In 2 Nephi 2, Jacob receives instruction from Lehi. In a metaphysical discussion he discusses aspects of spiritual reality, specifically the conditions necessary to establish righteousness. He says:
11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
So righteousness must be conditioned on opposition in a way strikingly analogous to how complexity arises in a evolutionary selective regime. Righteousness is conditioned formally on the possibility of a set of bifurcating conditions. Righteousness cannot emerge except the possibility of wickedness, and/or misery, exists. Notice this sets up a kind of sample space–the set of all possible outcomes over which probabilities can range. Lehi is in essence saying that unless the ‘sampling space’ contains the possibility of these unpleasant outcomes, there is no possibility of righteousness. A crude way of putting it is the dice (and I’m not injecting randomness into this, just setting up the analogous idea of a possibility space), the dice is not one sided. Righteousness requires that on the other side of good, there is bad, much like in a die on the opposite of the six there is a one. This means that a universe without bad, or misery or wickedness there can be no righteousness. I would like to suggest that these opposites are not placed by God to set up the conditions of righteousness, but are in fact conditions that prevail as part of the realities of existence. God is in fact face to face with these conditions just as we are.
Note especially that the very basis of the modes of existence are mentioned specifically, “wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.”
Then into this appeal to the space of possibility Lehi sets up the selective regime (I am drawing the specific evolutionary allegory here). In any evolutionary system there are the given ecological possibilities upon which selective forces act:
12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
This seems to set up the space in which ‘things that act and things that acted upon can be selected, enticed and moved, we then read,
15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
So the defining act to bring about his purposes in ‘the end of man’ i.e., God’s desired teleology, God introduces an act of grace, (note the word, ‘gave’ here). Here we see a Badioueanesqe “Event” agency, the ability to act, is interjected into inert creation, life itself it would appear (notice in the above scripture it is introduced as part of the broader creation rather than in the specific appearance of Adam). In effect a niche is opened into which righteousness can grow.
So how does Adam differ from these things that act and are acted upon? The defining difference seems to appear here:
Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
And after the Fall:
22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.
23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
This state of innocence is not one I submit of sexual immaturity, but structured along the lines of the impossibility of sin. Adam represents the first appearance of the possibility of sin, of knowing good and evil and choosing the good. In the Fall, Adam then gained for the first time Agency as outlined above, that he became not just able to act, but responsible for those acts, because he had knowledge of these acts. In Adam, agency, here defined separately from the ability to act, enters the world.
The state that would have remained from the moment of creation, is not then a state without death as defined as the cessation of living, but rather a state in which there are actors without agency. We understand this for most of the animal kingdom that they are not subject of moral considerations. We do not speak of the transgressions of the wolf, or the deer, or even of the chimpanzee. Even the most generous of animal rights activists does not require that we treat animals as moral agents subject to the ability make moral choices and held accountable for such. So when did moral judgment enter into our species? Perhaps as the scriptures suggest above, with the Fall. That state of innocence described is the very condition we find our fellow creatures in. From the void of a world without agency, agency appears and all things become possible, the awareness of good and evil then allows us to navigate to a condition of righteousness because the existential sampling space between the binary pairs that Lehi sets up become options for our action.
We gain additional insights into this by reading Alma 12:
21 What does the scripture mean, which saith that God placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east of the garden of Eden, lest our first parents should enter and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, and live forever? And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever.
22 Now Alma said unto him: This is the thing which I was about to explain. Now we see that Adam did fall by the partaking of the forbidden fruit, according to the word of God; and thus we see, that by his fall, all mankind became a lost and fallen people.
Interestingly, the second clause there seems to indicate that Adams Fall introduced Agency, among “all mankind” we often read that as a propagation down the generations, but if we take the archeological history of the world seriously, then we can read that ‘all mankind’ as propagating among all extant populations living on the Earth. The sciptures such as Moses 1:34 could have a deeper meaning that might make sense of things like human populations that were isolated until fairly recently and whose last common ancestor with other populations is over 50,000 years ago.
34 And the first man of all men have I called Adam, which is many.
In the introduction of agency, then humans are ready to receive commandments that they might choose the good over evil.
31 Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having first transgressed the first commandments as to things which were temporal, and becoming as gods, knowing good from evil, placing themselves in a state to act, or being placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—
This view is completely in harmony with an evolutionary view of the effects of the Fall. The ‘no death before the Fall” Scriptures like Alma 12:23-24
23 And now behold, I say unto you that if it had been possible for Adam to have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life at that time, there would have been no death, and the word would have been void, making God a liar, for he said: If thou eat thou shalt surely die.
24 And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
Are easily reframed as the kind death Paul talks about above, where death is the death brought about through sin. Before Agency is introduced, Sin was impossible, just as it is for the Hynea, the Fall brings not only Sin, but the effects of Sin which is Death. The temporal death mentioned above is just setting the limits of mortality wherein one must act, not suggesting that temporal death came into existence, but that it defines the period one has to use the agency just outlined–between birth and death. There is no good internal reasons for keeping the interpretation of no death before the Fall (A Protestant phrase from the late 1800s introduced into Mormonism through Joseph Fidling Smith’s Man His Origin and Destiny). And plenty of reasons to interpret as Paul does and as the evidence of Earth’s history suggests.
Next time! The ecology of redemption!