Notes on the Two Falls Theodicy and the Problem of Animal Suffering

Abstract: How can there be a good God given the fact of, apparently, pointless animal suffering? That’s the problem of animal suffering, and while it’s a difficult question, I think there are some powerful and winsome explanatory tools available for Christians to soften the blow of that poignant objection. One of the strongest explanatory options is also, strangely enough, one of the rarest admissions. Leaving the angelic fall out of the problem of animal suffering is like trying to explain World War II without mentioning Hitler. If we ignore the influence of fallen angels in the cosmos, we cannot reasonably describe a well-rounded causal account of animal suffering and still maintain fidelity with the whole testimony of Christian Scripture and the normal teaching of the Christian church. Indeed, Satan and his demons pose an enormous threat to the order and beauty of creation, as well as the goodness and grace of man in society. Given the sovereign authority of God we have great reason to expect the cosmos to manifest signs of underlying order, design, and intelligence. And that is consistent with what we find (i.e., anthropic fine tuning, intelligent design, moral laws, natural beauty, etc.) But given the reality and nature of demons, we have great reason to expect chaotic and painful intrusions most everywhere that demons can intrude (i.e., natural evil, animal suffering, some mental illness, etc.). That is also consistent with what we find.


This post is an outline of a presentation I gave at the National Apologetics Conference in Charlotte, NC (10-13-2017). To my knowledge the term/phrase “Two Falls Theodicy” is not common coinage anywhere else. It comes closest, in concept, to the “Warfare Theodicy” of Greg Boyd (see, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy [2001]). However, Boyd outlines a particular theory of time, of free-will (“radical” libertarian free will), and a surrounding framework of open theism–none of which are imported into my two falls theodicy. I understand the two falls theodicy to affirm libertarian free will, with respect to time, and (soft) determinism with respect to eternity (i.e., God perfectly knows all future free actions). I also understand God to be timelessly eternal and I affirm classical theology (i.e., that of Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas). The two falls theodicy does not require all these commitments on my part, but it does comport with all of these such that it would seem ill-fitting to borrow Boyd’s terminology without borrowing his open theism. I also foresee a possibility for expanding this theodicy into a “Three falls Theodicy” allowing for the possibility that the animals (or individual species of animals) have undergone a distinct “animal fall” akin to the angelic and adamic falls. While I know of one theologian who attempted a brief development of this point (G.H. Pember, Animals: Their Past and Future [2003]). I am not at this time prepared to defend that thesis. I propose, here, the option of a three falls theodicy under the provisio that “for all we know” it could be true.




The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil is the “parent category” for the problem of animal suffering. So it’s natural to start with this issue, and then work down to the more specific problem of animal suffering.

How can there be a good God when there’s evil in the world?

  • But, redemptive goods can justify the existence of certain evils like punishment, abuses of free will, and character-building adversity.

What about gratuitous suffering?

  • Ex., Animal suffering
  • How can there be a good God if animals suffer needlessly/pointlessly?
  • …How do we explain any animal suffering before the fall of Adam and Eve?

The Problem of Animal Suffering

Preliminary Responses to the Problem of Animal Suffering

1. Adamic Fall—a great deal of animal suffering and death follows from Adam

2. Classic defenses—Free will, (human) soul-making, punishment, inscrutability…

3. Mitigating Physiology and Behaviors

  • Not all animals feel pain (physical response)
  • Not all animals suffer (mentally) when experiencing pain
  • Some animals have shock-sleep response which reduces pain
  • Some predatory animals attack/kill in a quick/painless way.

4. Biodiversity (Ps. 104:21; 24-28)

  • Ecological goods can justify some animal death/suffering.
  • A variation on the natural law/nomic regularity defense.
  • Predation is environmentally friendly
  • Animal death is recycling

5.Foreshadowed Traits—animal traits which originally anticipate the fall

6.Redirected Traits—predatory traits could have been redirected from non-predatory uses (i.e., scavenging for carrion vs. attacking and killing)

7.Adaptive Behavior—adapted behavior post-fall.

8.Animal free-will (see Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil)

9.Animal souls & saint-making (see Dougherty, The Problem of Animal Pain)

10.Misleading Appearances—some apparent suffering/death was not actually so (a popular option among YEC).

11.Imago Dei theodicy—the “image of God” includes rulership, even over free/untrained beings. That authority/privilege/opportunity is a great good.

12.The Two-Falls Theodicy

  • Given a biblical Christian worldview, the reality & consequences of sin—including animal Suffering—are traceable not just to one fall but two (angelic and human).
  • It’s customary to attribute most/all of the fallenness of the world to Adamic sin in the Garden of Eden but this is problematic.
  • The two falls offer more explanatory room for animal suffering, natural evil, and the extent of corruption in the world.
  • In short, two-falls means less reason to grant the existence of pointless suffering, and the Evidential form of the Problem of Evil (William Rowe)

The Two Falls Theodicy

Benefits of the Two Falls Theodicy

1. Admits that animals suffering matters

2. Admits pre-fall animal suffering (see, Rom 5:12)

3. Fits Classical Theism (not saddled with Neotheism, Open Theism, Process Theism, or Deism)

4. Doesn’t “Punt on First down”

5. More intuitive & less conjectural than Dembski’s retroactive fall theory.

6. Expands on the strongest most popular defense/theodicy (Free will)

7. Aligns well with Scripture

8. Aligns well with historic Christian teaching

9. Shows internal coherence of Christian thought

10. Merges insights from some leading thinkers

Reasons to Believe the Two Falls Theodicy

1.It recognizes a religio-theological context to PoE

  • The PoE is a consistency check for theists, in this case, Christian theists.
  • The PoE is easy to solve if you aren’t committed to any faith tradition (i.e., limited “God”)

2.Angelic Fall is biblical historic Christian teaching

3.Angels/Demons appear to have free-will

4.The Garden of Eden was set-apart, within the rest of the earth (Satan’s domain; John 12:31)

5.Satan “that old serpent” was sinning before Adam fell (Rev. 12:9), perhaps before Gen. 1:1).

6. Scripture teaches that demons can and do tamper with the natural order (incl., People, animals, and natural disasters)

7. It fits with the biblical names for Satan and his demons.

  • God of this age/world (2 Cor. 4:4)
  • “Prince of power of the air” (Eph. 2:2)
  • Satan/Adversary (Job 1; 1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Devil (Mt. 13:39)
  • Enemy (Mt. 13:28)
  • Tempter (Mt. 4:3; 1 Thess. 3:5)
  • Wicked One (Matt. 13:19)
  • Deceiver (Rev. 20:10)
  • Lucifer (“shining-one/morning star,” Isa. 14:12-15)
  • Wolf (John 10:12)
  • Roaring Lion (1 Pet. 5:8)
  • Great Dragon (Rev. 12:9)
  • Serpent of Old (Gen. 3:1; Rev. 12:9)
  • Beelzebub (“Lord of Flies; Lord of Dung/Dung-god”; Mt. 10:25; 12:24, 27; Mk. 3:22)
  • Ruler of this world (John 12:31)
  • Legion (Lk. 8:30)
  • Abaddon (destroying angel; Rev. 9:11)

8. It fits with the biblical descriptions of Satan and his demons

  • Fell from heaven (Lk 10:18)
  • Tempted Adam & Eve (Gen. 3; Rev. 12)
  • Steal, kill, and destroy (Jn. 10:10)
  • Harass (2 Cor. 12:7)
  • Tempt (Mt. 4:1-11)
  • Binds people w/ ailments (Lk 13:16)
  • Satan has helpers (2Cor. 12:7)
  • Rules over the demons (Mt. 12:24)
  • Has a kingdom (Mt. 12:26)
  • Filled with violence (Ezek. 28:16)
  • Possesses man & animal (Mt 8:28-32)
  • He blinds and darkens (Acts 26:18)
  • Roam around the earth (Job 1)
  • In the world (1 John 4:4)
  • The world is his (Mt. 4:8-9; Lk 4:6)
  • Will be defeated (Rom 16:20)
  • Guardian cherub (Ezek. 28:11-19)
  • “angel of light” disguise (2 Cor. 11:14)
  • Schemer (2 Cor. 2:11)
  • Inspire false religions (1 Cor. 10:20)

Potential Drawbacks of the Two Falls Theodicy

1)It’s may seem “ad hoc”, a “just-so” story

  • But the Problem of Evil is a consistency check for religion. Yet, Angelology is native to Christianity. This draws from normal historic Christian teaching.

2)Circular (invisible beings explaining each other)

  • No. It’s like math; it’s not empirical (5 senses).
  • Theological inference ≠ blind guess.

3) It complicates things (contra, Ockham’s Razor)

  • Ockham’s razor is a general principle, not a law.
  • the Two Falls Theoodicy adds no complexity to Christian thought.
  • Suffering is complicated, and in this regard atheism can be too simplistic.

4) Entangling alliances

  • Open Theism, Word Faith, Charismatic-Chaos–these may try to borrow from the two falls theodicy, but that theodicy does not require or entail any of these systems.
  • Good ideas (including strong explanations) tend to get borrowed, smuggled, and stolen because of their high trade value in the intellectual marketplace. It is no fault of this theodicy if, for example, Open theists like Greg Boyd have incorporated it into a “warfare theodicy.”
  • Since this theodicy does not necessarily require any theological commitments beyond that of classical theism or normal/historic Christian teaching, it can be safely affirmed without any accompanying heresy.

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