God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Book Review: Peril In Paradise

Book Review: "Peril In Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth" by Mark S. Whorton


The problem of suffering and evil is one of the most persuasive challenges against the Christian worldview. As defenders of the true worldview, Christians need to be prepared to address this challenge. Interestingly enough, this challenge does not only come from unbelievers but also from those within the Church. The idea that animals died before humans arrived on the scene (and fell into sin) is a stumbling block for many to coming to Christ, yet the natural world tells of a history of animal suffering and death prior to humanity. It seems as though the scientific evidence and the claims of Christianity are at odds with one another. In his book "Peril In Paradise" (paperbackKindle, and Quotes), Mark S. Whorton addresses this supposed incompatibility directly. His confrontation of the issue is in the context of a long discussion with Christians who support such an incompatibility (which appears to give the unbelievers' concern credibility). The book is 233 pages divided into four parts and sixteen chapters. This review will provide a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book's content, but it is not meant to replace reading the book to dig more deeply into the details of the arguments presented by the author for his conclusions. The review will conclude with this reviewer's thoughts and recommendations.

Part 1: A House Divided

Chapter 1: The Battle Lines Are Drawn

As the introduction chapter, Whorton takes a few pages to describe the events that led to writing this book. He holds to an old-universe, progressive creation view. A person in his local church disagreed with his position and posited that such a view undermines the "very good" creation, the all-loving character of God, and the Gospel itself- thus it is incompatible with Christianity. He, his critic, and other leaders of his church had many meetings to discuss the issue; this book provides a summary of those discussions.

Chapter 2: Thinking Believers

The second chapter sets the founding relationship between science and religion that will guide the rest of the book. Whorton explains that both Christians and skeptics often make the mistake of believing that science and the Bible speak to two complete separate areas of knowledge, no overlap, no way to use one to test the other. He rejects this view because God, being the Creator, has given information about His creation in his spoken word, and the reader should expect that revelation to accurately describe the features of creation included in it. This means that creation can be used as a tool to test claims in religious writings, including the Bible. This provides evidential support for the acceptance of one holy book over the others. Christianity is a testable faith.

Chapter 3: Creation Paradigms

The third chapter examines the two paradigms that ground the two different views on creation. Whorton calls these two paradigms the Perfect Paradise paradigm and the Perfect Purpose paradigm. Using the works of popular young-universe advocates, he shows that the young-universe view is commonly founded on the Perfect Paradise paradigm, which holds that God's purpose for creating Eden was to create a place for man to inhabit. The old-universe view is founded on the Perfect Purpose paradigm, which holds that God had more purposes to accomplish with creation than merely creating a habitat for humans. Both paradigms interpret the declaration by God about His creation ("very good") differently. The Perfect Paradise paradigm understands "very good" to mean perfect in every conceivable way, while the Perfect Purpose paradigm interprets it to mean perfect to accomplish God's intended purposes.

Part 2: Theology Of An Ancient Creation

Chapter 4: The Eternal Purpose for Creation

Whorton is critical of the Perfect Paradise paradigm. His critique in this chapter focuses on the idea that if God intended creation to be perfect in every conceivable way, then Adam and Eve thwarted God's plan, and He had to resort to a "Plan B." This, of course, stands against the understanding that God's plans cannot be thwarted, so he rejects this paradigm. He also provides a case for the Perfect Purpose paradigm. He demonstrates scripturally that the Fall and Christ's sacrifice were planned by God from the beginning. He explains that if God's eternal plan included the Fall and Christ's sacrifice, then it must include the implications of them. One of the largest contentions between the young and old universe views is the idea of animal death before the Fall. Young universe advocates generally contend that such a thing is incompatible with God's character and incompatible with the declaration of "very good." However, if God's eternal purposes include animal death (which it is in the present), then it is not incompatible with God's character or His declaration of creation being "very good."

Chapter 5: The Drama of All Time

Continuing with the critique of the "Plan B" implications of the Perfect Paradise paradigm, Whorton explains that this view actually makes very little of the fall of Satan. The view holds that the universe (and Eden, specifically) was created to be the place where man would have direct contact and fellowship with God. With such a place as the original plan, there is no need for the Son to become incarnate and die in that original plan. If there is no need for that in God's original plan for creation, then grace was not part of God's original plan: the original plan was that man would come to God on his own merit. Since the incarnation of the Son, His death, and resurrection provided for man to come to God through the Son and to overcome evil, the Perfect Paradise paradigm had no purpose or mechanism of overcoming evil or to requiring that man come to God through the Son. This necessary implication of the Perfect Paradise paradigm is incompatible with scripture, thus by its necessity, it does not accurately reflect Christianity as taught in scripture.

On the other hand the Perfect Purpose paradigm posits that God created the universe (and Eden) to overcome evil brought by the fall of Satan and provide access to Him via grace and not by works. This was the plan from before the beginning of time and creation; no plan was thwarted by Satan or man, thus it remains the plan until it sees its conclusion, as scripture teaches. By this Whorton argues that not only is the Perfect Purpose paradigm compatible with scripture, the alternative (Perfect Paradise paradigm) is specifically taught against in scripture. Creation was declared "very good" not because it was a perfect paradise for man, but was perfect to accomplish the purpose for which God created it.

Chapter 6: The Creator's Purpose in Action

Those who promote the Perfect Paradise paradigm often promote the idea that suffering is not compatible with the all-loving and all-powerful God of Christianity. Whorton takes some time to show specific instances in scripture when the Perfect Purpose paradigm was in place and has better explanatory power regarding the historical events scripture records. He examines the events surrounding Joseph and the nation of Israel in their captivity. All suffered as part of God's greater purpose to bring redemption. Joseph states it explicitly to his brothers, and God says that Pharaoh was raised up specifically so that His glory could be demonstrated in his deliverance of Israel. These purposes could not have been realized without suffering, so suffering is not incompatible with the all-loving and all-powerful God of the Bible.

Part 3: The World Before The Fall

Chapter 7: A Day In The Life of Adam

As part of the Perfect Paradise paradigm the garden of Eden is understood to be an idyllic, maintenance-free paradise that encompassed the entire globe. Both of these are independent claims that Whorton addresses. He points out that the record of the garden in Genesis states clearly that God planted the garden in a location east of Eden. This indicates that the garden was a location that did not encompass Eden, at least, thus neither the entire globe. This is important because it gives a contrast between the conditions of the garden and the rest of the earth. It also provides a limited area that would allow Adam the time to accomplish his duties of tending the garden and engaging and naming all the animals in it.

When God gave this command, the term he used necessarily implies that the object that Adam was to "subdue" (the garden and the animals of the earth) would resist. If Adam did not subdue the earth, then its resistance could cause harm. This was God's command regarding the garden of Eden, which indicates that the conditions outside it would be even harsher. Adam had to endure some pain in obedience (and worship) of his Creator. This stands in direct contrast to the idea that "very good" means that creation was a perfect paradise for man, rather it stands as a direct confirmation of the idea that "very good" means that creation was perfect to accomplish God's purpose- to bring glory to Himself.

Chapter 8: Trouble in Paradise

Beyond the command to subdue the earth, many proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm do not recognize implications of the paradigm that renders it incompatible implausible. Whorton explores several that involve astronomy, the laws of nature, and pain. If the universe is, in fact, young, then the recorded events in the light from distant objects (greater than approximately 10,000 light years), such as supernovae, bare witness to events that never actually took place. If God placed the light from these objects in transit, then the information in the light borders on deception. The laws of nature that are in effect today necessitate that natural disasters like tornadoes and volcanic eruptions.

Without these same laws, many basic human functions become impossible. These laws of nature also necessitate that pain is possible. Pain caused by stubbing a toe on a rock, pain of hunger, or pain of a scratch from a tree branch in the Garden is inevitable. To avoid such pain, the Perfect Paradise paradigm must invoke God's absolute sovereignty over events on earth as minute as, literally, every step that Adam and Eve took, when they chose to eat, and what they chose to sit on while eating. All these implications (and several more explored by Whorton) are implausible given the truth of Christianity, and since they follow necessarily from the Perfect Paradise paradigm, that paradigm is also necessarily implausible.

Chapter 9: Fitness and the Fall

Whorton next takes the reader through several examples of current systems in nature that could not possibly be present in nature if the Perfect Paradise paradigm is correct. If God created the animal kingdom as part of the a perfect paradise with no pain or suffering, then there would be no need for these features in nature. The features include the symbiotic relationship between the Nile crocodile and the Egyptian plover, the defense mechanism of the bombardier beetle, immune systems, and the unique digestive system of carnivores (as opposed to herbivores). Also, animals that thrive in extreme climates suffer in more moderate climates (as is posited by the Perfect Paradise paradigm). None of these features could be part of a perfect paradise.

Young-earth creationists attempt to reconcile these features in nature in two ways. The first is to say that God anticipated the Fall and created the animals with the features in anticipation. However, this ad-hoc attempt actually fits better with the Perfect Purpose paradigm. The second way is to suggest that naturalistic evolution took place at rapid speeds to create the new systems, symbiotic relationships, and the animals uniquely suited for the various extreme climates. Unfortunately, not even the most generous naturalist attributes the level of speeds required to natural processes. Both of these options fail by borrowing from paradigms that the young-earth creation advocates reject and argue against (the perfect purpose paradigm and naturalistic evolution, respectively).

Part 4: Suffering, Death, and the Fall

Chapter 10: Suffering and the Plan of God

The problem of suffering is a philosophical challenge that all worldviews must address. It is particularly put forth as a challenge to theism: if God is all-powerful and all-loving then He would be both powerful enough and caring enough to prevent suffering. Both the Perfect Paradise paradigm and the Perfect Purpose paradigm attempt to answer this challenge in the Christian worldview. Whorton explains that the Perfect Paradise paradigm attempts to deal with the problem by positing that suffering of any kind was never part of the original creation. Billions of years of animal suffering makes no sense in that paradigm because suffering is incompatible with a perfect paradise. Suffering is only the result of sin against God and was not part of God's purpose for the creation.

On the other hand, the Perfect Purpose paradigm, as discussed earlier in the book, posits that God created this universe, not to provide a perfect paradise for man, but for the ultimate purpose of bringing Himself glory. Using Job and the blind man in John 9, Whorton explains that scripture explicitly states that Job's and the blind man's suffering had nothing to do with their sin or anyone else's sin. Jesus even used the opportunity to explain that suffering can be and is for God's glory. Since the Perfect Paradise paradigm, on the other hand, teaches that God does not have a purpose for suffering, it is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus. The Bible never teaches that God's purpose is to prevent his creatures from suffering. This is something that has been imposed on the text (eisegesis) by proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm. God has a higher purpose for creation than merely the prevention of suffering, and that purpose includes suffering, as exemplified in Job and in the blind man.

Chapter 11: Dust to Dust

It is common that proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm claim that animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve could not have happened, because if it did it is incompatible with Christianity on several levels. Whorton examines the four common arguments for this conclusion. He begins with the curse that God pronounced in Genesis 3. Proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm believe that the curse applied to all of nature, including the animals and the ground. Whorton looks at the text of the curse to see if either of these claims are present; he makes note that God cursed the serpent, the woman, and the man, but never cursed the other animals nor the ground. Other animals were merely mentioned as points of reference, and the ground's curse is an indirect result of the direct curse on Adam. To say that the curse included more than the three mentioned is to impress more on the text than can be reasonably inferred from the text itself.

Chapter 12: Ranking the Revelations

Because of the fact that the proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm believe that nature is cursed, they believe that it does not bare a true witness of truth. They believe that nature is a subordinate and inferior revelation to scripture. This belief allows them to disregard evidence from nature that presents itself in direct conflict with their view. Whorton challenges this assertion via the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. He appeals to Psalm 19, Psalm 89 and Romans 1 as source scriptures for the understanding that both God's word (scripture) and God's works (creation) are equally trustworthy and infallible sources of truth and must be treated as such. He spends a considerable amount of time explaining that Paul understood nature to be a true revelation from God but was subjected to corruption. He explained that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy does not allow one to believe that Paul held that "corruption" meant that nature is unreliable. Whorton reminds the reader that this creation has always had an expiration date; it is a stepping stone towards accomplishing God's ultimate purpose, which means that it is completely compatible with the perfect God of Christianity and with His pronouncement of His creation being "very good."

Chapter 13: Animal Death and the Atonement

The second argument that animal death before the Fall is incompatible with Christianity is twofold: first, Romans 5:12-14 and I Corinthians 15:21-22 teaches that death came to animals after sin entered the creation, and second, since sin can only be removed by the shedding of blood, any bloodshed prior to sin entering the world would trivialize Christ's blood atonement. Regarding the first claim, Whorton addresses both passages by explaining that the context of Romans 5 explicitly limits death to humanity, and 1 Corinthians 15 would require that animals can be saved if the death referred to applies to animals also. The second challenge necessarily assumes that all bloodshed is for the remission of sins as one of its necessary foundations. However, since animals died of natural causes (not for the purpose of penal sacrifice) prior to Jesus' death, then that assumption simply is false. With that assumption untenable, both claims that animal death prior to the Fall undermines Christ's atonement disappears.

Chapter 14: Animal Death in a "Very Good" World

The third challenge against animal death before the Fall is that it could not be declared "very good" by an all-loving Creator. Whorton undermines this challenge in three different ways. First he demonstrates that the phrase translated as "very good" in English is also found in scripture describing Rebecca (Jacob's wife) and the Promised Land. Neither are perfect in every way and both are post-Fall descriptions of God's creations. Second, he emphasizes the distinction between humans and animals- the fact that humans were created "in the Image of God." This important distinction is made evident by God in His demand of justice for a person's death but not an animal's death (Genesis 9). Third Whorton shows in Job and in the Psalms where God takes credit for predator/prey relationships and other features of creation that would be considered "not good" in the Perfect Paradise paradigm. Because the Bible supports the fact that animal death is compatible with God's nature after the Fall, and God is unchanging, animal death cannot be considered incompatible with God's nature prior to the Fall either.  This third challenge by proponents of the Perfect Paradise paradigm fails.

Chapter 15: Vegetarian Delight

The final challenge claims that Genesis 1 establishes a vegetarian diet for all life prior to the Fall, thus no view that necessitates any diet other than vegetarian is compatible with Genesis 1. Whorton explains that this claim is the result of an appeal to what is not mentioned. God positively identifies all the plants in the Garden for food, but does not restrict the diet, except from the Tree of Knowledge. Just because God identifies what He has provided does not mean that God has provided only what He identifies. Looking at God's command to Noah after the Flood provides context that allows the interpreter to identify that there was a limit to the human diet. However, if one wishes to appeal to that command to interpret Genesis 1 as limiting the diet of animals also, then they must identify where God directs His command to Noah to animals also. Whorton contends that since God does not direct His command to Noah regarding the change of diet to animals also, that this provides positive evidence that interpreting the Genesis 1 command to also refer to animals is the incorrect interpretation.

Chapter 16: Truth and Consequences

Whorton concludes the book by explaining that after seeing how the Perfect Purpose paradigm does not logically require the rejection of any important Christian doctrine bur rather takes into account the necessity of the doctrine of biblical inerrancy to maintain a consistent interpretation of all scripture (does so), it is difficult to maintain that its proponents are of any danger. And given the insurmountable, biblical problems with the Perfect Paradise paradigm, the Perfect Purpose paradigm seems to be the more reasonable interpretation of God's special and general revelations. He goes on to say that in discussions it is important to focus on the points of agreement regarding creation: While he was not able to continue discussions with his critic at his church, he does hope to resume it someday.

Reviewer's Thoughts

"Peril in Paradise" was quite an intriguing read. Whorton provided several solid arguments to demonstrate the compatibility of the revealed character of God with animal death before the introduction of sin into the world. This is enough to equip any defender of the faith to address this accusation of incompatibility and remove it as a logical defeater to the Christian worldview. For that reason alone, I highly recommend this book for any apologist who has been confronted with the scientific evidence for animal death in the fossil record as providing reason to doubt the existence of the Christian God.

However, this book does not merely have apologetic value. On many occasions Whorton also showed how holding the alternative (and popular) view causes logical inconsistencies in the Christian worldview. Whorton often seemed to use "Perfect Paradise paradigm" to be synonymous with young-universe creationism. However (and this is extremely important to recognize), he never really established the necessary connection between the two and/or the necessary incompatibility between the "Perfect Purpose Paradigm" and young-universe creationism. While he solidly demonstrated that the Perfect Paradise paradigm is incompatible with scripture, he did not demonstrate that young-universe creationism is incompatible with scripture.

Because of the lack of those two links and while the Perfect Paradise paradigm was soundly defeated, it is difficult to see logically that young-earth creationism is necessarily under attack in this book. However, since he did show that several popular young-earth creationists do necessarily tie their creation paradigm to the Perfect Paradise paradigm (see chapter 3), he was successful in demonstrating that their version of young-universe creation is false, but the lack of the connections described above allows for young-universe creation proponents to alter their view (by rejecting the Perfect Paradise paradigm) to find compatibility with scripture and maintain their young-universe view.

This window of opportunity allows for the conversation to continue between those who hold to a young or an old universe, while both sides can understand that animal death before the Fall of Adam and Eve is perfectly compatible with Christianity. Thus those who originally believed that it is incompatible may rest that case and remove the stumbling block of animal suffering from those who wish to come to Christ even if that person wishes to reject young-universe creationism.

Because the focus of Whorton's book is on biblical and theological compatibility, he spends the vast majority of the book building his case from Scripture. My further recommendation for this book is for anyone who holds fast to the idea that an old creation and/or animal death is necessarily incompatible with Christianity and prefers the case be made from scripture rather than science. Because young-universe creationism (in general) is not necessarily under attack in this book, Whorton graciously lays solid foundations for the two camps to recognize greater levels of agreement and work together in their efforts to provide the world with a reason for the hope that they have.

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Thanks to Brian Auten at Apologtics 315 for originally publishing this review on his site. This review is only one of many in a project by Auten to build a solid collection of reviews of books of interest to Christian apologists. His collection grows on a weekly basis.