Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science and the Age of the Earth

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science and the Age of the Earth

Any old-earth creationist who has ever locked horns with a Christian friend about the age of the earth knows that there is far more to the debate than simply interpreting Genesis 1. The discussion inevitably shifts to a debate about how to understand Genesis 3. How has Adam’s sin affected the creation?

NASA scientist, Mark Whorton, shrinks the divide separating young-earth creationists from old-earth creationists down to two words. Everything hinges on the question, what did God mean when He called the creation “very good”?

The real strength of Peril in Paradise is that Whorton approaches a classic debate from a different angle. Genesis 1 is nowhere in view. Rather, Whorton asserts that the discussion about the age of Earth is intertwined with a debate about the similarities and differences between Eden and the new heavens and Earth.

Whorton identifies two vastly different paradigms for understanding creation-the perfect paradise paradigm (used by young-earth creationists) and the perfect purpose paradigm (used by old-earth creationists). Advocates of the perfect paradise model believe God’s pronouncement that the pre-fall creation was “very good” indicated that Eden was the best of all possible worlds. It was absolute perfection, a kind of “heaven on Earth.” And although humans have ruined this paradise through sin, God will restore the earth to its Edenic state.

The perfect purpose paradigm, by contrast, asserts that the chief purpose of creation is to glorify God, who causes even wicked beings to testify to His glory. This universe is but one part of God’s overall plan of creation and redemption.

Beckoning from the background, however, is the realization that what Whorton is really arguing concerns the nature of God’s sovereignty over creation. Did He have to implement Plan B-the cross-after creation was spoiled by Adam’s sin? Or, was it all part of His master plan?

Whorton tackles this theological powder keg with a surprising depth of knowledge of Scripture and the history of theology, despite the fact that these disciplines rest outside the realm of his formal education. He places himself squarely within classical Protestant theology, quoting from John Calvin and the Westminster Confession, in order to build his case.

But Peril in Paradise is far from a rehash of time-worn arguments. Whorton tills new ground in the age of the earth debate by helping readers to reflect more deeply about what the Bible means when it describes Eden. And the book’s release is timely, given the increasing charges of heresy coming out of certain creationist organizations, including the young-earth concern that animal death before Adam’s fall undermines the atonement of Christ. They reason that human sin introduced death to God’s creation, necessitating the Savior’s redemptive work. Therefore, predation (death and bloodshed of animals) could not have been part of a “very good” creation prior to human sin. Whorton demonstrates why such thinking is biblically unfounded.

Whorton’s case could have been made even more powerful with better organization of his material. At times it is hard to track how the points of each chapter fit together to form a cohesive whole. I found myself on more than one occasion flipping back to re-read the chapter title, asking, what is he arguing here again?

And there isn’t a lot of literary drama to keep the reader motivated to turn the page. It lacks a certain, so what? or what difference does all this make? factor. Peril in Paradise is a straightforward information-driven approach that will largely appeal to those Christians already interested in the topic.

That’s the major limitation of Whorton’s book. It’s not written at a popular level, but it’s not exactly an academic treatment of the topic either. It seems to be a book in search of an audience. Whorton could have infused the book with more popular appeal, which I think is the readership he hopes to reach.

For this reason I would not be inclined to pass this book on to a young-earth friend, unless he or she was already well versed on the controversy. It might, however, be a good resource to provide a pastor or church leader, especially one who has expressed concern about the death-before-the-Fall issue.

But most importantly, Peril in Paradise will equip the old-earth creationist with powerful biblical and theological reasons for why animal death before Adam need not be a point of confusion or embarrassment, but rather an integral part of God’s eternal plan.

by Dr. Mark Whorton, Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2005. 256 pages. Paperback.