Both of these books discuss the role of death and suffering in the world and the challenge that this brings to various interpretations of Genesis, and especially the first three chapters. In fact, the central issue surrounds the meaning of God’s statement at the end of creation that it was ‘very good’. The writers consider whether it is reasonable, and theologically and exegetically defensible, to suggest that a world so described could have included suffering and death before the Fall.
There is, thus, an overlap in concerns in the books and they both deal with the issues from a similar perspective, arguing that the biblical evidence does not demand, that all suffering and death in the animal kingdom came about as a result of the Fall, indeed it suggests the opposite.
While there is this overlap, the two books have different emphases which probably reflect the different backgrounds of the writers: Whorton is a scientist and Osborn a political scientist.
Whorton’s opening chapter is entitled ‘The Battle Lines Are Drawn’, a title which neatly sums up the division that exists between the two sides on the ‘creation-evolution’ debate – or more correctly between the young earth and old earth positions. On the one hand there are those who insist that the only faithful way to interpret Genesis 1 is a literalistic one and to suggest that the earth is more than 6-10,000 years old is not only to deny the account in Genesis but begins to eat away at the very foundation of all Christian belief. I suspect that neither of these books will necessarily persuade those who hold opposing views, but they are both worth reading. Osborn’s declines on a few occasions into polemic, but on the whole the tone of both is irenic. That is not to say that they shy away from the tough issues and the specific – and important – points of debate–they do not. One area in Osborn’s book I found less than convincing was his discussion on the relationship between creation and kenosis.
Both books serve a purpose in presenting a reading of Scripture which moves away from the rigid division between evolutionary theory and creationism, a division which seems to be self-serving for both sides of that particular argument. Instead they offer some carefully argued exegesis and theological discussion on the whole issue of theodicy which is thought-provoking and which offers an understanding of Genesis for evangelical Christians which does not demand a belief in a young earth.
Osborn RE, 2014, Death Before the Fall, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, ISBN: 9780830840465
Whorton MS, 2005, Peril in Paradise, Waynesboro: Authentic Media, ISBN: 1932805230