The "Fall" commits an internal contradiction.
Many christians have little problem conceding that the story of 'Adam and Eve' is a metaphor and not a real historical event. But whether one holds that the story is allegorical or literal, the fact that the story contains an internal contradiction ought to concern every christian. Particularly when the story is supposed basis for original sin, and the supposed requirement of a savior.
First, let's cover a basic part of morality that every christian must accept in order for his moral system to be coherent: sin requires intent. And, in order to intend to do wrong, one must first know the difference between good and evil.
The book of James appears to affirm this, here:
James 4:17 -
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.
And so here lies the problem: the Genesis story cleary tells us Adam and Eve were expressly forbidden moral knowledge, yet holds them accountable for sin, in fact, it holds that their acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil, was a sin!
Ergo, 'original sin' collapses.
I've never met a theist who could respond honestly to this clear error in Genesis. They usually just insist that contradicting a command devoid of any moral knowledge, is a sin, despite the fact that they are fully aware that sin requires intent. Their own actions demonstrate this: they would agree that it would be ridiculous to hold a dog morally culpable for eating a steak off a counter, or an infant morally culpable for refusing to share a toy with a toddler. Here, the theist is fully able to grasp that a violation of a command, even when the command itself can be acknowledged, is not a sin unless the individual also is able to grasp the moral ramifications of disobeying the command.
So it's rather 'surprising that theists tend to miss that while Adam and Eve could be aware of the command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that they miss that Adam and Eve were incapable of understading the moral ramifications of disobeying the command, and therefore, they were incapable of moral culpability.
Most theists simply refuse to deal with this problem, because the theist must argue in favor of an internal contradiction: either that Adam and Eve are morally culpable even without knowledge of good and evil (and thereby render moraltity incoherent) or, they must argue that they did possess such knowledge, despite the book of Genesis specifically ruling out this option.
For those who argue option 1: congratulations: you've just cut the legs out from under your system of morality. You've taken fairness, justice and even sanity out of morality altogether. I trust you'll agree that there's no need for further discourse between us... although I can point you towards a good psychiatrist.
For those who insist on option 2, that they "knew good, even though they didn't know good", please read Genesis 3:22.
"And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, AND TAKE ALSO of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken."
There's a concomitant problem with this second option: If Adam and Eve had the knowledge of good and evil, then why are they seeking to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil?!
For those who argue that they had 'implicit but not explicit knowledge', please recognize that 1) You're inserting something into Genesis, in an ad hoc fashion and 2) implicit knowledge is the basis for the development of explicit morality, ergo this both contradicts Genesis where it states they were created without this knowledge and 2) make 'god's' protection of the tree of knowledge ridiculous as it is moot! If they already have implicit moral knowledge, they have moral knowledge (!) as well as the means of making is explicit!
Genesis 2:16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
2:17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
2:18 And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
(Let's note, and then leave aside the fact that "Eve" is created after the command)
Genesis 3:6-7 makes it clear that they only know good and evil after eating the fruit:
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Again: if eve already had knowledge of good and evil , what knowledge would she be gaining? Also recognize again that EVERYONE learns morality implicitly, and that, developmentally, this implicit knowledge later becomes explicit when the child develops her self awareness. Ergo, having implicit knowlege of morality IS the basis of explicit moral knowledge AND is all that is required to have moral knowledge.
3:7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
It's made very clear here that they only learn good and evil here, after the eating,
To those who still are in denial. the "god" character in the story makes it painfully clear that the knowledge of good and evil came after eating the fruit:
Genesis 3:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, AND TAKE ALSO of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
Again, in the myth, god created them innocent, without such knowledge. In fact, they were forbidden it. They were not capable of moral or immoral action. The genesis account clearly states this.
People normally learn morality through experience - from concrete examples they form abstractions - morality is inculcated - and eventually, moral rules given to us are introjected.
Adam and Eve had no such experience, -they were created as adults without such knowledge. Nor were they provided an opportunity to learn morality. In fact, they were forbidden such knowledge. Therefore they could not follow the moral ramifications of disobeying, therefore, they are not morally culpable.
The garden of eden story is an oxymoronic story on several layers - the characters in the story have no knowledge of good and evil, and no knowledge of death, YET, for the story to be understood, to make any sense at all, it relies on the fact that you, the reader understand the difference between 1) good and evil and 2) recognize death as an unpleasant threat!
So the story works in that it relies on the fact that you DON'T follow the rules in the story! Theists use this implicit knowledge to understand the story, and then forget that this implicit knowledge is required for the characters as well. In short, theist don't actually HEED what the story says! They ignore the fact that the bible states, point blank, that adam and eve were innocent. They ignore the fact tha adam and eve have no knowledge of death.
We see this sort of error all the time in thought experiments like this: they "work" only because they rely on the fact that readers will NOT actually pay attention to the rules of the story! If a reader actually pays heed to the words, they will realize the internal contradictions make the story nonsensical.
Responses to the Contradiction:
It's interesting to see how theists respond to this problem. Most simply insist that they can contradict themselves: that adam and eve can know what sin is, even though the story specifically states this is untrue. They are able to do this because they simply can't imagine how an adult could be innocent. So they not only ignore the fact that the bible states, point blank, in genesis 3:22 that they were innocent, they also ignore the self refuting fact that adam and eve were eating from the tree in order to learn good from evil to begin with!
Other theists react by holding that there different sorts of knowledge of good and evil. This fails for several reasons: 1) because any sort of knowledge contradicts the bible's statement that they were innocent, (This is merely the fallacy of insertionism) and 2) , because the grounds for one sort of knowledge would lead to the other... we learn from particulars to general rules.
Other theists react by tossing the story aside as a fable. This is true, but it ignores the fact that the bible includes a self refuting story.
It's intriguing to watch theists squirm over this..... it's really the royal road to understanding theism.... the story is clearly contradictory, and how a theist deals with this issue tells us a lot about how they hold to their theistic beliefs....
I've offered up the argument to theists for years, and have never received a coherent, logical response. Typically, they insist the following, in clear disregard to reality:
1) They were told not to eat from the tree, so they disobeyed. Disobeying is wrong.
This fails, because it simply ignores the problem. While they could understand the rule, they are unable to grasp the moral ramifications of disobeying the rule, and THIS is the actual sin involved. Yes, god punished them for "disobeying", but the very point under contention is that this punishment is illogical, because sin requires intent, and without intent, their actions could not be immoral.
For a theist to simply insist that disobeying is a sin misses the key point: how could you have moral knowledge it was a sin if you didn't have any, well, moral knowledge?
So, why do they insist otherwise? Simple - all sane adults understand "right and wrong" and can't really appreciate what it would be like to be an adult and yet not know that 'disobeying" is wrong. So, theists naturally assume that "adam and eve" must know good and evil, anyway.
My theory is based on my experience that all theism is projective - a projection of the believer. The believer knows good and evil, ergo he can't imagine another viewpoint. It's humorous to see it, over and over, but I've yet to see a theist who can break away from this projection. Yet, we must remember that according to the myth, adam and eve are about a day old, and without this knowledge. They can walk, talk, "reason", but they are without the same knowledge of right and wrong that we all learn before we can even remember.
Another problem with response number 1: This response also suffers from another slight problem: it ignores the very fact that the entire point of christianity is that man bears responsibility for being immoral: i.e., sin requires intent. If god is simply punishing them because he can, this means that the 'problem of evil' completely undoes their religion (i.e. they can't use the "bad things are born of our free will" argument anymore)
2) They did know good and evil, just, they didn't know some sort of special knowledge concerning good and evil i.e., they had limited knowledge of good and evil, but not a generalization of good and evil.
This is the fallacy of insertionism - they insert these bizzare concepts into the story. In addition, it simply fails, because the very way that humans learn "right and wrong" is through abstraction of specific experiences! Implicit knowledge develops into explicit knowledge. Ergo this would make god's need to protect the tree pointless...
3) This kind of knowledge of good and evil could only be known by living in evil and personally, intimately becoming acquainted with the consequences.
Genesis 3:22 (NIV) wrote:
And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil."
If what this theist claims about "knowledge of good an evil" is true, then according to Gen. 3:22 God has has lived/is living "in evil" and is "personally, intimately becoming acquainted with the consequences." Unless the Bible is wrong about God not being evil, this is not the meaning of "knowledge of good and evil."
4) The Christian worldview is that God is sovereign, ergo what he says, goes.
But the entire point of this story is that man bears responsiblity for his 'sin". To state "well, god is sovereign, he can do what he wants" would undermine the entire point of the fable - which is to absolve god of the guilty of creating evil, and placing the blame for "corruption" of the world on man.
Of course "god" could simply do what he wants, but then adam and eve are not culpable, and the entire story - along with the concept of original sin itself, are lost. If god simply obviates their free will, then as per Kantian ethics, 'god' is violating the categorical imperative itself, and making man a means to an ends.
1) If adam and eve had knowledge of good and evil, then why did god forbid them knowledge of good and evil? Please realize that implicit knowledge normally develops into explicit knowledge.
2) How can one do right or wrong, if they don't understand the moral implications of their actions? Are babies immoral when they take something that doesn't belong to them? Is a dog immoral for eating a steak I left out on the counter?
Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates