Stephen Fry Answers The ‘What Knowledge Did The Apple Bring’ Question

This is for Digital Cuttlefish, who is wildly busy and should NOT be online, but I’d like you to visit their blog so they can still feel loved. Horrid fishy thing that it is. Neener.

To cheer Cuttle up – a nice little slice of Quora, the popular Q&A siteWhat precisely was the knowledge that God didn’t want Adam & Eve to have?

It must have been very threatening to God considering his reaction to the eating of the “forbidden fruit.” Over the years I have seen many contradictory attempts at explaining what precisely this knowledge was. The only one that ever made any intellectual sense to me can be found in Daniel Quinn’s novel Ishmael.

Stephen Fry responded:

“Precisely” is an amusing word to use! Of course canonically the fruit’s reward (not specified as apple of course) is explained as granting a knowledge of good and evil, which is interpreted as a moral sense, a conscience. Specifically the sense of nakedness arose: “we were naked and we were ashamed” they told god when he questioned the bizarre covering up he saw when he met them later. His response is excellent: “who told you you were naked?”Genesis is just one of many attempts on the part of early man’s collective unconscious to narrativise a growing awareness that our species, in developing speech, transmitting ideas and memories, giving names and attributing qualities to other life forms and natural phenomena as well as being able to conceive of futurity and projecting forward plans that might outlive individuals and create that social condition that we call civilisation, seemed unique amongst other creatures.Consciousness is still a central puzzle, a point towards which neuroscience and philosophy are still attempting to converge. 

It is unfortunate that the Genesis myth allowed, thousands of years later, the idea of original sinshameguilt and disobedience to be taken as doctrine by an imperialist church which had syncretically raided such bits of JewishChristian and Greek theology and philosophy as suited their need to hold onto power.

But it is still a question that has yet to be answered by palaeonto-anthropology or any other form of enquiry so far as I know. Where did we get self-consciousness? How come we feel shame at the bodies and desire we never chose to have? Is language the parent of such self-consciousness or did self-consciousness spur the development of language?

Sometimes I’d rather be a tree frog. I don’t think they fall asleep worried that they’ve been a bad tree frog that afternoon or envying kingfishers or resenting their own diet or habitat. They just seem to spend 100% of their time being magnificent at being a tree frog. We spend most of our time regardless of our religion or lack of it, disappointed in ourselves, ashamed of ourselves, envious of others — always becoming and rarely being. 

It is a sad state of affairs that does require some explanation. Genesis at least had a go. That unprincipled pontiffs and princes of the church twisted it into a rod with which to rule is not the fault of the myth.

About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a former Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide. She regularly presents a news and current affairs show on RTRFM's The Mag (tune in on Tuesdays!).
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science. She files her nails while they drag the lake.