Re: tree of knowledge of good and evil and theology

From: <>
Date: Mon Sep 12 2005 - 19:08:11 EDT

In a message dated 9/12/2005 2:57:45 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:
Hello all, here is a question that has arose in my mind. In Genesis of course
we are all confronted by the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" and of
course this lends its self to some form of interpretation. So having said this, I
have noticed that there are infact several interpretations of this out there.
One of which is the following:

1. Morality. By eating from the tree of knowledge, humanity chose to
discriminate between what is good and what is bad on the basis of their own judgment,
rather than by automatically accepting God's definition. By acting on their
own, the couple irrevocably separated themselves from God, and their
relationship to God was forever changed.
    2. Knowledge. The Hebrew phrase "good and evil" can sometimes designate
the totality of knowledge (see Deuteronomy 1:39 and 2 Samuel 19:35). Eating the
fruit of that tree was an act of human pride, an attempt to know everything
God knows. God would not tolerate any such challenge to his preeminence, and
expelled the original couple from the garden lest they also eat from the tree of
life and become invulnerable.
    3. Sexuality. The story in Genesis 2-3 deals quite a bit with sexual
matters. The couple is naked and not ashamed. Later they experience shame because
of their nakedness. Even the serpent has been interpreted by psychoanalysts as
a sexual symbol. The Hebrew term for "knowledge" can have sexual
associations, as in Genesis 4:1, where "Adam knew Eve," which is clearly a euphemism for
sexual intercourse. The sexual interpretation suggests that coming to
knowledge, symbolized by eating the forbidden fruit, signifies the passage from
childhood through puberty to adulthood. Sexual experience involves the pain and
alienation of coming to know oneself and the other in new ways. Discovering the
sexual impulse means one cannot go back to the state of innocence ever again.
    All three interpretations have hints of truth in them. Yet the big
affront to Yahweh seems to be humanity's desire to become like gods, to be
independent, self-sufficient entities. By focusing on this dimension, perhaps the first
interpretation contains the most truth. By their act of self-determination,
the original couple expressed their intent to live by their own authority, not
by God's. They tried to seize what could only be divinely granted. God would
not abide this direct challenge. He expelled them and denied them access to
perpetual life, symbolized by the tree of life.

This came from the following website:

I am just curious about perspectives on how this relates to the scientific
disipline. John Wesley interpretted the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" to
basically be a choice that man could make. In his notes he said the following:

"There was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - So called, not
because it had any virtue to beget useful knowledge, but because there was an
express revelation of the will of God concerning this tree, so that by it he might
know good and evil. What is good? It is good not to eat of this tree: what is
evil? To eat of this tree. The distinction between all other moral good and
evil was written in the heart of man; but this, which resulted from a positive
law, was written upon this tree"

A similar view of this can befound in the biblical commentary of William
Henry as well. I suppose this view is that the to obey God and NOT eat is an act
of goodness and to eat is defying God, therefor it is evil. And really doesn't
have anything to do with worldly knowledge if you will.

My concern (if you would even call it that) is about the 2nd option above,
and its relevance to the scientific pursuits.

"2. Knowledge. The Hebrew phrase "good and evil" can sometimes designate the
totality of knowledge (see Deuteronomy 1:39 and 2 Samuel 19:35). Eating the
fruit of that tree was an act of human pride, an attempt to know everything God
knows. God would not tolerate any such challenge to his preeminence, and
expelled the original couple from the garden lest they also eat from the tree of
life and become invulnerable."

Ok so if we assume from this statement that "good and evil" represent the
totality of knowledge. Then does this have anything to say about our pursuits in
the field of science, where we are infact searching for reasoned knowledge or
am I missing the mark entirely (I would be willing to bet if I was a gambling
man that I am missing the mark because Proverbs says to pursue knowledge).


I've pushed my paper True Religion, Biblical Symbols from a Darwinian
Perspective on this list before. It addresses your specific concerns, John. It also
takes fear and shame and self sacrifice and addresses them from a psychological
point of view. A snip follows.

"Then the pivotal event(s) in human evolution corresponding to Adam and Eve’s
eating of the forbidden fruit is the expansion of man’s behavioral repertoire
accompanied by the rapid evolutionary growth of the brain culminating in man’
s knowledge of good and evil.
What Genesis does not specifically say about either of man’s two states of
consciousness is easily inferred from the Biblical text. According to Genesis,
in man’s original state, before:
The rapid expansion of the behavioral repertoire
The enlargement of the brain
And the emergence of self-consciousness

He generally knew what to do and had little or no sense of self. Without
self-consciousness, he did not continuously ponder his own mortality and from that
we can assume his ability to imagine fear was severely limited.
In man’s current state, again according to Genesis, he often doesn’t know
what to do, he does the wrong thing, he is self-conscious and he hides from God.
Those scientific categories of instinct and acquired behavior are embedded in
this religious language. If you behave instinctively you intuit what to do
and do not have to make a decision based on what you have learned previously. An
organism that behaves instinctively cannot behave otherwise and does not make
conscious mistakes. On the other hand, if you rely on acquired behaviors you
have learned, you must consciously choose from among many possible behavioral
alternatives in any given situation. You are prone to error and your awareness
of that fact generates ontological anxiety.
Given these few lines from the Bible, literally read, it is clear that if one
wanted to attain the original state of consciousness, the one intended by the
Biblical text, one would have to abandon one’s self-consciousness and learn
to intuit appropriate behavior. I believe I am reading Genesis correctly when I
say that one could then stand in God’s presence without fear. This is
consonant with theology for despite countless artistic renderings of a celestial
Eden, the Catholic catechism defines heaven very simply as -- being in the
presence of God.2
            The hunger for spirituality, then, is the natural desire of an
evolved self-conscious mind to return to a time (the beginning) and a place
(paradise) before men made tools and plotted the murder of other men, before the
dawn of self-consciousness, when behavior was intuitive, and a “man” could
stand in the presence of God without fear. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says,
             “When you disrobe without being ashamed… you will not be afraid.
Jesus’ words in this Nag Hammadi text from 1st century Egypt dovetail
remarkably with the nature of the fall in Genesis. The fall brought shame and fear
(self-consciousness and ontological anxiety). Returning to God (by abandoning
the “self”) would remove them.
We have easily identified a corresponding evolutionary principle for each
Biblical fact. The comparison suggests that our awareness of God evolved with
self-consciousness. Adam and Eve, Biblical archetypes of the human condition, did
eat the “forbidden fruit” from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
The allegories in Genesis regarding human consciousness chronicle scientific
facts. Those scientific facts cannot contradict Scripture.
They are Scripture."

If you would like a copy of the paper, please ask. It has tables and notes
that further elucidate the text above. I believe I have improved the paper since
listening to some of the exchanges here. You see, it used to be titled True
Religion, The Darwinian Interpretation of Biblical Symbols but the word
interpret is so maligned here, I changed the title, removing the word interpretation
not only in the title but also from the body of the paper when I could and
replaced it with literally read because I did not have to interpret the text from
a Darwinian perspective I simply had to understand it from a Darwinian
perspective, no interpretation required.
rich faussette

rich faussette
Received on Mon Sep 12 19:12:47 2005

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