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And I want to sort of throw out two that occur to me. The first question, I think, is this one right over here; why would God not want us to have a knowledge of good and evil? I mean, think about it, this tree, what does it gives us? Presumably, it gives an understanding of right and wrong; so, you eat from the tree and you understand right from wrong and you don’t eat from the tree and you don’t get understanding from right from wrong.
Now, think about that. Is it not kind of better off knowing the difference between right and wrong? Is it not a good thing? And if God really want good things for us, won’t He want us to have a knowledge of good and evil, of right and wrong? And if you think about it for a moment, what will it look like for us not to have a knowledge of good and evil?
Imagine a guy, regular kind of guy, he’s going off to work one day and this your neighbor right over here, we will call him Bob, right! And Bob is a nice guy. He’s got a house, he has two cars and he’s got kids. Bob, the nice suburban guy, and everything is great with Bob, but there is only one problem, he has no understanding, whatsoever, of good and evil. Just absolutely no understanding! Those categories just don’t mean anything to him. So, would you want to hang around Bob? Would Bob make a good buddy or business partner? Would Bob be a good neighbor? Bob doesn’t understand good and evil. So, Bob does not understand good and evil, let’s just think about that. Did God really want like the sort of angelic race of innocent people, is that what is, who just have no understanding of right and wrong?
We actually have a word nowadays for people who don’t understand right and wrong. What is that word? That word, folks, is “Sociopaths” or “Psychopaths”. These are people who are normal in every other kind of way but they just don’t have understanding of right and wrong. These are the kind of guys that could kill you the way they mow their lawn. There is just no difference, right and wrong has no meaning to them. Did God want a race of angelic Sociopaths? This really seems ludicrous. So, you know, this is a big problem.
Now, if you go back to this problem, why won’t God want us to have knowledge of good and evil and think of it in terms of the categories I talked about in our last session together, which is internal questions and external questions, and I asked you, would you say that this is an internal question or would you say that it’s an external question? What would you say? And, I’m not really sure what the answer to that is, but maybe you can make an argument that this is a kind of an external question.
Maybe for some reason God doesn’t want us to have a knowledge of good and evil. You with your preconceived categories, you like it when people know that there is a good and evil. How do you know what God wants in the world? So, you might argue on just taking it at this level. If you phrase the question like this that this is an external question, therefore that the criteria I suggested last time is not really as interesting as an internal question. But, I want to sort of rephrase the question in a way that makes it, I think, an internal question.
And in order to rephrase the question, I want to kind of take you on a little bit of a logical journey. Let’s think about it this way. If you look at the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, after Adam and Eve eat from the tree, God punishes mankind for eating from the tree. There is dearth; everybody, Adam has to work for the land by the sweat of his brow, Eve has difficulty in child birth. If you think about what the implications of that are, the fact that God punishes mankind for eating from the tree means something, it means we knew it was wrong to eat from the tree. Now, why is that? Because, you can’t punish somebody who doesn’t know what they did is wrong. You can’t sort of train them almost like you train a dog to bark or something like that. You don’t punish a dog in a meaningful kind of way. You can’t be disappointed with someone who doesn’t understand the difference between eating right and wrong.
God seems to be genuinely angry, genuinely disappointed with us for having eaten from the tree. He banishes us from Eden. And, the question is that if it is really true that we knew it was wrong to eat from the tree, then that means we already had some kind of ability to understand the difference between right and wrong from eating from the tree. At the very least, we understand that obeying God was actually a good thing, which means that we understood there could be something that was to be a bad thing also, that disobeying God would have been a bad thing.
So, if that’s true that we already had an understanding of good and evil before eating from the tree, that means that we already have the knowledge that the tree was suppose to give us before we eat from it, because the tree is a tree knowledge of good and evil. So, He does not sort of make the tree afar us. What does the tree give us if I already had the understanding of good and evil before I eat from the tree? I mean, this really is the big deal. This is truly an internal question. You take the story at face value and just accepting everything the story tells you. It’s just, it’s an internal catch-22. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. At the end of the day, the tree doesn’t seem to work, it doesn’t seem to be meaningful, it doesn’t really seem to grant us the knowledge of good and evil, a knowledge we didn’t have before. How is it that we come to grips with these questions? These questions are big deal.
Why would God not want us to have a knowledge of good and evil?
Didn’t we already have the knowledge the tree supposed to give us before eating from it?
So, I want to introduce you to my Maimonides. My Maimonides wrote a book called ‘The Guide of the Perplexed’. Over here is a page from the original manuscript, recently sold by Christy’s for a lot of money. For the guide of the perplexed, guide of the perplexed was originally actually written in Arabic, so this actually can’t be an original manuscript as this is an Hebrew, but it was translated by Ibn Tibbon, and you are going to find the translation in English also.
So, one of the questions which he entertains earlier on the guide is he says, he does a story, he says, “Once upon a time, there was a guy and the guy approached me and said: I understand something; Adam and Eve when they eat from the tree, so they were punished by God, I get that, but didn’t they gain something more than they lost? Won’t they better off, I mean, they understood good and evil. I mean that’s a big deal to understand good and evil. So, what they gain outweighed what they lost.” And my Maimonides says, no, you don’t understand. He gave him an answer. He said that, actually, they did loss something.
If we understand what my Maimonides is talking about here, I think he is suggesting something profound. Before I tell you my Maimonides answer, I want you to sit and sort of ponder on this for a moment. Think about this question; is there any logical way out of this chain? Let’s go back to this chain of logic over here. God punished mankind for eating from the tree; that means we wronged, we knew it wasn’t right to eat from the tree, etc, etc, etc. As we read through that, is there any way out?
Could we be making a false assumption about what eating from the Tree really does?
There is possibly a way out. There might be an assumption which is wrong. If we change the assumption, there might be a way out. Can you spot the problematic assumption here? So, let me tell you the assumption that my Maimonides zeros in on. He says, you think that eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil means that we receive a knowledge, a moral knowledge when we had none before. That’s not necessarily true. Maybe the tree didn’t give us knowledge of right and wrong, when we had none before, but instead, it transformed our knowledge of right and wrong, it changed it from one kind of knowledge into another. That means that if you think about it this kind of way, you can almost imagine that there is a pre-tree world and a post-tree world.
Let’s imagine a tree of knowledge over here, and that’s a little diagram. Because, a tree of knowledge that must lives in our mind, it changes the way we think about things. We can just like divide the screen an half, almost, right! We can have one world, the pre-tree world; and one world, the post-tree world. So, when you think about these two worlds, My Maimonides argues that in both worlds, we had some kind of understanding of right and wrong. We had to have because when we ate from the tree, we already knew what was right to obey God and wrong to disobey. So, we had some sort of categories of right and wrong.
Now, the day that we know, my Maimonides said, we know what more knowledge of right and wrong looks like in the post-tree world. What it looks like is good and evil, right! And that is the world which we live in, the world of good and evil; a very normal words that we use to describe right things and wrong things. When something is right, we call it good, when something is wrong, we call it evil.
But my Maimonides has argued. He said that is not true in the pre-tree world. In the pre-tree world, we didn’t have does particular concepts of good and evil. We understood right and wrong, but not in terms of good and evil. We didn’t call it that, we call it something else. There was a different name for right and wrong which signified a different kind of way of looking at those concepts. And that sort of transformed itself once we eat from the tree. So the real question, the 64,000 dollar question as it were is, what did moral knowledge look like in this world, in the pre-tree world? What is behind these question marks? Because that’s the pristine world, that’s the way we are suppose to be. Somehow, it is very difficult to crawl back into that world because now we are use to a world of good and evil, that’s the way we talk about right and wrong.
But, it now seems natural to us now, but wouldn’t it seem natural to us then? Let’s try to sort of reemerge, get back into the pre-tree world. And one of the questions we will need to answer is; what did it look like, what did moral knowledge look like, what is the name, what is the concept, how is it different from the way we understand right and wrong now? We don’t have even enough data to understand that. In order to be able to understand that, we need to start going from what I am going to call the sort of big questions into some of the smaller questions that we talk about before.
And what we want to do is a symbol, a whole plethora of this smaller questions, because when we do kind of like what Thomas Kuhn talked about in his book, we may see paradigm shift, we may see that there may be a fundamentally different way of looking at the story, which makes this kinds of question go away.
First, let us understand what does questions are. Those questions are the data which we will use to be able to build a new understanding of the story. So, what I want you to do now is actually go back and read the text of the story. It is not long. It is just twenty some add verses. Read it through. If you understand Hebrew, read it in Hebrew, if you understand English, read it in English. And just keep a little log for yourself; what do you think those questions are. Again, just erase everything you know about the story, imagine you are looking the story for the very first time, what are the questions that you would ask. Build that log and again we will come back and compare our notes and see where we are from there. I will see you next time.
1. The Lullaby Effect
2. Kinds of Questions
3. The Mystery of the Pre-Tree World
4. The Tale of Two Trees
5. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle
6. The Primal Serpent
7. A Perplexing Temptation
8. A Naked Paradox
9. A Snake in the Garden
10. Beasts of the Field
11. Beauty and the Beast
12. What Does It Mean to Know?
13. A World of Broccoli and Pizza
14. Are All Dilemmas Created Equal?
15. The Phantom Boxer
16. The I of the Beholder
17. The Filter of Desire
18. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
19. Epilogue: God as Knower of Good and Evil (Premium)
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