When did the first flowers appear? Well, it depends on whom you ask and when you ask them. Some scientists used to believe flowers (angiosperms) first appeared about 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous. But that changed as new evidence was discovered, and then it was believed that flowers appeared about 130 MYA, then 160 MYA, and now it’s believed they first appeared more than 174 MYA in the early Jurassic. That’s nearly a 50 million-year difference!
One might logically ask, “Why do scientists keep getting it wrong, why does science keep changing, and when will scientists finally get it right?” Actually, these are loaded questions, but they get to the root of some misconceptions.
Part of the problem is that science is performed by scientists, and scientists are people… fallible human beings, just like everyone else. There’s nothing magical about being a scientist; they’re not deities. But they’re often placed on pedestals, their interpretations are rarely questioned by the public, and their conclusions are revered as established fact. But why?
Before answering that, consider that not all scientists agree with the mainstream consensus. Believe it or not, religious views shape how all scientists view the past, especially when it comes to origins. Secular scientists, for example, interpret the evidence according to a naturalistic and secular worldview (not surprising), as if God weren’t involved at all. Creationist scientists, on the other hand, interpret the evidence according to a Biblical worldview, believing God created the heavens and Earth in six days. According to Genesis 1:11-12, flowers have existed since the beginning of creation:
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
So, we have competing worldviews, and the secular worldview is the dominant way of thinking, inferring that all origins are the result of naturalistic processes rather than special creation. But if secular scientists keep changing their story about the past and can’t provide a credible account, isn’t it reasonable to question if their starting assumptions are correct? I certainly think so.
And I think this article on flowering plants can help dispel some fallacies, such as an appeal to authority. Once we realize that any particular conclusion by a scientist is based on an interpretation of incomplete evidence, then we can have a better understanding of how those conclusions change over time. The evidence doesn’t change… just the interpretation.
The evidence, in this case, is based mostly on fossils, and those fossils are assumed to be millions of years old based on unprovable assumptions about the past. Scientists used to believe flowering plants first appeared about 125 million years ago because they hadn’t found older fossils, so it became settled science. But since we can’t observe the past, no one could confirm that incorrect conclusion and overturn it… at least not until new fossil evidence was discovered. And with new fossil evidence comes a new interpretation, and the appearance of flowers was pushed back, back, back, to nearly 50 million years. Keep in mind, however, that dates for origins fluctuate back and forth as they’re disputed among scientists before being agreed upon.
What can we learn from this? I’d suggest we can logically conclude that scientists can’t accurately tell us what happened in the past, and we’d be right to question their conclusions. They can observe a fossilized plant and describe it, but they can’t tell us its origin. And that’s why I can predict with confidence that future evidence will push flowering plants back further and further.
True science is what happens as a result of implementing the scientific method, which is based on observation and experimentation. But, unfortunately, no one is able to observe the past (ie, Big Bang, the formation of the Earth, abiogenesis or evolution), and it’s certainly not repeatable.
This is why established dates accepted by the consensus of scientists are constantly changing. It’s why the existence of flowering plants have been pushed back more than 50 million years.
In contrast, creation scientists accept the Biblical timeline of our origins, and that hasn’t changed. Flowering plants appeared on day three of creation, and man appeared three days later and was eating the fruit. If the Bible is true, then the scientists who tell us that flowering plants appeared 125 to 175 million years will continue to find evidence to push that timeline back, and that’s exactly what has happened, and will continue to happen. That should be expected.
It’s also interesting that scientists admit that the origin of flowering plants are a mystery, popping up ‘out of nowhere’. According to Dr. Qiang Fu, “Researchers were not certain where and how flowers came into existence because it seems that many flowers just popped up in the Cretaceous from nowhere.” Professor Xin Wang concurs: ““The origin of angiosperms has long been an academic ‘headache’ for many botanists.”
For creation scientists, this makes perfect sense because these plants did pop up into existence at the beginning of creation.