Tuesday, January 30, 2007

the problem of evil: part 2: how do we know what's good or evil?

Read Part 1, The Problem of Evil, here.

In my previous posting on the problem of evil, I left off with the promise to discuss the origin of our knowledge of good and evil. It is the ability to discern good and evil that sets us apart from every other animal and plant on earth, and makes us utterly distinct from all other living things.

But where did this knowledge come from, and why do we have it? Here is where those holding to a naturalistic, evolutionary ideology with no room for a supreme being run into deep doo-doo, as there is no way to logically justify the need for a creature to have this ability, from an evolutionary standpoint. All the animal and plants of earth testify that a knowledge of good and evil is not necessary to exist, to live. The humble amoeba leads a perfectly wonderful existence without have to discern if it's right or wrong to cheat the government out of it's tax revenue. No, a creature does not need to have this knowledge to exist and prosper on planet Earth. Of course militant atheists have their "theories" as to how we developed ethics based on a pure evolutionary paradigm, but these "theories" have no foundations in empirical science. In other words, we cannot observe nor measure our evolution as human beings, as that history has been completely lost to us, if it even has ever existed. We are left playing guessing games as to our origins, and then labeling it "science." (Mainly because those who play these guessing games call themselves scientists...and label their guesses as theories so as to remove any criticism.)

Those of us who believe we are here by intention, not by chance, and believe in a Supreme Being, also believe that the knowledge of good and evil was a direct result of our interactions with God. More specifically, we believe that we came to this knowledge by theft. We took it, though it didn't belong to us! The story of this theft occurs in the early chapters of the book of Genesis:
"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." " (Genesis 2:15-17 NIV)
Adam and Eve, having only one rule to follow, quickly prove their humanness by breaking the only rule that God gave to them! Whether or not you believe that Adam and Eve and their fall from grace is an actual true story, the point is still relevant: man first learned of good and evil when he disobeyed God.

Now what's interesting is that God clearly gives man the ability to choose to obey his command or not. It is implied in the statement "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". In other words, man was not a robot, programmed to always do the right thing. There was some randomness, an ability to choose, that was given to him from the first day.

Think about that for a minute: God could have simply programmed us to always do the right thing, always the best thing, without even having to THINK!!!! Wouldn't that be grand? Well, if you think being a tree is a grand thing, then that's the life for you. But the ability to choose, to choose to disobey God, allows us some autonomy and some responsibility. We can do what we want...we are not vegetables, we are not dumb animals; we can choose to do that which will bring harm, or bring blessing. But along with that responsibility comes a terrible price: "for when you eat of it you will surely die."

So Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, and they died...eventually. They died an almost immediate "death" in that they were banned from the Garden of Eden, and were told to go work the earth...the first farmer and rancher. And then they eventually died a real death: they ceased to exist here on Earth. So God's warning was fulfilled; along with the knowledge of good and evil came death as the penalty.

Before Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree, they led a happy, care-free life. They literally never knew evil! Imagine never knowing what evil is...how wonderful that would be! But thanks to a very wily serpent, Adam and Eve eat that which they shouldn't, and for the very first time, they know what evil is--disobeying the direct command of God. They knew they disobeyed, and they acted accordingly--they hid their nakedness and hid from the eyes of God:
"When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." (Genesis 3:6-8 NIV)
The knowledge of their nakedness is a metaphor, and speaks to the shame one has once they realize they've done something wrong...whether or not it has even been found out! You and I both know this feeling very, very well, and the metaphor of nakedness is an apt way of describing the guilt that we feel. Truly, we are "naked" before God, and we know it. Of course "fig leaves" is also a metaphor for the lying and rationalizing we do to mitigate against our guilt and shame. We do not want our own nakedness to be discovered, so we pretend to be fully clothed.

For the very first time man knows what it is to be evil, and just as the serpent said, he is "just like God." Man now knows that he can disobey God, and that he has a free-will. But what was the "sin" that Adam and Eve committed? Was it just eating from a stupid tree? Isn't that a rather arbitrary rule? If God did want them to eat from the dumb tree, then why did he plant it in the Garden of Eden to begin with? He could have just put the tree in another garden somewhere else, or not created it altogether. So why have the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden? What purpose did it serve other than to curse Adam and Eve?

God put the tree in the garden as proof of man's ability to choose: it's a demonstration that man has free will, that he can obey or disobey at his own prerogative. Hence the tree, though seemingly arbitrary, has a very, very important role to play: proof of the autonomy of man; to show that man is not a robot, but a creature who can choose his own path.

The "sin" that Adam and Eve committed was not the eating of the fruit; their real sin was their belief that God was lying to them. What did God say to Adam and Eve? He said "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." But what did the serpent say to Eve to convince her to eat from the tree? He said ""You will not surely die," For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

At that point, Eve had a choice to make: either God was telling her the truth when he told them they would die, or he was lying, and the serpent was telling her the truth. Eve decided that God must be holding out on her, and believed the serpent was telling her the truth. So it wasn't the eating of the fruit that was so bad, it was the belief that God was holding out on them, that He was lying to them! The root of Adam and Eve's sin is their belief that God was a liar.

Now God obviously did not lie, and our own mortality is proof enough of that. So why would Adam and Eve, who knew God in a very personal way, think that he was lying to them about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Well, the serpent certainly has to take a big share of the blame for that. So why did God allow this serpent access to the Garden of Eden; what was his purpose? He was there to test Adam and Eve's obedience, a test they failed. It is easy to be obedient if you never have the opportunity to choose to disobey! Again, the serpent's purpose was to demonstrate Adam and Eve's autonomy: their freedom to choose. But in order to choose, you must be given a choice; hence the serpent presented them with a choice, and the humans chose accordingly. While the serpent was obviously allowed to lie to them, he could not force them to eat the fruit, that the two humans had to choose to do on their own.

Again, it does not matter whether you believe this event actually happened or not, the point here is to demonstrate that sin which is at the root of all evil: that sin being the choice of whether or not God is lying to us.

Well, the serpent was right about one thing: "you will be like God, knowing good and evil." As soon as humans made the decision to disobey God, they experienced evil, and through that experience, came into the knowledge of what is good, and what is evil. Before that, the distinction could not be made, since evil had not been experienced. Adam and Eve lived in a world that was absolutely good, but they were ignorant of how good they had it, as they did not know of any other reality. They did not know there was a land east of Eden, where things were going to be much more difficult. The punishment they endured happened to them simply because they thought God was lying.

Yet the choice of Adam and Eve is also our choice, a choice we must make on a daily basis: that choice being whether or not God is lying to us. Everything else we do or believe is founded on that very decision, whether or not we are conscious of it. But now, through the reading this article, I have have helped you to become conscious of this very important decision we all make.

And so I ask you: is God lying? Is God himself a lie? Is the entire Judeo-Christian system of belief just a fancy little fairy-tale told to keep people in-line? Or is there something more to it than that?

Obviously, I cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction. You, the dear reader of this blog, must determine whether or not God is a lie, and if not a lie, whether or not he lies to us. As for myself, I believe that God is true, and that his words are true, and that he is not capable of lying. (Though some of his creation is certainly is capable of it!)

I encourage you to find out for yourself whether or not God is a liar. Seek out what you can, and do everything you can to make sure of your answer, for your answer to this question is foundational to how you are going to live out the rest of your life, and after this life is over, your life in eternity.

Next time: what God has done to correct the evil brought on by Adam and Eve's fateful choice.

<>< TM


Anonymous said...

"Theories" aside... it seems like your insistence on the knowledge of good and evil as an evolutionary impossibility is silly. "Good" and "Evil" in the Christian conception aren't even universal concepts. You might as well ask how we came to know twinkies and non-twinkies. The concepts came because we've got brains to think of them, and brains are good. You'd certainly be hard-pressed to find a universal moral code between human communities.

Also, why does God "test" anything if he's omniscient? I never "experiment" by checking if my pencil will drop when I let go of it, I'm pretty sure of what will happen from repeated experience. Also, if the apple was purely a test, why did it need to have any repercussions? Couldn't God have tested man's obedience (unnecessary) without punishing him? The whole story just reads like crazy Jewish "DO AS WE SAY".

theodicy said...


Good and evil are in fact universal concepts, every society has right and wrong. Moral codes between societies aren't really all that different in substance, but can be in detail.

Christianity has achieved nearly universal acceptance, at least in that you can find native Christian believers in nearly every country on earth. And even those who do not profess belief in Christ are often champions of Christian ethics, especially the importance of taking care of the poor and less fortunate, which is a foundational ethic in the Christian religion.

My point concerning evolution and morality is this: 99.9999% of the plants and animals on earth live a perfectly nice existence without having to even know what ethics are; hence, morality is not necessary for life in general. But we humans have this knowledge, though it serves NO EVOLUTIONARY purpose. The entire animal kingdom is proof enough that knowledge of good and evil is not necessary for the propagation of life. Hence, evolution cannot explain our knowledge of good and evil.

So we have brains...so do all animals, but they don't bother creating blogs and discussing theological issues, that is the sole domain of man. The existence of a brain is not evidence of an evolutionary cause of our knowledge of good and evil.

The question about why God tests us is an excellent question. Of course you are correct: God does not need to test us because he's lacking in knowledge. Rather, God tests us because WE are lacking in knowledge! The testing is for our benefit, not God's.

Be honest: even those who have no faith in God in all like to be tested; or to put in more common language: they like to be challenged. Why do we need and enjoy being challenged? What happens as a direct result of our challenges in life? Do we not learn more about ourselves and our own identity? Testing, with or without God, is the path to self-knowledge and self-understanding. We Christians simply give God the credit for thinking of it, and creating us in a way that we grow and mature as a result of the challenges in our lives.

<>< TM