Friday, March 7, 2008

On The Biblical Trees in the Garden of Eden

Everyone who has ever been to a christian church, and probably many who have not, has some level of understanding of the biblical story of a paradise called the Garden of Eden. In this place, the biblical god placed the first two humans ever to live. Along with all the food-bearing trees and plants known to us today, there were two "forbidden trees" planted; The Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil and the Tree of Immortality. This is recounted in the first few chapters of Genesis. The following are some questions about this story, questions that draw attention to some sensible inconsitencies.
First of all, the story in genesis recounts that, for Adam and all the generations to come, a route to immortality was definitely needed, as Adam was created as a mortal man. In Genesis 3:22 the "inerrant word of god" says "And the Lord god said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach outhis hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."" This verse clearly shows that the author of genesis understood Adam to have been created a mortal man, one who would die a natural death. Some Christians, however, believe that Adam was created as an immortal being and only lost his immortality when he and eve chose to sin by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This belief does not fit at all with what genesis 3:22 says, it's flatly contradictory. For my part, I just can't comprehend how these christians can assert the "truth" of the bible when their arguments for such claims simultaneously rely on and are in contrast with what the bible says, but I digress.
Who besides mankind would have wanted or needed a tree of life?
God, as he is described in the bible, would not have required it. Immortality is part and parcel of the christian's definition of god, and if it were not, then I suppose christianity couldn't exist as it does today.
Other possible recipients of the fruit of the tree of life were the animals. Since there are no animals that we know of that are 6,000 plus yaers old and still kicking, I think we can safely assume the animals did not benefit from the tree of life.
Tangentially speaking, I wonder if any of the tree of life's fruits ever dropped to the ground after ripening, and were eaten by the animals in the garden. If this did happen, there should be some really old cows out there somewhere. The bible doesn't mention this ever happening, but I think it's a reasonable thought to have. I mean every fruit bearing tree that lives today drops its fruits once they are ripe, in order to propagate itself. Animals eat this fruit all the time. If the tree of life did not behave in this same way, then I think christian's should have to explain this. I'm sure any apologetic would retort with some blather about god's miracles not needing to follow the rules of nature and all that, but we all know what kind of "explanation" that is. Evasion is a tactic apologetics have mastered.
So, since god did not need the tree of life and animals keep dying, that leaves only us as the benficiaries of the flora of paradise.
If god planted the tree of life for us, then why did he forbid us to eat its fruits? Again, I can hear the apologetic saying, god was using the tree to "test" the faith of Adam. This is just stupid, for any number of reasons. Here are a few.
1. God had no need to test Adam's faith because Adam had no reason to not have faith in god, having no one to compare god with, no one to influence him away from having faith in god.
2. God did not need to test Adam's faith in him because he walked in the garden in plain earshot of Adam, presumably physically (genesis 3:8). If, however, he was "walking" in a purely spiritual sense, he was still the only other "voice" there (excepting eve and the talking snake, I wonder if Eve was a parselmouth?), so Adam would have had no reason to "lose his faith", but as we shall see perhaps Adam's faith was rightfully tested to show the error of it.
Perhaps god was using the tree not to test Adam's faith, but his obedience. This is also stupid. Here is why.
God, as the bible describes him, is omniscient (all-knowing). As an all-knowing being, god would not have been in need of a tool (such as a tree of life) to test for an outcome of obedience level. An omniscient god would have already known exactly how obedient Adam was ever going to be. Either god was not omniscient, or the tree of life (or the other tree) was unecessary in this capacity, pick your poison.
But what about the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why did god plant that one there? Remember this is the tree in question at the trial all of us should hold within ourselves, of the truth of Christianity as narrated in the bible. Genesis 3:3-7 says:

"but god did say, "you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. For god knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god, knowing good and evil." 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."

Let's examine this passage shall we? (I feel like a pastor in Bizarro world)
First, god tells eve that she mustn't eat from the tree or even touch it, upon pain of death. So there is a tree that will provide death to Adam and Eve if they touch it, but there is also a tree that will provide immortality to both of them if they eat of it. It seems like a good idea to have an antidote ready in case of an accident, I mean what if Adam and Eve were wrestling one evening and one of them just happened to roll up against the tree of "death"? Wouldn't it be prudent to have that tree of life handy as well? The problem arises when we acknowledge that the god of the bible prohibited BOTH trees. This is perfectly illustrative of how the authors of the bible probably weren't philosophers by trade.
Second, the serpent says she will not die, but only gain the knowledge of good and evil, thereby becoming as god himself. Well, she ate, in fact they both ate, and neither died an unnatural death, so who was right? God said they would die, the serpent said they would gain knowledge of good and evil. Let's look to the unreliable, inconsistent, yet inerrant word of god for our answer. Again to genesis 3:22 " And the lord god said "The man has now become as one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
Survey says..... The serpent wins. God was not just wrong, but pathetically so. The death for Adam, that is described in genesis 3:19 and attibuted to god, "by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" cannot be claimed as fulfillment of god's earlier threat to Adam and Eve, since the tree of life was the only path to immortality ever available to Adam, and neither he nor Eve ever ate from that tree (at least as the bible recounts).
As a last point, I'd like to say that the biblical narrative from above is a fairly benign example of humanity in the throes of pyschological ignorance, being creative, cognitive beings, attributes that clearly seperate us from our more primitively(?) evolved cousins in the great ape family, constructing elaborate but ultimately false stories, in order to explain and cause to discuss two of the most sought after ideas of humanity, namely wisdom and living forever. One we can certainly achieve, the other might be possible, but we are not there yet (keep at it scientists).

Remember, I am an Atheist, I only use the bible to point out its own fallacies as professed in the christian perspective of the biblical story of creation. I criticize from a psychological and logical point of view.

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