Challenging Myths Of Eden

Below is a thought-provoking video which critiques the notion of fallenness from several angles.  It builds off of one point I’ve wanted to write about for a while and that’s that the non-literal reading of Genesis is just as false as the metaphorical one.  When religious people argue that the Garden of Eden story is unaffected by scientific knowledge they ignore the fact that the Eden myth asserts an initial state of perfection from which we have fallen because of a sin.  But that’s not “metaphorically” or “mythically” true.  Our ancestors were neither perfect humans any better than us (in fact they were “lesser” evolved than we are if we are taking human perfections as the standard of excellence by which to judge lesser and greater), they did not incur pain on the universe since it already preexisted our arrival by millions of years, and our tendencies towards ethical failing are not punishments for some sin but far more explicable in terms of the complex set of strategies for social and environmental success that proved most benefiical to our survival.  Similarly our intellectual shortcomings have everything to do with an evolutionary necessity for making judgments of a local kind but an evolutionary indifference to judgments of highly precise theoretical kind.

In other words, an evolutionary understanding of primeval history exposes not only that the Genesis story is not literally true but its mythically presented propositional claims that pain in the universe is connected to moral failing, that moral failing is a punishment for a sin, that the need to work and for women to suffer excruciatingly during child birth, and that humanity was initially better off than we are now are, are all flat out false.

And now, here is FFreeThinker exploring more interesting moral and scientific challenges one can level in nuance at the myth of Eden.

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Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Lisa Rhone

    I think…why the war and drivenness against christianty and religion?

    • Daniel Fincke

      Thanks for your question Lisa, I’m pleased to see you trek on over here and be willing to contribute. I re-read the post and I don’t see any war going on in it. I see, at least in what I wrote a rather matter of fact argument that the world’s origins and our origins are not as the Bible describes. The reasons why the biblical description is literally false are well known and even acknowledged by all Christians but the anti-scientific creationists. But just because science-accepting Christians offer to read Genesis only metaphorically does not exempt them the metaphorical or mythical meanings from scrutiny. Just being a myth does not make the ideas contained within it automatically true.

      If this was indeed a book described by God, why is it false both literally and metaphorically? Can’t God get his story right? If he was divinely writing books why not just be literally true and tell us about evolution in the Bible? Why not tell us we emerged through a long process and because we were naturally selected for different environments and ways of life than those in which we presently live, we must take care to correct for some of our ill-fit cognitive tendencies. In other words, if this were a divine book it would get these sorts of facts right. But it doesn’t. Because it wasn’t inspired by God it was dreamed up by ancient people doing the best they could to imagine and wonder what things were like.

      There was nothing wrong with that at the time, but now we’ve moved past those primitive guesses and we should accept that authorities once taken to be true simply are not. That’s not “war” against Christianity and religion, it’s how reason works. We abandon ideas and authorities when they are proven false.

      The problem with religion is that it wants to freeze us in the past. We must forever think of humanity as fallen, even when we realize we’re just descended from other animals and not from a pristine state of human perfection in a pristine garden. We must forever think that pain comes from a curse when in reality it’s just an adaptive trait that warns us of danger and it existed long before humans could have ever sinned. We must forever think of humans as inherently corrupted by some ancestor’s sins instead of fundamentally innocent beings who learned a set of social relationships of cooperation and hierarchy while still lower order primates and are still struggling to learn the best ways to take care of our own needs and flourishing while balancing the interests of our society.

      Religion insists we must always freeze our knowledge, we must suspend our ability to say, “oh, the old religious myths turned out false—we’re not inherently evil, we’re not to blame for suffering in the world, we don’t have to mistrust our natural drives as corrupt—just instead see them as sometimes ill-fit for contemporary society since they evolved in another time for different needs.”

      Religion tries to teach people to defer to ancient authorities who have no knowledge credentials and to override free, rigorous, and sincere reassessment of what is good and bad in our nature. Religion teaches you that bronze age people’s fantasies are somehow divine revelations when there is not a single good reason to think so. They have no special knowledge that only a God could give them. They didn’t give us the theory of quantum mechanics as a gift from the designer of quantum mechanics. They don’t seem to know any single fact about that alleged creator’s world that they couldn’t have made up themselves. So why think they got special knowledge from that creator?

      It goes on and on and on, Lisa. There is no good reason to believe. The Bible is false on every level. The legal code it gives is repulsive barbarism and the antithesis of the democracy I believe is just and enlightened. The genocides of the Old Testament are the height of immorality. They’re indistinguishable in their evil from the actions of Hitler. There are commands to slaughter men, women, infants, to rip open the wombs of pregnant women. It’s pure corruption and no sign of divine wisdom. It took a turn away from faith to Enlightenment to get the democratic institutions and scientific advancements that make possible an egalitarian society and technological power to extend lifespans into the 70s and to create powerful means of creating and communicating. Faith doesn’t do these things. It freezes knowledge in the past, it teaches us to hate our human nature as fallen, and it opposes the spirit of free, secular society. And in all these ways, it represents an obstacle to people’s free reason and rational decisions about ethics.

      As a philosopher and an ethicist, I feel compelled to oppose such a principle of irrationalism itself. But I’m not fighting a war. There are no guns involved. Just reasons. And usually, they’re calmly and rationally laid out in detail. Please do me the favor of thinking about the reasons rather than dismissing opposition as simple warring and looking for some other cause behind them. Face the reasons. Think. If you have reasons to disagree, present them. I’m more than willing to debate and to take what you say into consideration. But a truly open mind accepts the possibility of changing with new facts and better accounts of reality.

      Is your mind so open? And if not, why not?

    • Lisa Rhone

      Sorry, how ’bout I’m just now seeing this response to my reply. There are some ideas that I’m open to changing. Others, not so much…sometimes just because of stubborness and sometimes just because I’m settled in my beliefs. I love to be challenged in my beliefs by people who I feel can help me to grow as a Christian, but to be challenged by others who don’t hold my core beliefs often feels more like an argument and because I don’t like to debate, I don’t generally go there. I may think about what they’ve said, but argue or “discuss” as you say, not usually. Sometimes-but not as a daily occurance. Am I open to change my Christian beliefs themselves, the answer to that is no, not at the core level. Yes, I do believe that I am a sinner and yes, I do believe that Christ died to save me and whoever else is willing to accept him. And I accept that probably not for reasons that would rest well with your intellect, sorry. But as I’ve learned new things about life I’ve changed other underlying beliefs. You would probably need to debate the issues that you’re discussing with someone who can match your intellect…what brought me to life changing faith probably wouldn’t impress you, but it made a difference in my world. It took me many years of struggle to come to terms with my faith. We may have had some (not all) of the same struggles but just landed on other sides of the fence.