I enjoy talking about religion and philosophy with all sorts of people. I don’t want to argue, I want to learn. While I do see religious as a fixed dogmatic belief set, I do maintain that there is something to learn in every intellectual discussion with well-meaning individuals. I am fortunate to have many of those in my circle of friends.
In one of those discussions today we were discussing the original sin: Eve eating the apple. In the bible it is explained that this apple is from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What does the knowledge of good and evil mean, exactly?
To know if something is good or evil you must first be able to discern. To do this, you must use logic to compare a situation to discern against previous situations or against an existing set of ethical beliefs. This kind of reason is (as far as we know) exclusive to humans. The foundation of ethics made artificial rules necessary for the formation of human civilization.
Without them, we are subject to the whims of the moment. In other words, without logic, reason, and ethics, we live in the now. Many would consider this a good thing, as far too often our brains are tugged in many different directions – analyzing past actions and contemplating possible futures.
Animals do not have the knowledge of good and evil. They always live in the now, doing what is best for them based on instinct and simple risk/reward equations. Interestingly enough this is also referenced in the bible when Jesus explains that animals do not worry about their next meal – they simply live for the now. This objectivism frees them from the constraints of human emotions. They undoubtedly feel love, joy, and fear, but absent are the pangs of guilt and regret. By living in the now, they do not stop to contemplate the broader consequences of their past actions.
To me, it seems clear that the God in the Christian Bible didn’t want Adam and Eve to have this knowledge. It seems he would have preferred the ignorance is bliss mindset. Without this, judgement would be impossible, and humans could never organize into any meaningful structure of civilization.
Is that the larger message in the tale of Adam and Eve? By breaking the natural order and applying humanistic logic and reason to everyday living, did we create the amazing civilization that we have come to rely upon and seek constant diversion and refuge from? While we laud our successes in splitting the atom, developing antibiotics, and putting a man on the moon, we struggle to find meaning in our life and to understand even the most basic aspects of our existence.
Of course we could look at the wonders of modern civilization and find many reasons to cheer humankind’s success. We created our own dogma, or own belief sets, and our own ethics independent from any creator. Ironically, one of those belief systems tries to absolves us of this sin by reducing the crime to simply eating an apple.
It looks like humans were caught with their hand in the cosmic cookie jar.