and age of the earth (universe) are not necessarily related but as you suggest they commonly go together. 2) 6K-10K years is almost trivial in terms of even the Milky Way (100 million light years across) regardless of method. Triangulation and the correlation of light intensity with spectrum are fairly straight forward. Triangulation and the light intensity vs. distance are just based on relatively simple physics and math. 3) the Genesis account does not give us much insight into the relative roles of supernatural creation and providence in explaining the nature of our universe. I believe there’s a lot more going on providentially than generally recognized and also that it is not helpful to impose modern “scientific” debates on ancient accounts. For example, in one OT verse (in English Bible anyway) bats are grouped with birds. It would be misguided to argue the Bible/ancients are wrong because they categorized animals differently (non-scientifically). 4) As you seem to know, one can find just about any “scientific” theory one wants to support various views. I suppose geocentrists support their views “scientifically.” By it’s very nature science in principle has an escape clause (it never arrives at truth) but appealing to this isn’t very helpful in improving understanding or aiding discussion. It’s more of a conversation stopper, defense mechanism. 5) Vern Poythress’s creation with maturity model has some wonky implications. He argues that although cosmologists may be right for example that Andromeda will collide with the Milky Way in a couple billion years this will never happen because we know Christ will return before that happens. Just as that future history never happened, past history never happened even though cosmologists may be right. That suggests that the big bang model may be theoretically correct but in fact never happened. If that is so how could Romans 1 be true; i.e., that creation truly witnesses to the God of Bible in His awesome power and majesty? Since apparently much of creation is true only in theory, and not in reality, is it’s witness only true in theory? That’s a rhetorical question by the way.

    Take care …

    1. Mark G

      A theological concern of mine with the whole science vs. the Bible, evolution vs. creationism debate is that Christians seem much more eager to defend supernaturalism and supernatural revelation than providence and general revelation. Unbelievers do not acknowledge providence and general revelation any more than they do supernaturalism and yet this rarely is part of the discussion. The whole basis (ultimately) for doing science is general revelation and providence. It is what leaves the unbelieving scientist without excuse (Romans 1). My own opinion is that there are too many Christians and too much of Christianity that operates under functional deism. This might also in part explain why Christians seem to feel threatened by the heuristic power of science, i.e., it is so good at explaining nature. Science is good at explaining nature because modern science is so much a product of Enlightenment autonomy, but because it borrows from general revelation. that is why I am concerned that unbelievers when they study nature are under the true witness of nature which we call general revelation.

      1. Mark G

        nuts. I meant to say science is good at explaining nature NOT so much because it is a product of autonomous Enlightenment thinking but because it is grounded in general revelation.

      2. How does providence and general revelation relate to the supernatural act of creation ex nihilo in your view?

        “the whole science vs. the Bible debate”
        It’s really the secularist naturalistic worldview vs. a biblical worldview debate. Science is the purview of both worldviews, although the secular scientist does his studies on the foundation of biblical axioms. His naturalistic science is bereft without the purloining of principles found only within Judeo-Christian theology.

      3. Mark G

        Hi Steve,

        “How does providence and general revelation relate to the supernatural act of creation ex nihilo in your view”?

        I don’t know if I understand what you are asking but my first reaction is to say I tend to believe supernatural acts are those revealed supernaturally, i.e., in Scripture. The only supernatural acts occurring today are the supernatural transfer of people from “this present evil age” into “the kingdom of the Son” or from the state under the 1st Adam into the state under the second Adam. With respect to the creation account itself there are only about a handful of divine fiats and the probationary test/fall of Adam. Pretty much all the rest of creation in all it’s diversity and complexity can be explained under providence/general revelation.

        Even rabid anti-theists like Lawrence Krauss argue in favor of creation of something from nothing. Of course he also argues the fact of creation out of nothing proves that God doesn’t exist, but he’s wrong. He points out that if you plug into the big bang model all the numbers to get the total energy of the universe you get zero. This implies that there is nothing in the physics of the big bang precluding the creation of the universe from “nothing,” whatever nothing is.

    2. John Oliver

      You’re welcome. I enjoy engaging others on topics I think are important. This particular topic, I feel, has not received the comprehensive discussion it deserves, especially in the larger reformed context. I think there are very big issues related to this topic, as have been hinted at in the various points that have been brought up here. And yes, I agree, this is not really the place to have a thorough conversation, but I’ll take it where I can…. Please allow me to address some of your comments:
      1) I think you may have missed my point regarding the miraculous nature of the Creation week, and Dr. Poythress’s comment. I am certainly not advocating evidentialism. Nor am I excluding the use of God’s providence in nature. I’m simply pointing out that anytime God has done a miraculous act, traditional scientific methods can hardly be relied upon for analysis. This is not, therefore, to say that the event did not take place, but rather that our scientific methods aren’t sufficient to analyze it. To say that triangulation and star brightness can be used to determine the distance of far off luminaries is not to say we know the age of the universe, anymore than knowing the process of fermentation tells us anything about the age of that miraculous wine. I’m suggesting the creation of our universe most certainly has miraculous elements to it, which may render our conclusions, based on normal scientific models, incorrect. This in no way makes the testimony of the heavens any less amazing, or untruthful! Just because we can’t say how God did something doesn’t make it untrue. Nor does it render our scientific method null and void. It just humbles it to its rightful position, and reminds us of its limitations!
      2) You used the term “ancient accounts”, and I will assume you simple mean old, and don’t imply by the term some sort of inferiority to modern accounts. Because I think it’s extremely important that we remember that the primary author of Scripture is God, not some ancient nomadic near eastern tribe. And he had things recorded that would stand the test of time for his church of all generations. I think we need to be very careful not to allow the affects of the Enlightenment to unduely influence our reading of God’s word, especially when those conclusions fly in the face of clear theological truths. My original point is that death before the fall is a conclusion that I think flows more from the influence of modern science, than that of internal scriptural instruction. Your thoughts?

  6. Mark G

    Just a quick reply. I just lost one by forgetting to input my name.

    I don’t think science can explain supernatural acts of God. They by definition transcend usual regular operations of nature, etc. Science deals with observation (direct or indirect) or inferences from observation. I don’t reject a scientific approach to history which is not observable. There is no scientific explanation as to how Lazarus got from being dead on minute to be alive the next. There was plenty of providence going on while he was subject to corruption and afterword while he was alive. There were no “natural laws” explaining how he got from one state to another. Science cannot tell one how someone can go from this present evil age into the kingdom of the Son.

    I didn’t intend to suggest you were evidentialist.

    The reason I mentioned measuring distance to stars is there is a relationship between distance and time. If a star is 100 million light years away and we see it, but for creation with appearance of age, the universe is at least 100Myrs old.

    I don’t consider ancient biblical accounts to be inferior. In true Vossian fashion, revelation to Moses is not inferior to revelation to Paul even though revelation is progressive. Also in Vossian fashion, scripture as divine revelation is primary.

    I consider revelation (general and special) and the activity of God (supernatural or providence) to be the only basis we can do science. I reject rationalism, materialism, etc. At the same time I think the unbeliever and believer studying nature can come to the same conclusions on the surface while one fails to acknowledge God and the other brings honor and glory to God.

    I gave up on concordance theories a long time ago. I think it’s better to accept tensions than twist things (biblically or scientifically) to try to feel satisfied with explaining the creation. I doubt lions ever liked salad and that biblical kinds has any relationship to the species concept of modern biology. I don’t think biblical kinds teaches fixity of species. I have a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and I also believe that Jesus in the flesh as the first fruits of the resurrection is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven (which is a real place) interceding for all who are existentially united to him (yeah, I am also a Gaffinite/Tiptonite).

    None of this is so strange when you realize that an atom is better than 99% space and the solid appearance of matter is a result of quantum fluctuations or that matter and energy are but alternative states of the same stuff. Sorry for the hodge (not Charles) podge of stuff but I’m at work and gotta go.

  7. Mark G. said,

    With respect to the creation account itself there are only about a handful of divine fiats and the probationary test/fall of Adam.

    And yet it is within those divine fiats that we seem to be having this discussion, isn’t it? I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but my read, forgive me if wrong, is that you are trying to minimize exactly those divine fiats and their implications for you as a Christian theologically.

    In your post to John Oliver you indicate a Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology. Evolution, old earth/old cosmos, no global and universal year-long Flood in the days of Noah, they all go together, don’t they? You probably don’t believe in an historical Adam as the sole and only progenitor of the entire human race either I would imagine. Death as an entity for billions and millions of years before Adam sinned is part and parcel of the package as well.

    I hope I’m not putting words in your mouth, brother, and this is certainly not the place to foster a change in your thinking, for you are my brother when you claim the name of Christ, but I will say this and you can blast me in your next post: to say that Christ used evolution as the means in His work of Creation over billions and millions of years, with the accompanying natural evils He allowed during that time with destruction, disease, and decay, is pure and outright blasphemy against the Christ you say you love. To charge our sinless, perfect, and holy Christ in His work of Creation with the fitful starts and stops of evolution, and it’s companion of death, disease, decay, and destruction, is an affront to God of the highest magnitude.

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