“Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.” — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy
Now, there’s a thought.
Science and religion have been at loggerheads ever since Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species in 1859, with many in the Christian world refusing to even consider the possibility of man having a simian ancestry. This clash of beliefs gave rise to several controversial events in the decades past, the most infamous being the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and some like Pastor D James Kennedy went so far as to blame the Holocaust on Darwin. The Bible clearly states that God made man from the dust of the ground, these ideologues claimed, and there was no reason to think differently.
Things have changed, though, and even the Church – despite decades of holding out – has grudgingly come to acknowledge long-disputed theories on the evolution of beast and universe. But what if there is more to the story, and it was never supposed to be an Evolution v/s Creation debate after all? Could the actual Biblical marker for man’s origin lie not in the breathing of life into dust but, several verses later, in his fall from divine grace?
Let me begin by assuming that everybody here understands the Garden of Eden to be no more a garden than the forbidden fruit was an apple, and that the first few chapters of Genesis are an allegorical narrative of events that came to pass millions of years ago. But then again, what exactly did it seek to narrate, and where do man and monkey figure in the scheme of things?
Here are three possibilities put forth rather crudely for your consideration. One: The Garden of Eden was not a specific place but a state of relative happiness and ignorance that we existed in before the taming of fire and sprouting of opposable thumbs. Two: Adam and Eve were not two distinct individuals but entire generations that oversaw the evolution of monkey to man through the course of centuries. Three: The Biblical event we know as the fall of man actually describes the process that sent him up the evolutionary ladder.
Admittedly, this theory looks quite abrupt when pitched this way. So let’s establish some context by cutting a short story even shorter.
As we well know, Adam and Eve were permitted to have anything they desired in the Garden of Eden with the sole exception of the forbidden fruit of knowledge. The two played nice for a while, until a serpent – believed to be the Devil in disguise – tempted them into taking that fateful bite. And woe, upon being filled with knowledge, they swiftly covered themselves with fig leaves to hide the nakedness they had suddenly become aware of.
Eve and her companion probably didn’t know it then, but disobedience begets punishment. An angry God banished the two from the Garden of Eden, cursing Adam to a life of eating his food “by the sweat of his brow” until his eventual death. Eve and the serpent were penalized too, but those can be discussions for another day.
So why do I believe that Adam and Eve were a generation of apes at the cusp of an evolutionary transformation, and how can a Biblical event that supposedly occurred in the space of a single day be compared to a process that takes centuries coming to pass? Allow me to present my reasons at the risk of spelling out a certain logic that’s probably obvious to all.
The concept of a single day must mean very different things for a species with an average life span of eighty and an all-powerful entity with no apparent beginning or end. So, by that reasoning, couldn’t the sixth day of the first Biblical week have signified a duration of six million human years?
The concept of a single day must mean very different things for a species with an average life span of eighty and an all-powerful entity with no apparent beginning or end. So, by that reasoning, couldn’t the sixth day of the first Biblical week have signified a duration of six million human years? To put it plainly, just about enough time for monkey to turn man.
Now, if we could go back to the part where the snake convinces Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit of knowledge. “You will not certainly die,” the serpent told the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” –Genesis 3 (4-5)
Theologists would agree that the first part of the statement was an outright lie, because the Bible describes the eating of the fruit as the very deed that brought death into the world. This is further corroborated by the apostle Paul, who says in Romans 5: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned…
But how exactly did the eating of the fruit bring about death? Did living organisms not perish before that particular event? Or maybe he meant spiritual death, which leads to eternal damnation in the lake of sulfur. That works perfectly, of course.
The second part of the serpent’s claim can be adjudged as a half-truth that bordered on a lie, because while the eating of the fruit opened the eyes of the first humans a little wider than that of other beasts, they did not become like God whether it be in their knowledge of good and evil or lack thereof. Because what exactly are good and evil but mere concepts governing a set of rules drafted for our specific circumstance? By having that fruit, Adam and Eve made themselves aware of the very rules they could once sidestep as beasts. Instead of becoming like God, they set a near-impossible ideal for themselves and ended up more bound than any other creature.
Like Doctor Faustus learnt in that seminal work of Marlowe’s, knowledge can be a double-edged sword. Almost as double-edged as the concept of free will, which could well be part of some cosmic conspiracy aimed at making humankind responsible for its own actions.
But what if we had never fallen for the bait in the first place? God had imposed just one condition on Adam and Eve prior to the great fall, and that pertained to the Tree of Knowledge. Would it still have been a sin if they consumed its fruit before the commandment was pronounced? Unlikely, because sin is said to be borne out of the violation of God’s will, and a deed committed in ignorance cannot be regarded as one. That would be like an authoritarian government declaring one day that eating banana cream pie is illegal, just so it can go about arresting everybody who has had a slice in the weeks past.
In fact, there is a good chance that the forbidden fruit would not have benefited from a second glance if it did not have ‘do not eat’ written all over it. Paul puts this across quite clearly in Romans 7, when he says: I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. In other words: If you leave a child home alone with explicit instructions not to go after the cookie jar, you will most certainly come home to crumbs on the kitchen floor. It is just the nature of things, and the fall of man –at least in my opinion—was very much preordained. You cannot have a story arc without a crisis, the eventual struggle, and the final victory that we are all striving for. As Paul declares in Philippians 3, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
It was a serpent of an idea that slithered its way into Eve’s brain, much like any unwelcome thought of lust, jealousy or anger. A voice in her head that she resisted half-heartedly, and then went on to embrace by allowing herself a big bite of forbidden knowledge.
But let’s return to that tragic event and how it must have all come to be. Who exactly was the snake? The Devil himself or just another denizen of that mythical garden? I believe it was a serpent of an idea that slithered its way into Eve’s brain, much like any unwelcome thought of lust, jealousy or anger. A voice in her head that she resisted half-heartedly, and then went on to embrace by allowing herself a big bite of forbidden knowledge. We are as much good as we are evil, stunted as those concepts may be, and every moral choice we make in life is the rejection of one and the embracing of another.
The voice of disobedience exists in all sentient beings, highly evolved or not. Take, for instance, a puppy that has been explicitly instructed against clambering onto the table. The animal would most likely do it anyway, then regard you guiltily in the knowledge that he has broken an important commandment. Adam and Eve faced a similar dilemma over the fruit of knowledge, an object that has evoked so much scorn from the religious over the ages. But what exactly was this thing, and how did it bring about humankind’s downfall? Here’s my theory.
What if the fruit wasn’t an edible object after all, but the innate desire of an ambitious species to drastically improve its standard of living and—consequently—its station on the evolutionary pyramid? Apes who discovered that raw meat tossed into the fire tastes better, or that tumbling logs travel downhill faster than the most agile biped. Later generations crafted crude tools, slingshots and stone spearheads that helped them hunt animals and gather forest essentials. The phenomenon of natural adaptation pitched in by bringing about opposable thumbs just the right size to grasp and manipulate objects, and they were soon subjugating their fellow beasts to establish complete dominance over the planet. With agriculture came civilization, and before long, the freshly evolved man was expected to live in accordance with laws and social etiquette. And it was thus that the metaphorical fruit was had.
But man was cheated, because the eating of the fruit did not work to his advantage. Soon after the incident, God made the following pronouncement: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.”
And that is the bane of our evolved existence. Man’s pursuit of pleasure and comfort has brought him everything but that, and what was once the relatively carefree life of an ignorant beast has now descended into one ridden with sweat, toil, angst, fury, envy, and every other imaginable cause of misery. He brings home celliant-infused mattresses that promise better sleep, but worries keep him awake through the night. He buys fast cars to reach places faster, but somebody always gets there before him. And all those mattresses and cars are manufactured in huge factories that have people sweating and toiling for money that will allow them to buy more mattresses and cars. And whatever for, but a fruitless death that will one day whisk them away just as naked as they came. As the Philosopher says in Ecclesiastes: Life is useless, all useless. You spend your life working, labouring, and what do you have to show for it?
Happiness is all about being content with what one has, and the forbidden fruit produced in man a burning desire for more. But while one can understand how this brought misery into the world, what caused death to tag along too? I have an alternative theory that could coexist quite comfortably with the original one about eternal damnation.
Happiness is all about being content with what one has, and the forbidden fruit produced in man a burning desire for more. What was once the relatively carefree life of an ignorant beast has now descended into one ridden with every imaginable cause of misery.
Before we came to be, the creatures that inhabited this planet lived and perished not as separate entities but as part of a larger ecological cycle. Grass grew, got eaten by rabbits that were then hunted down by wolves, which then died and fed bacteria that then went on to help more grass grow. Animals didn’t mourn their dead brethren any longer than they had to, possibly because of some innate knowledge of the cosmos and its interconnectedness. But along came the human, and death became something to be hated, feared and brooded over.
Why is that, one would ask. I believe it is because the emergence of humans gave rise to the concept of individualism, and each death began to be seen as a mutually exclusive event instead of just another jigsaw piece completing the circle of life. While it is true that every organism possesses an innate sense of self-preservation, man’s evolving brain heightened his fear of death and pain to an emotional and sensory level beyond anything his fellow animals could fathom. In other words, death was always here, but it took man that metaphorical bite from the forbidden fruit to make it his very own special curse.
Let’s retrace our steps to the part where Adam and Eve had the forbidden fruit, as described in the sixth verse of Genesis Chapter 3. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
So, how much of the forbidden fruit was had by the first ‘humans’? If this verse is anything to go by, they had some of it and not all, which could possibly have been their second big mistake. Scientific curiosity and a yearning to better one’s station in the universe were not the only things that evolution brought about in humankind. In keeping with the condition of becoming “more like God”, these beings were also mandated to rise above the universal norm of inter and intra-special competition, and adhere to moral and societal values starkly different from that of their bestial predecessors.
And yet, some beast remains in man, fighting to make him its own. It revels in the evolutionary traits that allow for materialistic progress but looks back wistfully at the freedom it was once afforded in the wild. The freedom to usurp, to kill, to mate at will.
And yet, because of the partial eating of the metaphorical fruit, some beast remains in man, fighting against his evolved nature to make him its own. It revels in the evolutionary traits that allow for materialistic progress but looks back wistfully at the freedom it was once afforded in the wild. The freedom to usurp, to kill, to mate at will. And it is folly to discard one part of the fruit and make the other your own, as the Romans discovered to their detriment in the fifth century.
Our peculiar situation can make us a confused lot, sometimes forcing the imposition of human values on the non-humans around us. I still remember a time when I, as a child of ten growing up in a small town in the Indian hinterlands, adopted a dog who had delivered her litter of eight in our backyard. The puppies came of age, and as is the custom in much of the animal kingdom, eventually ventured into the world to seek their fortune. But then, a few years later, one of mama dog’s male children returned for a visit. I believed it a wonderful gesture, until he proceeded to—well—mount her.
No, I yelled, trying to pull him away. The son, now a hefty brute with several battle scars on his person, let out a low growl through yellowed teeth. Come to think of it, I would probably have gotten mauled if my brother hadn’t intervened. “It’s mating season,” he said, pulling me away. “You don’t want to mess with a mutt in heat.”
He was right, of course. Much later, years after the animal in question gave birth to her own grandchildren, I realized how closed-minded I had been. For me, what the two had back then was an incestuous tryst worthy of condemnation. But for them, it was probably just good old-fashioned love that makes the world go round.
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