Our Problem: To Explain the Human Condition

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From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference

Genesis 3 tells how humans first entered into what I’m calling our problem. Some people find the story there hard to believe on account of the talking serpent and the seemingly magical fruit. We’ll come back to that. For now I want to show what it is in Genesis 3 that makes more sense than any other explanation I know of for the human condition.

Consider this, after all: difficult though it may be for you to accept a talking serpent, is it really any harder than believing that evil is an illusion? Or that human uniqueness is an illusion: we’re really no different from the animals (so what good does it do us to think we’ve got a problem)? For me that’s unbelievable, ridiculous; laughable if it weren’t about something as serious as evil and suffering.

No, what we want for a believable explanation of the human problem is one that takes seriously who we are, and doesn’t try to convince us our problems are less than they are. Our problem is actually greater than most of us realize.

We have seen that God created us in his image. The original humans were indeed fully human: in fully human relationships with each other, with the natural word (for which they had been given responsibility), and with God. They were free innocent, free from blame, fulfilling the relational and individual purposes for which God intended them. Being fully human they could love fully, which meant they loved by chose, not by robotic necessity; but to choose love intentionally meant to reject unlove intentionally, which required that there be some form of unlove that was possible to reject.

God gave them a world nearly without limits, but not quite. He gave them the possibility of choosing to reject his goodness and love.There was one tree whose fruit was off limits. It was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: knowledge they did not have, for their innocence was of a quieter kind than ours. It was not a struggling innocence, or an innocence restored, or innocence among blameworthiness (for while the jury can find the defendant innocent of the charge, it would never say, “we find this person innocent of all wrongdoing of any kind whatever, his whole life long.”)

This openness and freedom, this goodness, was what we were made for. When we say, as we often do, “it’s not supposed to be this way!” we’re speaking of what we know: there is another way instead that it’s supposed to be. When we say, “This is just wrong!” it’s because we know there is a real right that our experience isn’t living up to. When we say, “I don’t know why I can’t do better than this,” it’s because we have a conception of something really better that’s missing in us, that we’re not living up to. Recall Pascal’s words from last time:

The greatness of man.—The greatness of man is so evident, that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is nature we call in man wretchedness; by which we recognise that, his nature being now like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his.

For who is unhappy at not being a king, except a deposed king? … Who is unhappy at having only one mouth? And who is not unhappy at having only one eye? Probably no man ever ventured to mourn at not having three eyes. But any one is inconsolable at having none. (Pensées 409)

We were meant for complete goodness, and we cannot forget it. What happened? We call it The Fall. The serpent deceived Eve. She knew that to transgress God’s limits was to die. The charm he wove on her was one that is repeated over and over still today: To be a god under herself (Genesis 3:4-5):

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Adam joined her in stepping over the line. And the two, for the first time, knew evil. The good that they had perhaps hardly recognized previously, as a fish hardly knows what water is, they finally saw; and saw that they had lost it. They were frightened, or embarrassed, or they felt exposed; they could no longer feel the freedom of goodness they had had before. They hid.

We are still frightened, embarrassed; we still feel exposed. Especially—but not only—when we know we have done wrong. We still hide. You still hide. I still hide. You and I both still know we do wrong, and we still feel a need to hide, from God, from others, from ourselves.

When God asked what was going on, they dissembled, shifting the blame: “It was the serpent’s fault!” “It was the woman’s fault!” (How many times will that latter accusation be spoken today?) This rings true, doesn’t it?

God knew better, obviously. He let them know then the consequences of their rebellion. Their relationship with him was broken; they no longer had the free and open fellowship with him they had had. This was a spiritual form of death, of separation from God. Their relationship with each other turned into alienation and confused desire, and it was hardly moments later that the first murder was committed. Their relationship with the world was mangled, and the joy of fulfillment through work turned into the pain and sweat of laborious toil. These things are our experience today. These things are real. We have fallen from a real place of rightness to a real place of trouble and wrong. The whole earth suffers the pangs of it (Romans 8:18-23).

The difficulty we are in is bigger than many of us realize, especially in that it includes a severed relationship with God, the one source of all love and all goodness, and because it is a forever problem.

Even in the pronouncing of those consequences, though, God spoke of hope: the serpent would be crushed (Gen. 3:15). Looking back at it we see the significance of the identity of the crusher: it would be the offspring of the woman, not of the man, who would do that. We see the first gleam of a solution even in the first appearance of the problem.

For when it comes to explaining our problem as humans, it’s a nice thing if it also helps us understand the solution. It’s not logically necessary that our problem would have a solution;* it could have been that we’re all locked in illusion with no way out, or that we’re on an evolutionary path that has no good ending in sight forever. Still, if our problem really is the kind that has an answer, that would be helpful to know, wouldn’t it? We will come back to the solution very soon in this series, or you can take an advance look at it here.

As for that talking serpent and that magic fruit: It doesn’t take that much to believe these things, now, does it? What’s more outlandish, a serpent who can talk, or the idea that 7 billion organisms who are fundamentally no different from any other animal can talk? What’s more outrageous: the idea that there is a spiritual side to reality, and that one hostile spirit leader became embodied temporarily in a serpent, or the idea that 7 billion embodied humans are absolutely nothing but machines in motion?

The fruit was probably literally a fruit, in my opinion, but it could have been anything. It wasn’t a magical apple, though. It was simply an open door for them to exercise their free will to follow God or to reject him. It represented a choice. They made it. Ever since then we’ve been trying to understand what to do with our problems.

*I mean it’s not logically necessary from a limited perspective. There are many who believe that the existence of a good God is logically necessary, and I think they are right; which would seem to imply that whatever human problems might exist, there is a good God to deal with them in a good way. But I’m not taking this concept of logical necessity out to that extent right now.

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28 Responses to “ Our Problem: To Explain the Human Condition ”

  1. We certainly do have a problem.

    A big one.

    It’s going to take more than a life-coach, or a role model to handle it.(contrary to popular belief…in many churches)

    We need a Savior. Thanks be to God that we have such a One in Christ Jesus.

    Thanks.

  2. Now, if this was all an analogy, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Jesus, just like just about every other religious leader and teacher, used analogies and metaphors to teach a deeper truth – you can either accept it and learn, or not and don’t.

    Once you claim it’s literal, though, then you have to explain the problems of the speaking snake and the fruit that imparts the ability to make moral decisions, as you’ve mentioned.

    However, you have to do more than that – you also have to explain how a supernatural-not-of-this-world God could be walking around a garden, how an angel with a flaming sword could be posted at the entrance to a paradisaical garden that we can’t physically find, how Cain could find a wife, and how we’re all not severely inbred.

    What’s more outlandish, a serpent who can talk, or the idea that 7 billion organisms who are fundamentally no different from any other animal can talk?

    But we are different. It doesn’t matter what is harder to believe or more outlandish, it matters what’s true.

    Now, I can’t speak to the philosophical question of whether evil is an illusion or not, but we are different in many ways from other animals (we can ask whether evil is an illusion or not, for instance), and snakes simply can’t talk.

    I wasn’t expecting the fallacy of false dilemma from you – I guess I expected better.

  3. Let me start off by making it clear that I don’t find any of the account (whether allegorical or literal) to be inherently implausible. I’m not particularly convinced of the necessity of the “moral framework” of the world/humanity proposed in the previous piece, but I’ll reflect on it. To me no themes like there being something inherently wrong with humanity seem obvious intuitively or upon reflection.

    But even if one takes that framework to be true, it does not mean any explanation should be accepted for the sake that it fits. One should still judge the claims of any explanation as rigorously as any other claim. There need not necessarily be a knowable explanation at all.

    I’m no expert on OT historicity, but my amateur understanding is that it’s broadly weaker than that of the NT. I think I’ll leave that aside for this thread though, but it is another stumbling block for me in that regard.

    Evaluating the story, I apologise if these are amateur questions, but how pivotal a role does the serpent play? Would Adam & Eve still have eaten the fruit without the temptation of the serpent? If not, it seems there’s an awful lot of explaining to do in terms of why a good God would create a crafty (evil?) creature, or if looking at a Satan based explanation, a lot of extra baggage in explaining angels and their fallen counterparts (given that they’re not mentioned in the creation story). And am I right in saying that Satan/Lucifer isn’t directly mentioned at all in Genesis?

    I appreciate that I’m starting off a lot of trains of thought here, but I suppose my main point is that to see the Genesis account as a coherent explanation of the proposed moral framework, a lot of other facts need to accepted/explained first.

  4. Careful with what you conclude, Sault. I didn’t say the fruit imparts the ability to make moral decisions.

    Now, there are two ways to handle your other objections. One is to accept that the Genesis account is allegorical. I think that’s possible; but if so, then it’s an allegory presenting a very deep truth: we were once innocent and enjoying open and free fellowship with God; we rejected God’s ways; and we were subjected to death and a curse because of that. If it turned out that this was all that Genesis 3 was saying, I would consider that a whole lot of truth, more than in any other explanation that’s been offered for the human condition.

    Or it could be that it was literal. I lean that way, but I don’t think that belief is essential for Christian orthodoxy. On that view, I don’t know why the speaking serpent is a problem. Could you explain that, please?

    God’s walking around in the garden is typically explained as his taking on a form in which Adam and Eve could have fellowship with him. It’s no more surprising than Christ’s incarnation; in fact, it’s quite likely that this was the pre-incarnate Christ taking on a physical form for that purpose. Now, within the context of naturalism that’s an odd and impossible thing to imagine. But we don’t need to solve that problem from within that context, we need to solve it from within the context of Christian theism. Can you point to something incoherent or contradictory about it from within that context?

    Same with the angel and the flaming sword. When Adam and Eve were expelled, they were truly expelled. There is no reason to think the passage implies that the angel was there for any length of time; perhaps only until the Garden suffered enough from the fall. From within the context of Christian theism, is there some incoherency or contradiction in that?

    But we are different. It doesn’t matter what is harder to believe or more outlandish, it matters what’s true.

    Now, I can’t speak to the philosophical question of whether evil is an illusion or not, but we are different in many ways from other animals (we can ask whether evil is an illusion or not, for instance), and snakes simply can’t talk.

    I wasn’t expecting the fallacy of false dilemma from you – I guess I expected better.

    What you don’t get, Sault, is that if naturalistic evolution is true, then our apparent difference from the animals is illusory. What you are doing with your response is exactly what I identified earlier in this series, in the section headed “The Image of God Strikes Back.”

    There is a dichotomy. It’s not a false one. Either we are different from the animals or we are not. You think we are, and I do too. But that opens up another genuine dichotomy. If we are different from the animals, we are different on some coherent basis or we are not. If you accept naturalism while believing that we are different from the animals, then you accept the second horn of that dichotomy: you take it that we are different from the animals, but that there is no coherent basis for thinking so. So be careful before you go accusing people of false dichotomies, when you have chosen the impossible side of a genuine dichotomy.

  5. Sigh… Sault’s “ideas” as well (and as usual) need the wash, rinse, repeat cycle.

    Anyway, here’s an interesting take on scientists in the proper context Tom presents our problem (ref: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/science/sc0129.htm)

         [Consider, the farcical cold fusion or atheist Lysenko’s devastating “socialist agronomy” or atheist Carl Sagan’s “global cooling” nonsense, or the newest comical myth of anthropogenic global warming as an alleged threat to our planet.]
         So, yes, scientists err. But there’s more. Scientists are human, just as we are. They set up idols to worship. They make unto themselves (or of themselves!) graven images. They forget the Sabbath. They dishonor their parents. They kill and steal and fornicate. They cheat, they slander, they detract, they deceive themselves. They covet—indeed the whole scientific culture seems built upon a network of covetousness. They fall victim to all of the deadly sins, especially pride, envy, and avarice.
    Scientists gave us an innocent Einstein, a compromised Oppenheimer, and a monstrous Mengele. Scientists have brought us great good, and, yes, some great evil. Scientists, like every other group of people in the last misbegotten century, wore robes streaked with blood. Scientists infected unsuspecting women in Central America with syphilis. Scientists experimented upon black men at Tuskegee. Scientists ignored the dangers of thalidomide. Scientists falsified evidence in order to promote the legalization of abortion. Scientists ignored the connections between artificial estrogen and cancer. Scientists press on, now, for human cloning, not because it should be done, but because it can be done. Scientists belittle forms of knowledge that do not fall within their purview; they are, as a group, no better read in the humanities, no more broadly educated in philosophy or theology, than, say, a comparable group of lawyers or politicians.

  6. What’s more outlandish…

    a serpent who can talk, or the idea that 7 billion organisms who are fundamentally no different from any other animal can talk?

    Option A is more outlandish, I can’t believe you even posed this as a serious question (though your option B is a misrepresentation, at least from my position).

    What’s more outrageous: the idea that there is a spiritual side to reality, and that one hostile spirit leader became embodied temporarily in a serpent, or the idea that 7 billion embodied humans are absolutely nothing but machines in motion?

    Again, Option A wins the prize for the most outlandish – how can this even be a serious quesiton?

    I have to say, I’m astonished to learn you even entertain the idea of literalism with respect to Genesis. Wow.

  7. How can these be serious questions? By recognizing that reality need not be comprehensively described in naturalistic terms. And by realizing how incredibly outrageous it is to think that naturalism explains human abilities, the nature of being human, and the human condition.

  8. What tells us more about the human condition?

    A: we are made up of matter (i.e., a boy is a dog is a tree is a rock, to take the naturalist position to its logical conclusion)

    B: we are made for community, but have been deeply corrupted in a moral sense (i.e., the knowledge of good and evil).

    Anyone choosing A needs to get away from the internet and actually spend time with people (preferably children or the aged).

  9. d,

    Perhaps you might try explaining why you think one option is better than another. Then we could discuss those reasons and the reasoning behind them as compared to other opinions. That might get us a bit farther than your “…can this be a serious question” remark which is more than a little insulting given the explanations given for those questions in Tom’s OP.

  10. On top of the ignorance, what turning-the-tables trash talk we must put up with from d: the latest coming from someone whose hot air is as empty and emotional as his ideas? To quote Rodrigues’ spot-on characterizations:

    Unlike you, I have actually provided not only arguments, but references to further arguments (in this thread and others) and I have even provided responses to the supposed “contradictions in libetarian notions of consciousness, intentionality, and will is noted” (in other threads, not this one). You have not deigned to respond to a single — and I mean that literally, not even one — argument or payed attention to any of the defenses proposed. From you, all I get is a handful of nothing. Maybe you think, like Prof. Krauss thinks the universe came from nothing, that an argument can come from nothing.

    Instead of arguments, I get a fine piece of psychologizing…

    Your comments are a marvel of cluelessness to behold. I am honestly not trying to be insulting, but when you say that such and such a product of evolution is a “type of evil” and then pile absurdity upon absurdity by saying that “evolution and indifference explain it effortlessly”, what should we do? “Effortlessly”, really? You can hardly coherently define the terms in your statements much less explain anything whatsoever.

  11. BillT:

    There weren’t really any reasons offered in the OP to believe such supernatural accounts for the human condition.

    What the OP offers the most of, is personal incredulity towards some particular naturalistic views of the “human condition”. And most of the views in questions are rather uncharitable conclusions theists often WANT naturalism to entail (eg. we’re no different from other animals, that evil is an illusion, etc), and not what naturalism actually does entail.

    Though you may all disagree – theism (or the more nihilistic naturalisms), have not achieved victory on those fronts – not in the least.

    Even with a shallow cross-disciplinary survey of the relevant sciences (cognitive science, biology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, [and some history too]), there is little need left for Genesis to explain anything.

  12. @d: the relevant sciences (I happen to do cognitive science, for what it’s worth) don’t even begin to address the “real questions” concerning the human condition. To suggest that there is little need left for explanation is premature, to say the least!

    The sciences address humanity in a “bottom-up” fashion, and the available third-person, objective data are not even in the same time zone as the first-person, subjective business of what it is to be human

  13. most of the views in questions are rather uncharitable conclusions theists often WANT naturalism to entail (eg. we’re no different from other animals, that evil is an illusion, etc), and not what naturalism actually does entail.

    I disagree with you on this 100%, d., and I don’t think you have a leg to stand on. Where naturalists draw conclusions that differ from these, they’re smuggling them in from foreign sources, force-fitting them into an essentially lifeless, ontologically flat and undifferentiated view of reality.

    Naturalism is the doctrine that nothing exists but matter, energy, and their interactions according to blind, absolute necessity (“natural law”)and random chance (and possibly some causally effete abstract objects). What that means is that nothing exists except matter, energy, and their interactions (etc.). Everything else is smuggled in.

  14. I’ll second Doug, too. To say that there is little left to explain is not just premature. At best it is a wildly optimistic and evidentially ungrounded faith statement. More likely it’s a wildly optimistic, evidentially ungrounded, and terribly ignorant faith statement. Seriously. I’m sorry to say it, but your assertion there indicates that you have no idea how hard some of the remaining problems are for science.

  15. Poor choice of wording on my part – I don’t mean to suggest there is
    little left to explain about the human condition, based on our current
    progress with in the natural sciences (or philosophy).

    But rather, that Genesis really doesn’t offer any valuable insights about the human condition, at least not directly. Anything it purports to explain, science has explained *better*, or at least has better potential explanations available. What it offers us on the human condition is on par with the sort of psycho-babble you’d see in the new-age, pop-psychology section of your local Barnes and Noble.

    If one wants to become informed about the human condition, its an irrelevant and useless source, except perhaps in some anthropological sense.

  16. @d: let me point you to this comment. What Genesis says about the human condition is that we were made for community and our moral sense is deeply flawed. This is already leagues in advance of what natural science says about the human condition! And whenever any “what-makes-us-human” theory-du-jour appears in contradiction to what Genesis says, it flashes out pretty quick — that Imago Dei is recalcitrant indeed!

  17. @d:

    But rather, that Genesis really doesn’t offer any valuable insights about the human condition, at least not directly. Anything it purports to explain, science has explained *better*, or at least has better potential explanations available. What it offers us on the human condition is on par with the sort of psycho-babble you’d see in the new-age, pop-psychology section of your local Barnes and Noble.

    It is still light years better than everything you offered here put together.

    @Tom Gilson:

    The above comment is pure flamebait — truth be told, there is nothing of substance in d’s post to respond to — so feel free to delete this post.

  18. If it turned out that this was all that Genesis 3 was saying, I would consider that a whole lot of truth, more than in any other explanation that’s been offered for the human condition.

    The general concept of us at one time being innocent, then later having lost it, is an emotionally powerful one. I think it can strike a deep emotional chord in us as human beings. In a broad sense, there can be meaning found even outside of theism.

    On that view, I don’t know why the speaking serpent is a problem. Could you explain that, please?
    […]
    we need to solve it from within the context of Christian theism.

    Since there is no material evidence for a talking snake ever having existed, nor even a plausible theory that would account for the existence of a talking snake (one having the biological structures necessary to vocalize human speech and the brain capacity to formulate the thought behind it) the only recourse you have to explain a talking snake is “God did it”.

    In the absence of evidence, literal interpretation of Genesis requires an appeal to the “God of the Gaps”… and of course we always have Hitchen’s Razor – “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”.

    Anyways, Christianity’s validity does not require a literal interpretation of Genesis, and the literalist interpretation is a philosophical opinion taken by individual Christians anyways, not by Christianity as a whole.

    @ Holo :

    The Catholic church is no moral authority – they can’t even keep their own priests from abusing children.

    @ Bill T :

    What tells us more about the human condition? [A : matter, B : created and corrupted]

    The first only describes the atomic composition of our bodies, the second is a theological position. It’s apples and oranges.

    Regarding the human condition, Wikipedia tells me that it “includes concerns such as a search for purpose, sense of curiosity, the inevitability of isolation, or the fear of death.” Describing our chemical composition is non sequitor.

    Now, if you’d said something like A – Ethical naturalism vs B – Christian existentialism, perhaps that would be different.

  19. I think we need to christen a new argument: “The God of the Gaps of the Gaps.” When we have no other answer, when we have a gap in our arguments against theism, that’s when we invoke the God of the Gaps. It is the immer-useful, never-lacking über-argument that destroys all.

    Look at how we can use it here. Confronted with a theistic explanation for origins, though lacking fossil evidence or any other kind of empirical backing, we can decry it—nay, brush it aside as worthless!—for involving God in its explanatory structure. Heaven forbid that there by a heavenly answer!

    No, if our interlocutor proposes that the God who created the world and rules it actually rules the world he created, we can tell him that’s the God of the Gaps! If he suggests that there is a spiritual reality to this spiritual world, that’s the God of the Gaps! If there is a morally dark side to this morally significant world, that’s the God of the Gaps! If there’s a connection between this God’s creation and the spiritual world, that’s the God of the Gaps!

    And if the God who is behind all this revealed something we could not otherwise have known, that’s the God of the Gaps!

    Sault, I’ve gone off on you here, because that suggestion of the God of the Gaps deserved it. At its best, the God of the Gaps argument works when there is some potentially natural, unexplained but observed phenomenon, for which God is posed as the explanation. To rule an admittedly supernatural, unobserved, explained (if it happened, we have the explanation!) phenomenon, known only to us through God’s revelation, out of bounds as “God of the Gaps” is to misunderstand what an explanation is, period.

    The rest of your comment? Well, I’ll have to settle down from the absurdity of that much of it before I can read it properly. It might take me a while.

  20. @Sault-of-the-earth:
    Describing our chemical composition is indeed a non sequitur of sorts. But the trick is that naturalism has no (honest) path to address the human condition! That is, without smuggling in things from other sources, there would be no such thing as “ethical naturalism”. On naturalism, ethics is illusory.

  21. @Sault — and in case it wasn’t clear, the story of Genesis 1-3 also indicates that things were different then. “no material evidence for a talking snake ever having existed” is a non sequitur. 🙂

  22. Sault, you say,

    @ Holo :

    The Catholic church is no moral authority – they can’t even keep their own priests from abusing children.

    I’m not a Catholic, but I belong to a church tradition where similar things have happened. Let’s be honest: moral authority is indeed undermined by such things. Seriously undermined.

    I’m not sure how that has anything to do with the topic under discussion, however. Scientists err. Catholics err. Baptists err. We all do. The Genesis account explains not only the error, but how we know it’s not right.

  23. I just want throw in some analysis about that ‘talking serpent’. Absolutely this should puzzle and perplex us. God is a master story-teller, and He has just introduced the three protagonists in this epic drama: God Himself, mankind (represented by Adam and Eve) and this third character, represented by the Serpent. Who or what is this creature? It can talk???? Why is it so interested in tricking Eve into eating the fruit of the one tree in all the garden that God said was off-limits? These characters are not arbitrarily introduced – indeed, there is much more in God’s progressive revelation to come – we will meet these characters again and again, learning more about them.
    This story is set against the backdrop of a worldview that is alien to you blind naturalists – you try to understand the story within the context of naturalism, and miss the whole point. To mix metaphors, you are so wrapped up in analyzing the threads that you completely miss the entire tapestry and the grand design that the threads have been woven together to produce. Don’t look through Galileo’s telescope, guys, lest your smug worldview be challenged.

    Now, we are told three things about this serpent in Genesis 3 – one, it was a created being (an animal of some sort), it was crafty, from a Hebrew word (see Strong’s Dictionary SH6175) meaning cunning (in a bad sense), and that it could talk – already we should be thinking that there is something very eerie going on here. It knows who God is, and it knows what God told Adam, and it can lie and deceive (see how it twisted what God had said to Adam). If you get stuck at ‘talking snake, yeah right’, you are missing the point.

    The other interesting thing about the serpent is that the Hebrew word is translated that way (see SH5175 from the root ‘to hiss’) because of the vowel points in the Masoretic text. The same consonants, with different vowel points (see SH5172, SH5173) is translated in other places in Scripture as ‘whisper, as in magic spell’ or enchanter or incantation, augury and even ‘copper'(SH5174), among other things. Too eerie or what? Enchanter fits the context of the story all too well.

    Now, we are not told the identity of this creature at this point in the story – we’ll have to wait for future installments – clues to this creature’s identity are spread throughout Scripture, but the clincher comes from the last book of the NT (Revelation 12:9 and Revelation 20:2, where we learn that this creature has a name (Satan). If you then follow Satan around throughout the pages of the Bible, the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place, and you start seeing more of the big picture.

    You silly skeptics don’t know how to read the Bible – you have to engage it with the whole person: mind and heart and soul – you have to get caught up in the drama (and like it or not, we all are already part of it, for the story is true and it is about us).

    This narrative should send shivers down your spine, for it tells us that there is a malevolent something or someone else lurking about, something or someone that hates God, hates us, and it has a plan that is not going to be good for us. But, this chapter doesn’t end on that note – God too, has a plan, a plan to redeem us and put things right, and He promises that He will win (see Genesis 3:15). It’s just hinted at, but there is hope for us if we will only trust Him. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves – there is more to the story yet to come.

  24. Oh, more correctly, the serpent (and Satan, who was behind the scenes, pulling the strings) should be classified as the antagonist in the story…

  25. Victoria,

    This story is set against the backdrop of a worldview that is alien to
    you blind naturalists – you try to understand the story within the
    context of naturalism, and miss the whole point. To mix metaphors, you
    are so wrapped up in analyzing the threads that you completely miss
    the entire tapestry and the grand design that the threads have been
    woven together to produce. Don’t look through Galileo’s telescope,
    guys, lest your smug worldview be challenged.

    The topic of the plausibility of a talking snake was raised by Tom, my post (and Sault’s too, probably) are direct replies to those questions raised in the OP (“What’s more outrageous, a talking snake or…”).

    You silly skeptics don’t know how to read the Bible – you have to engage it with the whole person: mind and heart and soul – you have to get caught up in the drama (and like it or not, we all are already part of it, for the story is true and it is about us).

    See, who’s being smug now? This is just an ad hominem against all skeptics. Who are you to say skeptics havent read the Bible appropriately, or with genuine disposition of open, honest truth-seeking?

    Genesis was both an attempt to explain how the world came to be, and why humans are “flawed”. But like an infants first drawing, its one-dimensional, terribly simplistic, and naive (and even laughable, at times), though of course one can always find things to appreciate.

    Naturalism, evolution, neuro-science, physics and the rest all can and do inform us as to why we are “flawed” – and to a stunning degree of specificity in some instances. Unguided evolution provides a wonderful explanatory framework for figuring out just why our brains are wonderful at certain kinds of computation (pattern matching), for example, and so woefully inadequate at others (number crunching, rational, logical thinking). It provides us with a plausible history as to how and why these cognitive properties came to be. It can tell us why certain things tend to tempt us so much into self-destructive behavior, or not. The level to which science and naturalism has begun to explain the human condition – the existence of religions, our social organization, our altruistic behavior, our competitive behavior, our biology, etc – simply makes Genesis look like a child’s poor crayon stick figure.

    What’s Genesis ultimately have to say about all of our flaws, from canker sores to sin? *shrug* – it was the Fall stupid!” – as if that explains anything at all.

    I guess you’ll probably dismiss this as crazy based on that one, previously-mentioned, unassailable fact – I, along with other skeptics, just don’t know how to read like you.

  26. and my point was that there is more to the ‘talking snake’ issue than what is written in Genesis 3.

    The word for serpent was probably associated with a snake because of the curse God pronounces on the serpent. We don’t know what kind of creature it was before this curse, so it’s probably best not to get too caught up in that issue. The fact that the root word has other possible connotations is very suggestive of the true nature of this creature.

    As I had also pointed out, the Bible does tell us the real identity of this creature, and once we know that, then we have an explanation for how this creature could communicate. This is not the only instance of a supernatural being speaking through an animal in Scripture – check out Balaam and the poor donkey who was stuck with him for an owner (see Numbers 22:21-34).

    As for the skeptics’ ability to read and understand the Bible – well, like Shania Twain, I’ve seen some fine examples from skeptics here, and It don’t impress me much

  27.