Two Trees (Like Gods)
In Genesis 3:1-7, Adam and Eve are living in perfect bliss in the Garden of Eden. They have only been given one instruction: do not eat from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then the serpent invites Eve to eat from the tree. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5 ESV). Eve, the author recounts, realizes “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (vs. 6), she eats its fruit and shares with Adam. Instantly, they feel naked and ashamed. They have sinned, they now face lives of toil and death, and God expels them from the Garden of Eden.
Genesis also tells us that God made Adam & Eve in His own image, so we know that the two humans were already like God. This leaves us with a puzzling question:
Does God not want us to have knowledge?
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, had a strong distrust of reason, which many detractors of Christianity point to as a fatal flaw. Christianity is often painted as essentially unintellectual: rejecting rationality, curiosity, and intelligence as unnecessary, or even indicative of doubt. “Faith,” atheist Richard Dawkins says, “is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” (Edinburgh International Science Festival speech, 1992 – quoted on page 102 of Alistair McGrath’s Christianity: An Introduction)
It’s easy to set up a dichotomy of faith and reason, painting Christianity as dealing entirely with feelings and intangible belief, and reason as being the realm of scientific rationality and practical thought. Critics point to the Catholic church’s persecution of scientists or conspiracy theorists (who claim that climate change is a myth and dinosaurs are a hoax), as evidence that Christianity is laughably backwards, and by nature, opposed to thought and progress.
History, however, begs to differ. For the majority of Western history, the church was at the forefront of intellectual inquiry. Ivy League giants Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were founded by Christian groups who had recently escaped persecution in England. Oxford University, Dawkins’ employer and the second-oldest university in the world, was founded (like many early universities) as a result of an overwhelming demand for education from students flooding monasteries to study with the monks. Its motto is Dominus Illuminatio Mea: “The Lord is my Light.”
Beyond institutions, individual giants of science were often directly spurred on by their faith. Gregor Mendel, often called the father of genetics, was an Augustinian friar who experimented with cross-breeding pea plants and established many essential rules of heredity. Galileo Galilei, a pioneer in astronomy and physics, actively connected his belief in God to his drive to understand the world. “I do not feel obliged to believe,” he wrote, “that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forget their use.”
It is clear the story in Genesis isn’t about devaluing knowledge or wisdom. God wants us to learn about all kinds of good and interesting things, but He never wanted us to know what it is like to experience evil, confusion, and suffering.
The experiential knowledge of evil is what God wanted to spare us from.
We don’t know what the human race would have become if we had never fallen into sin, if we had never tasted evil. What kind of knowledge would we have if we lived in a perfect world? We will never know what it would be like to have never fallen, but we have hope that one day we will get a new education in a better world, where no knowledge is obscured, and no suffering is experienced. In that future world there will be another tree - the tree of life - which will guarantee that we never have to know the experience of suffering, evil, or death ever again.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Questions for Reflection:
The serpent promises that “you will be like God” – the same desire that led to Lucifer being cast out of heaven. Is God indicating that he doesn’t want humans to be curious, or that he wants them to temper their inquiry with humility in the face of their creator? Is this really about the desire for knowledge – or is it about humility and pride?
Is there anything that we can know without some sort of faith? What kind of faith has no basis in reason? What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain that they didn’t have before? How did this compare to what the serpent said they would receive?
Look up Proverbs 2. What does it say about the search for knowledge and wisdom? What is the key to successful inquiry?
It is easy for us to criticize Adam & Eve for being easily tricked. However, it is also difficult for us to explain exactly why it was wrong for them to eat fruit from one tree over another. Can you explain why that is wrong?
Are there any areas where it is difficult to explain why God defines some things as right or wrong? Do you trust God’s definition of good and evil? And there any areas where science, philosophy, or other areas of human reason seem to define morality in ways that are different than God, or the Bible? How do you think we are supposed to approach these topics?
Do you believe that reason and logic are harmful or helpful to faith in God? Why?
Faith and Reason: Three Views, by Craig A. Boyd, Alan G. Padgett, and Carl Raschke
The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, by Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton
The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller
Connect: Tweet a news story or editorial in which the relationship between faith and reason is discussed. Are they seen as being in conflict?