Something is Rotten in the Garden of Eden
Any claim which is built on multiple absolutes makes itself vulnerable to logical contradictions. This is seen as clearly in the Problem of Evil as anywhere else. The Christian god is presented as omnipotent, omniscient and omni-benevolent, and yet we live in a world which is plagued with evil and suffering. Ironically, this anomaly was recognised by Epicurus, over 200 years before Christ is alleged to have existed.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
This logical contradiction is irreconcilable, but Christian theologians do attempt some intellectual gymnastics in their efforts to rationalise it. One such effort, expounded by St Paul, is the fallen creation.
The argument goes, roughly, that the Garden of Eden was perfect in the absolute sense when God created it. But, when the Devil tempted Eve and she, and Adam ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God threw them out of the Garden of Eden and condemned them to a life of work and pain, thus, the world was perfect no more.
This apologetic is not logically coherent for a number of reasons. First, we can clearly show that the Garden of Eden was not perfect at any stage. Again, this is demonstrable in more than one way.
The garden contained the serpent, usually seen as the Devil, who was evil enough to tempt Eve. Had God made the Garden of Eden without the serpent, it would have been better, therefore, the actual Garden of Eden God created could not have been perfect.
Eve was susceptible to temptation. Again, a Garden of Eden where Eve had the strength of character not to be tempted by anyone to disobey God’s instructions, would have been a better Garden of Eden than the one God actually created.
This principle further extends to Adam, who allowed himself to be persuaded by Eve to eat the fruit. A Garden of Eden where the serpent existed and managed to tempt Eve would not have been perfect either, but it would have been better than the one God created.
Second, the fruit Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat was from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If Adam and Eve didn’t know the difference between good and evil, and the only way they could find out was to eat the fruit which God had forbidden them to eat, than how would Eve know that it was wrong to disobey God’s order? How could God punish Adam and Eve for disobeying him, when he had not given them the means of understanding that it would be wrong to disobey him? This is hardly the behaviour of a just and loving god.
Third, a necessary criterion to be met for anything that is perfect in an absolute sense, is that it must remain perfect for ever. This is simply because if, say, the Garden of Eden would only be perfect for one day, than any other Garden of Eden that remained perfect for one day and one more minute would be a better Garden of Eden. Nothing can be perfect if we can easily conceive of a way in which it could be improved.
One apologetic response to all this, is to claim that all of God’s work is perfect, but it is the work of the Devil that brings evil into it. As this document describes St Paul’s views,
A basic presupposition of St. Paul‘s thought is that althought the world was created by God and as such is good, yet now there rules in it the power of Satan. The devil, however, is by no means absolute, since God has never abandoned His creation.
Once more, this is not logically sound. Yet again, we can easily see that a world that was not vulnerable to manipulation, neither by the devil nor anyone else, would be a better world than that which we see, and therefore the world that we see can not be, nor was it ever, perfect.
We can also see that the Devil can only have been created by God himself. Although Christians do not believe that God created the Devil as an evil being, and that the angel Lucifer became jealous in Heaven, we can, yet again, show logical inconsistency in this defence.
God is presented as all powerful and all knowing. Such a being would, therefore, at the point of creation, know every single thing that would ever happen for all of eternity. As an all powerful being, he would only create the world in such a way that everything would happen exactly as he wanted. (This is why an all powerful, all seeing god is not compatible with a belief in human free will. If God knew at the point of creation exactly what decisions we would make, then they are not our decisions, they are his, and therefore we do not have free will.) If God were all seeing and all powerful, he would have known all along that Eve would pick the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and share it with Adam. Why would he create a world knowing that something was going to go wrong, and then punish the people he created for the mistake?
God is portrayed as a perfect being, and yet the world we see around us is not perfect, just as the Garden of Eden was not perfect. If God’s creation is not perfect, then it must follow that God is not perfect. Christian apologists continue to work very hard to create the illusion of coherence, but no such hard labour is necessary for the atheist. The world we see around us is entirely in keeping with what we would expect to see if no such perfect being existed.