Was The Young-Earth Perfect Prelapsarian Paradise a Maladapted World?

A central tenet of young earth creationism is the belief that the entire world before Adam’s transgression experienced no animal death.  What would such a world have looked like? To see YEC depictions of Eden you would think that the animals looked like those alive today except that all extinct things, eg. dinosaurs, were also alive at the same time.  But does this depiction of a “perfect paradise” really make sense? Ken Ham like to point out that the “bathtub” arks falsely depicts the reality of Noah’s ark.  But is AiG’s depiction of the prelapsarian world really any more realistic than a bathtub ark?  

A slide from AiG speaker Bryan Osborne’s presentation. Here dinosaurs have no fear in the Garden of Eden.   YECs talk about the original created kinds having incredible amounts of variation than then was used to become different species but these are the pictures they show in presentations.  Notice that the monkeys, deer and birds look just like those that exist today.  But all their traits are adaptations to a world of mate competition, death and protection from the environment.   What purpose did such traits serve in a world with no death?   Photo by, Joel Duff

Why do I ask this? To answer that question let me ask another question: Did the prelapsarian world contain maladaptations designed to be future adaptations?  Uh, what was that you ask?  OK. Did the young-earth creationists’ “perfect” world of Eden in which Adam and Eve lived include animals that had unnecessary characteristics before Adam’s sin fundamentally altered the world’s ecology?

Let’s try a more specific question: did rabbits have forward-facing eyes before Adam’s sin caused death to enter the world, rather than eyes on the side of the head which are clearly adapted to avoiding predators?

Could animals such as this rabbit originally have had eyes in front of their heads?  Image by: Imgurian Kiyoi

I found myself asking these questions after I saw a series of photoshopped images circulated on social media a year ago (see more images here). The images show animals as we might expect them to look if they had no fear of being eaten.  Ask yourself, why do animals that are frequently preyed upon by other animals have eyes on the sides of their heads?  Functionally, they need better peripheral vision whereas the predator has its eyes set in the front since it doesn’t have as much need to look out for danger.  Forward-facing eyes allow for binocular vision.  All things being equal, in a world without predation, forward-looking eyes (assuming only two of them) would seem to be the best design but most animals have eyes toward the sides of their heads, impairing their ability to judge long distances, with the trade-off of being able to see more of their surroundings at all times.

I took this picture of a jackrabbit in the bighorn basin desert in Wyoming. The ears, eyes and fur color are fantastic adaptations to survival in a place were red foxes and coyotes are common. Photo: Joel Duff

Would such adaptations—or designs if you prefer that terminology—be found in the world before Adam sinned—the prelapsarian world?  Claws, sharp teeth, thick hides, cryptic coloration patterns, exceptional hearing and eyesight, the ability to run very fast, etc. are all traits that serve an obvious function: to allow an animal to capture another or to avoid being captured.  But in the perfect paradise model of the original creation that many young earth creationist espouse, these characteristics could not serve those functions and would be useless since no animal died or could be responsible for the death of another animal.  In such a perfect paradise, the majority of morphological and behavioral traits that we observe in animals today would be characterized as maladaptations (Footnote 1) to their environment.

What is a maladaptation?  It is a trait that is more harmful than helpful.  In contrast, an adaptation is a trait that is more helpful than harmful for an individual’s survival and reproduction (i.e. their fitness in a particular environment).  Usually maladaptive traits began as traits that were adaptations to their environments but over time became less suitable and even problematic for an organism.  For example, Moa birds in New Zealand were very large birds.  Their lack of flight and increased size were adaptations that improved their survival on an island with no predators.  When predators—humans—arrived, the very traits that were at one time beneficial became a liability. They became maladaptations. Nearly every trait has the capacity to become a maladaptation if the environmental conditions change over time.

Put in the context of a  perfect paradise as conceived of by YEC where animals had no fear of one another, what would be the features we would expect to find in animals? We would expect to have animals with no innate fears of humans or other animals, they would have no need of being very fast, they would need no weapons to defend themselves and they would need to traits we associate with sexual selection because they would not have to compete for mates.  Fitness to this perfect environment would either result from characters adapted to life without fear of death or all characters would simply be non-adaptive or random because they were of no consequence for survival.  

However, once Adam brought death into the world and presumably set the process of natural selection in motion, all of these features would suddenly have become maladaptive in the sin-laden world. If animals has been created with thick hides, large muscles for fighting and running, and horns, these would have been maladaptations before animals could experience death because these characteristics require energy to maintain and produce whereas an animal not making defense mechanisms would have had more energy for reproduction.  Hmm, that sounds like natural selection going on even in a world with no death but that is a thought exercise for another time.  

Let’s return to our initial inquiry.  Why do all members of the rabbit family all have eyes on the side of their heads when a better design for finding food and just better eyesight generally, would have their eyes in front so they could have better depth perception?  

Possible ad-hoc solutions to this puzzle that young-earth creationists have, or could, propose.

1) Just because: God simply made some animals with eyes on the side of their heads for his good pleasure.  The characteristics that an animal had in the original creation may have played little or no functional role but were rather there to display variation for God’s own pleasure.  From our human perspective, the eyes probably functioned to see (though I suppose it is possible that God could have made eyes that didn’t see in the original creation but then gained sight after sin changed them) and for each animal there is no apparent—at least to us—reason for their particular anatomical location.

2) Traits had different adaptive uses before sin: They seek to find an adaptive purpose for the characteristics of animals in the Garden.  When faced with sharp dinosaur or feline teeth some YECs have claimed that in the original creation these teeth were used to eat plants and only after death was possible did they use their teeth for eating flesh.  

A scan of a page from Ken Ham’s “Dinosaurs in Eden” book. Here we can see Tyranosaurus-like dinosaurs with small arms and sharp teeth enjoying a diet of flowering plants. Notice that there are two primates that look very much like primate species today.  The plants also are easily recognizable.

3) Traits Pre-adapted (predestined) for future use: God made animals with eyes on the side of their head fore-knowing that Adam would sin and these animals were predestined to be prey while other animals such as eagles were given great sight and large claws knowing they would be predators in post-Adamic ecology (the postlapsarian world).  This is a form of Calvinistic supralapsarianism, as opposed to infralapsarianism, for the creation.   We could extend this to other characters such as piercing teeth, large claws, and even an internal digestive tract that works most efficiently when eating flesh rather than plants.  These characteristics would not have had any adaptive value in the original creation but God knew that creation would only last a few days (Footnote 2) before being radically changed and the adaptations would find a use.

4) Pre-programmed variation allowing for future adaptation to new environments: This idea is growing in popularity in YEC circles.  The idea is that God built tremendous genetic variation into the original “kinds” that, although it might not have served any function in the original created state, would be later subject to selection,  allowing animals to adapt to their new ecological conditions.  Much of this morphological variation may have been “hidden” in the original “kinds” and then suddenly appeared after Adam’s sin changed the world.  For example, maybe eagles didn’t have talons but rather pigeon-like feet new genetic combinations created talons later. But some of the variation could have been on display right away.  Maybe there were deer with dozens of different color patterns, leg lengths, and abilities to jump. Some may have had eyes on the front or sides of their heads and had invisible, small or big ears.  Then after the fall most of these characteristics were quickly found to be maladapted in the new ecology and only the characters that worked (ie. had higher fitness) were preserved in the features we see today.

YECs appeal to the creation of massive genetic diversity or potential planted in the original “kinds” but I am hard pressed to find any description or speculation in their literature about what animals with such enormous variation would have looked like (ie. how was it expressed physically) compared to the presumably genetically depauperate ancestors that we have with us today.  All the drawings of Edenic animals that I have seen in YEC literature show animals that look just like species alive today (see picture below).  Was that genetic variation expressed in many different individuals or was it contained in every member of the original creation?  The fact that YECs believe that massive variation can be held in just a pair of animals preserved on Noah’s Ark would suggest they believe that such variation can be contained in a single animals only to be split out into many species in its descendants.  We have shown how unrealistic this is in past articles (The Great Genetic Bottleneck that Contradicts Ken Ham’s Radical Accelerated Evolution).

Pushing this last idea to its absurd end we might imagine the original rabbit “kind” had lots of genetic variation for head morphology.  Maybe some individuals had eyes in the front, others on the side and others toward the back or more on top of the head. It is also possible that some rabbits originally had eyes on other parts of their bodies, after all, were we there to see that they weren’t?   No morphological condition could be measured in any way as better than any other since survival was not a concern. Presumably even competition for mates would not have happened either since that would result in sexual selection of characters.  Appearance could only have been measured aesthetically not functionally.

After Adam’s sin brought death into the world and the process of natural selection began to operate the animals with traits that worked well for killing become predators while other animals then were killed.  For rabbits, preserving traits that helps avoid being eaten were the most important and thus they became prey and adapted for surviving in the predator-filled world.  This natural selection, which presumably didn’t happen in the original Edenic ecology, would have selected prey animals with the eyes on the side as those with eyes other configurations were not as fit in the new environment.  Likewise the original rabbit may have had 10 different types of ears and some had legs the same length and some had long tails. But selection of the original variation quickly sorted out the various traits leaving the animal with adaptations best fit for their new role in the environment as prey.

Summary:

To anyone that has spent time studying biology and has measured fitness of traits in relationship to the  environment the scenarios above will sound utterly fantastic and absurd.  But these are the scenarios that YECs are compelled to put forward because they have committed to a particular interpretation of Genesis that requires that the whole earth was a perfect paradise and that sin physically disrupted and radically altered everything that God had made.  Should not the fact that they make no biological sense at all should be a sign that something is amiss in their theology?

The perfect paradise that YECs hold in their minds makes no sense either biologically or theologically.  This strange world that YECs imagine has little relationship to the one described throughout the Bible.  For a much more thorough critique of the YEC theological problems I would recommend the following books:

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth. 2005.  By Mark W. Whorton

Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering Paperback.  March 6, 2014  by Ronald Osborn.

The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate 2015. By John Walton. 

The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil. 2008. By Christopher Southgate.

Footnotes:

  1. We could even take this line-of-thought to absurd logical extremes. Why eat or drink at all if it was not possible to die?  If not death could occur what would an adaptation to that world even look like? Why couldn’t everything fly, since there was no worry of death by falling? Did amniote eggs have shells that prevented them from drying out? Did animals have skin and fur instead of bare muscle, with no concern of disease or injury? With no possibility of starvation, why metabolize at all? The answer always comes back to “God just made organisms that ate so they had something to do and were following His command to multiply” but how they got their food and how much they ate wouldn’t seem to matter.  
  2. YECs frequently assume the original creation only existed in its original state for a very short time even though Genesis provides no information about how long Adam and Eve lived free from sin.

—————
Editing provided by LC

Comments

  1. I like how Adam has his hands up in that first slide. It’s like the YEC view of creation is the script to an 80s sitcom. “He’s a dinosaur – he’s a man / They’re living together / It’s all part of the Plan”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. mati weis says:

    if rabbits then bred like rabbits now ….how long till the earth was over run?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yet another reason I have heard YECs appeal to Adam bring death into the world not 24 hours after being made thus rabbits were only around for 2 days before they became prey. All part of God’s design. But seriously, I have no problem with God sustaining all life and had Adam not sinned had a plan for how rabbits would live forever. He could do that. But there is no need to argue that God had just this plan when the Bible doesn’t tell us this is what happened and gives us every reason to believe otherwise. He speaks of His creation in Job as if the way the world works now is just what He intended.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. thehonestskepticatgmaildotcom says:

    So, here’s an alternate view. The animals all appeared as they do now, with all their defensive advantages, because the rules stated that there could be no death. They needed all of their defenses to avoid being accidentally eaten or stepped on by a dinosaur, thereby breaking the death rule. However, this logic fails if their original design included the ability to be eaten or stepped upon while still avoiding death. It is a complicated world, this Ham’s Eden.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. datadroid says:

    Shouldn’t that caption say “three primate species” ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Luke Nix says:

    Great article showing the scientific problems with the “perfect paradise” paradigm of many YEC views. Most YECs, though, tend to value a focus of the scriptural/biblical aspect over the scientific aspects, thus a theological critique of the paradigm should be presented along with the scientific one (if not presented first). I recently reviewed the book “Peril in Paradise” by Mark Whorton that does this very thing. If you haven’t read the book before, please do. I’d love to hear your take on his critique and anything else that you’d like to add to his critique (this article would fit perfectly with his short area on the scientific problems). Here’s my review:

    http://lukenixblog.blogspot.com/2015/04/book-review-peril-in-paradise.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank for reminding me! I can’t believe I forgot to link to this book. Yes, I have read it and your review before. Yes, a very good book and my title language of perfect paradise comes from that book. i am going to add a link to that book in the article.

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  6. Daniel S. says:

    Every time you include that image of theropods eating plants, it makes me cringe. There’s no way that Ceratosaurus is getting that massive leaf down. That thing will get stuck in its teeth and it wouldn’t be able to chew it anyway. Same with the Deinonychus. Poor creatures are going to starve in that “perfect” creation.
    I also have to wonder what the point of eating is in a deathless world.

    Like

    • Say, let me puzzle that question over a bucket of extra crispy!
      The Bible mentions the animals on the Ark eating straw–more correctly, fodder–but nowhere before or after was there such a state of miraculous dining. The yechies just add and subtract from Scripture at leisure, seemingly without even noticing. Certainly, without considering the consequences.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Just before seeing this article I read a comment that proves relevant: that thinking, and believing, are different things, and require different processes. In many, many events in my life I have found that the most certain, passionate, and dedicated believers in ANY ARENA are NOT those who deeply and seriously examine, study or wonder. Rather, they are those who skip the whole internal dialogue thing for the comforting surety of egotistic selfishness. I’ve seen a LOT of college students like that, almost as many fellow professors, and a hell of a lot of politicians so affected!
    God gave us a magnificent earth and cosmos, and undoubtedly even greater Heavens–the con artists and scammers like Ken Ham want to deny us access to these save by their own corrupt priesthood. Hmmm, sounds like another corruptor!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Just a note on moa – they had pre-human predators – the Haast’s Eagle, the largest eagle species to have lived, although that does not alter your basic point.

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  9. To echo Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.

    Like

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