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Creation 34(3):52–55, July 2012

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A thorny issue


“Cursed is the ground because of you … It will produce thorns and thistles” Genesis 3:17–18
The UK Natural History Museum describes the above fossils—“Leaves of: Rosa hilliaiae Lesquereux from the Oligocene period (23–35 million years), Colorado, USA. Thorns [sic] of: Rosa penelopes Unger from the Miocene (5–23 million years), Styria, Austria.”

Spiny plant fossils pose a thorny problem for Christians who accept the secular view that the earth is much older than 6,000 years.

Cactus fossils in the Eocene (‘dated’ at 35–55 million years),1 rose fossils from the Miocene (5–23 million years) and Oligocene (23–35 million years),2,3 plus many others, are all ‘dated’ according to the secular evolutionary long-age view that puts these fossils way before man ever existed—i.e. thorns before man. But the Bible teaches us that thorns are the result of the Curse—i.e. thorns after man. God said to Adam:

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17–19)

That means that death, toil, the need to till the soil to grow field crops, along with the appearance of thorns and thistles, all resulted from Adam’s sin—indeed the whole Creation was (and continues to be) afflicted (Romans 8:19–23).4 Thus the Bible indicates that not one fossil thorn, spine, prickle or thistle could have existed before Adam sinned and therefore fossils of these cannot be millions of years old. But if the evolutionary millions-of-years ages are true, then the Bible is wrong—leaving Christians who might have seen no problem in accepting long-age timeframes having to face up to ‘a thorny issue’.

Thorns and dinosaurs

Caleb SalisburyThorns-fossil
Christians who believe God’s infallible Word (no thorns before sin) cannot also believe in man’s fallible ‘word’ (millions of years of thorns before people).

By evolutionary reckoning, spiny plant fossils from Devonian strata (360–410 million years)5,6,7,8 were laid down way before the ‘age of dinosaurs’ (65–230 million years ago), and, in turn, way before the first humans appeared.

According to the Bible, however, these Devonian spiny plants cannot have been buried and fossilized until after Adam sinned. And fossil dinosaurs, being found in Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous rock layers deposited above Devonian strata, cannot have been buried before the fossil spines were buried. Therefore (for Christians who accept God’s infallible Word) the dinosaurs, too, can only have been buried and fossilized after Adam sinned.

The Bible provides us with exactly the sort of event that explains this—one that occurred some 1,656 years after Adam sinned.9

Thorns and the Flood

The global Flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6–9) certainly would have dramatically ‘re-landscaped’ the earth. As the Apostle Peter put it, “the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water” (2 Peter 3:6).10 The once-thornless Garden of Eden would have been obliterated (by erosion or burial or both)—which is why there’s been no need since Noah’s 601st year for any flaming-sword-bearing cherubim to guard the way to Eden’s tree of life (Genesis 3:24). Such a devastating worldwide Flood would have overcome and buried lots of animals and plants under layer-upon-layer of sediment, now hardened into rock. Hence dinosaur fossils and fossilized thorny plants are no older than about 4,500 years—and readily explained as a legacy of the global Flood and its aftermath. So dinosaurs lived at the same time as man—indeed, pairs of each dino kind were on board the Ark with Noah. No wonder there is so much evidence of post-Flood human encounters with dinosaurs.11

Thorny issues for evolutionists, too

Just as long-age Christians have the thorns-before-sin problem, evolutionists have their own prickly puzzles. But theirs is not an issue of when sin came into the world—atheistic evolutionists deny sin12 even exists.

Rather, evolutionists try to invent stories of how thorns (and associated plant parts such as leaves) came into existence. In their view there’s long been a biological ‘arms race’ between plants and critters that want to eat them—hence thorns evolved.

But what about the large number of plants that do not have thorns—indeed, which do not evidently have any defence mechanisms at all, and have survived quite well—even under heavy browsing and grazing?13 This is exactly what you’d expect from the Bible’s Creation account of the original “very good” world, where all creatures (including man) were vegetarian, and plants were created to be eaten (Genesis 1:29–30)—designed to be chomped and pruned, crunched and munched, browsed and grazed.14

A ‘lame duck’ story of thorn evolution

For botanists, roses technically don’t have thorns, but prickles, while cacti have spines, and citrus have ‘true thorns’. Thorns are branches which failed to grow. Spines are mutated leaves (e.g. tightly rolled, or which failed to grow) or mutated parts of leaves, or leftover leaf bases after the leaves have fallen off. Unlike thorns and spines, prickles have no vascular tissue (being simple ‘overgrowths’ of the outer layer of the plant) which is why prickles can be more easily peeled off, or will come off with the outer layer if the stem dies. (Which is perhaps why the Miocene rose thorn pictured on top of the page is fossilized in isolation.)

The plant-vs-herbivore ‘arms race’ idea leaves evolutionists scratching their heads over plants like the thorny shrub Cyanea solanaceae (endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago where it is commonly known as ‘popolo’). “The evolution of thorn-like structures in plants on oceanic islands that lack mammalian and reptilian herbivores is puzzling,” say evolutionary researchers, and “Cyanea’s prickles are an evolutionary enigma”.15 So by way of attempted explanation they have very creatively come up with the idea that there must have once been native herbivores in the archipelago, namely, “flightless geese and goose-like ducks that were extirpated by Polynesians within the last 1,600 years.”15

Evolutionary thorns before leaves?

Similarly, the evolutionary storyline about the first appearance of thorny protrusions in the Devonian stretches credulity.16,17,18,19 Land plants had no leaves at that time, the story goes, but were instead spindly things with limited photosynthetic area to capture the sun’s rays (obviously, without the wonderfully efficient flat-leaf20 ‘solar panels’ on plants today).21,22 And when terrestrial herbivores appeared in the Devonian, plants began to evolve thorny structures as a deterrent—so the story goes. And, those spiny protrusions went on to evolve into leaves, over millions of years.23,24

But today, it is known that spines, prickles and thorns are all degenerate plant parts, or their remains—see rose caption on this page. In other words, speaking botanically, the leaves had to come first, i.e. before thorns. After all, many spines are really modified leaves, curled up on themselves.25 This could easily result from finely balanced curving forces becoming unbalanced. For thorns to have come first, there would have had to have been a significant increase in genetic information26—something that is rarely, if ever, observed today.27

A much more likely scenario is that the Devonian leafless plant fossils with their “spine-like appendages”21 were in reality leafy plants while living. Once those plants were uprooted and washed away by swirling floodwaters in the mayhem of the global Deluge, the leaves became detached from the plant, which became buried (and fossilized) separately.

A ‘creation challenge’ answered: thorns and the Fall

Tradition holds that the source of the thorns that the Roman soldiers twisted into a ‘crown’ and put on Jesus when they were mocking Him was Ziziphus spina-christi, popularly known as Christ’s Thorn Jujube.
The Genesis 3:18 phrase “thorns and thistles” encompasses all plants today that have painful spiny features. The prickles on thistle stems, leaves and flowers can certainly cause pain—which apparently led to its becoming Scotland’s national emblem. Legend has it that one night a barefoot Norseman stepped upon a thistle, and his cry of pain alerted the Scots to the presence of the invading Norse army.

Long-age and evolution-accepting Christians have tried to counter the no-thorns-before-sin issue by saying:

“Young-earth creationists frequently point out that thorns and thistles were created by God at this point. [i.e. Genesis 3:17–18] However, this would mean that God performed a creative act AFTER he had rested from his creating the world.”

Actually, that’s a very good point to raise. That’s because Exodus 20:8–11 and Genesis 2:1–3 make it clear that nothing new was created after the end of Day 6 of Creation Week. The Creation was completed. (It’s ironic that it’s precisely this issue which raises a problem for long-age Christians who believe evolution because of the claim that it is ‘observed’ today. If evolution is happening today, that would mean the Creation is not yet completed, therefore not yet cursed,28 therefore … what was Jesus’ redemptive death on the Cross (John 19:30) all about?)

The answer lies in the observation that thorns, prickles and spines are degenerative—mutant leaves or parts of leaves that didn’t unfold properly; leaf bases that have failed to grow into leaves or are left over when leaves fall off or failed branch development. It is easy to imagine a once-perfect world without such spiny projections, but in today’s world, mutations and other biological development errors are abundant—and increasing. This is right in line with the Apostle Paul’s description of a post-Fall and cursed world in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:19–22).29

Thorns and the Cross

To reiterate, Christians who accept the secular millions-of-years interpretation of the geologic layers and the fossils embedded within have to face up to the issue of thorns (and pain, death and suffering) before sin.

But with a correct (biblical) view of thorns, Jesus’ death on the cross takes on greater poignancy. On His head he bore the consequences of the first man’s rebellion against the Creator. If not for Adam’s sin, there would have been no thorns for the Roman soldiers to twist into a ‘crown’ and force onto Jesus’ head (John 19:2–5). Crowned with thorns, a painful reminder of the consequences of the first Adam’s sin, Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), took upon Himself the Curse (Galatians 3:13) so that all who believe in Him are freed from it for eternity (John 3:16; Revelation 21:1–4, 22:3). There will be no more death, no more pain, no more Curse, no more thorns—praise the Lord.

Posted on homepage: 11 November 2013

References and notes

  1. Chaney, R., A fossil cactus from the Eocene of Utah, American Journal of Botany 31(8):507–528, 1944. Return to text.
  2. Becker, H., The fossil record of the genus Rosa, Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 90(2):99–110, 1963. Return to text.
  3. DeVore, M. and Pigg, K., A brief review of the fossil history of the family Rosaceae with a focus on the Eocene Okanogan Highlands of eastern Washington State, USA, and British Columbia, Canada, Plant Systematics and Evolution 266(1–2):45–57, 2007. Return to text.
  4. Smith, H.B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19 23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
  5. Rayner, R., New finds of Drepanophycus spinaeformis Göppert from the Lower Devonian of Scotland, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences 75:353–363, 1984. Return to text.
  6. Rayner, R., New observations of Sawdonia ornata from Scotland, Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences 74:79–83, 1983. Return to text.
  7. Kasper, A., Andrews, H. and Forbes, W., New fertile species of Psilophyton from the Devonian of Maine, American Journal of Botany 61(4):339–359, 1974. Return to text.
  8. Banks, H., Reclassification of Psilophyta, Taxon 24(4):401–413, 1975. Return to text.
  9. See creation.com/ussher-calc. Return to text.
  10. New American Standard Bible, 1995. Return to text.
  11. See e.g. The Year the Water Dragon roared , pp. 12–14 this issue. Also creation.com/coexist. Return to text.
  12. Interestingly, the word ‘sin’ was recently dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary (at a time when increasing numbers of young people have no concept of what ‘sin’ really is). See: Sin huh?, Creation 31(3):7, 2009; creation.com/focus-313#sin. Return to text.
  13. So some evolutionists have creatively come up with the idea that one of the evolved plant defences against herbivory, is tolerance of herbivory! Return to text.
  14. For more on this see: Christmas in the Year of Darwin The 2009 RI Christmas Lectures trumpet the supposed 300-million-year evolutionary arms race between plants and herbivores, creation.com/darwin-year-christmas, 25 December 2009. Return to text.
  15. Givnish, T., Sytsma, K., Smith, J., and Hahn, W., Thorn-like prickles and heterophylly in Cyanea: Adaptations to extinct avian browsers on Hawaii? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 91:2810–2814, 1994. Return to text.
  16. Stewart, W., Paleobotany and the evolution of plants, Cambridge University Press, 1983. Return to text.
  17. Kenrick, P. and Davis, P., Fossil plants, Natural History Museum, London, 2004. Return to text.
  18. Gensel, P. and Edwards, D., Plants invade the land—Evolutionary and environmental perspectives, Columbia University Press, New York, 2001. Return to text.
  19. Thomas, B. and Spicer, R., The evolution and palaeobiology of land plants, Croom Helm Ltd, London, 1987. Return to text.
  20. The fact that leaves are flat and orient to the sun speaks powerfully of design—the flatness being the result of a fine balance between two opposing curving forces. See: Catchpoole, D., Flat leaves a curly problem, J. Creation 19(1):8, 2006; creation.com/flatleaf. Return to text.
  21. Kenrick, P., Turning over a new leaf, Nature 410(6826):309–310, 2001. Return to text.
  22. Gensel, P., A new Lower Devonian plant and the early evolution of leaves, Nature 309(5971):785–787, 2001. Return to text.
  23. Gosline, A., How plants evolved big broad leaves, New Scientist 183(2455):10, 10 July 2004. Return to text.
  24. Although evolutionists are usually happy to invoke time periods, this is a self-described puzzle to them: “The [40-million-year] gap between the earliest fossil evidence of vascular plants and the advent of megaphylls is puzzling.”—Ref. 21. And: “The long delay in this relatively simple evolutionary development is surprising … [and] has remained enigmatic”. Beerling, D., Osborne, C. and Chaloner, W., Evolution of leaf-form in land plants linked to atmospheric CO2 decline in the Late Palaeozoic era, Nature 410(6826):352–354, 2001. Return to text.
  25. Wieland, C. and Sarfati, J., interview with zoologist Dr Walter Veith, Creation 22(1):36–38, 1999; creation.com/professing-creation. Return to text.
  26. I.e. to go from leafless spiny plants to plants with leaves. Return to text.
  27. See also Time no friend of evolution on pp. 30–31 this issue. Also creation.com/nylon. Return to text.
  28. Cf. Genesis 3:17–19; Romans 8:19–22. Return to text.
  29. Note that degeneration cannot be used to explain all the defence-attack structures now so evident in today’s post-Fall world. See creation.com/cab6. Return to text.

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