Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (IVP Academic, 2014)

Death Before the FallDeath Before the Fall is a frank, honest and wide-ranging critique of young-earth creationism, intelligent design and other science-denying movements. Sure-footed, informed and avoiding ‘tidy answers,’ it shines a sober spotlight on the intellectual crises within evangelicalism—crises responsible for the enduring popularity of viewpoints dismantled by science more than a century ago.”

Karl W. Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution

“In this book the author invites his readers to share his own profound journey arising out of melding his formative early experience of wildlife in Africa, contemporary evolutionary accounts and creationist biblical literalism. In clear, coherent and well-argued narratives he takes apart the assumptions common to scientism and creationism and draws on the Christian tradition and biblical sources in order to construct an alternative. This is an intelligently argued yet pastorally sensitive exploration of the challenges faced by evolutionary theists and creationists alike, but its implications go much further than this. For Osborn succeeds in achieving something that few authors manage, namely, a self-critical but compassionate and sometimes humorous account of the difficulties for theists in coming to terms with suffering in the animal world. It deserves to be read and appreciated not just in student courses on God and evolution, but more widely from different ecclesial traditions.”

Celia Deane-Drummond, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame, author of Seeds of Hope: Facing the Challenge of Climate Justice

“As religious communities struggle to make sense of their faith traditions after Darwin, they rely on thoughtful and sensitive seers to lead them beyond the shallows of literalism to a deeper encounter with new scientific discoveries. Ronald Osborn’s sophisticated reflections on literalism and animal suffering will be helpful to Christians of all denominations who are troubled by the wild ways of evolution.”

John Haught, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Fellow, Georgetown University, author of Science and Faith: A New Introduction

Death Before the Fall deals with the really big issues of what to make of Scripture in discussions of creation and evolution, and with the really tough challenge animal suffering brings to those discussions. But Ron Osborn shows that big issues and tough challenges can be addressed respectfully, insightfully, and with uncommon readability and humility. Irrespective of our views on the issues, this book represents the kind of informed and gracious conversation partners we want, and that we want to be.”

Joel B. Green, Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary, author of In Search of the Soul: Four Views of the Mind-Body Problem

“Ronald Osborn, with an agile mind and a well-informed intellect, throws down the gauntlet concerning misreading of the Genesis narratives. Taking aim at literalists and fundamentalists, he probes the ways in which one-dimensional reading distorts. Along the way he takes up issues of theodicy as they pertain to all of creation and to the animal realm in particular. Readers may expect to be jolted, surprised, and challenged by this forthright statement.”

Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of Speaking Truth to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture

“A beautifully written book! Ronald Osborn writes not with spite and ire but with wisdom and generosity of spirit. Where literalism once ruled as the only way to honor Scripture, here the deeper dimensions of God’s compassion and Sabbath rest come to light. This is the first book I’ve read on the evolution-and-creation debate that brought tears to my eyes.”

Philip Clayton, Dean, Claremont School of Theology, author of The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy and Faith

“This powerfully written book is eminently worth reading for persons of all beliefs or none who want to think deeply about some of the issues in science and faith that perplex us today. Osborn’s insights can bring us yet another step along the path toward finding peace from the animosity and angst that surround these issues. But beyond that, he calls us to be better conversation partners; better people. And that is always a message worth listening to.”

John Walton, Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College, author of The Lost World of Genesis

“Many Christians believe that theistic evolution is incompatible with the Bible because the former requires animal death before the Fall, while the Bible teaches that death began only with the first sin (Rom. 5:12). Osborn successfully addresses this issue with a wealth of exegetical and theological insight. He further exposes the intellectual weakness and devastating spiritual consequences of the kind of literalism that leads to ‘creation science.’ This book is a must-read for all Christians but especially for those who insist on a rigid literalistic approach to Genesis 1-2. It will also be an eye-opening introduction to religious ways of thinking about evolution for those nonbelievers who have assumed that the only alternative to ‘scientific creationism’ is the ultra-Darwinism of the so-called New Atheists.”

Tremper Longman III, Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College, author of Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins

“Ronald Osborn draws together a variety of sources and addresses key issues in this rich project. His analysis of literalism and biblical interpretation is sorely needed in many circles today. And his insights on animal suffering should prove helpful as believers wrestle with the central issues of God’s grace in a world of both pleasure and pain, holiness and harrowing abuse.”

Thomas Jay Oord, Professor of Religion, Eastern Nazarene College, author of Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement

“Some books can be swallowed quickly, others require slower eating, and some need to be chewed very carefully…Ronald Osborn’s book is one of the latter sort. It is an excellent read, even eloquent in places, and it does a very good job of raising a lot of the right questions about creation science, intelligent design, and Biblical interpretation in those approaches to Genesis 1-3. Osborn is a Seventh-day Adventist, who, it should be said, is basically at odds with much of what comes out of that denomination’s institutions about young earth seven day creationism. But his Adventist approach to things does occasionally come through, for example in his ode to the sabbath and its observance at the end of this provocative slender book. If Osborn has a lover’s quarrel with his own denominational proclivities when it comes to evolution vs. creation science and the like, it is part of his larger concerns with creation science in general, and its problematic exegesis, and even more problematic science…Osborn is right as rain about the problems with interpreting poetic texts like the Genesis creation stories in a literalistic way as if they were some sort of scientific textbook downloaded on an unsuspecting and unprepared people in a pre-scientific era. And it is this major critique of such literalism in this book where Osborn is most helpful, and most devastating.”

Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament, St. Andrews University, author of The Jesus Quest

“With vivid prose and an engaging perspective, Osborn addresses the problem of animal suffering for Christians, whether of ‘creationist’ or evolutionary persuasions.  The book is tendentious (in the best sense of that term), arguing both for and against particular positions with passion and verve, yet it does not in the end come to a clear or unambiguous position on its primary topic, namely animal suffering.”

J. Richard Middleton, Professor of Biblical Worldview and Exegesis, Northeastern Seminary, author of The Liberating Image: The Imago Dei in Genesis 1

“This well written, thoughtful, and sensitive essay examines problematic ethical features of biblical literalism through the lens of the suffering widespread in the animal world. Questions such as the age of the Earth and whether animal predation resulted from the human fall are explored in philosophical and moral depth.”

—Christian Century

“Osborn has written a thoroughly distinctive book on the suffering of animals—the cruelty we impose on them and that they impose on one another…Highly recommended for church groups of all denominations.”

—Library Journal (starred review)

“A full-bore, unflinching assault on literalism in biblical interpretation, particularly in regard to the first chapters in Genesis…thoughtful and provocative…A simple assertion that anybody who believes as Osborn does cannot believe in the Bible will not do. He is too obviously a man of Scripture for that assertion to stick.”

—Christianity Today

Using C.S. Lewis, Job, and a theology of the crucifixion and Sabbath, Osborn offers a response to animal suffering that does not require seeing their actions as the result of a curse…This book will be of particular interest to those seeking a gentle but faithful critique of creationism.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Highly recommended…Consider the arguments made by the author, and let these arguments be a conversation-starter between theologians, scientists, pastors, and laypeople in the church.”

—The Biologos Foundation

“Osborn readily admits the challenges of his resolution to the theodicy problem of animal suffering but is convinced that the only way forward is to abandon the literalistic position.  Ultimately, his solution is best situated within the context of Plantinga’s ‘free will defense’, although the philosopher is neither cited nor solicited.  In short, God has not only given humans freedom to live within the tension of their own choices, but God has also permitted the rest of his creaturely workmanship ‘the freedom of its own being’, that is, to be what they were created to be…Death Before the Fall is a refreshing look at a difficult and generally ignored aspect of theodicy.  Osborn demonstrates a sensitivity not only to the complexities of the theological concerns but (perhaps more importantly) to the biblical literalists with whom he strongly disagrees.”

—Bulletin for Biblical Research

“In the highly-acclaimed Death Before the Fall Ronald Osborn has produced an often brilliant and sometimes deeply puzzling book…Death Before the Fall is personal, engaging, and has many important things to say about the scope, logic, and impact of biblical literalism.”

—Reviews in Science and Religion

“A valuable resource. It is well argued throughout, generous in spirit, and, at times, interestingly eclectic in the voices it engages…Osborn tackles a difficult topic with kindness and respect, and provides yet another compelling case for the consideration of theistic evolution as a legitimate possibility for conservative Christians. I would happily recommend this book to interested laypeople, to academics working in the social or natural sciences who are looking for a theological engagement with the question of human origins, and to theologians and Christian ethicists engaging the question of animal death and suffering.”

—Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation

“[Osborn] does not provide possible solutions to the problem of animal suffering and death, but he does state at the outset that this is not his purpose.  Rather, he has provided a scholarly, well-researched text which offers a compelling case for a different understanding of theodicy with regard to animals, and which still maintains the primacy of Scripture but without problematic theological conclusions.”

—Religious Studies Review