Mountains, Meadows, and Marmots: Creation or Judgment?
If the characteristics of creation is evidence not of God’s power but of creation falling apart because of sin, how can God’s eternal power and divine nature be clearly seen in the world around us?
This past summer I had the pleasure of sitting on a 13,000 foot ridge of La Plata Peak in Colorado for two hours while my oldest son ran up the final 1,300 feet to the top of the mountain. From this amazing perch I enjoyed looking out over dozens of mountain peaks topped with patches of snow and the presence of some friendly pikas and marmots while numerous forms of insects visited dozens of species of high alpine flowers.
My encounter with creation brought to mind Psalm 104, which recounts the acts of creation and proclaims that that:
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (v. 24 ESV)
Earlier in the same Psalm, mountains are mentioned: “The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers” (v. 18). Likewise in Psalm 19, David proclaims that the “heavens declare the Glory of God.” In the book of Job we find God exhorting Job to look at a wide variety of attributes with which He endowed His creatures, asking Job who he is to question the wisdom of His creation.
At no time while gazing over the mountain tops, as I interacted with the animals and took pictures of the flowers, did it occur to me that what I was witnessing was anything less than the glorious, good creation of God.
More recently I found myself in a theater taking in scenes of God’s creation through the documentary Is Genesis History? hosted by Del Tackett. This beautifully produced film transported myself and the rest of a clearly awed audience to many natural wonders of this world. Even though my interpretation of Genesis is much different than his, I could share with the Tackett (and the audience) a great sense of wonder at these magnificent scenes. So you can imagine my surprise1 as I watched the final scene which found Dr. Tackett looking out over a landscape similar to my mountain experience and proclaiming, “It’s glorious, but represents the judgement of God.”
As surprising as this statement may sound, Dr. Tackett was only stating the logical conclusion which flows from his young-earth creationism (YEC) worldview. For him, what you and I experience is not so much God’s good creation as it is the end-product of God’s judgement.
How so? According to Tackett and like-minded YECs, geological processes such as earthquakes, floods—including Noah’s Flood—volcanism, plate tectonics, uplift, subsidence, and the like, could not have been a part of God’s “very good” creation. Instead, they were brought into the world by Adam’s sin, which affected every aspect of creation—possibly including extraterrestrial planets and stars. But these very same processes are the immediate cause of every geological formation we see today. Thus, had Adam never sinned, there would be no Grand Canyon, no Niagara Falls, no Mt. Kilimanjaro, and no Mt. Everest. In fact, there might have been no high mountains at all.
Is the present-day diversity of living things also the result of the judgement of God?
Despite a lack of YEC literature addressing ecological interactions in the pre-Fall world, it is evident that the young-earth view of the radical reconstruction of the world following Adam’s sin touches far more than the physical surface of the Earth. It also applies to the living inhabitants of creation as well.2
Rather than looking out over a mountain vista, Dr. Tackett might also have taken us to a zoo and said: “Look at all of these magnificent creatures complete with marvelous adaptations for survival in deserts and mountain tops. They remind us of God’s judgment for sin.”
Why? Consider that YECs believe the in the pre-fall world, no animals with the “breath of life” experienced death. This biological “perfect” paradise precludes disruptive events such as mutations and natural selection resulting from resource competition. If immortal animals had all the plants they could ever need for food and were all able to reproduce without impediment, then the need for adaptations for protection, competition, and even mate attraction would be unnecessary. One wonders what the function of variation among individual members of a “kind”—if any existed—could have been. Was diversity solely aesthetic?3
According to Tackett, after Adam and his offspring’s sin brought radical climatic change and geological destruction to the face of the whole earth, especially at the time of the Flood, a great diversity of species and all their amazing features sprang forth as they adapted via evolutionary mechanisms—albeit at an impossibly fast pace—to new habitats, especially as a result of the Flood.
Where did the genetic information come from that allowed for this post-fall explosion of new species? The film explains that the initial “very good” creation included organisms front-loaded with immense genetic variation and thus the capacity to evolve into new species after sin entered the world. In addition to raising some difficult questions of theodicy and God’s foreknowledge, this doesn’t make any biological sense.
Hibernating pikas and marmots? Alpine species of plants? Polar bears and arctic foxes? None of these existed in the original creation, according to YECs. Just how few species existed in the original creation? The YEC literature is very sparse but extensive speciation proposed by Answers in Genesis points to an initial creation with low diversity. For example they speculate that the 1100 species of bats alive today, in addition to all fossil species, originated from a single bat ancestor.
Each of these modern bat species has remarkable and unique adaptations to diverse environments that may not have existed in the pre-Fall world, sculpted by the mechanisms of evolution unleashed by Adam’s sin. Therefore, from a YEC perspective, the diversity of life on Earth at which we— and so many biblical authors—marvel is not representative of God’s original creation.
God’s invisible qualities clearly seen in the post-Fall world?
Finally, as the last scene of the Colorado landscape faded from view, Romans 1:20 appeared on the screen: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
Yet if the characteristics of living things and the very shape of the earth’s surface is evidence not of God’s power but of creation falling apart because of sin, how can God’s eternal power and divine nature be clearly seen in the world around us?
Mountains, weather, and biological diversity are consistently described in the Bible as being authored by God. In most contexts these natural features of the world are viewed with awe and reverence as good and wonderful things. We don’t find the psalmist blaming the existence of mountains on Adam’s sin nor even a global flood. Psalm 104 doesn’t attribute the lion roaring for its prey to Adam and Eve’s primal disobedience.
When Abraham and Lot, as recorded in Genesis 13, look down into the Dead Sea Valley, they don’t bemoan the fact that because of Adam’s sin a great rift in the Promised Land had opened up, creating the Dead Sea and a difficult passageway allowing access to the valley floor. But following the young-earth view to its logical end, had Adam not sinned the land before them would have had no sharp cliffs, barren spaces, or extreme heat or cold.4
Lot described this place as “like the garden of the Lord.” (Gen 13:10) But his response makes no sense in the young-earth perspective. How could this in any way be like the garden of the Lord if every plant, animal and even rock of the valley had been radically transformed as a result of Adam’s transgression? In the YEC worldview, this land would not have been recognizable to Adam and Eve in the prelapsarian world.
The evolutionary creationist sees God’s hand in every aspect of creation, present and past. For us, the beauty of creation is much more than just a shadow of a former time. Nature is damaged, in our view, not by a radical physical transformation at the moment of the first sin, but by the ravages of a broken humanity who does not worship the Creator as they should. We are not tending and keeping the “Garden” as it was intended.
It is difficult not to conclude that the original creation, as envisaged by YECs, must have been a rather monotonous place, lacking much of the geological and biological diversity of God’s creation that we can observe today. This perspective doesn’t align with the world that the biblical authors wrote about, nor does it align with the evidence from the world that we see today. We need a better way to understand what God has told us about who we are and how He formed this world we live in. At BioLogos, we are pursuing that better way.
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Andrew Davison | Cosmic Incarnation