Chapter 2: Why there was almost certainly no garden of Eden and no ‘Fall’
This is perhaps the most important chapter in the whole of Adrian’s book. He considers it important (he has already promised that it will answer vital questions, and often refers back to it in later chapters) because he believes it demonstrates that the Biblical account of a good creation, which he describes as Eden, was an impossibility. I too consider the chapter important, not for the strength of its afore mentioned arguments , but because it highlights an even bigger problem which Adrian appears to struggle with – that of sin and judgement, though he mistakes justice for punishment.
First, let me ask what is Adrian’s evidence against a very good creation? Simply the limitation of the human mind, for rather than citing hard scientific facts or research he suggests, “Let us try a thought experiment.” (p.12) Thought experiments are not real experiments, they are attempts to resolve problems by thinking through the possible consequences of a series of events. In scientific research they can be used to develop hypotheses which can then be tested by real experiments. Good thought experiments consider all possibilities and eliminate the weaker ones by careful reasoning. Is this the approach which Adrian’s thought experiment adopts? No, for he begins with his conclusion that Genesis is false and then tries to prove it by using his limited imagination. Because he follows Lyell’s “the present is the key to the past” logic, he imposes upon the created world of Genesis everything with which he himself is familiar today, despite the Biblical testimony that this is not the case. In fact the Scriptures present us with a history of the universe where the opposite is true; understanding the past is the key to understanding the present and the future.
Mocking the idea of a created universe which was balanced in every way, Adrian demonstrates how small and feeble his vision of his god actually is. He portrays this god of his imagination as having to constantly fiddle with the laws of nature to prevent this, that or the other becoming a problem. He also shows his lack of scientific knowledge with claims such as Blake’s “Tyger, tyger burning bright” requiring “such major changes to their morphology and physiology that they would become unrecognisable” had they first been vegetarian. Zoos know that this is not the case. In 2005 I met a lady who worked as a lab technician at Paignton Zoo in the late 1960s. She wrote to me later to confirm what she had told me, “The lions were given grass to eat one day a week.” This was to help with their digestion, and there is evidence that lions in the wild do this too, though the reason why is unclear. This quotation from a website makes me smile, “Lions are strict carnivores, but they will also eat grass and leaves to neutralize the acid in their stomachs caused by the large amounts of meat digested.” (source) Elsewhere it is claimed, “After making a kill lions tend to start eating the internal organs of the animal which may be worm infected. Due to this it is common to find lions eating grass which may help remove the worms and fur.” (source with video) This picture was taken at Whipsnade Zoo in 2006 – if you look carefully you can see a piece of grass poking out of its mouth!
Manufactures of pet foods claim that both domestic cats and dogs benefit from eating vegetables and cereals, so it is obvious that their carnivorous digestive systems are able to handle these. Dogs are known to survive happily on vegetable diets either by choice or because their owners are vegetarians/vegans. Some experts say that cats (tigers are big cats) need supplements to survive on a non-meat diet, but in 2009 the Daily Telegraph carried this report on a self-selecting vegetarian cat. Despite such examples, it is not his lack of scientific knowledge which is my main contention against Adrian’s thought experiment, but rather his lack of awareness of and/or respect for what God has said.
Seek The LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to The LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says The LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
This passage from Isaiah 55 puts forward an important principle concerning human efforts to think and act like God. The chapter starts with a call to everyone who knows they are in need. It continues with the invitation to stop spending the little they have on lesser hopes, but rather to eat what is good, and let their soul delight itself in abundance, through paying attention to their Creator. This incredible invitation summarises the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, preached then to the nation of Israel and now to all people. However, understanding human nature as He does, The LORD urges us all not to delay in responding to His invitation. “Seek The LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near” is His urgent encouragement to those with ears to hear. Repentance in thought and action is a requirement, but this is not a cause for fear as the God of the Bible is One who shows mercy and is willing to “abundantly pardon” those who return to Him in this way. “Wait a minute!” we might hear those who question this gracious offer of salvation call out, “How do we know that this god is going to keep his promise? Look at men and women – he claims to have made them and yet they lie, cheat and more often than not renegue on what they promise!” The LORD, knowing that many would need reassurance, answered this objection before it was made. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.”
It is very easy to overlook the Biblical truth that whilst we were made in God’s image, unbelief expressed through sin has corrupted us to the point where very little of that likeness remains. (In the New Testament, passages such as Rom. 1:23, 1 Cor. 15:49 and Col. 3:10 emphasise that a central purpose of salvation through Christ is to restore believers to His likeness.) Sadly, in common with many others Adrian fails to appreciate this truth and instead recreates his god in his own image, bounded by our limited ways and thoughts. His god’s abilities and thoughts are confined by whatever we can imagine. It is no wonder then that Adrian’s “complete re-think of who God was” ends up with a god who is so feeble that the best he can do is to apologise for initiating creation with its millions of years of violence and death. I could not worship a god like that and I am very glad that I don’t!
This is not the only way Adrian reveals that his understanding of God is different from that which the Bible provides. I have already mentioned the evangelical gospel which he believed in his youth, and his subsequent rejection of it. A key concept in this gospel is that God punishes sin. Adrian repeatedly refers to punishment in this context. “Suppose, in a way that I am not able to fathom, God overcame all the practical difficulties I have outlined, created an Eden, but everything was spoiled when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and got punished.” “A literal reading of Eden and the Fall in Genesis offends any decent sense of justice. Just because of one sin, the whole of creation was punished (this is known as the doctrine of original sin). The punishment was completely disproportionate to the crime.” (both p.15) As I pointed out in my introduction, Adrian cites punishment in his final chapter when he describes the gospel which he now rejects, “But Jesus died on the cross to spare me the punishment I deserve.” (p.73) Is punishment as central to the true Gospel as Adrian and many others claim?
In answering this question, we must first note Adrian’s hatred of what he understands as the doctrine of original sin. I have quoted his statement that “Just because of one sin, the whole of creation was punished.” He continues by arguing, “The punishment was completely disproportionate to the crime. What had the dog or the rabbit got to do with one human action? Or the stickleback, or the heron? Or, come to that, the child yet to be born who will be infected by the guinea worm? It would be the moral equivalent of one nation saying to another: ‘Our surveillance equipment detected a boy stealing sweets from one of your shops. Because of this we’re going to drop a nuclear bomb on the city where he lives. And for good measure we’ll nuke you every 25 years hence, so that future generations also pay for that boy’s wickedness.’” If the whole of creation was being punished for just one sin, then this would be a valid objection. However, as Adrian acknowledges, there are alternative ways to understand original sin. On p.16 he refers to John Wesley’s rebuttal of John Taylor’s similar claim that punishing everyone for Adam’s sin was unjust. Adrian’s summary of Wesley’s argument includes this, “God was not directly punishing people for Adam’s sin. Instead, mankind was suffering the consequences of one man’s sin, in the same way that a child brought up by a neglectful parent might suffer.” The copy of Wesley’s tract that I have is about 200 printed pages long, so I have no idea whether this is a fair representation of Wesley’s argument, or whether Adrian has read it through his own world-view. I will however highlight the one word which Adrian himself highlighted, and that is the word ‘consequences’. Why is that important, you may ask? The answer is of course that there is a whole world of difference between punishment and consequences. Whilst the less caring may say “It serves you right,” no parent would describe a child’s burnt hand as punishment for putting it in a fire; they would however recognise it as the consequence of doing this.
What then is the Biblical understanding of the judgement we experience for sin, and are we suffering today for our own or for Adam’s sin? If Wesley took over 200 pages to answer such a question, then the few lines available to me here are bound to be less than a full answer, but I hope to put in place some important markers for those who wish to look further into this important matter. To help us, I turn to Romans 6 and in particular the last verse:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is directly relevant to the questions before us because in the previous chapter Paul addressed the relationship between Adam’s sin and ours. In 5:12 we read:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.
The one man is Adam (not the woman Eve, even though she ate the fruit first) and it does not say that we are punished for his sin, but that he opened a gate through which sin spread to everyone. It was not just sin which spread as a result however, but also death. Paul then developed this theme and contrasts it with the Gospel – take 5:15 for example:
But the free gift is not like the offence. For if by the one man’s offence many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.
Throughout these two chapters Paul developed this theme with the objective of calling his readers to live holy lives. He summarised in simple terms the problem and God’s solution in 6:31 quoted above. In the first phrase he stated that the wages of sin is death. Many concentrate on the words ‘sin’ and ‘death’ here, but I want to highlight the word ‘wages’. Wages are earnings, not punishment. These wages are not the wages of God, but those paid out by sin itself. Paul’s understanding is therefore that when anyone sins, the act of being unrighteous in our thoughts and/or actions earns us death. He then contrasted the earnings we amass through sin with the grace which God wants to make available to us in Jesus Christ. This grace seeks to give us the gift of eternal life, which is the very opposite of the wages paid out by sin.
Much more could be said about these things just from these two chapters of Romans. For example, what is the nature of the death we earn from sin? Is it simply physical, does it separate us from our Creator and does it last for eternity? How does the life which we can receive in Christ Jesus meet our needs in one or more of these three aspects of the death which we have earned for ourselves? For now I must limit myself to addressing Adrian’s false impression of the doctrine of original sin. The Biblical understanding expressed by Paul in Romans is not that we are being punished for Adam’s first sin, but that as a consequence of Adam’s sin we all have inherited from him an inability to prevent ourselves from doing wrong. Like Adam, we all earn death as the just recompense for the wrong we do. In the whole of history just one man, Jesus Christ (He was the son of Adam as well as the Son of God), stood against this inherited sinful nature and did not earn the wages of sin. Because He died unjustly at Calvary, His Father’s grace is now able to offer the very opposite of death to us. This is a Gospel of rescue from what we have earned, not of punishment for being rebels! [I discuss these issues more widely in two papers available on my website. These are “If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He just forgive people?” & “Why didn’t Adam die on the day that he sinned?”]
The final issue I will address here is where Adrian might have gleaned his false impression. Why does he see God as a god who punishes rather than a God who rescues? It probably did not arise solely in his own mind, for it is widely believed. The notion of God as an old man with a white beard and a big stick is perhaps the children’s version of this false gospel. Adrian tells us that it was his understanding of the evangelical gospel which he heard in his parent’s church and I do not question that, because it is taught in such circles. However, it did not originate there. Adrian’s summary cannot be found in the doctrinal statements of any major church. Here is the relevant summary from the Roman Catholic Catechism, “By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all humans. Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called ‘original sin’. As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called ‘concupiscence’).” (Nos. 416-418 here)
No mention of punishment there; however it does appear in the section on Hell, “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (No. 1035 here) Nowhere though does the New Testament describe hell as punishment, and this is important. It seems that at some point in Church history, hell changed from being a place “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) to an everlasting fire stoked up for unbelieving people. This seemingly was Calvin’s view, for when he was discussing what he believed to be Christ’s descent into hell (though in 1 Peter 3:19 the word used is ‘prison’ not ‘hell’ and we should distinguish between ‘the grave’ [Gk. hades] and ‘hell’ [gehenna], which people frequently fail to do) he wrote, “Hence there is nothing strange in its being said that he descended to hell, seeing he endured the death which is inflicted on the wicked by an angry God.” (Institutes Book 2, Ch. 16:10) It is easy to see therefore how this notion of an angry God seeking to punish sinners has found itself embedded in much of Protestant theology.
I believe that Calvin was wrong on two counts. First and in common with many, he mistook the world of the dead (‘the grave’ in English, ‘sheol’ in Hebrew and ‘hades’ in Greek) for the place which Jesus said was prepared for the Devil and the spirits which follow him. Secondly, I believe the notion of The LORD in His anger throwing sinners into hell to punish them is an emphasis which is not found in the Scriptures. Yes, we read of a God who becomes angry when people refuse to follow His lead and deal righteously with others as well as with Himself. Yes, the New Testament speaks of the passion of His wrath being revealed against those who promote sin. But the whole essence of the Gospel is summed up in the words of Jesus Himself, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) Or, as He put it to Zacchaeus, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
As explained above, all humans have earned death (separation from God as well as physical death). It has not been inflicted upon them. However, The LORD created us to have fellowship with Him and does not want us to be separated from Him for ever. Knowing we would be in a condition where we could not help ourselves, from before They began creation the Father and the Son had agreed their rescue plan (1 Pet 1:20 & Rev 13:8). The Son would become a human and because of His love for His Father, would not rebel against Him. Knowing that only a few would welcome this degree of holiness, they were well aware that men and demons would work together to put out the light of His life. However, because Christ had not earned death through sin, His death would be unjust. Rather than Calvary being a defeat therefore, the Father can now righteously declare that His Son has collected the wages due to others, and consequently they need not die because of their sin. Having inherited Adam’s fallen nature with its weaknesses, it was impossible for any of us to regain fellowship with The LORD through getting everything right. Now our Creator is able to offer us an alternative way to be restored to His presence. That alternative way is through faith – practical trust in the God who was always prepared to redeem us from our own foolishness.
Whilst no one should blame Adrian for rejecting a flawed gospel which has its origin in the Catholicism of the Dark Ages and which runs through the Reformation into modern forms of Christianity, he does belong to a privileged generation which has access to the Scriptures and he could have asked the Holy Spirit to teach him the truth (John 16:13). However, when anyone thinks that man is the ultimate fount of wisdom, it is very easy for them to think in arrogance that they know better than God.
Before moving on from this chapter, I should mention one other thing. Towards the end, Adrian makes a mistake common amongst those who seek to justify their faith in Darwin by science. His final argument against Biblical creation in this chapter starts, “Fourthly, if human beings were independently created by God, you might have expected the DNA that built our bodies to be elegant and flawless. What do you find? The majority of human DNA is ‘junk’ DNA. It doesn’t help build bodies. It just comes along for the ride (although it’s of great help to modern detectives solving crimes).” (p.19) That was the assumed wisdom of evolutionists when Adrian wrote his book, but things changed dramatically in September 2012. This was when a large group of scientists working together on the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project published coordinated papers announcing that the description “junk DNA” was a misnomer. The journal Scientific American put it this way, “The ENCODE project has revealed a landscape that is absolutely teeming with important genetic elements – a landscape that used to be dismissed as ‘junk DNA.’” Rather than add to this page, I provide more details of what is proving to be a contentious research project in an appendix here.