The Lesson of Adam and Eve

By Sean Carroll | August 18, 2011 10:28 am

There’s a bit of discussion going around concerning the ontological status of Adam and Eve — is the story literally true, useful metaphor, not really true but based somehow in reality, or what? For me, it would be hard to think of a less interesting question. But I do have a serious issue with the A&E story, which I rarely see discussed: it’s a terrible lesson on which to found a system of belief.

The story is told in Genesis, chapter two and chapter three. God sets up Adam in the Garden of Eden, and soon takes one of his ribs and makes Eve. For the most part the Garden is a pleasant place, and there doesn’t seem to have been any duties more onerous than coming up with names for the different animals. But for reasons that are not explained, God placed in the Garden something called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and commanded that Adam and Eve not eat from it. (Translational difficulties being what they are, there is a school of thought that argues that “good and evil” should be understood as simply meaning “all things, both good and evil.”) Eventually, of course, they take a bite, with a little urging from a crafty serpent. God gets angry, curses them, and casts them out of the Garden forever — the Fall of Man, as Christians would have it.

The choice given to Adam and Eve was a simple one: (1) obey, or (2) attain knowledge, in particular of good and evil. If those are my two choices, I’m choosing “knowledge” every day. Count me on Team Eve on this one. As far as I’m concerned, this wasn’t the Original Sin, it was the Original Heroic Act.

I want to see a religion founded on exhortations to disobey authority and seek the truth at any cost.


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Cosmic Variance

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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