Adam, Eve, and the Problem of Evil: Or, Free Will Was Whose Idea Exactly?


Crumb Genesis

I’m reading Robert Crumb’s Genesis. (Great book, btw. Review coming soon.) Which means I’m re-reading all of Genesis, for the first time in a little while. And all these things are jumping out at me that I either hadn’t noticed before, or that hadn’t quite sunk in in a visceral way. (There’s nothing to make you go, “Holy shit! That’s right! Two completely different creation stories!” quite like having the things illustrated in vivid black and white. Sometimes, pictures really are worth a thousand words.)

And there’s one observation in particular that I really have to blog about now.

When it comes to the problem of evil — you know, why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God allow evil in the world — standard Christian apologetics go something like this: “The capacity for human evil is a necessary side effect of free will. God wants humans to have souls and free will… and for that to happen, we have to be free to choose evil. Bummer, but whaddya gonna do.” (I think that’s how Aquinas put it…)

Now, there are all sorts of responses to this. Including, “Why, exactly, is that a necessary side effect?” And, “Clearly some people are born into more gentle circumstances that make them less likely to do evil — why can’t everyone be born that way?” And, “Fine, that’s a half-assed explanation, but let’s pretend for the moment that it passes muster — then what about suffering caused not by humans but by God, like tsunamis and pediatric cancer?”

But here’s a response that somehow never struck me before. A response that I’m now feeling like a dummy for not having thought of before.

According to Genesis, free will was not part of God’s plan.

According to Genesis, free will was an accident. An unhappy accident. A terrible accident that we’re all still being punished for, hundreds of generations later.

Durer Adam and Eve

Remember the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God specifically told them not to. God was royally pissed when they did it anyway: so pissed that he not only banished them from the Garden of Eden and made their lives a living hell, but passed on that punishment to all their human descendants. I.e., us.

According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve to obey his commands without question. Especially the command to not eat from that freaking tree. According to Genesis, God wanted Adam and Eve in a state of Edenic innocence.

According to Genesis, God did not want people knowing good and evil.

So how is it that evil is necessary because God dearly wants us to know the difference and to be able to freely and knowingly choose good?

How is it that evil is necessary because being able to choose evil is an essential part of free will, and free will is an essential part of having a soul, and the human soul is the most magnificent pinnacle of God’s creation?

Crumb Genesis adam eve

How is it that learning the difference between good and evil was the worst sin committed by humanity, an act of disobedience so heinous the punishment had to resonate down through the generations until the end of days… and at the same time, it’s central to the finest thing about us, the thing that makes us uniquely precious to God?

How is it that we’re being punished for the very free will that God went to such pains to create in us?

How does that work, exactly?

Comments

  1. says

    How did they even know that disobeying God was wrong if they didn’t know the difference between good and evil? And why are there nasty parasites that infest animals and plants if Adam and Eve are the ones that took the free will bite?

  2. Sparky says

    It always caught me that he decided that not touching this tree was really damned important – but then put it RIGHT THERE.
    I saw a book on Christian parenting (not for most Christian parents because of batshit insanity that most Christians don’t share) that explains this in a horrible way
    It tells you to train children – even infants and babes in arms – by tempting them. Putting something within their reach that they want – then telling them “no.” If they touch it you smack them. And then repeat the experience. Or you call them and make them come to you even if you have no reason to call them. If they’re not fast enough, you smack them.
    It’s not about good or evil – it’s about OBEDIENCE. But not only that it’s about domination – you put temptation right there, so easily in reach but you dominate them (and scare them) so much that they will not touch

  3. John Manning says

    That’s why the gnostics believed the serpent was the real God, the one that wants us to be free. The God in Genesis is pretty much powerful, craven, jealous, and arbitrary.

  4. says

    That’s always been a bit of a stumbling block for me as well…
    If you accept that the Christian God really is omnipotent and omniscient, the only answer is that god actually wanted things this way.
    You would assume that an omniscient god would know the ramifications of his actions. You would assume that an omniscient god would know “if I put this tree here, they’re going to eat from it.”
    And you would assume that an omnipotent god would be able to create humanity exactly the way he wanted to – with as much or as little obedience or free will or whatever as he wanted.
    So, either this god really isn’t all-knowing and all-powerful…
    Or this god is just some kind of sadist who intentionally set us up for millenia of punishment.

  5. John B Hodges says

    Recall what’sisname, appointed head of Nat Inst of Health, evangelical Xtian and scientist who sequenced the human genome. Said that “God gave us understanding of right and wrong.” Not according to the Bible; he didn’t give it to us, we stole it, and was he pissed!

  6. Mark says

    that is an amazing question, never thought of it before. It sure doesn’t make sense when presented that way!

  7. llewelly says

    And why are there nasty parasites that infest animals and plants if Adam and Eve are the ones that took the free will bite?

    Collateral damage. Like the great extinctions.

  8. s. pimpernel says

    The “all knnowing” god already “knew” in advance that they were going to eat from the tree. It all seems very pointless.

  9. says

    Yeah. I reread Genesis and barely made it through without having something to say every step of the way, and sometimes discovering new things that I’d never noticed before.
    Like the fact that all it takes is two fruit from two trees to make humans gods and that technically we’re halfway there, which was not the plan at all.
    Like the fact that the fruit from the tree of knowledge either was actually the tree of ignorance, or God screwed up in the beginning when he made us naked.
    Like the fact that they would have died anyway because they hadn’t eaten from the tree of life (which would have made humans completely godlike, but which was not forbidden, interestingly enough).
    Like the fact that the only being that did not intentionally lie was the serpent. (He either told the complete truth or he unintentionally lied, while God, Adam, and Eve lied through their teeth.)
    That’s not even scratching the surface of the foundational problems of the creation story(ies). It’s pretty on the surface, and it’s a kind of iconic story, but as Truth ™? It sucks.
    I may sound glib here, but I started reading Genesis in the hope that I might get closer to the Christianity I once had. There is nothing more frustrating than getting farther away from Christianity while trying to get closer. It was devastating to learn that my rational, literary criticism side was right all along.

  10. says

    Didn’t Adam and Eve already have free will when they exercised it to choose to eat from that tree? Perhaps they didn’t know all there was to know about good and evil, but they did get lesson 1: “Eating from that tree over there — BAD. Obeying all I say — GOOD. You have free choice on both matters, but I’ll be royally pissed if you choose wrongly.”

  11. says

    Didn’t Adam and Eve already have free will when they exercised it to choose to eat from that tree?

    Arguably, yes. But according to the Christian apologists, knowledge of good and evil — and the ability to choose evil — is necessary for true free will. That’s how they explain why there’s evil in the world. So yes, Adam and Eve chose wrongly… but it wasn’t an informed decision. They disobeyed, but they didn’t have full knowledge or understanding of their choice.
    And that’s exactly what the apologists are always going on about. They’re the ones arguing that free will isn’t really free unless we know about evil and are free to choose it, and that’s why God have us the capacity for evil. My point is that they can’t have it both ways: they can’t say that understanding of good and evil is necessary for this magnificent free will… and at the same time say that acquiring it was a wicked act that God is still punishing us for.

  12. says

    Did anyone notice that God lied about the consequences of eating from the tree (“in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” – but they didn’t die that day – in fact not for hundreds of years).
    On the other hand, the snake told them the truth about what eating from the tree would give them.
    No wonder God was pissed – getting caught out in a dirty big fib.
    The original sin was God’s.
    If he was real, he’d be an ass.

  13. says

    There’s also the point that they were told they would die. (And on the day they ate it, what a liar that JHWH chap was.) But there was no death in Eden, so it’s a totally empty warning. DON’T DO X OR YOU WILL SURELY KABANGALOOEY!!!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
    Yeah, I know, looking for sense in Genesis is just daft. It makes me wonder if other creation stories are as incoherent. I don’t recall them so. Fantastical, sure, but without obvious internal contradictions.

  14. says

    It’s not that hard to follow, imo, if you look at it the right way, even if it is tautological.
    First, free will, consciousness, sentience, whichever you want to call it, separates us from the “state of nature”. (If it didn’t there’d be no difference between man-made and natural things.)
    Second, one with nature means one with God. If we hadn’t separated ourselves from nature, we would still know God.
    It was the very act of choosing against nature–eating the apple–that both defines our humanity and–in separating us from God–commits our first sin.
    So, yes, our humanity is defined by the very act of going against God. Of course it is. If we didn’t, we would just be animals or puppets or God him/her/itself.
    We cannot be human without separating ourselves from God. Actions that separate us from God are sins. Hence, the original sin and our never-ending work trying to get back to a state of Godliness.
    Or the atheist version: one’s first act as an individual is necessarily an act of rebellion–else you would not know it is your own action. So, if rebellion is wrong, then we all begin our individuality in a wrongful act. [And we know that those who celebrate rebellion, are seditious, treasonous, terrorist threats to the state.]
    So, as long as you believe rebellion is bad, then everyone suffers from original sin.
    “Ok, Johnny, you’ve made your point, now come apologize and make amends.”
    To address your question, we aren’t punished for the original sin. The Judeo-Christian dogma is that one is punished for not making peace with God /after/ that first offense.
    So, yes, you get to choose, an ability which you’ve already demonstrated by having free will, by separating one from God. If you then choose an unGodly life, you will find your own punishment.

  15. says

    The problem with that, Joe, is that that’s not what the standard Christian apologetics say. The apologetics don’t say that separating from nature and becoming human is a bad thing. Quite the contrary. They say that our humanity, our freedom to choose and to rebel, is exactly what God finds most precious in us.
    Yet at the same time, it’s what we’re being punished for.
    And there’s plenty of Judeo-Christian dogma saying that we are being punished for Adam and Eve’s crime. Women will give birth in suffering, we have to labor hard for our food, we don’t get to live in the Garden of Eden, etc. (Yet another thing that’s screwed up about the story: people being punished for their ancestors’ crimes…)

  16. John B Hodges says

    IMHO the tale was meant as an allegory of puberty. The fruit in the center of the garden is your sex organ. For most of the history of humankind, kids were taken care of (protected, taught, to appropriate degree fed) by their parents until they hit puberty, at which time they were considered adults and kicked out to fend for themselves. Adulthood is not as nice as childhood, more work and worries. People feel that Sex must be some terrible wrongness, if exile and adulthood is its punishment.

  17. John B Hodges says

    Further comment that in several ways religion is a pre-pubescent approach to the world. Knowing: believe what your parents tell you. Morality: Do as your parents tell you. Sex: Yuck!
    After puberty you are a “teenager”; separating from your parents, rebelling against restrictions, thinking and deciding for yourself on occasion. Doing forbidden things.
    “Unless you turn and become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.

  18. says

    To address your question, we aren’t punished for the original sin. The Judeo-Christian dogma is that one is punished for not making peace with God /after/ that first offense.

    So basically we need to apologize and make amends for something we didn’t do, or else we’ll be punished for eternity? How’s that any better?

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