Death, the Fall, and Darwin: On the innocence of hyenas, Part 5 of 7

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.
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Next time! The ecology of redemption!

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    This tastes good.

  2. it's a series of tubes says:

    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.

    Steve, this has been a very interesting series. Could you expound a bit more on this point for me? You note that agency enters with respect to man via the fall – thus, the “state” of man has changed, and they become actors with agency. But a facial reading of the last sentence of 2 Nephi 2:22 seems to sweep much more broadly – it says that absent the fall, “all things” would have remained in the same state, not just Adam/man. Yet you posit that the animals remain in the same state post-fall; i.e., lacking agency.

    It seems odd to me that Lehi would say “all things” when he really meant “humans”. What changed, if anything, for animal life as a result of the fall?

  3. John Taber says:

    “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.”

    A couple of thoughts from this part in particular:

    I used the dice analogy once in an Elders’ Quorum discussion, to show that the Fall was inevitable from the time Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden. (If you roll the dice long enough, you will get snake-eyes.) I was countering an argument that “if Adam and Eve had spent more time in the Garden, they would have learned more.” No, eating the fruit was the task they were to accomplish while in Eden. We don’t know how long they were there because it really doesn’t matter.

    Suffering is the consequence of an imperfect world. Some blame Satan for their problems, but he didn’t create them. He does try to amplify them, to spread them around (or get us to do that for him) so we’re as miserable as he is. Heavenly Father knows these imperfections are here and knows they need to be and ultimately can’t prevent them (why else would two stake centers in my memory be taken out by tornadoes) but does try to mitigate them (I can’t think of a better time than Sunday morning for Mount St. Helens to erupt.) I’ve heard it said that “The Lord does give us weakness and deficiencies, so that we will come to him, and confess our need for His help.” That to me clarifies and amplifies Ether 12:27 and scriptures like that.

  4. Very well put, Steve.

    The challenge of fitting Adam and Eve into a human evolution story is what line to draw between them and all those that came before. Was Adam the first spirit child of God on the earth? If so, what does it mean that his parents, of the same biological species, possessed some other kind of spirit? That seems way too weird. Are you suggesting instead that their parents were unaccountable because God had not given them knowledge and commandments? Does the episode in the Garden represent a line arbitrarily drawn by God, much like the age of eight now represents an arbitrary line of accountability?

  5. 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.

    If God knows good from evil and can be considered good, then doesn’t this mean he is capable of evil? If he is capable of evil, then how are humans to know that his alleged revelations to them represent goodness? How is one to know that God hasn’t succumbed to a temptation to sin? (Perhaps: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” –Exodus 20:5)

    As far as evolution and the temporal existence of the earth goes, we have these purported revelations of Joseph Smith from D&C 77:6-7:

    Q. What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
    A. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.

    Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
    A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

    Sounds like anything before 6,000 years ago would have had to have been in an “eternal state.” (No death or change.)

  6. Leonard R. says:

    To echo J. Stapley, you say honey is sweet, and so do I. This is very good.

    While I have long had an interpretation of the Fall relating to the “fall” each of us make in becoming mortals/being born (leaving the paradise of heaven spiritually and the paradise of the womb physically), I sincerely appreciate what you have done here.

    Returning the Genesis account not simply to the creation of the world in the physical terms of the world we experience/observe and in the spiritual terms of sin.

    So far, so good.

  7. I agree, there is no reason we must be bound by the text to NDBF. I think these interpretations are on to something good, but I still favor a model that considers the effects of the fall retroactive…that moral agency emerged and existed among mankind before the fall from a chronologically standpoint.

    @ it’s a series of tubes. I was thinking the same thing about 2 Nephi 2:22. I feel it can be reconciled with the interpretation that without the event of the fall first, then the atonement would not take place, the fullness of the gospel would never be given to man, and there would be no gathering of the human race and final winding up scene on earth to fulfill the ultimate purposes of this earth; thus with progression stagnate “all things which were created must have remained in the same state” in their earthly and/or mortal conditions giving birth, dying, evolving, etc. with no end or final winding up scene to ever take place as the fall is a necessary prerequisite event.

  8. it’s a series of tubes good question: “It seems odd to me that Lehi would say “all things” when he really meant “humans”. What changed, if anything, for animal life as a result of the fall?” I think humans gaining agency has changed things mightily (as the dominant force in every ecosystem). But of course I cannot point to any real action, so I can’t speak to specifics. But it may be nothing more than the metaphorical use I mean when I say ‘When my daughter got her driver’s licence it changed everything!” (And it did!).

    John that’s the way I read it as well.

    AaronM “Was Adam the first spirit child of God on the earth?” That’s my understanding of LDS Theology and so it is a line (‘first is first’ I suspect). Whether one believes Adam’s body was from a long line of ancestors (as I’m arguing from Earth’s evidence), or he was pottered out from a clay pit, a spirit child of God at some point being placed in a body does suggest a clear and clean demarcation. I don’t think that means we can make inferences about the cabilities of those that came before (making art and burying dead are known from even Neanderthal sites). But yes, I’m suggesting that was the agency conferring event. Of course, there is no way to argue this strongly except that we have to reconcile that humans lived a long time on the earth and evolved from a long line of hominin ancestors.

    SoA “How is one to know that God hasn’t succumbed to a temptation to sin?” Mostly because he’s still there (We have some nice scriptures on God ceasing to be God if he gives up on doing things right). And I don’t really know what those scriptures are referring to, but I’m not bothered about that as the set of scriptures I don’t have an interpretation for is large and I’m moving through them slowly (focusing on the Fall scriptures right now. Maybe I’ll take a closer look in years to come.), but since it’s a point of fact that the earth is about 4.5 Billion years old and life evolved about 3.5 billion years ago we can safely say they don’t mean the earth is 6000 years old.

    Thanks Leonard!

    Steve, I’ll give some specifics on why I think time really is only forward moving and that Fall is not retroactive. It’s in the next section when I get to the heavenly ecology section. But I appreciate what you are saying.

  9. JohnnyS says:

    Great series here, SteveP. Very engaging. Sword of Apollo raises an interesting point. I tend to read the fall through less of an evolutionary lens (though this post is truly fascinating and eye-opening) and more of a problematic ethics/agency lens. As Sword of Apollo implies and, as I’ve always thought, too, the possibility of error and evil (not to mention free will) must exist even where God dwells, otherwise, following Lehi’s words in 2 Nephi 2, Heaven (or whatever we want to call God’s current dwelling place) would not be the Heaven of Mormon theology because there would be nothing to oppose it. LDS doctrine clearly emphasizes (though it’s still, to me, an ambiguous term) eternal progression as a way to circumvent what Milton implies in Paradise Lost, that Heaven is essentially a static, not a dynamic, place. So eternal progression allows the celestial beings (and the folks in the other kingdoms) a way to continue to grow, implying that there is a way to become more perfected and also implying that even celestial beings aren’t perfect because they need to progress in opposition to their own imperfectness, if that makes sense. This raises, though, two points/questions that I’d appreciate others’ thoughts on:

    1. Once the Second Coming and the Day of Judgement are over, once everything’s been settled and everyone has ended up where they’re supposed to be, if free will (or as LDS folks call it, agency) exists in the celestial kingdom, who’s to say that the whole rebellion thing won’t just keep happening? If the celestial kingdom is to achieve its full meaning/function to its inhabitants, it cannot do so unless the possibility of losing it exists, right? Isn’t this a fairly logical extension of Lehi’s argument? So what will have changed between the time when Lucifer rebelled and the time when the celestial folks will be in God’s presence? Is there any difference? And is it possible that human choice can in any way compromise/inhibit God’s plan? And couldn’t Lucifer thwart the entire system by exercising his agency to stop tempting mankind? Wouldn’t removing himself as the ultimate source of evil simply collapse the whole enterprise? Just sort of wondering about that.

    2. The more problematic ethical question for me: I think it’s pretty clear, given how the church venerates Eve as the mother of us all, that we, in opposition to, say, the medieval Catholic Church, celebrate Eve’s choice to eat the fruit as the correct, even inevitable choice, yes? This also then implies, does it not, that in this case, the correct choice was to disobey God’s commandment? And if that is the case, does this diminish the role of obedience for beings who are able to exercise agency/free will? Did God stack the deck against Adam and Eve? Was it really possible for the serpent to enter the Garden without someone purposely leaving the gate open, metaphorically speaking? And if God gives commandments and expects us to break them, how does that fact alter (or does it?) the entire concept of obedience?

  10. SoA “How is one to know that God hasn’t succumbed to a temptation to sin?” Mostly because he’s still there (We have some nice scriptures on God ceasing to be God if he gives up on doing things right).

    If God has agency, then this means he is capable of deception. So, what is supposed to be the original source of the information about God in the scriptures and in personal revelation? If it’s supposed to be God, then how is one to know that the information is accurate? What god wouldn’t assure you that he’s always doing what’s right?

  11. @ Sword of Apollo. This is a great example of a common misconception of agency. It is not necessary to be capable of deception in order to have agency. Agency only requires intelligence capable of recognizing choices, weighing those choices, and then selecting a choice without coercion from another being. Additionally moral agency requires the ability to decipher good from evil, and a moral choice the opportunity to select good vs. evil options.

    But nowhere in agency is there a requirement that one must be capable of choosing that which is against one’s own will. When you think about it, It would be a nonsensical universe where individuals at times choose that which is in complete opposition to their total actual desires/wants/etc. If God has a perfect spirit, or a perfectly righteous will, then it seems to follow that he will never choose evil. With moral agency God is capable of recognizing and weighing good vs. evil choices, and could choose evil if he wanted to, but because He will never want to, it follows that He will never choose evil. I believe this is a fundamental attribute that makes God a God. But this attribute does not take away His abilities to recognize, weigh, and select choices and to decipher good from evil. On the contrary, with a higher level of intelligence, these abilities are actually heightened, and you could argue that in actuality God experiences a greater degree of agency than those who are not likewise perfected.

  12. “And couldn’t Lucifer thwart the entire system by exercising his agency to stop tempting mankind? Wouldn’t removing himself as the ultimate source of evil simply collapse the whole enterprise?”

    Lucifer played a critical role in the getting the ball rolling, but personally I am not convinced he is essential at this point. This world naturally presents plenty of opportunities to choose evil over good, and I believe we are perfectly capable of selecting or even inventing evil all by ourselves. After all, Lucifer was able to do so even with the limited experience available in the preexistence – no external tempter required.

  13. @Steve: And this information about God having a perfect spirit originally comes from…?

  14. Leonard R. says:

    JohnnyS -

    I think we’re getting a little far afield (though not entirely unrelated, given this series’ emphasis on the tie between reality and metaphor), but a couple of thoughts.

    1) Lucifer could not ‘gum up the whole works’ by opting to ‘not oppose’, because Lucifer is no more a single being than God is. Lucifer (or more specifically, Satan) is a definitional role. He can’t not oppose – that’s what makes him Satan. If “he” didn’t oppose, than whoever else remained in opposition would still be Satan. The point being that in a universe with more than one will, there will always be an oppositional relation in need of atonement (the works of God continue, and worlds and lives abound, improvement and progession have one eternal round).

    2) I think the final jugdement is also somewhat metaphhoric. I side with the B.H. Roberts of Mormonism, that the reason the scriptures present the idea of higher kingdoms ministering to lower kingdoms is for the advancement (might we say redemption or salvation?) Of souls from one to the next. (Why else minister?). This further relates to the white stone through which Celestial beings can learn regarding kingdoms of a higher order (implying, to me at least, that they too continue to progress).

    3) God cannot sin, again like Satan, definitionally. That He has the ability to do so is, I believe, obvious. If I can do it, sure God as a person could. But He doesn’t. Whether one looks at it as God obeying natural laws or laws He decrees or some combination of the two, He is Good.

    Which ties us back to the series about agency. God is Good. Satan is Evil. Definitionally. With the Fall, Adam and Eve (Humanity) are able to distinguish the Good from the Evil, and thereby become agents. Agents of Good (eventually gods, even sons and daughters of God) or Agents of Evil (eventually devils, even sons and (presumably, despite the disputes) daughters of perdition. The spirits entice us, we choose which voice we listen to, and Christ’s atonement enables us to power of Sin and Death to be overcome. Since unlike the hyenas, we are not innocent.

  15. @SoA. I did say “if”. But since spirit is not totally defined, for sake of ease we can just stick with God having a perfectly righteous will. I think this is alluded to in many scriptures, and at least for me I accept it as part of the definition of God that allows us to have complete faith in Him. I was merely pointing out that agency is not a conclusive argument against God having this type of attribute.

  16. Last Lemming says:

    Speculation time, SteveP. Assuming that the acquisition of agency was the result of some physical trait (such as a larger brain size), which do you think the more likely scenario: (1) Adam or Eve (or both) was born with a genetic mutation giving him/her a larger brain than his/her parents, or (2), the mutation allowing for a larger brain was present in the parents, but remained dormant until environmental changes triggered brain growth in Adam/Eve?

    An obvious environmental change would involve diet, but it is not the intent of my question to try to link all of this to the actual consumption of certain fruits. I’m trying to figure out to what extent the acquisition of agency involved an actual choice on the part of Adam/Eve–something the scriptures place some emphasis on, which points to possibility #2. On the other hand, how can a brain that is incapable of exercising agency comprehend the implications of acquiring it? Without such a capability, the choice is irrelevant and possibility #1 makes just as much sense.

    On a different note, how do you interpret 2 Nephi 2:23? The acquisition of agency is not generally recognized as a necessary condition for having children.

  17. RE the various comments on the different spiritual nature of hominids before Adam, consider the fact that right now we have individual humans of significantly diminished capacity and moral agency. As our species now stands, those with these challenges have genetic aberrations or injuries, but how different is a spirit in a limited body-brain that is an aberration from a spirit in a limited body that is the norm for the species? This doesn’t remove the dividing line problem (it just moves it back in evolutionary time), but it certainly makes me scratch my cranium in an entirely new way.

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