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Saturday, November 20, 2010

What if Eve had been a trained scientist, Part 2

Today I am finally following up on a project I started much earlier this year in which I proposed the following thought experiment:  What would have happened in Genesis 3 if Eve had approached the "temptation" with rigorous methodological doubt and disciplined inquiry?  Please refer to that post for some context.    

Right away I will admit that this thought experiment goes against the grain of the story in Genesis 2-3.  The Eve in that story is remarkably incurious and suggestible.  Furthermore, the approach my Eve will employ is not natural to humans now and there is no reason from the Biblical story to think it was natural for Adam and Eve.  You will have to suspend disbelief.

This leads to an even more fundamental issue: What precisely did Eve know already by the time she encounters the serpent in Genesis 3? The story tells us very little. She is familiar with some form of the Genesis 2:16-17 prohibition, but we don't know how she learned it. She knows a language in common with Adam and the serpent. She has some awareness of what good food is and apparently has some conception of wisdom and its value. She knows enough about Adam to share the fruit with him. Presumably she heard Adam make his famous exclamation in 2:23, and if so she has some conception of marriage and at least a little experience at living as a wife. Presumably she has some experience with the garden itself and is aware that there are other fruit trees there. She accepts that the prohibition came from God. Her facility with language implies some kind of knowledge about a host of other matters, but it is diffcult to assess how far this would extend.

No traditional theology I know about is willing to stop at this minimalist account of Eve's knowledge. The Christian orthodoxies I've encountered will pull in the "cultural mandate" (Genesis 1:26-28) and knowledge of God as creator (Romans 1:20) as a bare minimum. 

"Why," you ask?

"Why not?  The narrator's economy is no license for unbridled minimalism.  He expects us to fill in the details, most of which are obvious to everyone but the intentionally obtuse."   Really?  OK then, but it never hurts to get things out in the open, even the "obvious."  Our Eve is going to ask Yahweh Elohim, the serpent, and Adam to humor her and repeat out loud in clear language all those unspoken, "obvious" assumptions.  In other words, once Eve has been confronted with the serpent's statements, she is going to seek clarification.  

But before we get too far into the matter of clarification, we need to ask what position Eve should take on the fundamental issue.  Under what circumstances, if any, will she act against the prohibition?   Like anyone else, Eve will begin her formal investigation with some prior experience.  She already knows Adam as a husband to some degree.  The only indication we are given of the amount of time they had already spent together is that Eve was not yet pregnant.  Most likely it hadn't been very long.  But even if for a short time we can assume some natural affections. 

What Eve knew of Yahweh Elohim is even less clear.  All we have to go by is what she tells the serpent in Gen. 3:2.  What she thought of or felt about Yahweh Elohim prior to the temptation is anybody's guess.  Did she "fear," love and trust him or was she already suspicious of him?  If the latter, "sin" in the Pauline sense would already have been at work in her heart.  Most versions of orthodoxy would resist this assumption , and making it doesn't further my case either.  Therefore, I am going to presume that Eve was predisposed by affections for Yahweh Elohim and Adam to obey the prohibition. 

Once confronted with the serpent, Eve's first order of business, then, would be to commit herself to continue to obey the prohibition until she had a very good reason to do otherwise.  How good would that reason have to be? 
1.  She would need to be convinced that Yahweh Elohim was wrong about the consequences of eating the forbidden fruit or that he was unjustified in forbidding it to her or that the benefits of eating the forbidden fruit were worth the price of dying.
2.  She would need to be convinced that eating the forbidden fruit would not break the bonds of affection between her, Adam, and Yahweh Elohim or that there is something very wrong with those affections and they should not be allowed to influence her decision.

In short, it would take overwhelming evidence in support of points 1 and 2 before she would seriously consider eating the forbidden fruit.  The serpent would have to convince Eve that Yahweh Elohim and/or Adam are either incompetent or lying.  This is a high bar for the serpent to get her over.  Furthermore, Eve has no prior relationship with the serpent and so no bonds of affection with it.  The serpent's odds of success appear to be terribly low.  Some people want to improve its odds by suggesting that "empiricism" or methodological doubt entails that Eve (or Adam) must eat the fruit to learn what will happen.  This  is patently ridiculous. 

Eve's second order of business would be to clear up the confusions confronting her after the confrontation with the serpent.  She should have been bothered by many of them before the encounter.   A simple start would be to present an identical list of questions to all the other major players in the story and weigh their answers.  The questions to be posed ought to accomplish the following:

1.  Clarify the meaning and purpose of the prohibition.
2.  Clarify the motives underlying the statements already made by the other major players.
3.  Provide enough information to develop some specific tests for each of the other players' trustworthiness and the accuracy of his statements.

Here is the list of questions:

  1. Explain in some detail what "death" means?
  2. What does "in the day you eat of it" mean?
  3. Why should eating from the prohibited tree result in death?
  4. Why would eating from the prohibited tree result in "knowledge of good and evil?"
  5.  What precisely is "knowledge of good and evil?"
  6.  Are any other trees in the garden of special significance?  If so, which are they and what is their significance?
  7. Why was this not all explained more clearly before now?
  8. Please describe in some detail who Yahweh Elohim is, where he comes from, and what he wants from me?
  9. Please describe in some detail who Adam is, where he comes from and what he wants from me?
  10. Please describe in some detail who the serpent is, where he comes from and what he wants from me?
  11. How is it that the serpent can talk?
  12. How is it that the serpent knows about the prohibition?

I will save the next steps for another post and give anyone who wants to a chance to really step in it with premature criticism. :^}

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