Adam and The Fall: A Thorny Young Earth Assumption

My WordPress tag reader led me to this video posted on Eric Hovind’s “Creation Today” website.  This site is what Dr Dino’s website presence morphed into after the arrest and conviction of fringe creation scientists Kent Hovind.    What caught my eye was that today’s video highlighted evidence of creation from thorns.   I have been thinking about thorns quite a bit the last month and wrote a bit about thorns a while back (The Prelapsarian Acacia and the Good Creation:  On the Origin of Thorns) so I just had to see what Hovind and friends were going to say bout the origin of thorns.   I was pretty sure I knew what I was going to hear and from 6-10 minute mark in the video (HERE) I found McKay telling me that fossil thorns were proof that the world was young.

A screenshot from Creation Today video posted on Eric Hovind’s young earth creation website June 2012. Here we see Australian John McKay showing “proof” that these fossils were created after Adam’s fall. The proof? There are thorns on this plant fossil.

I am showing a screenshot and image from the video that gives you a sense for the argument which involves the following assumptions:

1)  Thorns only came into existence after the Fall of Adam because after the Fall, God curses the ground and  Genesis 3:18 says:  It (referring to the ground) will produce thorns and thistles for you  and you will eat the plants of the field. (NIV).

2) Any plants that have thorns must therefore have arisen after the fall of Adam.

3)  There are fossils of plants that appear to have thorns, therefore these fossils, and the rocks that contain them, must have been created after the fall of Adam.

4)  Adam fell only 6000 years ago and thus these fossils and rocks must be younger than 6000 years.

In a nutshell this, along with the assumption of no death before the fall,  is what drives young earth creationism to claim all rocks to be young.

How can young earth creationists be so dogmatic in their assertions that thorns could not have existed in the original creation?   The Bible no where provides any direct  support of this interpretation of Genesis 3.  Genesis 3 merely says that thorns will be produced for man making his work more difficult.    How does this prove that no thorns existed for other purposes prior to the fall?   The assumption seems to be based on a man-made assumption of what a good and perfect world would look like.    Furthermore, this literal hermeneutic if applied several verses later creates an problem.   Just two verses ealier we read that God will greatly multiply the woman’s sorrow in conception.   A simple reading here would lead on to believe there was already sorrow and yet this is not how young earth creationists would ever interpret this passage.    Back to thorns,  I pointed out in another post that thorns can be integral parts of a “good” creation.  Here we find McKay essentially saying in the video that any pointed end of a plant could not have existed prior to the fall because a sharp end could not be part of a good creation.

Image presented by John McKay in his video demonstrating that likelihood that the fossil has thorns like a modern day thorny branch. Here a modern plants with its shadow is compared to a fossil plant stem.

Adam and Eden:
But even if  young earth creationists are right that Garden was a “good” creation with no pain or sorrow is it necessary to believe that the entire earth was identical to the land of Eden?  In Genesis Eden is depicted as a geographical location set apart from the rest of creation. Indeed, the Garden of Eden was to be found in a specific part of Eden in the East of Eden.    The Garden of Eden is frequently depicted by young earth literalists as perfect. How then was the Garden distinguished from the rest of creation?   The Garden is often portrayed as a tropical paradise, presumably because lush growth represents perfection vs less growth (and food) but does that mean out side the garden the plants were less lush? Was this land somehow less good in the minds of these creationists.  This is virtually never addressed in their literature.  The assumptions seems to be the entire earth was a paradise despite some very clear indications from the rest of Scripture that this is not the relationship of Eden with the outside world.   The key, as I recently pointed out in recommending the writings of Beale and others, is that the Garden represented the holy space in Eden which itself is a sacred space in creation.  Adam had been created outside the Eden which is best seen as the chaos or from the wilderness which I and others believe is a better rendering of the term from Genesis 1.1.  He was taken from the wilderness and placed into Eden, a sanctuary on earth.  In Eden Adam communed as seen by his walking and talking with God in the most holy place in Eden the Garden of Eden.     In Genesis we see that God, the creator, takes chaos and disorder and puts order to it.   In Eden we see that he has taken the chaos (the wilderness) and made it fit/habitable for man.   Man is formed out of the wilderness/chaos but established in a place of order and in communion with God – he is in the God’s temple with direct relationship to Him.  There he is to tend and protect Eden.  He is also to exercise dominion. He names the animals which is the function that God has taken on in Genesis 1 of naming and given functions to the parts of the world.  God has made Adam his vice-reagent over the earth he has created.  As long as Adam fulfilled his role he would expand that Garden until it filled the whole earth. There are many many illusions to this eschatologial goal throughout the Bible and I would direct you to Beale, Kline etc.. for more a full defense of this.  Adam fails to tend and protect.  He allows Satan into the Garden.   Notice that Satan is a malevolent force that is already present in the world but in keeping with the image of the creation and the Garden through the whole Bible, the wilderness outside the Garden which hasn’t been transformed by Adam and his offspring is the source of Evil coming into the Garden.  Adam didn’t protect Eve and the Garden in his role as priest and the devil in the form of a snake brings the wilderness into the Garden.  The Garden can no longer be inhabited by Adam. Adam must leave the garden and is cast out into the the rest of the world.  Being cast out of the Garden, the promised land, or outside the courtyard of the temple or of the tabernacle is always seen as being cast out into a waste land in which the blessings of God are not fulfilled.  A place in which the full bounty of creation is not available to man.

Why is it that with the entire Scriptures pointing to this imagery of places outside of God’s presence are not hospitable or at least not as hospitable (physically or spiritually) are we prone to thinking that the land outside of Eden was a tropic paradise just like it was in Eden?  I would assert (I say this because I don’t have time now to build my case or direct you to other resources) that a more natural reading of Genesis that takes into account the imagery of Eden in the rest of Scriptures sees Eden as a place set apart and that when Adam sinned he was cast out into the wilderness where God’s bounty (food, water etc..) and personal relationship with man would be broken.  Adam would now have to contend with a world he was supposed to transform.  Now rather than transforming that world into a Garden that world would effect and transform him. He  still has the command to expand God’s kingdom but his efforts won’t be as productive.   Much more could be said about how this fits with the rest of scriptures but here I would just point out that rather than thorns and thistles being created de novo were they were not present. The act of being removed from the Garden means the thorns and thistles of the wilderness that where already there would now really thwart man.     Eves pain in conception is increased not because she didn’t experience pain but because now that conception would come with the knowledge that she would be giving birth to a person who would not enjoy the presence and goodness of God as she had in the Garden.

Thorns and their origins:
Back to the thorns themselves – the position that anything that even resembles a thorn could not possibly be present in the original creation boxes creationists into proposing rather awkward explanations for the present world.  McKay on his website that supports this video talks about all thorns, spines, spikes, prickles and all other points on plants as being degraded parts of the original creation.  He is right that thorns are modified stems and so for him thorns are stems that have lost their original “perfect” or “good” nature of being stems and have become “bad” thorns.   As I pointed out for the acacias. Thorns might be “bad” for you or I trying to get at their fruit but the thorns provide homes for ants and are as amazing an example of natural design that works for the benefit of the organisms involved as the human eye is for us.   The young earth creationist is constantly having to denigrate amazing features of this world as being the result of evil yet at the same time will use them as example of amazing design.   So McKay wants us to believe that all these bad feature are “negative” evolution. They are the product of breakdown in an original good system. He makes it sound like it would be easy for genes to get degraded and then cause the stems to start making mistakes to make thorns.

To this argument of McKay’s I offer up the simple thorn bug pictured below.     There are many species of thorn bugs and they all have modified outer wing casings that mimic different species of plant thorns.  The function is pretty obvious, when they sit on a stem they can blend into the other stems thorns and will not be bothered by birds preying on them.     If there were NO thorns in the pre-fall world (the prelapsarian state in more theological terms) what were these hundreds of species of thorn bugs doing?   They have pointy casings that if they sat on bushes in great number would be very pesky for one of us trying to grab that branch.  Clearly pain and inconvenience couldn’t be part of this perfect world.    Also they wouldn’t need this elaborate disguise if the birds only ate fruits in that world.    Like so many other creatures explained by young earth creationists, like camels with no humps because they wouldn’t need to preserve water when there were no deserts,  the probably explanation would come that these bugs didn’t look like this before the fall and these thorns on their backs were pre-designed in their DNA by God who foreknew the fall was going to take place.    What gets me about this argument is that McKay tries so hard to say that no new features can evolved but only degrade but here God has pre-designed DNA in order for it to produce a new feature after the fall.  These “thorns” are clearly not degraded features of something else like a “good” branch becoming a sickly “thorn” but rather these thorns are complex adaptation of what was already a very well designed set of wings that would not devolve into something more complex like these thorns.    There are a hundred angles to run with this from here but I will have to leave it at this for now.

One of many species of “thorn” bugs. So-called because they appear as thorns on branches. This features helps them to avoid being eaten by birds. Click image for source.

Note:  the featured image for this post shows cacti which have needles.   Scientifically defined, needles are modified leaves whereas spines are modified stems.  However, the author of Genesis may not have been referring to either of these but to a the whole plants in general. Plants such as thorny plants and thistle plants are common in deserts and being relegated to the desert it makes sense that Adam would have to contend with the plants of the desert which would not yield their fruit and leaves for food so easily.

After publishing this post I came across this short blog post that exemplified what I think are misconceptions about the Garden of Eden.   Here is a quote from Dr. Mike Harmon, baptist minister writing about the location of the Garden of Eden:

If the Tigris and Euphrates mentioned are the same rivers by those names today, that would put the Garden of Eden somewhere in the Middle East, likely in Iraq. It cannot be mere coincidence that the Middle East region is where the planet was most lush—the place where the Garden of Eden was. If oil is, as most scientists believe, primarily decayed vegetation and animal matter, then this is the area where we might expect to find the greatest deposits of oil. Since the Garden was the epitome of perfection, it stands to reason that the decomposition of the earth’s most perfect and lush organic materials would produce vast stores of the earth’s best oil.  (link to whole post)

I’m not sure how he came to believe that the Middle East region used to be the most lush place on the planet?  Yes, there is evidence that it was much wetter there in the past but not a tropical zone.  But again why is lushness the “epitome of perfection?”  Is this a Biblical concept or our perception of perfection?  The Bible describes the promised land as a land flowing with milk and honey as a new Eden!  Fig trees, pomegranates, olive tress, grains and grapes are all symbols of the goodness of creation. These are not “lush” plants but are semi-arid adapted plants!   To his point that great oil deposits are found here.  Yes, there is much oil there but there is a lot of oil elsewhere and if a global flood then how does he know that the organic material wasn’t transported to this area?   BTW, oil doesn’t result from decomposition of organic material as that would destroy it rather it results from transformation of organic material in the absence of decomposition but that really is a minor issue.

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  1. Fascinating. I think it’s a pretty widespread notion that ”thorns and thistles” and childbirth pains were all results of the Fall. At least I have heard that from a number of people–and I don\’t know how childbirth could be anything but painful pre-Fall unless female anatomy was radically changed by the Fall, too. What\’s interesting is that ”thorns and thistles” curse is contained within a poem–or at least, in English Bibles, the type is formatted as a poem. So why is that curse a poem, and what would putting that curse in poetic language mean to the Hebrews? It should strike serious Bible readers as really odd that McKay is basing a geologic theory on a poem that mentions thorns.

    LOL on that quote in the addendum. He uses some humongous ”ifs.” That is, ”if the Tigris and Euphrates were in the same place before the worldwide Flood as it was after the worldwide Flood ….” So we are expected to believe that the mountains rose and the continents shifted, but also that two rivers maintained the same course before and after a worldwide flood?!? I suppose God does work great miracles, but it’s as if we can switch between wild fantasies and deductive logic whenever we want when we are handling Genesis.

    BTW, remember that the promised land, a place compared to New Eden, was worse botanically than Egypt. IIRC, the Nile Delta region at the time was far lusher than the promised land, the ”land flowing with milk and honey.” Numbers 11:5 describes vegetables and delicacies that I don’t think grew in Israel (but maybe you can correct me here if I’m wrong).

    • Thanks for the comment. Regarding thorns and thistles. I think (but I haven’t done enough work with the text to say this with confidence) that the rest of Scriptures would speak to these being “thorn-bushes” and “briars” In other words, it isn’t the actual thorns and pointy things but the thorn-bushes and briar bushes where were common in the deserts of the middle east in the past and today that are in view. When Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden these plants in the wilderness would compete for the few water resources and would strangle their efforts to grow crops. It isn’t some sort of class of biological feature that God is creating as a result of the curse but rather Adam isn’t going to be extending the garden out to cover the wilderness and subdue the thorn-bushes and briars but the wilderness will now be their home.
      Now when we come to the new Eden God is bringing the Israelite s out of the wilderness back into a land of milk and honey. Notice that there are still thorn-bushes and briars but God will bless the people with abundant rain and fertile soil and their labor will be blessed in that the land bill bring forth fruit and the briar will not prevent then for the goodness of the land. Jeremiah and other warn constantly that if they don’t obey the land will be returned to a land of thorns and briars.
      I would say the Nile Delta and the promised land were similar except that the Nile was watered by the regular floods and the promised land was watered by rain provided by God. Of course both are from God’s providence but the imagery is of the Egyptians who believed in gods that brought the flood while the Israelite s had nothing to look for in terms of making this land habitable other than the rain from the heavens which is always seen as God’s provision.

  2. Biblical Eden was a vast region bounded on the east by the Tigris and Euphrates and on the west by rivers in East Africa. Genesis 2:10-14 says that Eden was watered by four rivers: the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Pishon and the Gihon. The river Pishon flowed through the land of Ha’vilah, where there is gold (Gen. 2:11). Ha’vilah means the source or water’s origin. The Gihon wound through the land of Kush (Gen. 2:13). Possibly the Pishon refers to the White Nile and the Gihon refers to the Blue Nile. They flow into the Nile at Khartoum, Sudan.

    Notice that Dr. Harmon ignores the rivers in Africa. Young Earth Creationists appear to have on blinders when it comes to Abraham’s Kushite ancestors.

  3. Really excellent post here. I think that there are some serious difficulties with the YEC interpretation of ”good” or ”very good” as well.

  4. Reading Genesis 3:17-18 it is obvious that the text is talking about the ground producing thorn and thistle plants. It is not talking about various plants mutating and suddenly producing thorns. Verse 17 ends with, “…Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” So it is the ground being cursed, and through much work will Adam eat from it. Verse 18 says, “It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” What will produce the thorns? The ground will. The singular pronoun “It” at the start of verse 18 is referring to the ground. It does not make sense to say the ground starts producing sharp pointy things, the only concept that makes sense here is that the ground starts producing weeds like thorns and thistles in greater abundance to make Adam’s life harder. Also this verse in no way suggests that thorns and thistles were created at that point, instead we must assume that they were created on creation day three along with the other plants, since there is no other indication otherwise.

    • Hi Mark, great comment. I completely agree. Expanding on the point about “greater abundance” rather than creation, thorns and thistles (but better read as thornbushes and thistles, also a shrub of sorts) play a large role in the prophesies of the OT prophets. Numerous times the prophets warn that it the Israelites don’t turn from their evil ways that they will be taken from the land and their homes and cities will become infested or overrun with thorns and thistles. The point was not that there weren’t any there before but that they would become so abundant that there would be no reason to live there anymore. This is in such contrast to exodus where the people are in the wilderness surrounded by thorns and thistle bushes but come to a land flowing with milk and honey. Surely that land had prickles and thorns on some plants but the emphasis is on the good plants and the ability to cultivate the land. By doing good work the land would be free of the influences of these thorns but when the people disobey their land is given up to these thorns and briar plants becoming as the wilderness. The Garden of Eden was to be protected by Adam and Eve and either there were no thorns or they did not cause undo problems but when cast out of the Garden I take it that they are in the wilderness which now has thorns and thistles which I take to mean literal impediments to mans productivity but also to figuratively refer to people/sinners that will stand in the way of godly living.

  5. Something you might find interesting in regards to this: Reconsidering a Cosmic Fall by J.J. Bimson

    • Thanks so much for the link. I did find that very interesting and helpful. I had not seen that article before. I wish Science and Christian Belief were a more accessible journal as there has been some good stuff in there but I do not often bump into that material in internet searches or even citation indices. I have put the article into my “best reads”folder on the topic. JD

  6. The Bible speaks of the crucifixion of Christ thousands of years before it happened. God even knew about the fall of man before it happened. So if Moses could write about a serpent on a pole saving people from snake bites symbol of Christ being lifted up and Abraham offering his only begotten son before God the father 3000 years before it actually happened. I think God knowing the whole picture of the fall, the sacrifice of Christ long before it happened could have made a thorn bug before the thorn. Ya falla

    • Hi Kevin, Of course, nothing is impossible for God. He foreknew us before the foundations of the world. Nonetheless, the question is not could He have created thorn bugs before thorns existed (and thus the benefit of being cryptic), he could, but did He. How do you know that thorns on plants didn’t exist on plants from the very beginning but He simply opened Adams and Eves eyes so they could see them after they fall? Or maybe thorns existed but Adam would not have supernaturally protected from damage before the fall. These are ad-hoc explanations which are equally possible though I think both very unlikely given God’s revealed nature. One problem with your argument is that you will have to multiple your ad-hoc explanation millions of times to explain the world around you.

  7. What about when the prophet Hosea married gomer and gave birth to a son, God told Hosea what to name him: ” And she conceived again, and bare a daughter. And God said unto him, Call her name Loruhamah: for I will no more have mercy upon the house of Israel; but I will utterly take them away.”Hosea 1:6

    Question; Did God have to wait for or til the house of Israel to be taken away to know what to name Loruhamah. Could it be that God created the thorn bug before the thorns because he knew the curse was coming before it actually came huh? Not only is it possible it seems kinda how God operates. That’s a thinker.

    • Well, again, of course he could of and in his providence does work out all things. I suggest reading up on the doctrinal issues surrounding the question of creation with the appearance of age (or apparent age). Much has been written on this topic and you will find that there are many reasons that theologians past and present have rejected the creation of everyting with apparent history rather than a real history. You can search this blog for apparent age as I have also written quite a bit about it myself.
      Thanks for taking the time to consider my article. Joel

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