Jon Garvey, God’s Good Earth, (https://www.amazon.com/Gods-Good-Earth-Jon-Garvey/dp/1532652003/)

In my talk for the webinar, I mentioned this book by Jon Garvey. Subtitled “The case for an unfallen creation”, it arguues for just that: that the physical created world is not “fallen” at all, but just as God designed it, and very good.

Many of the points he makes are the same as in my book, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (https://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Case-Old-Earth-ebook/dp/B00B856BQ8/), including 1) there is no story of a second creation in Scripture— Genesis 1-2 is the only creation story, reiterated several times in Scripture. At the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there is simply no discussion of a revision of creation at all, just two things, that farming and childbirth will be harder. 2) Genesis 1 clearly includes carnivorous animals in the “very good” creation. 3) Everywhere in Scripture God rejoices over the carnivores, and commends us to rejoice over them, and does not mourn them or consider them deformed or fallen. 

Garvey goes does not address the age of the earth in depth, but instead goes much deeper into the question of whether the Bible teaches that the creation is fallen in any intrinsic way as opposed to just showing the effects of abuse by humans). In the first part of his book, he shows that there was no general consensus on the question in the first 1500 years of the church, with most theologians leaning toward the view of an unfallen creation whose beauty testifies of God. The widespread belief in a distorted or twisted physical order due to the Curse on Adam and Eve seems to have arisen at the time of the Reformation. Garvey attributes this to the influence of the Promethean myth of the Renaissance, which was used to celebrate the centrality of human understanding in the world, despite the consequences. I found this argument to less convincing; the Reformers generally did not draw on Greek mythology to a large degree, nor buy into the premises of Renaissance humanism. I wonder if the explanation is much more direct: at the time of the Reformation and after, a series of disastrous plagues hit Europe, and many of the leaders of Reformed churches lost close friends. In prior times, these might have been explained as direct signs from God for disobedience, but with the de-mystification of the natural world that came with the Reformation (see Peter Harrison’s book, also a good read https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Protestant-Rise-Nat-Science/dp/0521000963/) this avenue was not open to the Reformed theologians, and they faced a world in which diseases like these existed intrinsically.  

Garvey then goes on to survey the science, and shows that evolutionists, including theistic evolutions such as Karl Giberson, severely overstate the case in painting a very black picture of animal suffering, essentially unending misery for all nonhuman life. As well documented by George Hunter in Darwin’s God (https://www.amazon.com/Darwins-God-Evolution-Problem-Evil/dp/1587430118/) Darwinian evolution of both the theistic and atheistic type was largely embraced in the 1800s as a theodicy to explain this view of the world. Unlike young earth creationists who removed God from responsibility by making human sin the cause of natural evil, evolutionists removed God from responsibility by making undirected natural forces the cause. For Giberson and others, this is the main argument for evolution, that God could not possibly have directly created this deadly situation. Garvey shows that such a bleak picture of the natural order is not in agreement witht the facts; animals generally live most of their lives without suffering and with much peace and pleasure, even with parasites who live essentially symbiotically with them, and may not have the higher functions to experience anguish as humans do (as opposed to pain, which animals clearly do experience), and death is usually rapid for most animals, with shock removing most of the suffering. Much of our dismay at animal death is due to “projection” of our own feelings onto animals. 

Garvey may overstate his own case a bit. Several times he encourages the “look out the window” test— is the nature you can see in your neighborhood really so filled with anguish and misery? But here he may fall into the same trap that the Victorians documented by Hunter’s book did. In well-tamed England and Europe, the view out a window is not generally one of suffering and misery in the natural world. But travel to other parts of the world, and the careful work of scientists in those places, exposed the Victorians to new types of carnivorous and parasitic life that made them recoil. This reaction probably contributed to the “nature is cursed/fallen” view of theology that Garvey documents.  But Garvey is right that even in dangerous places like the Amazon or the Australian outback, the life of animals is not unending misery. Generally all ecosystems have predators that keep populations in check and diseases that keep predators in check, and lots of running about without sheer agony all the time. Our, and the Victorians’, reaction against new forms of predators and parasites is like culture shock, in which anything novel is seen as evil. 

But the question is not all or nothing. It may be that creation is mostly unfallen, but that there are some physical aspects of it (such as certain types of virus) that God added at the Curse to make life harder (but not unlivable) for humans. The Bible does mention some natural phenomena as used by God to discipline and warn humans of God’s ultimate judgment, such as the plagues on Egypt and Israel. These may have existed prior to the fall but had their effects amplified for specific purposes of God. 

Overall, Garvey’s book is worth the read (perhaps in conjunction with the other books mentioned above), as it makes a substantial contribution to the debate.