Hello and welcome to the inaugural edition of Senseless Scripture Sunday. I was having a very difficult time picking a single, manageable topic for today’s post, but upon realizing that a single scriptural point is often used as the justification for evil acts, I thought I would be well-served by picking a single portion of scripture, (today’s is from the Bible, but everyone’s sacred texts are up for grabs,) and examining its ramifications. Here we go!

Obviously I personally have no evidence to consider any of these texts anything but just-so stories; but I will take their claims seriously for the purposes in demonstrating that the text is self-contradictory.

P.S. My apologies for the lateness, I had a busy day and I succumbed to the desire to be thorough.

Genesis 2:16-17

New International Version (NIV) courtesy of http://www.biblegateway.com.

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

I chose NIV over KJV or one of the others first because I do not speak Aramaic, Greek, Latin, or Hebrew and second because the NIV provides a relatively clear, if somewhat bland, gloss of the original words. Let us begin first by defining the words used in the NIV:

  • “the Lord God” refers to the monotheist God common to Abrahamic religions, from Allah to the triune God of the Catholics. This entity has the salient characteristics of being omnipotent (all-powerful,) omniscient (all-knowing,) and omnibenevolent (all-loving.) If these characteristics are not those of the God you believe in, kindly refrain from posting as though I was referring to another entity. Do, however, feel free to define your deity for me in comments or in an email, and I’ll get back to you.
  • “the man” refers to Adam, and at this time in the chronology, Eve does not exist.
  • “the garden” refers to the Garden of Eden.
  • “the tree” refers to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is important to note that the fruit of this tree does not necessarily need to be the source of the knowledge of ‘good and evil’ for the point to remain relevant. The fact of the matter is that the Bible refers to it that way means that the actual mechanism is irrelevant; the action of eating the fruit was the causal trigger.
  • Finally, a word that is relevant but not appearing (though it should) in Genesis: entrapment. Entrapment consists, in the legal sense, of three things: [ Wikipedia ]
  1. The idea for committing the crime came from the government agents and not from the person accused of the crime.
  2. Government agents then persuaded or talked the person into committing the crime. Simply giving someone the opportunity to commit a crime is not the same as persuading them to commit that crime.
  3. The person was not ready and willing to commit the crime before interaction with the government agents.

If we take these things to be reasonable definitions, Christian theology runs into problems right from the get-go. I have inquired of a minimum of  ten or so theists of varying but generally Protestant sects but none of them were able to give me an answer that did not immediately collapse under its own weight. The difficulties are legion, but I will only point them out rather than providing detailed examination of their inconsistencies.

1. We can begin by indicting God on the first point of entrapment.  The idea for the crime had to have come from God because he, if he is both omnipotent and omniscient, chose to create Adam and Eve in such a way that the concept of disobeying him could occur in their minds. Thus the first qualification is met in the most complete possible way: if we assume that the theological beliefs held to be absolutely true are in fact the case, literally everything within Adam and Eve cannot help but come directly from God–Adam and Eve simply would not exist without having been created.

2. Second, and this is perhaps the weakest point of my argument in some ways, or at least the one most likely to be pounced on, we can indict God on the charge of inducing the commission of a crime. The defender of God will doubtlessly try to claim that our putative antediluvian progenitors were given free will and they chose to sin. However, if God is in fact eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent, he chose to create Satan and chose to let him speak to Eve. Satan then, is an agent of God, and the Bible is quite clear that his is the silver-tongued serpent’s voice that motivates Eve to her disobedience.

Furthermore, the Bible explicitly spells out the utter and complete moral innocence that is Adam and Eve’s natural state before the consumption of the fruit. If sin is disobedience to God’s will, and sin is evil, that makes obedience good. Unfortunately, given that we know from the Bible that Adam and Eve were created unaware of the distinctions between or even the meanings of good and evil, they were in fact completely devoid of the ability to make moral decisions or understand the ramifications of their actions.

They did not know of good or evil, or of death; therefore they cannot be said to have the mental capacity to understand the command God gave them in any part.

3. Lastly, and most damningly, Adam and Eve did not even exist before their interaction with God, and showed no signs of any particular concern with or desire to eat the fruit before God’s agent, Satan, talked Eve into it.

In conclusion, I submit to you that Adam and Eve were the victims of entrapment, and to borrow a phrase from Hitchens, “created sick and commanded to be well” on the pain of death and eternal torture, in the absence of the ability to comprehend that command in any meaningful sense.

As a brief and preemptive response to hopeful apologists: I have noticed a pronounced tendency among your ranks to rely on a number of rather pliant sophistries. Allow me to list them now and demonstrate why they will not avail you:

  • “God created Adam and Eve (and humanity) with free will and they chose wrong”

First, I have just explained in some small detail why this simply is not and cannot be the case, but further, you are operating on the presupposition that God cannot take actions you consider logically inconsistent. However, you must admit that if you hold God to be omnipotent, he is certainly capable of taking literally any action, up to and including creating Adam and Eve as free-willed beings incapable of sin. You can have him be omnipotent and able to but chose not to, in which case humans are victims of entrapment and not liable, or you can have him as unable to do something and therefore not omnipotent.

Or, you can claim that God did not know what the result would be when he made them, which solves the problem but then means God is not omniscient or omnipresent. Or you can claim that God knew and had the power to do otherwise but chose to allow bad things to happen, in which case he is not omnibenevolent. Sorry, but you can either accept that there is no original sin and that all sin is the result of God’s decisions or you can define God out of existence.

  • “You just haven’t asked God with enough faith!”

Well, the thing is, I do not need to consult with a deity to look at the evidence and come to a conclusion which follows the understood nature of rational and critical thinking. You are left with three options: you can accept that the Bible is the perfect word of the divine and accept that God is crazy and or evil, accept that the Bible is not divine and just the work of men and consequently your religion is man-made and fallible, or that you are mistaken as to the nature of God and consequently your faith is based on lie(s) you tell yourself.

  • “Well it’s not important, God gave his only son Jesus to save us from Hell!”

Sadly dismissing the argument and trying to bring up Jesus is not going to work. Remember that at this time I am allowing the presupposition that God exists already, which is already giving you quite a lot of rope. You simply cannot bring Jesus into it as the solution because his supposed ‘sacrifice’ deals only with the symptoms and fallout of the problem I have presented; it does not address the problem itself in any meaningful sense.

  • “You are not a Christian, you couldn’t/don’t understand!”

This argument fails for the simple reason that it requires too much. Either humans can understand your faith, in which case I am human and I can understand it, or they cannot, in which case you are human as well and cannot understand it any more than I can. No matter which option you choose, your argument has zero traction.

  • “<insert ad hominem, usually including threats of Hell>

Although I welcome your input, I am afraid that this is not a valid method of arguing against a case. If the best argument you can muster is an emotional outburst utterly lacking in content germane to the topic, I think it safe to declare victory.