Did the trees of the Garden of Eden have rings?
According to the Creation model, based on biblical chronologies, the Universe can be known to be roughly 6,000 years old. However, the question is sometimes asked, “But why does the Earth have the appearance of age?” [NOTE: In actuality, the Earth has a “young” appearance in some ways as well, but it is true that there are some visual characteristics of the Earth that would seem to indicate an old age for the Earth.] Among other things, the creationist’s response to such characteristics typically includes a discussion of the concept of a mature creation (i.e., God created the Universe fully functional for its intended purposes from the beginning). Man was walking, talking, working, and even able to procreate from the first day he was created (Genesis 2:15-25). Even though he was less than a day old, a passerby would have mistaken Adam as a man of several years strictly by observing his physical appearance. Even though light from stars billions of light years away from the Earth would take billions of light years to reach it on its own, God made the stars with their light already visible to living beings on Earth in order to fulfill the design He had for them (Genesis 1:14-19). [NOTE: See Lyons, 2011 for more discussion of the “appearance” of age in the Universe.] But what about the plants? Did they have an appearance of age? Did trees already have “rings” in them starting on day three? We cannot know for certain, but reason and revelation can shed some light on the subject.
In order for Adam and Eve to have the nourishment necessary to sustain their lives (apparently, they were not authorized to eat animals until after the Flood—cf. Genesis 1:29-30; 9:3-4), and in order to make sense of God’s command to eat the fruit from certain trees in the garden (Genesis 2:16), it stands to reason that those trees would have already been mature on day six—fully grown, bearing fruit, and even potentially containing rings—in the same way that light from far away stars was already on the Earth. Moses’ general description of God’s workings with the plant life in the garden is documented in Genesis 2:9 as simply that He “made every tree grow.” Clearly, that was a fast process during the Creation week.
But this raises a potential concern. Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings to determine the age of a tree. Dendrochronology tells us that each tree ring found in the trunk of a tree represents approximately one year of age for that tree. A tree with ten rings should be roughly ten years old. The oldest tree as measured by tree ring dating is from California’s White Mountains and is dated to be over 4,000 years old (Owen, 2008). Now, if the purpose of tree rings is to tell the age of a tree, would it not have been deceptive for God to create trees with rings when they were not old enough to have them? What would be the point of His creating trees with rings, if not to give a false appearance of age?
A quick internet search of the phrase, “purpose of tree rings,” brings up many articles, most of which are on the subject of dendrochronology. It is common knowledge that the primary purpose of tree rings today is to tell the age of the tree. Most of the study being done by scientists on tree rings is in dendrochronology, dendroclimatology, dendroecology, and dendropyrochronology. And that is where the confusion lies. How humans are using the information from tree rings today is very different from their purpose and function for the tree itself as designed by God.
A closer look at the tree ring reveals that it is formed as a result of the climate changes that occur during the seasons. The dark ring that we typically think of as the “tree ring” is known as “late wood” and is formed during the summer and autumn seasons. This area of wood is more dense and helps provide strength to the tree (Wimmer, 2011; Premyslovska, et al., 2007, p. 118). As the tree grows larger, year by year, more rings are added to the tree, providing it with more late wood and thus, more strength to stand. Thus, if God created a fully mature, large tree, one would expect Him to create it with rings to give it strength—not as a deception to make Adam think that the Earth is actually older than it appears. [NOTE: Years or geographical areas in which seasonal changes are subtle result in little to no distinction between the commencement of new tree rings (and subsequently add potential error into the tree ring dating equation). If the Earth’s climate was closer to a tropical environment year round in the past, as some have theorized, tree rings may not have been clearly visible to the human eye. The whole core of the tree would be composed of a denser, stronger wood without clear distinctions between rings. Regardless, it is clear that the creation of tree rings in the trees of the garden would have been reasonable and useful, not deceptive.]
Lyons, Eric (2011), “Common Sense, Miracles, and the Apparent Age of the Earth,” Reason & Revelation (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press), 31:77-80, August, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=997&article=1670.
Owen, James (2008), “Oldest Living Tree Found in Sweden,” National Geographic News, April 14, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080414-oldest-tree.html.
Premyslovska, E., Slezingerova, J., and L. Gandelova (2007), “Tree Ring Width and Basic Density of Wood in Different Forest Types,” Proceedings of the DENDROSYMPOSIUM, May 3-6, Riga, Latvia, pp. 118-122.
Wimmer, R. (2011), “Wood Quality: Causes, Methods, Control,” The University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, http://www.boku.ac.at/botanik/wood/woodquality/Chapter2.pdf.