“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints; the sinners are much more fun…” Billy Joel
For two thousand years, a great deal of fanfare has surrounded the idea that people need to be ‘saved’ by accepting Jesus Christ as their savior because we are all sinners. The idea of sin goes back to the very first chapter of the Bible in the Book of Genesis, in which the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, perpetrate what is known as The Fall. Certainly, such a notion is a primary reason why some theists go to great lengths to justify a belief in their singular God and His son. Only, a critical analysis of this particular creation myth reveals a god that, if actually existent, is a god of questionable morality and perhaps even malicious.
In the book of Genesis, after God has made the Earth and heavens, He decides to make man in the likeness of Himself (and other unnamed gods) for no reason that is made even remotely obvious to the casual reader. Then, because this man, Adam, is lonely, God makes animals for the man to have dominion over. Next, He makes a woman for Adam, presumably because having sex with sheep is inappropriate. God places the both of them in the beautiful garden of Eden where they may live happily ever after, but not without a dire warning: Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. If they do, God warns, they will die.
Most of us are familiar with what happens next. A serpent comes to Eve, telling her one lie and one truth. If Eve eats fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, not only will she not die—a lie—but she will come to have knowledge of good and evil as the gods do—the truth. After eating the fruit (presumably a bad apple), she then gives her husband fruit from the tree and he eats it too. They now know the difference between good and evil, which seems to come as a surprise to the typically described omniscient God the next time He comes around.
Incredulous, God punishes Adam and Eve. For starters, they’re going to die—and the serpent who instigated the entire affair, who gets off relatively easy by comparison. In addition, not only are Adam and Eve going to die, but God tells Eve she is going to bear tremendous pain during childbirth and subjugates her to her husband, while Adam is sentenced to the backbreaking task of having to grow their own food. Finally, they are cast out from the Garden of Eden least they try next to eat from the Tree of Life and live forever.
It appears Adam and Eve sinned; they disobeyed God, and from this a reader is to extrapolate a lesson: If you disobey God, the consequences will be undesirable, to say the least. However, a philosophical question arises as to whether or not Adam and Eve acted with ill intentions towards God and whether or not they should be punished for what they did.
I think it is fair to point out that it is perfectly clear that Adam and Eve had no knowledge of what was good and what was bad prior to eating the forbidden fruit. God may have told them that eating the fruit from this particular tree would result in their death, but they had absolutely no cause to believe that either death, disobeying God, or prancing around the Garden unclothed were bad things until after they ate the fruit.
With that in mind I think it equally fair to say that it is God then that explicitly bears the responsibility for creating the circumstances that would cause Adam and Eve to “fall.” What reason did God have for putting the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden? Why did He create a serpent that would be so beguiling as to fool Eve? If He was testing Adam and Eve, He must have known they would fail this test given that God is (or described as being later on in the Bible) all-knowing. Of course, if God had chosen not to know the future regarding this matter, God is either irresponsible or worse, a sadist. For the theist who wishes to take this creation account seriously, the absence of any analysis is required to think that God might not be evil. But we mustn’t judge too quickly.
We learn by reading further into the Book of Genesis that thanks to Adam and Eve’s disobedience, every subsequent human being suffers consequences. Because of the first man and woman, everyone is now born with a stain upon their soul as punishment for Adam and Eve’s insubordination. Certain monotheists call this “Original Sin,” something from which they think everyone is in need of being “saved” from. But what God does to Adam and Eve is akin to my requiring you to rob a bank with me, not tell you the details of the plan, then have you die during the heist so that I can get away unscathed. Best of all, your ancestors take the rap! Again, we must ask the compelling question as to why God would set the events of mankind into motion in such a manner. If we take into account that the Judeo-Christian god is described as being as omni-benevolent as He is omniscient (though we cannot figure out why from the Genesis account, other than to have faith that what the Creator creates is good), why did The Fall turn out to be anything but good? Couldn’t an all-powerful God have prevented this mess?
We, as human beings, must require that we know God’s plan in order to determine whether or not His punishment from the onset of our supposed history is just. Yet, if God is silent, if His ultimate plan is a matter of speculation, we might speculate many things—and that includes discovering who the Wizard of Oz really is. Given the account of man’s creation in Genesis, somewhere, somehow, one or more of God’s three, traditionally ascribed, major attributes—omnipotence, omniscience, and omni-benevolence—has failed to make either who God is or the story of Genesis (or both) credible.
God’s supposed goodness suffers the greatest damage in Genesis. After all, a child doesn’t know the meaning of a punishment until they are actually punished, so it seems odd to me that God would choose to punish his creation (and his creation’s creations) so severely. If God’s reasoning was to think that it would surely teach humans to never disobey Him again, He positively failed on that account.
It is this failure to be kind to his creations that casts doubt upon his other attributes, most notably His capacity to see the future. If God knew, or even could have logical deduced what the outcome of The Garden of Eden scenario might have been, He should have refrained from creating Adam and Eve. [That is, if humans hold God to any recognizable moral standard. Heck, even God’s own standards.] If God did not know what the outcome of events would be, then He is not omniscient.
Unfortunately, the best theistic defense is to characterize God as a perfect entity and this, they argue, by definition must include omniscience. Thus, if what the theist says about God’s omniscience in relation to His perfection is true, then God had to have known what was going to happen. If that’s true, we must return once again question God’s supposed benevolence. “Ah,” the theist will continue, “Keep in mind that God is perfect. God cannot not be benevolent.” But this would make God amoral since a being can only be moral if able to make choices. Even if God could choose evil but never did, we still couldn’t be certain that he could commit evil if He’s never made that choice. God must have free will then, hence, no one can be positively certain that God was without some evil intent in the creation of mankind. The theistic defenses of God’s qualities that allude to perfection drown in a circular sea of reasoning as quickly as any other characteristic ascribed to God.
Given the contrivances in the story of Genesis, one should find it difficult to entertain tradition monotheistic descriptions of God seriously. God cannot be perfect because omniscience/amorality prevents this from being the case (a theistically “moral” person would argue, anyway). Nor can God be omniscient without casting suspicion on His “benevolent” motives. We might, for a second, consider that God is indeed supremely powerful given that the logic necessary to make the attributes of God mesh with the story of Genesis is as impossible as a square circle. But if God can only do what is logically possible then God’s attributes are reduced to contradictions, though perhaps we should have seen that coming. On the other hand, we humans are not omniscient and we’re not perfect. Maybe that’s a good thing.
God. The Holy Bible . 1000th. Hippo: Synod Press, 393.
Krueger, Douglas E. What Is Atheism?. 3rd. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998.
Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates. 1st. New York, NY: Dover Press, 1992.Smith, George H. Atheism: The Case Against God. 1st. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1979.