29 Apr 2019

The Garden of Eden and Original Sin

Religious 11 Comments

Here are two standard critiques of Christianity:

  1. Why does a good God allow evil?
  2. The doctrine of “original sin” is monstrous–how can the actions of Adam and Eve possibly affect the “nature” of their descendants?

The other day an idea popped into my head (I would say God gave it to me but I realize opinions may vary) that seems to solve both problems in a very elegant and satisfying way.

First, let’s review what actually happened in the Garden (Genesis 1: 15):

15 Then the Lord God took [d]the man and put him in the garden of Eden to [e]tend and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you[f] shall surely die.”

Now in the Garden, life was bliss. There was no suffering. Adam and Eve had childlike innocence.

But they wanted to possess the knowledge of good and evil. So they ate of the fruit that bestowed it.

Now–and here’s the part that just occurred to me the other day, even though it’s pretty obvious–suppose that in order for a human to truly understand evil, you have to experience it? And I don’t just mean you have to suffer at the hands of evil, but you have to be in its grip?

Then everything else would follow. God allows evil in the world, and indeed the fundamental nature of humans born since that fateful decision has been in bondage to sin (but still with the remnant of the divine origin).

God would have preferred that this didn’t happen. He explicitly warned them, “If you seek that knowledge, it will kill you.” But they disobeyed Him, they chose the knowledge of good and evil, and so He gave it to them.

Even so, God designed the structure of the universe such that DESPITE their disobedience, He could still achieve humanity’s salvation. So now humans definitely understand evil, but they also have been rescued from it by Jesus.

What’s wrong with this explanation? I realize it seems pretty basic but it almost knocked me over when it first occurred to me.

11 Responses to “The Garden of Eden and Original Sin”

  1. Clayton says:

    Not bad – the big issue I see is that it seems to call into question God’s omniscience. If you must be “in evil’s grip” in order to know it, then how does God know it? Does God not know evil, despite the serpent saying “eat this and you will be like God”? But if he does, how does he know it without being in its grip?

    I think this issue can be resolved – it’s mostly a quibble, I just wouldn’t put it so directly as to say in order to know evil, you must be “in its grip”. There is something to be said about “experiential knowledge”. That is made clear to me in the Incarnation, where it seems important that Christ lived, suffered and died in our human body so that we could relate to him better. I would say that to know evil is to be tempted by it, and God knew that we were too weak. That if we were confronted with evil, it would overcome us, and we would become its slave, becoming sinful and evil ourselves. As to the second point, evil is not fair – it will not free the son and keep the father – evil gained control of all of humanity after Adam’s sin, and it will not let go willingly. It was from this bondage, this oppression – a force too strong for us to overcome – that Christ has freed us.

  2. GG says:

    One problem is that God per se does not have passions and does not suffer evil. Therefore according to your construction he could not understand suffering. But God is omniscient.

  3. Steve Maughan says:

    Interesting – very interesting. I haven’t come across this idea before.

  4. Harold says:

    ” He explicitly warned them, “If you seek that knowledge, it will kill you.” But they disobeyed Him,”
    But God knew they would choose the knowledge, yet he set it up that way anyway. Is this just a variant of the idea that there is evil because there simply has to be?

  5. Tel says:

    Now in the Garden, life was bliss. There was no suffering. Adam and Eve had childlike innocence.

    But they wanted to possess the knowledge of good and evil. So they ate of the fruit that bestowed it.

    The implication is that you are only doing an evil act if you KNOW this action is evil. Thus, the action itself is not intrinsically and objectively evil … it only becomes evil in the context of knowledge. This would appear that the Bible therefore contradicts the notion of any sort of absolute moral law.

    But it gets worse … how could Adam and Even have know whether it was a good or bad thing to obey God? Without knowledge of good and evil, God’s suggestion is much on a par with anyone else’s suggestion. Anyway, they got kicked out of their home not by their own actions but by God’s reaction to being disobeyed … a reaction that seems weird when you consider that Adam and Eve literally had no idea what they were doing.

    But now, you might say, “They were warned!” but without knowledge of good and evil, what’s a warning? It’s about the same as if I put a fish on the floor and say to the cat, “I’m warning you! Don’t eat this, or you I will surely kick your backside.” Of course the cat’s going to eat it … the cat has no idea what I’m talking about.

    • Jim WK says:

      Maybe, Tel, but not necessarily. What you’re describing is the problem of the criterion – we define something as, say, knowledge or as morally good, but to know whether those definitions are justified we need an already present criterion to distinguish between genuine knowledge and not-knowledge and moral goodness and moral badness.

      But when God says to Adam and Eve “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” – could this be a story about God is introducing humans to morality? Suppose they had no knowledge of good or evil prior to that point, and wouldn’t have known that, say, theft or murder are wrong. That being the case, the only thing they can learn from God’s warning is that if they eat from the tree they will die. Even if they had no idea of morality, they would know from God’s instruction that dying is worse than not dying, so is that perhaps a story about the realisation of a first value judgement? Maybe once they have an awareness of what a value judgement is, they discover the capacity for moral awareness.

      • Tel says:

        … could this be a story about God is introducing humans to morality?

        Yes, in which case it was God who imparted knowledge of good and evil to the first humans, presumably intentionally. They already had the idea of right and wrong before they took the fruit, in order to know they were not supposed to take the fruit.

        Even if they had no idea of morality, they would know from God’s instruction that dying is worse than not dying, so is that perhaps a story about the realisation of a first value judgement?

        A value judgement that God imposed on them. There’s no suggestion that they logically deduced this conclusion for themselves, or even that they were capable of logical deduction.

        You have a fundamental bootstrapping problem here … supposedly at one stage there was no Earthly knowledge of good and evil at all … the concept simply did not exist. Therefore it’s impossible for any Earthly being to have evil intent.

        In order for such knowledge to come into the world, where did it come from? It cannot come from the world itself because it wasn’t there to being with.

        The Biblical Garden of Eden story attempts to make this fruit both chicken and egg at the same time … the source of the knowledge, and also the product of evil intent defying the will of God. Causality runs both forwards and backwards in this story.

  6. Rupert M Skipper says:

    OK…now the absolute truth (believe it or not). Adam and Eve did not commit an evil act. Eve was deceived, and Adam made a calculated decision to partake. Adam and Eve were told at least two things to do: one was to not partake of the fruit of that tree and the other was to multiply and replenish the earth. Adam knew that if Eve were cast out, they would never be able to populate the earth. I think he also knew that they could only reproduce if they had taken the seeds of mortality into their bodies (by partaking of the fruit). Note that they had to be put out of the Garden because they were not allowed to partake of the tree of life. If they did they would be immortalized in this “fallen” state and would never be able to bear children. Lucifer, being cast out of the pre-existence, along with 1/3 of the “host of heaven” are serving their intended purpose on earth (even though they were condemned to never possess an earthly body) of tempting man. Thus, our purpose in life is to “prove ourselves worthy” by keeping the commandments (and exercising our God-given free-agency) the best we can with our Savior covering our imperfect abilities in an earthly body (providing we do certain things). The ultimate reward after death: to live worthy enough to return to live with our Father in Heaven and Christ, in the mansions of heaven. This is not speculation. It is the truth….believe it or not.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Hi Mr. Skipper,

      You said: “Adam and Eve did not commit an evil act.”

      Do you mean, “They didn’t sin”? Or are you saying “commit an evil act” is something more serious than merely disobeying God?

    • Mark says:

      This is all Mormon baloney – horrible doctrine and theology and none of it is true.

    • Harold says:

      “Adam and Eve were told at least two things to do: one was to not partake of the fruit of that tree and the other was to multiply and replenish the earth.”

      This is an interesting point. What would have happened if they had not tasted the forbidden fruit? They would not die, could they have children? How would earth have panned out?

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