Tree of Knowledge

This image came my way on Facebook. There is more information about the tree on the National Geograohic website. Of course, by calling this post “tree of knowledge” I will be setting some readers on edge because of the allusion to Genesis. But that reaction itself reflects a problematic understanding of the passage. I doubt there are many people who actually think that living as immature and naive children in a garden forever would be desirable. The story is about growing up, which involves learning wisdom and discernment between good and evil.

It is thus profoundly ironic that young-earth creationists oppose the learning of discernment, in a manner that suggests that they have not read the Bible either carefully or reflectively. The Bible is full of wisdom teaching that encourages people to look closely at natural phenomena and learn from them.

“Look to the ant, you sluggard!” We need to add, “Look to the Swedish Spruce tree, you young-earth creationist!”


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  • Leo O’Bannon

    Nay! Thou art a compromiser in the name of Ken Ham and all that is literal!!

  • David Evans

    I was hoping someone had counted 9,550 rings. That would have been cool. Unfortunately it’s a radiocarbon date, which we all know is the work of Satan and his scientific minions.

  • Keika

    I can contribute a Christmas Star for this tree. It’s been in my attic for some 13.7 billion years now. It’s quite dusty as you would imagine.

  • TomS

    The Wikipedia article List of long-living organisms mentions this tree rather low on the list of “Clonal plant colonies” (several are estimated to be well over 10,000 years old). The oldest on the list of “Individual plant specimens”, “A Great Basin Bistlecone Pine … is measured by ring count to be 5063 years old.”

  • Alice

    I doubt there are many people who actually think that living as immature and naive children in a garden forever would be desirable. The story is about growing up, which involves learning wisdom and discernment between good and evil.

    I wonder then why God told them not to eat if they need that knowledge in order to grow up?

    • Gary

      I prefer to believe the snake.

    • James F. McGrath

      I wonder why God told them that they would die the day that they ate from it.

      It seems to me that the story may recast one about the human condition from the perspective of the Israelite experience of exile, so that it also becomes one about being expelled from a good land because of disobedience to divine commandment(s).

      • newenglandsun

        “I wonder why God told them that they would die the day that they ate from it.”

        I do believe I explained that already. I get your problem with fundamentalists, I don’t get your problem with the official orthodox Christianity and why you want to break from it (reflected in your teachings of universalism, beleivers’ baptism, etc.). Maybe you could explain that?

        • James F. McGrath

          It isn’t a reflection of a desire to break from it. It is a reflection of not finding that I had a sufficient basis for retaining it. Indeed, the process whereby views have become “official” and “orthodox” is a long and controversial one in which one simply cannot assume that the view that prevailed was “right.”

          • newenglandsun

            Even after all the debates they had over them to establish these positions? Even though a vast majority of Christians still hold to these positions?

            I mean, I used to be a liberal so then what do you base your beliefs on? The Bible? But wouldn’t that make you a Biblicist in the other direction fundies go in?

          • James F. McGrath

            My beliefs are formulated in conversation between the Bible, Christians past and present, reason, science, history, and anything else that is relevant to a particular topic.

          • newenglandsun

            So basically a “pick and choose” formula?

            I mean, that’s exactly as to how I was like and while I still have a lot of sympathies toward other views (learned about Spinoza recently and I think I would actually grow quite fond of him too), I wouldn’t say that I still think some views aren’t anathematized.

            I use reason as well, science, history, the readings of Christians past and present and so why do I come to different conclusions than you do on just about everything (except if we might agree on something)? This is puzzling to me.

          • James F. McGrath

            Everyone picks and chooses. That you do so differently than I do shouldn’t be puzzling.

          • newenglandsun

            Within a certain extent. That which falls within the magisterium. Then there are minor issues.

            I wonder…if we met in person would be good friends or sworn in enemies.

  • newenglandsun

    “The story is about growing up, which involves learning wisdom and discernment between good and evil.”

    Um, no. The story is not about growing up otherwise there would have been no need for consequences to occur. The story was about how man went from an Eden-like state of perfection walking with God to then deciding to throw themselves out of the Garden-like perfection they were in creating death for themselves and havoc and disorder (Wis. 1:12-16).

    See also Tryggve Mettinger’s fantastic work entitled “The Eden Narrative” where he refutes the position of James Barr that God’s morals were wrong in this story.

    • James F. McGrath

      Your categorical assertions really do not help foster discussion. It is not as though Mettinger’s work, or yours, are the only views on this topic that a significant number of people have found persuasive.

      There is a long history of interpreters seeing the naked and unabashed man and woman as like children, their lack of knowledge of good and evil as a phrase used in Hebrew literature to denote children, and God as depicted in parental terms. The story explores the loss of innocence that is a universal feature of human experience, and not just the experience of a supposed original human couple.

      • newenglandsun

        “Your categorical assertions really do not help foster discussion.”

        Excuse me. *My* categorical assertions? Really? And you *don’t* make categorical assertions (posts on how fundamentalists are Biblicists, posts on how you’re a liberal, posts on how such and such is destroying Christianity)?

        I’m fairly confident of my *positions* that I take, yes. But seriously, I think we *all* make categorical distinctions. I had a conversation with an Episcopalian on a Catholic forum recently who was stating how “[s]cholars who attain wide public influence are usually seen [as arrogant] by other scholars”.

        Let’s see, you’re the one who classified my position on universalism as advocating a “god of torture” I do believe.

        “The story explores the loss of innocence that is a universal feature of human experience, and not just the experience of a supposed original human couple.”

        I never said that. You need to read the text as a whole. Genesis 3 describes how man breaks its relationship with each other. (Note: their grasp for selfishness was a minor part, they passed this down unto their relatives though corrupting humankind which is what the majority of Christians confirm. G.K. Chesterton once said, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved”.

        Which ancient readers? You state there “is a long history of interpreters”. Please list some, I have not found any other than in maybe Gnostic literature (but they rejected Genesis any way).

        From what I have gathered, the historic Christian position has understood it in relation to Original Sin and Jews seem to read it this way as well (although they wouldn’t use the term Original Sin).

        Why was Pelagius condemned at the fourth ecumenical council though?

        Keep in mind, the Eastern Orthodox gave us the first seven ecumenical creeds. The Catholic Church just tagged along with them.

        And again, I would highly recommend Mettinger’s work.

        • James F. McGrath

          You seem not to be aware of the history of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. How can the early ones, in which there was no rupture of structure or fellowship between East and West, be a work of Orthodoxy with Catholicism tagging along? Such terminology is anachronistic.

          I think you may assume that every time I address a viewpoint, I am addressing yours, unless it is a view that clearly is not. Rather than pretending that there aren’t a whole host of Christians who take the view that God prepares hell for those who refuse to accept Jesus, why not simply indicate your disagreement with them as well as with me, rather than assuming that criticisms of that viewpoint must be criticisms of yours?!

          • newenglandsun

            “Rather than pretending that there aren’t a whole host of Christians who take the view that God prepares hell for those who refuse to accept Jesus, why not simply indicate your disagreement with them as well as with me, rather than assuming that criticisms of that viewpoint must be criticisms of yours?!”

            I do do this. Quite valiantly at times, I’d say.

            Hi, I’m a future historian and a future Orthodox Catholic. Check out the history of the faith yourself. Read someone like Jaroslav Pelikan.

            The early Church was made up almost entirely of Catholics and Orthodox.

            The only people who would contend this as being anachronistic are Protestants.


            I really don’t know how one can honestly maintain the position that the Church fathers like Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzen were Protestants while at the same time they held to things like the perpetual virginity of Mary and the position that Mary was Mother of God while those who did not hold this position were heretics and outside of Orthodoxy.

            R.P.C. Hanson, Charles Freeman, and Richard Rubenstein aren’t the only historians on this matter.

            And okay, if you go with Raymond Brown, maybe the Catholic Church wasn’t *entirely* tagging around since he argues they controlled everything. I tend to show a lot of praise for the Eastern Orthodox in my histories.

          • Beau Quilter

            I find it amusing that an anonymous internet commenter claims to be “valiant”. Feeling brave there, newenglandsun, hiding behind your internet handle?

          • newenglandsun

            And beau_quilter isn’t anonymous?

          • Beau Quilter

            Neither anonymous, nor particularly valiant. Haven’t quite figured out to get my face to show up on these blog postings, but you can find my pretty mug on facebook.

          • arcseconds

            Could we just leave this ‘you must be a coward if you use a pseudonym’ thing, please?

            It is a bit silly, after all.

          • Beau Quilter

            I’ve said nothing about cowardice.

            But it is a bit silly to claim bravery in anonymity. I was just in another thread conversation with newenglandsun, in which he accused me of “slander”. I’ve seen the same silly accusation leveled at James McGrath from anonymous “victims of slander” (invariably after lobbing the real insults themselves).

          • arcseconds

            Does the pseudonym really matter?

            We’re all just commenting on a blog. We’re not defending the city walls from alien invaders. If you said you argued valiantly, that would be no more or less ridiculous than newenglandsun saying it, as far as I can see.

            On the other hand, we are all exposing ourselves to some social risk by commenting here. If I say something that’s perceived as being stupid or obnoxious, then people will remonstrate with me and downvote me. I stand to lose face in this community, and it may spill over into slactivist, where I’m also active. If I’m bad enough James will ban me.

            And that could potentially happen if someone were to spread lies about me, too. So I can be harmed by slander.

            Now, that wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever happen to me, but it would be a significant minus, and for some people their participation in an online community is much more important than that.

            None of that would be any different if I was using my real name, and it could happen to you in just the same way, too.

          • Beau Quilter

            No, I don’t really think pseudonyms matter very much, which is why I don’t bring it up often. I basically agree. We’re all just commenting on a blog. In fact, I think a healthy use of pseudonyms can encourage honest conversation on a blog.

            The only time I do bring it up (in a minor barb) is to point out the irony of someone assuming personal risk with a pseudonym. To be honest I probably wouldn’t have mentioned newenglandsun’s use of “valiant”, if he hadn’t accused me of “slander” in another thread at the same time (for suggesting that his use of a text was shallow – I don’t think that qualifies as slander by any definition).

            I don’t think I agree with your assessment of social risk for anonymous commenting, although it’s not a huge disagreement and I might be convinced otherwise. Perhaps someone who comments regularly using the same pseudonym might be risking the credibility of his online persona. But to me that is nothing to the exposure James risks by posting with his full name and credentials, and talking openly about his job, his family, and his church community.

            Of course, anonymity really goes too far when a commenter pretends to credentials upon which he bases his arguments. Even James has joined in when we’ve teased “Dr. David Tee” about his presumed doctoral credentials:


          • arcseconds

            Oh, OK, if it’s a continuation of some spat you’re having, don’t mind me :-)

            I’m not saying that everyone has equal risk. McGrath is definitely more exposed, as you say.

            On the other hand, he does get to play the “I’m a proper biblical scholar” card :-), or to put it around the other way, without coming clean on his IRL identity, his credentials would have to be taken to some extent on faith.

            Also, as an academic he’s not accountable for his time, and if he has tenure, his job security is pretty good.

            Whereas others of us might actually be risking current or future employment for no good reason if we used our real names. My understanding is that employers in the USA don’t need a reason and don’t need to follow a process to fire someone. If you’re working in an unrelated position and someone finds your comments on line and doesn’t like them, you could find yourself out on your ear, and that sort of thing has happened before.

            (James can still be professionally embarrassed and he might risk future employment, of course)

            There’s no right or wrong here, and different people make different choices for different reasons. I’ve encountered the ‘pseudonym people are cowards! real men use their real names’ thing before, and I find it a bit frustrating.

            You were apparently just using it to needle newenglandsun, so that’s OK :-)

          • Beau Quilter

            Good thoughts – I agree with it all; and I really have no problem, generally, with pseudonyms.

            I probably didn’t need to needle newenglandsun in this way. As you can see from his last comment, he’s quite capable of making himself look petty without any help from me.

          • newenglandsun

            He’s a little embarassed that his mommy gave him the name “Beau Quilter” that people would mistake as a pseudonym. Go easy on him. He’s also an applications manager and has no formal education in history, religion, or philosophy (obvious from his comments as well).

            I laughed hysterically when I saw him on facebook. FYI, Beau, I actually AM in my early 20’s! (hence a child so at least I’m acting my age – you COULD at least act yours!)

          • Beau Quilter

            Thank you for these thoughtful criticisms, newenglandsun. I will try to keep them in mind. Apparently, I was far off the mark in calling your comments “childish”.

          • Beau Quilter

            Well, newenglandsun has added an interesting comment to our conversation on the comparative social risks of pseudonyms and actual names.

            He has “found me out”. I am a silly old man with only a Master of Fine Arts and no scholarly academic position. My shame is revealed for all the world to see.

          • arcseconds

            and you have a silly name, too!

            what is your medium?

          • Beau Quilter

            … and apparently I’m pretty funny-looking!


          • arcseconds

            Painting, sculpture, textiles?

          • Beau Quilter

            Oh, of course! It’s been some time since I’ve been a practicing artist (my career has taken me in other directions). Theatre scenic design, actually, which lead me to CAD programs, which lead me to database programming which lead me to … a job that has nothing to do with theatre (though I still attend quite a bit).

  • Daniel Ruben

    There’s lots of stuff in nature that is older than 6000 years. Light
    from stars more than 6000 light years away being the most obvious
    example. No doubt creationists would appeal to the same twisted logic –
    anything older than 6000 years was created by God just to “look that
    way”. Why? Do not ask: “Gods ways are higher than mans etc. blah blah”.
    And no doubt any life form on earth older than when the Great Flood was
    supposed to have rained down was miraculously spared by God, just like
    he miraculously had kangaroos and koalas fly/swim/teleport to Noah’s
    Ark. There’s no point trying to disprove with evidence a hypothesis that
    claims to be scientific but is based on nothing other than absolutist a
    priori religious principles which cannot by definition be disproven.
    (Feel free however to make creationists look extremely silly and