A Kangaroo Court in the Garden of Eden

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.


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7 responses to “A Kangaroo Court in the Garden of Eden”

  1. kristarella Avatar

    I think you’re work­ing under a false assump­tion that they did­n’t under­stand it was wrong and that all things are neu­tra to them. They under­stood that God was good and had giv­en them every­thing, but told them not to eat of the tree: Eve says as much to the ser­pent. From then on the ser­pent lies, but it’s con­vinc­ing because it sounds like the truth. They do not become like God “know­ing the dif­fer­ence” between good and evil, they will come to expe­ri­ence good and evil. I.e., they will gain a work­ing knowl­edge of good and evil.
    Is God unfair in his pun­ish­ment? No! He told them what would hap­pen if they ate of that fruit: they would sure­ly die. He does­n’t describe how that will hap­pen, but then we find out that they are cut off from the tree of life and from walk­ing with their life-giv­ing creator

    1. Rick Beckman Avatar

      You seem to be work­ing on the assump­tion that Adam & Eve knew what good & evil were. Oth­er­wise, they would­n’t have known God was good. And if they did know God was good and that his com­mands are good, what spe­cif­ic “knowl­edge of good” were they lack­ing? What was the pur­pose of the tree at all rather than to be the MacGuf­fin that sets off a most ridicu­lous mythol­o­gy: God basi­cal­ly sets Adam & Eve up to fall, even­tu­al­ly killing him­self to save them from himself.

      (“Over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion” per­haps, but i know the Bible well enough to know it’s an accu­rate simplification.)

      1. kristarella Avatar

        Yes, per­haps it is an assump­tion that they knew God is good (one that is prob­a­bly based on my per­cep­tion that they knew God made them and gave them every­thing they have, and we’re told his whole cre­ation was very good). But I don’t think it is an assump­tion to say that they did­n’t know what sin was, or what was wrong, since sin is to dis­obey God and they knew what he told them not to do, and knew what he said the con­se­quences would be. God said what would hap­pen, they chose to do it any­way, and God fol­lowed through with punishment.

        The pur­pose of the tree is a com­mon ques­tion, and not an easy one to answer (because ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?’) but I’m not sure it’s worth dis­cussing if you con­sid­er the whole thing a ridicu­lous mythology.

        1. Rick Beckman Avatar

          If they already knew what was good (e.g, God, obe­di­ence, all of cre­ation) and evil (e.g., dis­obe­di­ence, sin, the ser­pent), then it seems a stretch to imag­ine that the Tree of the Knowl­edge of Good & Evil meant any­thing at all.

          After all, when they ate it, the result was an under­stand­ing of, well, sin (man­i­fest in their cov­er­ing their nakedness).

          But you say that they already under­stood sin? How could that pos­si­bly be?

          I’ve noticed that most teach­ing regard­ing the tree per­tains to the “knowl­edge of evil” bit, and that makes sense, as the Bible focus­es on their naked­ness imme­di­ate­ly after the fact. But what about this whole “knowl­edge of good” thing? Isn’t that what led them to put on clothes? They knew naked­ness was evil, and they also learned that wear­ing clothes was good.

          But would­n’t they have already known what was good if they had such an under­stand­ing of God, obe­di­ence, and all of creation?

          It just does­n’t add up. And if the only way to make it make sense is to say that we can’t explain why it makes sense because the mind of God is so far beyond ours… well, that real­ly isn’t an answer. Human lan­guage is capa­ble of express­ing pret­ty much any­thing, espe­cial­ly if a sup­pos­ed­ly all-wise, all-know­ing mind is author­ing it. That the Bible con­tains so many “mys­ter­ies” that can­not be explained is not at all a strong point for it.

          1. kristarella Avatar

            If they already knew what was good (e.g, God, obe­di­ence, all of cre­ation) and evil (e.g., dis­obe­di­ence, sin, the ser­pent), then it seems a stretch to imag­ine that the Tree of the Knowl­edge of Good & Evil meant any­thing at all.

            That is what I addressed in my ini­tial com­ment. It’s not just know­ing the dif­fer­ence, or know­ing that they exist; it’s an inti­mate knowl­edge, an expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge. The bible uses the con­cept “to know” in that way rea­son­ably often. For exam­ple, it uses “know” for the phys­i­cal union of a man and a wife in sev­er­al places, and also Jesus says to the peo­ple who did works in his name, but nev­er trust­ed him, “I nev­er knew you”. They already had an expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of good because they lived in a world that was very good, but by choos­ing to dis­obey God they come into a deep rela­tion­ship with sin where they are ruled by their desires and deceived into believ­ing that imme­di­ate plea­sures and liv­ing for self are bet­ter than the promis­es of God. And so every­thing that was com­plete­ly good also becomes touched by evil in some way (not that there’s noth­ing good in the world now, but it will be affect­ed by sin in some way or another).

            That the Bible con­tains so many “mys­ter­ies” that can­not be explained is not at all a strong point for it.

            I don’t think the bible does con­tain ter­ri­bly many mys­ter­ies that can’t be explained. It con­tains many mys­ter­ies, but many are explained in the bible itself. There are some things that are not explained in the bible, but are explained by oth­er things in our world (e.g., sci­ence), but that does­n’t dis­prove or exclude the mes­sage that is in the bible because the bible’s pur­pose is to reveal God and his plans for us, not explain the way every sin­gle thing in our world works.
            What I meant in my quote is that I believe we can attempt to answer why God made the tree, and I think we can come up with a pret­ty good hypoth­e­sis of why he made the tree — if we look at God’s char­ac­ter as a whole, as it is revealed in the bible — but we prob­a­bly won’t know if we are 100% cor­rect in that hypoth­e­sis because we don’t know the mind of God.

            1. Rick Beckman Avatar

              I’m still not sure that makes any sense: The tree was the source of expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge? Why cre­ate a tree with expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of good & evil… if expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of good would have been picked up by inter­act­ing with God and expe­ri­en­tial knowl­edge of evil would have come by dis­obey­ing God (and not from the tree directly).

              Either God set Adam & Eve up by cre­at­ing an unnec­es­sary tree, or Adam & Eve did­n’t know the dif­fer­ence between good & evil and thus God, well, also set them up.

              Regard­ing answer­ing Bible dif­fi­cul­ties by appeal­ing to the char­ac­ter of God, i’m too dis­turbed by the char­ac­ter of God to even want to appeal to it to explain any­thing. After all, he is the God who for­bade the eat­ing of shrimp while allow­ing the beat­ing of slaves, who for­bade mixed tex­tiles while allow­ing rapists to mar­ry their vic­tims… Who cre­at­ed a free species, allowed them to sin, con­demned the major­i­ty of them to Hell, all so that he could send him­self to tem­porar­i­ly die to save a frac­tion of a frac­tion of a per­cent­age of believ­ers — believ­ers who are “drawn” to belief, accord­ing to Jesus, accord­ing to the will of God, not man, accord­ing to Paul — all to show forth how much he loves the world…

    2. Rick Beckman Avatar

      Fur­ther, if Adam & Eve were sim­ply accept­ing God as good because he pre­sum­ably said so at some point, despite their being unable to ful­ly com­pre­hend what “good” even was, then that would seem to rein­force what i said above about God want­i­ng sim­ple blind obe­di­ence rather than informed worship.

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Rick Beckman