Saturday, June 08, 2013

the tree of knowledge of good and evil

This post was prompted by a comment on this tremendous video by Andrew Klavan and Bill Whittle.

The Fall is the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This story has often been criticized on the grounds that God condemned all of Adam's descendents for Adam's actions, and that is no longer considered just in Christian-influenced countries.

But I don't think that is really what the story means. The Tree gave Adam and Eve a conscience, a knowledge of good and evil (hence the name of the tree). This implies that before they ate of the tree, they did not have a conscience and therefore, like animals, they were not capable of moral choices. They were like animals doing whatever they pleased and doing no evil. Dogs attack other animals, fornicate in public, take what doesn't belong to them, and sniff the genitals of strangers without permission, yet we do not condemn them as immoral for doing these things because they are animals. They do not understand right and wrong.

If Adam and Eve were without a conscience before eating of the Tree, then this implies that eating of the tree was not morally wrong and so not something that they or anyone else could be condemned for. Eating of the tree should be compared, not to a morally wrong act, but to an act of poor judgement with catastrophic consequences like a dog dying after stealing your chocolate bar. Stealing the chocolate wasn't morally wrong, but it was a serious mistake. Similarly, for Adam and Eve, eating the fruit was not morally wrong but was (from one point of view) a serious mistake because it left humans and all of their descendents capable of guilt, of suffering and of fearing death.

Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were in Paradise like a dog is in Paradise, because they lived in the moment, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and not thinking about what they could not have. After the fall, when God tells them of the consequences, it seems that he is saying that all of creation has changed, but instead he may simply be telling them how their perceptions have changed.

So when someone says that we are condemned through Adam's action, it doesn't mean that a judicial decision was made by God that he would punish all of us for what Adam did. It means that because of Adam's action, we are all have a conscience and have to suffer the consequences of that. It is as if Adam had taken a poison that spread a genetic disease to all of his descendents.