Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reflections: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

We have seen how, in a material world, light beamed at existing objects necessarily creates the shadows in which evil can lurk; the brighter the light, the deeper the darkness. All of Creation, man included, is founded upon this intrinsic paradox. As they put it on the street corners of the Bronx, “You have to take the good with the bad.” The Creator equipped man with free will because man could not, in any meaningful sense, choose the good, unless he were capable of choosing evil instead. And this inevitable truth sets up the tragedy of man’s Fall and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

In the creation of Eden, God had provided Adam and Eve with everything that materia has to offer – beauty, nourishment, sexuality, and power – dominion over the entire spectrum of life. But there remained this one, odd, exception:

16] And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
[17] But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

In the first version of the Creation, as presented in Genesis 1, this divine caveat does not occur. It is only in the second, notably less perfect, version of Creation that the Creator plants in the groves, along with “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food,” the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

In terms of our considerations of dualism, we might well ask here, how – since the whole of creation had been deemed “good” by the Creator – there could logically exist a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? For how does one have knowledge of a thing (evil) that does not exist? The very presence of this tree in the midst of the Garden seems to imply that all is not good.

We might next ask how, if prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve have no knowledge of good and evil, they can be said to be moral agents and to possess free will? If one cannot consciously choose evil, then one is morally absolved of any intent to do so, and the concept of guilt, or sin, is meaningless.

Which brings us to the serpent. Although, as we noted earlier, all of Adam and Eve’s animal needs had been provided for by God’s creation, Eve’s encounter with the serpent quickly shows us that the satisfaction of every material need and desire was not sufficient. The serpent is easily able to persuade Eve that the acquisition of wisdom – the ability to transcend the material, passing into intellectual realms – was worth risking even death, the permanent loss of the material world. We will enlarge upon this consideration next time.