We’re all familiar with the story: God makes Adam & Eve, places them in a garden, and informs them that they may eat of any tree in the garden, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under penalty of death. Eve happens upon a serpent who convinces her that she would not die if she ate of the tree, which she ultimately does, convincing her husband Adam to do the same. God, of course, discovers this transgression and casts them out of the garden to fend for themselves.
If you can get past the ideas of talking snakes, almighty invisible deities, and the idea that our origins trace back to Adam & Eve, the story seems fine, and millions upon millions of people have accepted it as-is as a story of our first ancestors.
There is, however, a very grave underlying problem with this story which ought to call into question how much we can trust God to be just.
Adam & Eve had no way of knowing that disobeying God was wrong. Think about it: If understanding the difference between right and wrong required partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, how could they be expected to make informed decisions before partaking of the tree?
To Adam & Eve, every choice was neutral. Innocent. Free of either good or evil motivation. To them, the moral conflict informs our decisions didn’t exist. They were free to act, without conscience.
The flip side of not knowing what was evil, was not knowing what was good either. To them, God would have been a neutral entity, no more or less good or evil than anything else our “first parents” would have met…
…including the serpent.
God would have been a neutral entity, no more or less good or evil…
Folks have often wondered how it is Adam & Eve could have been so easily fooled by the serpent, but it actually makes perfect sense. If both the serpent & God were both “neutral” in their eyes, they would have agreed with the one whose “truth” was most appealing, which in their case was the serpent, who offered the freedom to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, without the worry of death.
Ultimately, upon eating of the Tree, Adam & Eve instantly knew the morality of their choices, for which God held them accountable.
Having said all that, we must consider this: Was God just in punishing Adam & Eve for disobeying when they had no way of knowing whether disobeying was even an evil thing?
We can get a good sense of God’s idea of justice from this passage, which has been rightly described as an example of a kangaroo court.
If we are to take the Genesis account seriously, then God is less interested in humanity obeying because it is the right thing to do, and more interested in humanity obeying for the sake of obeying. When obedience is neutral or blind, any command makes sense: don’t eat of a tree, don’t fornicate, don’t mix fabrics, don’t murder… With a conscience — the knowledge of good & evil — it becomes readily apparent which of those behaviors is evil and which are good or otherwise acceptable.
Accepting the Bible account, we can thank our “first parents” for the greatest gift: the knowledge required to make moral decisions, freeing us from the burden of blind obedience.
God is … more interested in humanity obeying for the sake of obeying.
If you believe the Bible’s Genesis account is a factual record of history, then you must decide for yourself whether it was good of God to punish Adam & Eve for their entirely uninformed choices.
I contend that it was unjust of God to punish them, and that if the Bible account is true, God’s actions set himself up as an unfit judge of a free humanity.
Addendum: A common tactic used by apologists to answer this kind of objection is to assume that God explained a lot more “behind the scenes.” However, assumptions can be used to make the Bible mean just about anything; indeed, assumptions form the basis of just about every denomination’s distinctive beliefs. I contend that if the Bible, itself claiming that it is sufficient, cannot stand alone without innumerable fallback assumptions, then we should no longer regard it as an “infallible” text. We should embrace the logical faculties which we are born with, freeing ourselves from superstition which demands the shackling of our thoughts to exterior claims of truth apart from reason.
Addendum 2: If you’ve read this far while still thinking i don’t know what i’m talking about regarding God’s sense of justice, then i invite you to reflect upon the story of Abraham, who, to test his faith, was commanded to sacrifice his son. Any sensible man would have, out of love for his son, refused to even consider obeying such a batshit insane command. However, God doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t care about the morality of his own commands; knowing the difference between good & evil was something he forbade humanity, after all. No, all God cared about was Abraham’s blind obedience.