Table of Contents
Part III: The Problem of Evil
The Evils Resulting from the Curse:
A: Death, Thorns & Thistles
ONE IS always
a little suspicious of an answer that is too complete. Things
don't work out that way. In fact, the unanswered questions make
life worth living. There is a stimulation in being faced with
problems which appear almost, but not quite, insoluble.
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Frequently one hears the remark
that the problem of suffering is beyond us. The world is so full
of misfortune. Everywhere men and women and children, the innocent
and the guilty alike, suffer unbelievable hardships, physical
and emotional. The whole creation groans indeed. Disease, poverty,
bereavement, disaster, war, accident, and the sheer wickedness
of man to man -- all hourly add their awful total to history
until one wonders whether God is still in His heaven, or at least,
whether He cares. Then we are warned that we must
not question the goodness of God: we must simply trust that in
spite of all appearances to the contrary, God is still loving
and merciful. But we do question. It is part of the process
of living to ask questions.
And there are some answers. Sometimes
they are amazingly satisfying, sometimes they scarcely help at
all. A lot depends on our mood and our experience. One day a
pupil asked a learned rabbi, "Why, if God abhors the idols
men worship, does He not destroy them all?"
The old man replied, "Because
some of these idols are a necessary part of the economy of nature,
sun and the moon."
"Then in that case,"
answered the pupil, "why does He not destroy at least those
which are not a part of nature?"
"Because," replied the
rabbi, "if He destroyed some and not others, it would appear
that He was agreeing to the worship of those which He did not
was the kind of answer given in an age when wisdom was greater
and knowledge was less. Today we have more knowledge, but scarcely
more wisdom. Our knowledge is always fragmentary -- so answers
to this great problem must suffer accordingly. Yet we do have
some light, and we should surely acquaint ourselves with all
Now, if God foresaw the evils which
were to result from man's disobedience, He must surely have taken
account of them in His plans. Even the sinfulness of man is sometimes
turned to man's own good by the overruling providence of God.
How great have been the sufferings of some folk as a result of
disease - -yet God has sometimes wrought amazing things by those
whose lives could only be made useful by such means. The Lord's
redeemed are made perfect by suffering -- there does not seem
to be any other way; it thus becomes a blessing in disguise for
the child of God. But the children of God number only a small
percentage of those who greatly suffer -- and what of all the
rest? Can suffering really serve any good purpose for the majority
of mankind? It may. As the children of God are to be made
wholly perfect by suffering, it is possible that the
world is preserved from becoming wholly corrupt by the same
means. This much seems certain: a world in which there
was no suffering to shake us out of our complacency and to stir
our sympathies would be a hard, dispassionate world indeed. And
a world in which no poverty existed would breed a uniform level
of frightful human selfishness.
A few years ago, a namesake of
mine wrote a remarkable book entitled Wisdom, Madness and
Folly in which he reflected upon some time spent in a mental
asylum in England while suffering a nervous breakdown. The book
is remarkable for its lucidity -- even in dealing with those
times in which he was seriously ill. This is what he wrote regarding
the suffering of pain: (1)
Or take the question of pain,
which I as an individual fear and loathe. Yet I know that it
is a biological necessity without which I could not possibly
survive. Certainly I can legitimately strive to avoid or mitigate
it in reason, but I cannot even wish it to be abolished.
The old religious idea of the value
of suffering is out of fashion today. We live in a sentimental
age to which the infliction of pain seems inherently wicked and
even the caning of a naughty child is looked at askance. Perhaps
1. Custance, John, Wisdom, Madness and
Folly, Pellegrini and Cudahy, New York, 1952.
paradoxical result is designed expressly
by Providence to teach us the lesson that apparent evils are
necessary and that to accept them, adapt them, and turn them
into good is the true way of salvation.
Looking back on my own life,
which has not been without periods of suffering, I can sincerely
say that were I now given the chance of living my life over again
without these periods, with all the happiness and none of the
misery, all the ups and none of the downs, I would refuse. Theoretically
at any rate, though I dare say not in practice, I would choose
rather to live my life with all the suffering, the misery and
the downs and none of the happiness and the ups. For, wonderful
though the experience of the mountain-tops has been, I know that
I have learnt far more in the valleys, and I believe that what
I have learnt is of permanent value.
May it not be that the typical
modern attitude toward suffering, toward the apparent evils of
pain, disease, and so on, is due to decay in belief in eternal
life beyond the grave? If there is a Resurrection, as the Christian
and most other religions teach us to believe, then the question
so often asked of why God allows such and such evils, such and
such pains, misery and suffering, especially of innocent people
and children, is quite easy to answer. Suffering is a necessary
part of the education of souls, more particularly since it is
a pre-condition of sacrifice. . . . If there really is an eternity
to look forward to, there is no reason to suppose that anything
in this life is wasted or lost or without value in its true relationship,
not even sin.
Often the only
way God can reach a fallen creature is by using the consequences
of the Fall and magnifying them till they become unbearable.
Then in his desperation, like the prodigal who came to the end
of himself, a man turns again to his God. "Yet," we
are assured, "God does not willingly afflict nor grieve
the children of men. . . " (Lamentations 3:33).
Not all evils are the consequences
of someone's sinfulness, as Jesus pointed out to the disciples
(John 9). Yet many of the evils which continue after those responsible
for them are dead serve as a challenge by creating problems that
stimulate effort to correct them: thus, to some extent evil has
its own compensations, for by nature we usually need this stimulation
to give our best. And the result of such giving brings its own
reward -- and we are glad.
It is amazing what has been inspired
by such evils, and what has been achieved by some organizations
of mercy. One has only to contemplate the work of institutes
for the blind and deaf and dumb, for example. Consider Helen
Keller or Laura Bridgeman. Why these two people should have been
born blind and deaf, and dumb as a consequence, no one can say.
It is well not to assume that all such misfortunes result from
some specific sin. But it is certain that both were liberated
from the unthinkable darkness of that silent tomb by the energies
of men and women who were not motivated specifically by any Christian
convictions. Some evils seem to arise apart from sin altogether.
Prehistoric animals, living in far distant
geological ages before man
was created, suffered
certain diseases including dental caries, as their bones clearly
show. (2) And correspondingly,
there are evils which have stimulated men and women to great
things apart from any divine "inspiration" in the accepted
Christian sense. Many evils, as we shall see, are not really
evils at all, for in their absence, far far greater evils would
result. They thus serve for the restraint of worse things and
might be viewed as blessings in spite of appearances to the contrary.
Let us examine
for a moment the evils which can be considered a direct result
of the fall of man, on the basis of the statements made in Genesis
3:1-19. The list is simple enough; the simplicity is deceiving;
the implications are tremendous.
In the order of Scripture we have:
for the woman, greatly multiplied sorrow and multiple conception
(twins, triplets, etc.), pain in childbirth, and a position of
dependence upon the husband; and for Adam (and in Adam, for mankind),
a cursed ground, with its fruits continually disappointing him,
thorns and thistles, labour and sweat, and physical death.
Take these in reverse order and
consider physical death first. It is true that death is an "enemy"
for man, as numerous passages assert; it is an enemy when considered
as an intrusive element, for it did not originally apply to Adam
and Eve: it resulted from their first act of disobedience. As
Romans 5:12 points out, for man death "entered". But
that such an evil is now really a blessing in our present sinful
condition is a fact which the Scriptures themselves plainly show.
Adam and Eve had access to the Tree of Life which would have
2. This is, of course, dependent upon whether
one accepts any kind of aging world prior to the creation of
man, a world containing animals that far
antedated man, or whether one believes the whole of the world's
fauna (and flora) were formed or created for the first time only
a few days prior to the creation of Adam. The geological view
currently accepted -- whether or not the actual time span is
exactly what orthodox geologists claim -- assumes that there
were millions of prehistoric animals roaming the earth long before
man was introduced. From the fossil remains of these animals,
considerable evidence of disease of various kinds.
Chronic osteomyelitis and osteoarthritis
of the spine left its traces on the skeleton of a Permian reptile,
Dimetrodon, usually dated some 240 million years ago [H. Zinsser,
Rats, Mice and History, Little and Brown, Boston, 1935;
and more recently, Gy. Acsadi and J. Nemeskeri, History of
Human Life Span and Mortality, Akademiai Kiado, Budapest,
1970, p.180]. In the same geological era, primitive fishes showed
signs of dental caries! [G. G. MacCurdy, Human Origins,
Appleton, New York, vol.2, 1924]. A Jurassic crocodile with a
diseased pelvis was found, according to Zimsser. And according
to R. Hare (Pomp and Pestilence: Infectious Disease, Its Origin
and Consequent, Gollanz, London, 1954), micro-organisms causing
dangerous communicable disease -- such as the staphylococci of
the skin, streptococci of the throat, and certain coliform organisms
in the intestines that produce inflammation of the tissues when
becoming numerous -- are older than man.
served for their healing
(Revelation 22:2) and would evidently have restored their original
state of deathlessness (Genesis 3:22). But after they had sinned
and the poison of death had been introduced into their bodies
through the eating of a forbidden fruit, it was God's merciful
provision to drive them from the Garden of Eden, lest they should
succeed in reaching the Tree of Life again. He set an angel to
keep the way to the
Tree of Life, an angel whose sword could never be escaped, since
it turned every way (Genesis 3:24). God
made sure that such deathlessness could never be recovered so
long as man remained a sinner.
The angel guarded specifically
the way to the Tree of Life! The wording of Genesis 3:22 is striking:
the Lord said, Behold the man is become as one of Us, to know
good and evil; now lest he put forth his hand, and take also
of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever . . . ." Thus
ends the sentence. It is unfinished. The consequences of reaching
the Tree of Life would have been a life of sin prolonged unendingly
into an eternity too terrible to contemplate. So God drove out
the man and the woman and appointed thenceforth that every man
must die. The penalty of death becomes a liberation which is
An editorial comment appeared in
a popular magazine which suggested that death is not altogether
a curse after all for man. It read as follows:
Our eye was caught last month
by two adjacent news items that seemed to dovetail neatly. One
quoted an eminent scientist who said that the time might easily
come when medical advances would make it possible for human beings
to live forever. The other reported the formation recently of
the Toronto Memorial Society, aimed at ending "morbid, barbaric"
funeral rites and at reducing "the high cost of dying".
With all respect to the eminent scientist, we hope his prophecy
proves wrong. The advantages of living forever, we suspect, are
almost wholly illusory. We personally are committed to nature's
ancient and wise system of cycles in which the new continues
to replace the old at regular intervals; we have no wish, really,
to run on century after century like a stuck record or a play
without a final act, repeating past follies and renewing stale
triumphs to the boredom of ourselves and others. No, there are
many worse fates than death.
is something within us that makes it easier for us to do wrong
than to do right. This is "the
law of sin" (Romans 7:23). This is what a fallen nature
means. So life becomes increasingly a failure to achieve past
ideals, a series of defeats which discourage us and render us
critical of any idealism remaining in others.
Life is a downhill process, and the longer we live the further
down we tend to go, until we are tired -- and ready to die. Long
life holds promise in youth but seldom in old age, even for the
child of God. It was not that
Paul was an unusually
sinful man that made him long to go "home," but rather
the persistence of sin as it expressed itself in a million daily
saddening ways in little things -- in his own life, and in the
world about him. The very best of men may grow most wearied because
of their very desire to be something other than they are.
It is only in the goodness of God
that we hate this thing which defeats our aspiration for righteousness.
When a man is born again, he is a new creation in that the law
of sin is broken and there is a new tendency, a tendency to goodness
rather than to its opposite. It becomes more truly "natural"
to do the right thing than to do the wrong. But few would be
rash enough to argue that a man is ever free from the struggle
The conflict remains, the old nature against the new, and in
the conflict the final victory comes only when we pass on. Even
for the saints, death comes as a release.
What if death never came! How terrible
to be condemned to such a struggle for all eternity. How merciful
a provision physical death becomes when viewed in this light.
Dr. E. O. James mentions this concept of death being a blessing
among some African people -- and considers it a remarkable insight.
(3) Yes, death
was imposed as a judgment, but what a merciful one!
But there were other far-reaching
consequences which resulted from this one act of disobedience.
Genesis 3:17 tells that the ground was to be cursed because of
man's Fall, it would be hard to cultivate, it would render its
fruits disappointingly, and it would bring forth thorns and thistles.
In what way can these results possibly be traced back to man's
In the Garden of Eden, lacking
mechanical aids, Adam and Eve would have to do most of the work
on their knees. They were told to dress it and keep it (Genesis
2:15). This implies that there was a certain danger of an "undressed"
earth and an "unkept" domain. We still speak of "keeping"
a garden. It seems that, having placed man here God intended
that this should be his proper habitat. In multiplying and filling
the earth, he was not merely to spill out over the boundaries
of the Garden, but to expand the Garden as he himself expanded.
The whole world was to become an Eden.
Moreover, this task, though not
being physically burdensome to unfallen Adam, presumably would
be a sufficient challenge to require self-discipline and would
therefore prove perhaps the prime agency in the
building of character, the conversion of innocence into virtue.
By experience, by the things he learned, he
3. James, E. O., reviewing "The Origin
of Death: Studies in African Mythology" in Man, September
was to mature, to discover
the difference between good and evil, learning to abhor the evil
and growing in stature and wisdom, as the Last Adam (Jesus) showed
that man could do. He might have passed through this period of
training and growth as the Last Adam did. That a person is not
yet mature and has yet to learn many things is not an evidence
of sinfulness. The Lord Jesus was holy as a child (Luke 1:35),
but could still grow to be a sinless boy, and then a sinless
man. His experience made Him mature, not more holy. In Hebrews
2:10 "perfect" means "mature." Once made
"perfect" in this sense by the things he had experienced,
Adam would have been ready, not for death, but for transformation
into a higher plane of life, a new kind of existence. Even yet,
we shall not all die, but we shall all be transformed
(I Corinthians 15:51).
On the Mount of Transfiguration,
Jesus Christ had reached this divinely appointed state. He might
have gone on into glory, transformed, never seeing death. Had
he not sinned, Adam likewise would have passed into glory, never
seeing death. And as with Adam, so might it have been with Eve
-- and each succeeding generation. Death intruded, because
So now, outside
the Garden, a weary Adam turned his hands to till the earth.
Very soon, he found there
were short cuts. It was easier to burn off the trees and cultivate
a small patch till it was exhausted -- then desert it. And in
time he began to create deserts. Undressed and unguarded, the
earth became naked and unfruitful. Deserts grew where none had
been before. Their chief restraint came to be that God now "clothes"
the nakedness of the earth (Matthew 6:30) sufficiently to prevent
the complete breakdown of the economy of
nature: once such wounds have reached a certain size, it seems
they grow by leaps and bounds, and nature unaided has not the
power to halt their progress. Sooner or later, such areas would
have covered the habitable parts of the earth.
The extent to which man is responsible
for such widespread desiccation is very great and seems to have
arisen quite directly from his lack of energy. Adopting the easiest
course to extract the maximum wealth from the soil with the least
effort and in the shortest time, he has quite literally "plundered
Can it really be that man created
deserts? Andrew Ivy wrote: (4)
4. Ivy, Andrew, "Medical Research: Operation
Humanity" in Scientific American, February, 1949,
and depletion caused the transformation of garden spots into
deserts in Greece, Syria, northern Italy, Africa, Mesopotamia
and the Uplands of China; we hear of dust storms in the Volga
Valley, in South Africa, Australia and the United States, the
bread-baskets of the world.
has observed: (5)
Buttrick has shown that the
lack of adequate regulation of grazing has resulted in "the
treeless countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, the Moorlands
of Scotland and England and the poverty and desolation
of Spain. . . . "
Recently a series of dust clouds
swept over half the United States. According to Forest Science
these originated largely on over-grazed semi-arid lands and former
cattle ranges plowed for wheat near the east side of the Rockies.
. . It is not a question, as some
stockmen mistakenly think, of the country getting drier and the
vegetation disappearing. Over-grazing does more than remove valuable
forage; indeed it tends to alter many important environmental
There are deserts
in some parts of the world which cannot be attributed to man
in this sense, as far as we know. This seems to be true, for
example, of the Australian desert and perhaps the deserts of
Central America. Yet we do not really know to what extent the
upset of one local environment sets up a chain reaction over
extended areas, bringing climatic and other changes in places
where man has not yet laid his heavy hand.
It has been said sometimes that
all deserts are "since man" and that geology supplies
us with no desert
plants in fossil form, as though they did not exist in prehistoric
times. But this apparently is not true.
It may be that in the economy of
nature God sees fit to leave some uncovered ground for reasons
are not clear to us. The fact remains, however, that those areas
where man penetrated in early times and which proved to be most
fertile have largely been turned into desert as a consequence
of his abuse of the soil. Some climatic changes have taken place
as the polar ice has retreated, but it does not seem that this
is sufficient to account for the major deserts. Thus E. W. Bovill,
writing on the Sahara, while admitting the possibility of a climatic
change being in part responsible, remarks nevertheless: (6)
5. Taylor, W., "Man and Nature--A Contemporary
Review," in Scientific Monthly, October, 1935.
6. Bovill, E. W., "The Sahara" in Antiquity,
December, 1929, p.414 following
greater part of the Sahara has reached the extreme limit of aridity, it is rather to its outer fringes, where desert
conditions give way to steppe, that we naturally look for signs
of progressive desiccation. In Barbary the problem has been closely
studied by Gsell, the greatest authority on the history of North
Africa. Exhaustive research has convinced him that [climatic]
conditions have changed little since the Roman period. Purely
local changes caused by earth movements and other factors are
admitted but do not alter the main argument. Throughout Barbary,
stories of failing wells and shrunken springs are common enough.
In nearly every case it is due to neglect by the natives. . .
The world has few more impressive
monuments to offer than the vast amphitheater of El Djem, built
to seat 60,000 spectators but today a ruin set amid utter desolation
excepting a few Arab hovels clustering at its foot which serve
to emphasize its degradation. Or Timgad, lying like a bleached
skeleton stretched on an arid plain, its deserted streets bordered
by channels which we know once flowed continually with water.
These and countless other ruins lie scattered over an inhospitable
land which once was called the Granary of Rome. . . .
The desiccation of the Western
Sudan is not itself wholly natural. The incalculable harm which
is being wrought throughout tropical Africa by the shifting cultivator
is now widely recognized. The African farmer has little knowledge
of crop rotation or manuring. He cultivates his land to exhaustion
and then with fire and steel makes a fresh clearing in the surrounding
bush or forest. In 1924 the Governor of Nigeria declared that
"the necessity for protecting the people from their own
improvidence, which if left unchecked will inflict untold calamity
upon posterity, is as urgent as ever . . . literally thousands
of square miles of forest have disappeared since the War broke
out." Agreement has never been reached regarding the extent
to which forest affects climate. It is however the common experience
of man that trees conserve moisture and that the destruction
of forest impoverishes the soil and causes increased aridity.
. . .
Man, who is but a secondary cause
of desiccation in the Sudan, must be held primarily responsible
for the continued activity of the same process in the Sahara.
We know now
that the Sahara is still growing, reaching further and further
south, advancing some years at a frightening pace. Whole tribes
are displaced and crowded down toward the south into borderline
areas already showing signs of being over-exploited. And the
added burden of hungry mouths to feed by native farming techniques
which ruin the land is literally causing millions to starve and
only accelerating the growth of the already tremendous wound
across the face of a once-fertile land.
In the New World, the rate of desiccation
has been just as serious. In 1940 it was reported from Washington
by H. H. Bennett, chief of the Soil Conservation Service, that
soil erosion was then costing U.S. farmers at least $400,000,000
a year. At the then average value of $50 an acre, that means
that 8,000,000 acres were being washed and blown away each year.
W. C. Lowdermilk wrote in an article: (7)
The History of Civilizations is a
record of struggles against the progressive desiccation of civilized
lands. The more ancient the civilization, the drier and more
wasted, usually, is the supporting country. In fact, so devastating
seems the occupation of man that, with a few striking exceptions,
a desert or near desert condition is often associated with his
long habitation of a region.
Two major factors are believed
to account for the growth of man-made deserts. In the first place,
semi-arid to semi-humid regions proved the most favourable sites
for the early development of human culture. Such areas, however,
stand in a condition of delicate ecological balance between humid
and true desert climates. Comparatively slight disturbances of
the cover of vegetation and soils, such as are brought about
by human occupation for grazing and cultivation, are sufficient
to extend the borders of the desert far beyond the natural true
desert into more humid climates.
Recently the archaeologists have
turned back the pages of history, not merely centuries, but thousands
of years, and their postmortems on buried civilizations suggest
that it has been the hand of man, more than climatic change,
which has reduced once rich and populous regions to desolation
and poverty. After a long struggle, a civilization either died
or its people migrated to more productive regions. Many ancient
civilizations, once revelling in a golden age of prosperity,
are crumbling in ruins or lie buried in sands and debris largely
caused by the destructive treatment of the lands on which they
were dependent for sustenance.
According to archaeologists the
Sahara, the Central Asian deserts, the arid parts of Palestine,
Mesopotamia, and the Gobi and North China were once teeming with
human life, and the traditions of peoples descended from ancient
cultures tell of immigration to their present habitation from
what are now the desert regions of Central Asia. The origin of
the European peoples was in the East. The Hindus came from the
North, and the Chinese from the West. Yet this land from which
they came is today an immense desert where only very limited
regions are still able to nourish the scanty population. Sir
Aural Stein's discoveries of sand-buried Chinese Turkestan reveal
numerous towns a square mile or more in size, in a region now
depopulated. There were ruins of cities, castles, aqueducts,
reservoirs, and all the other evidences of lost cultures of vanished
populations. Gibbon declared that 500 cities once flourished
in what are now the dry depopulated plains of Asia Minor. . .
The peninsula of Arabia contained
an enormous population called Sea-Land, which at times annoyed
Babylon from B.C. 2500 to 616. Now, a few fierce nomadic Bedouins,
the remnants of former cultures, fight for existence over every
drop of water and every sign of vegetation. The great Sahara
Desert has recently revealed monuments, ruins of cities, temples,
implements and unearthed cut trees. Champollion, the famous Egyptologist,
said of it, ". . . and so the astonishing fact dawns upon
us that this desert once was a region of groves and foundations
7. Lowdermilk, W. C., "Man-made Deserts"
in Pacific Affairs, VIII, Institute of Pacific Relations,
abode of happy millions." The very
gradual climatic changes due to the present age of retreating
ice do not appear sufficient to account for the excessively rapid
desiccation of the vast areas known to have sustained at one
time enormous populations. Man has written the record of encroaching
When Zenobia was overthrown by
the Romans under Aurelian, its capital, Palmyra or Tadmor, was
the metropolis of a mighty empire. Now the sands of the Syrian
desert almost hide the ruins of that stupendous city of marble
and gold. As late as the rise of Mohamed, Tripoli on the northern
coast of Africa had a population of six million. It was then
clothed with vineyards, orchards and forests. It is now bare
of vegetation. The streams are dried up, and the population reduced
to about forty-five thousand.
And archaeologists claim now to
have discovered, under shifting sands, the capital of the rich
kingdom of the Queen of Sheba.
To the United States, doubtless,
goes the speed record in time and extent for man-made deserts.
The dust storms of the old world, long occupied by man, have
appeared in the new world and for the same reasons. . . .
It seems clear that man and his
animals may extend the desert conditions by processes of man-induced
desiccation into regions formerly capable of supporting large
populations. Climate does change, but not at the comparatively
rapid rate of the decadence of vast areas of habitable regions.
As Duncan Stuart
has pointed out, farm crops divide themselves into soil-depleting
on the one hand (e.g., wheat, oats and barley) and soil-preserving
on the other hand (e.g., peas, beans, alfalfa, clover and vetches).
(8) The former
are more readily adopted for cultivation because the immediate
returns are far greater relative to
the labour involved. The tendency is to strip the earth of its
covering and create deserts. The latter involve
more labour but, completing the circle of thought, their cultivation
tends to clothe the earth and dress it and thereby to extend
the Garden that God originally planned.
Now desert conditions produce a
plant life that has a character of its own. Everyone is familiar
enough with the various forms of cactus. These strange plants
are in one way or another "thorny." Thorns are a symbol
in Genesis 3:18 of an earth cursed because of man, cursed because
improperly dressed and tended, cursed by open wounds and nakedness,
cursed by erosion and desert. This is reflected in Isaiah 34:13,
14: "And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and
brambles in the fortresses thereof. . . . The wild beasts
of the desert shall also meet there with hyenas. . . ."
J. H. Balfour is quoted by Pember
as having remarked: (9)
8. Stuart, Duncan, The Canadian Desert,
Ryerson, Toronto, 1938, pp.12-13.
9. Pember, G. H., Earth's Earliest Ages, Hodder and Stoughton,
London, 1901, p.153.
is in all plants a tendency to a spiral arrangement of leaves
and branches, etc., but we rarely see this carried out fully,
in consequence of numerous interruptions to growth and abnormalities
in development. When branches are arrested in growth they often
appear in the form of thorns or spines, and thus thorns may be
taken as an indication of an imperfection in the branch. . .
. That thorns are abortive branches is well seen in cases
where, by cultivation, they may disappear. In such cases they
are transformed into branches. The wild apple is a thorny plant,
but on cultivation it is not so.
appear in the judgment. So Balfour observes: (10)
Thistles are troublesome and
injurious in consequence of the pappus and hairs appended to
their fruit, which waft it about in all directions and injure
the work of man, so far as agricultural operations are concerned.
Now it is interesting to remark that this pappus is shown to
be an abortive state of the calyx, which is not developed as
in ordinary instances, but becomes changed into hairs. Here,
then, we see an alteration in the calyx which makes the thistle
a source of labour and trouble to man.
observes regarding nettles: (11)
It is a remarkable circumstance
that whenever man cultivates nature, and then abandons her to
her own unaided energies, the result is far worse than if he
had never attempted to improve her at all. There are no such
thorns found in a state of nature as those produced by the ground
which man once has tilled, but has now deserted. In the waste
clearings amidst the fern brakes of New Zealand, and in the primeval
forests of Canada, thorns may now be seen which were unknown
before. The nettle and the thistle follow man wherever he goes,
and remain as perpetual witnesses of his presence, even though
he departs; around the cold hearthstone of the ruined Shieling
on the Highland moor and on the threshold of the crumbling log-hut
in the Australian bush, those social plants may be seen growing,
forming a singular contrast to the vegetation around them.
Yet there is
the promise that the desert shall yet blossom as a rose (Isaiah
35:1). That a desert could become once more a garden seems hard
to believe. But there have been occasions when the promise has
been fulfilled momentarily as though to give us an earnest of
the future reality. In November 1948, a Toronto newspaper reported:
Thousands of cattle and sheep
have grazed this year on a desert -- the great Kalahari Desert
which covers thousands of square miles in Southwest Africa and
Bechuanaland, Windhoek reports. Following unusually heavy rains,
the boulder-strewn waste of sand suddenly sprouted many kinds
of grass and plants. Geologists say this desert once was a vast
inland sea and its miraculous fertility this year has revived
an old plan to pump water from the Orange River into the salt
pans of the desert, enabling farmers to plant lucerne, wheat,
oats and millet.
10. Ibid., p.154.
11. McMillan, Hugh, The Ministry of Nature, Macmillan,
London, 1871, p.25.
consequences of these desert areas are serious, not merely to
man in the light of his future survival, but even to animals.
There are examples of some animals having
become carnivorous and most cruel, which were previously herbivorous
and comparatively gentle, and others becoming locally extinct,
contributing to the disruption by forcing animals to prey upon
each other "unnaturally". Eugene Marais has pointed
out how some animals are becoming ferocious and cruel as a result
of desert conditions. Thus until about 1860 the wild baboons
in Africa fed upon insects and roots. But with the rapid drying
up of the Continent, due to man's bad management, they were forced
to look for liquid to drink and started attacking goats, killing
them cruelly just to suck the milk from their udders. Then they
started attacking all kinds of domestic animals and eating them
for food -- and the unnatural habit has spread widely over the
As S. Zuckerman pointed out, however, apes and monkeys are by
nature predominantly, if not entirely, vegetarian and do not
normally attack other animals to eat their flesh. (13)
Other similar primates are now
proving to be occasionally carnivorous. The chimpanzee, which
was once considered to be essentially vegetarian, though with
some insects to round off its diet and perhaps supply its protein,
is now found to be occasionally killing its own kind for food
and is thus becoming cannibalistic. (14)
Whether this has always been the
case or has been the case at least as long as man has observed
their behaviour or is a recent change in dietary habit is not
known. But in view of the fact that the primates as a
whole seem to be vegetarian by nature, it is quite possible that
the disturbance of their natural habitat by man has been the
decisive factor here also.
12. Marais, Eugene, My Friends the Baboons,
Methuen, New York, 1939, p.1.
of 30 (Continues...)
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
Previous Chapter Chapter 1 - B
13. Zuckerman, S., "The Influence of Hormones on Man's Social
Evolution" in Endeavor, April, 1944, p.80.
14. Tdeki, Gexa, "The Omnivorous Chimpanzee" in Scientific
American, January, 1973, pp.33 following.