Adam & Eve-olution

One of the cool things about an evolutionary understanding of the Kosmos is that we need not rely on myth alone to make sense of the world; and, at the same time, we can look back with some measure of awe at how our pre-scientific ancestors stumbled onto so much Truth.

The story of “The Fall” of Adam and Eve is my favorite example. You know the story – they’re living in bliss in Eden, and can do whatever they want, except eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tempts Eve to eat from it, says it’ll make her like God, and so Adam and Eve eat. They gain the knowledge of good and evil; their eyes are opened to their nakedness, Genesis says. God gets pissed and kicks them out, and so we have original sin and life sucks.

With an evolutionary understanding of the universe, we know this story is totally false. We didn’t start from some primordial state of human perfection and then screw it up. We actually emerged over a process of billions of years, gradually and in fits-and-starts increasing in complexity and consciousness. And even since the emergence of the first homo sapiens, we’ve consistently increased our circles of care and compassion; we live in the least violent time in human history.

Things aren’t perfect, to be sure, but all of the available evidence tells us Genesis has it exactly wrong. We didn’t lose some original perfection; the universe has actually been gradually but steadily moving towards greater consciousness, greater care, greater compassion.

But, we can still look back at the myth – first written thousands of years B.C. – and marvel at their insight. The first insight: we haven’t always suffered like this. Our lives (collectively, in the ancient past, and individually, as children) weren’t always as full of suffering, worry, anxiety, dread, and guilt as they are now. The second insight: this is somehow connected with our knowledge, or awareness, or consciousness. Before we “ate of the tree of knowledge,” we didn’t suffer like this – we were blissfully ignorant, without a care in the world.

And that’s all correct. We didn’t always suffer like this, because we were dumb and unaware. We lacked the conscious capacity to extensively wish that things were different, to be disappointed that our expectations weren’t met, to carry with us guilt over the wrongs of the past. When we gained increased awareness, increased knowledge, we gained the capacity for planning for the future, for taking the perspectives of others, for expanding our circles of care and compassion – but also, the capacity for great suffering, for worry and dread and regret.

The first move, “The Fall,” isn’t a move from perfection to flaw, from heaven to hell. It’s a move from unconscious hell to conscious hell; a move from separateness and pain and struggle, to awareness of that separateness and pain and struggle. It sucks. Our ancient ancestors got that insight right, too.

But it’s also the first step on the way to conscious heaven. In fact, it’s the only route to conscious heaven. All babies get fussy as their nervous systems learn how to handle the stimuli around them; all toddlers throw tantrums as they struggle with their first understanding that the world isn’t as they want it to be. Anyone who’s been through recovery or therapy knows that great suffering is a prerequisite to real growth. They’re all necessary steps from consciousness to self-consciousness to consciousness-of-self-as-Self to living as conscious-Spirit-in-action.

I stand in awe of my ancient ancestors. They got it completely, spectacularly wrong; and somehow knew exactly what they were talking about.

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