Stuff I Don’t Get: Creation, Sin, Death, and Design


The Creation Museum is pretty much in my backyard. Aussie transplant Ken Ham enjoys plenty of supporters around here. I think everyone in my church has been to the museum at least once.

The genesis of writing this “Stuff I Don’t Get” series came after contemplating the barn swallow and creation. I’m a lifelong birder, so I’ve always found pleasure in identifying and watching birds.

A pair of barn swallows, they of the forked tails and elegant aerial acrobatics, nested on a floodlight on my garage. Barn SwallowI’m partial to swallows. Watching them skim the earth as they gorge on bugs I stir up while mowing is one of my favorite tractor-top activities.

But here’s the stuff I don’t get:

Many Christians believe that death only came into existence after Adam sinned.

They would say that sin damages and ruins things, never making them better than they were.

They would likely insist that the first animals ate only plants (and I would guess not enough of one plant to kill it entirely) so as to avoid the death issue before Adam sinned.

But what then explains the barn swallow?

It’s a perfect bug-eating machine, consuming—and thus killing—hundreds of insects a day. The swallow has an oversized mouth that stretches into a gaping maw. Its dexterity in flight is unequaled, perfectly paired to catching flying bugs. Almost entirely a bird of the air, its tiny feet are wholly inappropriate to clinging to reeds and plant stems, making the consumption of seeds, nuts, and berries difficult, more of a desperation food than its normal diet.

Here is an animal unfit for primarily eating plants, and totally suited in every way for consuming one kind of food: small, flying creatures.

So how can it be that the swallow EVER ate plants alone? Nothing of its physiology is geared for that sole task.

And if the swallow’s current form is the result of the degrading transformational effects of sin, how did sin ever create such a beautiful and elegant result?

If you—or Ken Ham—have a good explanation, I’m all ears.

27 thoughts on “Stuff I Don’t Get: Creation, Sin, Death, and Design

  1. Danny Wahlquist

    Dan, thanks for your posts and how often you make me think! I love birding too, and it amazes me all of the variations of swallows we have that probably came from one pair at creation.

    I hope Ken or one of the experts will respond to your post, but my initial reaction is that the serpent didn’t slither before the fall, and the incredible lion killing machine didn’t kill either, based on what God said. And I have learned over these 50 plus years to trust what God says over what I can see all the time.

    God bless,


  2. Bob Young

    Background: I grew up with all the young earth literal creationist teachings and defended them for years. I have in no way lost my faith, though my views on properly interpreting scripture have definitely changed…

    The whole cycle of life implies that death had to be part of the original design of creation. What – leaves never fell off trees until sin entered? Bats never ate mosquitoes until sin entered? Vultures and crows and hawks and eagles only ate plants? I can’t believe that.

    Whether or not Genesis 1-3 provides literal depictions of creation scenarios (I’m really not arguing that here), it is MOST DEFINITELY ancient poetry with the all the symmetry and numerology you’d expect to find in such Hebrew writings (see the first 10 minutes of Rob Bell’s DVD “Everything Is Spiritual”, and don’t be afraid to watch the whole 85 minutes… it’s fascinating and stimulating, and I daresay… true).

    • Bob,

      Time and again we have the true record that the Bible is always correct when it discusses histories and origins. This is especially the case when it comes to the archaeological record. (Jericho, for instance.) And for years historians doubted all the Roman titles listed by Luke in Luke/Acts, yet ancient documents were found that supported all those titles.

      I have no reason to believe that Genesis is simply poetry. It must also be accurate history or else it’s the only history in the Bible that isn’t truly a historical record. That doesn’t make sense in light of everything else in the Scriptures.

      The issue for many is how much of Genesis, while accurate, is couched in metaphorical language. I think that’s where the battle lines fall.

      • A Different Jonathan

        “I have no reason to believe that Genesis is simply poetry. It must also be accurate history or else it’s the only history in the Bible that isn’t truly a historical record.”

        But isn’t this prejudging the genre? Isn’t it essentially saying, “I know that Genesis 1 and 2 fall into the history genre, therefore they must be accurate history, or they wouldn’t be like the other history bits of the Old Testament.” The entire line of thought is predicated on the identification of the genre as history.

        So really, the last part of the quote above could legitimately be: “…or else it’s not intended to be history at all.”

  3. Paul Walton

    Sin brought about death to mankind, but I don’t believe, and don’t know to many Christians who think all death was attributed to the fall. Where’s their evidence in Scripture that there was no death in the animal kingdom before Adam’s sin?

    • Gn 1.30 says “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.”

      Romans 8.21: “Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

      Isaiah 65.25: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock . . . ”

      I don’t pretend to understand exactly how creation was before the fall (or how a lion is going to eat straw in the Millenium), but the Word demonstrates a cataclysmic change to the earth and the world all because of Adam’s sin.

      • Peter,

        I totally agree with the Scriptures you quoted. But I still can’t get my head around them.

        The problem of sin “warping” everything is a big one. Sin never makes things better or more suitable. So how does the creature built perfectly for eating other creatures end up perfectly adapted for doing so? I can’t believe that sin would do this.

        So did God alter all the animals post-fall to be better suited for a world of “nature red in in tooth and claw”? If so, doesn’t this constitute a form of “second creation.”

        This is why this is an issue I don’t get. 😉

    • Paul,

      Just one verse that comes to mind:

      Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned– for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.
      —Romans 5:12-13

      While Paul shifts to talking about mankind toward the second half of that passage, the first half definitely states that sin came into the world (with that choice of the word world being important) and death along with it. Paul doesn’t qualify that statement in the first part. It seems clear to me that the progression he discusses applies to creation.

      • David

        I think our mistake is thinking that “death” as mentioned, is physical death. We can die and not be dead, as it were. Just as we can be “alive”, and yet dead.

  4. Jonathan

    This is certainly a challenging question.

    It is indisputable that the countless predatory and parasitic animals (and plants) in the world are beautifully suited to their killing and leeching ways. Some of the parasitic lifecycles, in particular, are breathtaking in their complexity. It is impossible to imagine these organisms as vegetarians with their current morphology. Many, many, aspects of their bodies (including the length of their intestines) would have to be different.

    And what about viruses? I am no virus expert, but I can’t imagine that viruses have any point without a cell to hijack. So did God create viruses from scratch at the time of the fall?

    Furthermore, how did the world even work without death? How was it that the planet was not overrun by bacteria? Did no cells die within the bodies of plants or animals or humans? For all intents and purposes, the biology of pre-Fall times, if no death existed at all, would be unimaginably alien to the biology we currently observe.

    But it isn’t possible, by a simple process of degradation, to get to our current state. As Dan says, the resulting predators are often marvelously suited to their killing.

    To throw another Scriptural consideration into the mix, I interpret Gen 3.22 (And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”) to suggest that it was the tree of life which prevented Adam and Eve’s dying before the fall.

  5. David

    It’s the old take-it-all-or-leave-it. I have no problem with the idea of micro-evolution as witnessed by Darwin. Adaptation is all around us. Macro-evolution, however, as theorized by Darwin, is bunk.

    Now as to the idea of death not existing before sin. I wonder where that comes from, because it’s certainly not biblical. Man never partook of the tree of life, which would have given him eternal physical life (which would have been a curse indeed). Gods protection of man from this eternal death was a good reason for tossing him from the garden.

    So where is it biblically implied that all animal and plant life was deathless before sin?

    I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says that the animals didn’t eat each other. Just that, pre-flood, man didn’t eat animals. So who’s to say that Swallows didn’t eat bugs before the flood? I’m sure Noah appreciated that he had something that ate flies on-board.

      • David

        Darwin theorized that through adaptation, species could evolve into a completely different species. Hence, in theory, homo erectus would gradually evolve, through adaptation, into homo sapiens, a completely different species of the same family. Scientists take it further, theorizing that evolution has allowed for jumps in family, even phylum. Yet, for all the searching and theorizing, there is no proof. While there is evidence of adaptation, one species of lizard, for instance, having multiple localized variations, theoretically caused by adaptation to varied environments, there is no evidence of “evolution”: one species evolving into a completely different species, either in the fossil record, or in current observation of specie adaptation, let alone movements of order, class, or phylum. Darwin produced proof of adaptation. Evolution is still theory, not proof.

        At the same time, I have problems with creationists who try to “prove” evidence of creation.

        Belief in creation is a sacred absolute, with an emphasis on “sacred”. It requires faith, not evidence. If we require proof of God, then what is the purpose of faith? If we do not believe because of “theory”, then where is our faith?

        I think God presents conundrums to us deliberately, so that we question and wonder; because of all relationships, our relationship with God should not be taken for granted. Our “proof” of God is not in the wonders of His creation, but in His actions in our personal lives, tested and approved by His word.

        • A Different Jonathan

          I think the evidence from the mapping of genomes from completely different organisms is as close to proof as one can get in science. Either common descent did occur, or common descent did not occur, but God has intentionally made it appear that it did.

          For a fairly simple presentation of a small part of this evidence, see these articles:

          • A.D. Jonathan,

            If you enter a modern subdivision, it is often easy to see that all the houses share commonalities because they are built by the same builder. Similar housing design elements, however, do not mean that all the people who live in that subdivision are related. 😉

        • Abandon Ship!

          “Theory” is a key word here. In science it does not have the same meaning as elsewhere. Thus there are theories that Mossad engineered the destruction of the Twin Towers, or that the CIA assasinated JFK. However in science Atomic Theory, for example, does not mean it is probably untrue and that there is no evidence for it. Atomic Theory is accepted by all scientists, because virtually all available evidence points towards it. Much the same with Evolutionary Theory (whatever Ken Ham may say), although the evidence is as yet not as solid, but the likes of the genetic evidence as mentioned in the Biologos articles linked below is, for me, absolutely compelling. As more evidence is gathered from genetics, geology, physics and fossils, the evidence tends to support evolutionary theory, not the opposite. The idea that God somehow engineered the genome to just look like that, or created the earth to look old, seems to me simply ridiculous, and I don’t think many people would be persuaded to Christianity on that basis. Another problem with these sort of discussions is that the origin of life is described as a component of evolutionary theory, but the latter does not describe the origin of life, only the species.

  6. Dan said:
    “I have no reason to believe that Genesis is simply poetry. It must also be accurate history or else it’s the only history in the Bible that isn’t truly a historical record.”

    The beginning of Genesis definitely has the characteristics of poetry passed on through oral story telling. But that does not necessarily reduce or remove any factual content.

    As for comparing it to the history in the rest of scripture, a major difference is the absence of any man to record the history of the beginning.

    There are also clear differences between the first section describing the six days of creation and the later section describing the creation of Adam and Eve. The latter section mentions man being created before vegetation, which in the earlier part was created on the third day.

    People can continually debate and argue the creation account vs. scientific assumptions and in doing so they are missing the REAL point of the creation story, which is “In the beginning GOD…”

  7. I understand that the creation story in Genesis is not only Hebrew poetry, but highly structured Hebrew poetry with repetition rhythms and cycles of seven and other literary things I know nothing about.

    Which doesn’t alter my conviction that it is an accurate record of creation as well.

    I’m a little off from pretty much everyone else in my reason for believing it. I believe God created things just as Genesis describes because it makes such a great STORY. His intention was for the story to be passed down accurately, perhaps until we jars of clay invented clay tablets and graven stones and ink & paper.

    So, onesimus (Tim), I’m also kind of a wack job when it comes to the accounts of the creation of man – and mankind. I think there are two in Genesis because there were two in the beginning. Adam (also Hebrew for “man”) was created first, and perhaps even got to witness even more creation as God orchestrated it; then Eve was created. Later, adam-kind outside of Eden was created separately – but Adam and Eve were especially made for (and in Eve’s case, from) each other. They were meant for the garden; to till it and care for it – plants and animals.

    It’s confusing because Genesis tells of the second man-creation first (on the sixth day), then focuses down on the special, first man-creation and the garden (perhaps on the third day).

    God could have created flesh-eater species like lions who had no appetite for flesh – and which could lose that appetite in the renewal of all things, and feed next to their former prey – like lambs, let’s say. But sin changed all that. And God knew it would. After all, He pretty much knew Israel’s history centuries before it unfolded and told Moses and the people all about it in Deuteronomy 28 and 29.

    So my theory, Dan, is that death may not have come about until it originated in the garden.

    And God was ready for it.

    It was all part of His plan.

      • Maybe, Dan. It’s a possibility. Truth is, I don’t know these answers; all I can do is construct theories that help me understand what I believe.

        The prayer “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” is more valuable than my theories, though.

  8. Hans

    Greetings All

    Come on you guys….if there is no death you can’t starve so one doesn’t need to eat… but of course a swallow was created and beautifully designed to do what it does…so naturally it would have been strictly a catch and release program….in other words a swallow could be a swallow but just couldn’t swallow….lol !

  9. Don Costello

    I believe that all of creation was perfect before the fall, there was no death. Answers in Genesis and Institute for Creation Research do not view vegetarian life in the same class as man or animals and neither do I. Man and animals were vegetarian and yet Scripture says death came as a result of Adams sin, so Scripture does not equate plant life with human or animal life.
    Every part of God’s creation, no matter if it be a bird, an insect, a fish or land animal; what ever characteristic or ability that creature puts to use in hunting, caring for their young, housekeeping, eating or survival against predators, that ability was given to them by God. It appears the bondage of corruption is of the devil but the ability of the creation to survive and flourish is of God. One of the most rewarding studies I have ever had was studying the wisdom of God in creation, the checks and balances that God inserted into creation, He has either given or deprived wisdom to all species in his creation.

    Job 12:7-10 “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

    I believe Scripture is clear, death started from the fall of man.


    • Don,

      I agree with most everything you said, but I believe that “something” had to change the animals from their original creation so that they could survive a change of diet. Based on the form those creatures have today, too many could not have existed on a diet of plants alone. One of natural law’s truest truths is that form follows function. That’s inescapable.

      Either sin warped their forms or God changed the animals to fit their newly changed world. Perhaps that explains creation’s groanings.

  10. Don Costello

    I believe that God changed the animals to fit their new world.
    Romans 8:20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who subjected the same in hope.He gave all of creation its wisdom survive.
    Job 39:26-30 “Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? She dwelleth and abideth on the rock, upon the crag of the rock, and the strong place.
    From thence she seeketh the prey, and her eyes behold afar off.
    Her young ones also suck up blood: and where the slain are, there is she.”

  11. At one Tim I thought most problems in life were like crossword puzzles. Just come up with the right words and fill in the blanks. Then I became a counselor and discovered mystery was everywhere.

    My journey from certainty to mystery was motivated largely by the mysteries of God, revelation, creation, sin, sins, salvation, sanctification, Christian sinners, glory, etc.

    Romans 8 helped me when I read, “We do not know how to pray. But the Holy Spirit groans within us with deep mosning we do not understand”. If we do not even know how to pray, even when my friend has cancer or an addiction, how can I be dogmatic about anything.

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