Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Thinking of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as an allegory, the woman and the man partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and from that point, all hell broke loose.

I'm thinking, "Why would partaking of knowledge be a sin?"

I have heard that the Tree of Knowledge is an understanding that everything has its opposite: good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness -- essentially laying out that the Tree of Knowledge is knowledge of dualism.

Another view interprets the "Good and Evil" from its Hebrew roots as being more of an express of 'all knowledge', as terms like from stem to stern, 'high and low' things like that -- exhaustive range of knowledge.

But again, I'm thinking, "How can knowledge be harmful?"

I have come to understand from Jean Piaget that our minds have within them a schema of knowledge -- a structure of knowledge that is based upon one relationship of a thing to another thing or concept.  Although the mind is structured in a neural network schema, there is also a hierarchal understanding of knowledge, a 'tree of knowledge' in the mind, the form of schema that attempts to organize the neural network into a hierarchal structure where one thing is dependent epistemologically on another. 

If I take the term "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" in its full meaning, I get to the point that this tree is essentially a hierarchy of knowledge judgments of what constitutes 'good' and what constitutes 'evil'.  Such a hierarchal schema would regress to essential dependencies and eventually commence with certain key root concepts.

To be specific, since we're talking about the Bible here, the root concept of biblical belief is that there is a personal god who is interested in us to a point that if we render obeisance to him, we might gain enough favors to live forever in His presence.  Failing this, we will be tortured and suffer forever in a hell of burning flesh.  Perhaps this root is a bit of a straw man, so let's just start with "there is a personal god" at the very root of the hierarchy.

But that is not enough to define the full tree -- obviously a tree of knowledge of good and evil must also have a branching between 'good' and 'evil'.  As we move up the tree, we begin to need to establish judgments, like 'the bible is the word of god'.  'Prophets tell is what to do'.  'If we follow the savior we are saved'.  'The prophet or pope will never lead us astray'.  These trunk branches of the tree of knowledge of good and evil provide paradigms to the believer as to how to distinguish between 'good' and 'evil'. 

So, as a point of definition here, a 'paradigm' is a pattern rule whereby we determine where something fits into our mental schema.  If my schema is hierarchal and dualistic between good and evil, then my paradigm is whether I think an observation of fact is 'good' or 'evil'.  Things that are 'good' are consistent with my schema.  Things that are inconsistent with my schema are rejected as false or evil.  Thus, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil becomes my way of rapidly dispatching what I sense into either confirming my knowledge, or being rejected as inconsistent with 'truth' (my schema).  The certainty and confidence I have in my Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is comforting indeed.

The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is said to be delicious to the taste, and very desirable.  It is very compelling and comforting to have certainty.  In sports, in religion, in the business environment, and in politics, the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" is pervasive.  It makes clear my understanding of what is OK and NOT OK.  My team, religion, company, and party are "OK" and the other guys are "NOT OK".  I'm overly simplifying here, but dualistic schemas tend to operate this way.  Partaking of the fruit is sometimes called "Drinking the Kool-Aid", meaning a blind and absolute acceptance of the dualistic schema.

"True Believers" are those who accept a given Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as being absolute.  The schema of the mind created and trained by such true believing religious 'knowledge' does not allow for alteration of either the root, basic trunks, and paradigms of one's knowledge.  When a fact is in conflict with what a True Believer holds as 'truth', the fact either is rejected through denial (self deception), or causes cognitive dissonance.   To resolve cognitive dissonance, the True Believer must rationalize the fact in observation, by either categorizing it as a manifestation of evil, or by some sort of apologetics that somehow comfort the believer that the fact is still consistent with the schema.  There is a third path, and that is to re-evaluate one's own mental schema, but this is difficult, if not impossible for the True Believer.

I think it is very telling to think of partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as equivalent to the terms "Drinking the Kool-aid".  The latter phrase comes from the story of Jonestown, where the followers of Jim Jones knowingly drank cyanide-poisoned Kool-aid because Jim Jones told them to do so.  They blindly and absolutely accepted his hierarchal schema that he, alone, could and would provide them the pathway to God.  This factual story puts into sharp relief the statement "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."  Eating or drinking, the partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is the Way of death.

Why, then, would anyone partake of this fruit or drink knowing it is poison?  Ah-- that is the big question.  Time for me to get some work done around the house...


  1. Perhaps the tree of knowledge of good and evil was wrong to partake of, because it is false?

    Maybe in God's view there is no "wrong"? Maybe, just maybe, religion has invented this part - called the "knowledge of good and evil" and God sees things in a morally neutral way?

    After all, what better way to control people, then to tell them that they need to do such and such; and not do such and such, because it is the desire of something invisible that controls their eternal destiny?

    1. Russ, sorry for the long delay in responding.

      I think you're dead on: the tree is false. It's made-up stuff that doesn't help us see the wonder. God does have that morally enlightened viewpoint.

  2. I know this blog is really old but I just thought I'd chime in. What the bible says is that God does have this 'knowledge of good and evil' and that Adam and Eve didn't have it before eating the fruit(as humans were never meant to have it).

    You see its OK for God to have this knowledge because he is all powerful, all knowing and ever present. We are not, we only have a tiny perspective of everything. We do however have a spirit (the consciousness) which is connected to God who knows all.

    After eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil what it means is that we decide: "This is good, this is evil" with everything based on our limited perspective instead of relying on the spirit (the god within) which is connected to the oneness: "these people are my friends, these people are my enemies", "this way to live my life is good, that way to live life is bad".

    Whoever puts a death to self and surrenders all to God, enters what Jesus calls 'the kingdom of god', they return to their original nature. It is not following religous values, however I do believe Jesus death paid the atonement for all people of all times to be redeemed to their original nature.

    It is not that there is no such thing as good and evil. It's just that the 'god within' is meant to decide that. And God has used this fallen creation as a way to test who will choose him before he eventually cuts off those who don't and restored earth to paradise.