The sharpest point of contention between young- and old-earth creationists is death before Adam. Young-earth creationists* maintain that all death—including animal death—is a function of the fall. Old-earth creationists* believe that carnivorous creatures and natural catastrophes existed prior to the sin of Adam as part and parcel of God’s “very good” creation. Perhaps this rift is unnecessary.
First, the false assumption underlying this debate is that Adam’s sin necessarily precedes the advent of all evil (except for the rebellion of Satan). Thus, young-earthers are constrained to reject standard astronomical and geological dating, while old-earthers are compelled to reinterpret biblical passages that speak of natural evil as a direct consequence of human sin (Genesis 3:14–19; Romans 5:12–21; 8:18–25; 1 Corinthians 15:20–23). In reality, orthodoxy demands faithfulness to truth in both general and special revelation.
Furthermore, an orthodox understanding of the Creator of all things is that he acts transtemporally (“across time”) in all of his creation. Thus, the cross of Christ retroactively atones for Adam’s sin, just as it proactively atones for the sin of Adam’s yet unborn descendants. In similar fashion, there is little difficulty conceiving of a transcendent God who predestines natural evil to precede the fall even though the fall is the necessary cause of the evils that precede it.
Finally, while it is natural for humans to see time’s arrow from a forward perspective, we do well to recognize that God’s infallible truth is not always presented in chronological fashion. As such, the advent of the last Adam not only atones for sin thousands of years after the advent of the first Adam, but the last Adam (Jesus) is biblically portrayed as the Lamb “slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
In sum, God’s purposes are presented in both chronological as well as kairological* fashion. In other words, we see events reported in the order in which they happened, and we see events recorded according to their purpose and significance. “Before they call I will answer,” says the Almighty, “while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.”
For further study, see William A. Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009).