Perspectives on the Scriptures: Genesis Chapter 3 – Adam and Eve; awakening the neurological moral network in the Human Brain.
The first question we need to address is whether the story of Adam and Eve refers to two particular individuals, or is a generic reference to the first of the species to acquire specifically human characteristics. And Genesis tells us that it is both.
The key to understanding the story of Adam and Eve is found at Genesis 5, verses 1 and 2:
“This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him;
“Male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day they were created.”
The references to “the generations of Adam”, and “the day God created man”, clearly refer to a period of time, and a generic description of the first human beings.
The wording is the same as Genesis 2, verse 4 – “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” As we saw in respect of The Garden of Eden, this verse clearly refers to a period of time as well. Conflating the words “generations” and “day” can have no other reasonable explanation.
We then see in verse 2 that the “male and the female” are collectively called “Adam”. There is no mention of Eve.
Adam clearly thus refers to the first human beings endowed with human DNA. However, as we saw in the previous article on the Garden of Eden, there would have been two literal human beings in whom this DNA would have been activated, who must have joined up to create new human life in their own genetic image. References to the “woman” and “Eve” in these chapters tell us that although the story is generic, it also refers to literal people, literal events, and literal places.
So there would have been two, or more likely several, human beings with human DNA who were the ancestors of all other human beings.
As we have seen, the San people of southern Africa speak to the fact that Genesis is certainly referring generically to the first human beings. That is because the San people seem to be the descendants of that branch of the human species that did not succumb to the temptation of eating of the ‘forbidden fruit’.
Chapter 3 of Genesis addresses the branch of the early species that did take of the fruit, and who are the ancestors of so-called ‘civilized’ human beings.. And that is what we will now address.
Chapter 3 records what happened when the primitive instinct to reproduce was aroused by the allure of the pleasure to be had by indulging in the act of ‘reproduction,’ not for the main purpose of reproduction, but with the principal aim of deriving physical pleasure from the act.
It is appropriate here to quote again from Philo: “For other animals pursue pleasure only in taste and in the acts of generation; but man aims at it by means of his other senses also, devoting himself to whatever sights or sounds can impart pleasure to his eyes or ears.” It is the transformation from the latter to the former that Chapter 3 addresses.
We should set out the whole account of this transformation:
“Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
“And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
“But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
“And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
Before we analyze these verses, it is important to remember that we are looking at the symbolism of what is being said. But there can be little doubt that the symbolism relates to real events that took place many years ago, if not with just one such couple, then with several in various places over a period of time.
The important point to note is that these verses symbolize the first conflict between primitive human instincts and the promptings of the “morality module.” A picture is painted of a woman wrestling with the allure of pleasure by indulging in an act which her conscience is telling her is wrong. She is fantasizing; but about what?
Well, it is impossible to ignore the phallic imagery of the speaking serpent, so the most plausible explanation is that she is fantasizing about sex.
We should also remember that it was very likely that these early humans would have been living with, or at least in close proximity to, the species from which they had emerged, and even other species of primates that were genetically very similar to them. And these other species would also have been “naked.” And more tellingly, these other primates would have indulged in sex quite openly and casually, as they do today.
But at this stage, a number of characteristics had developed in the early human species which distinguished them from other primates. First, as we have seen, they had developed a higher level of communication, as well as an ability to ‘reason’. But they also had a partially activated “morality module” which acted as a restraint to their actions descending into an imitation of the species from which they had emerged. And that “moral law” acted by way of guilt aroused by conscience.
So these early humans would not have a conscious list of moral principles – only a strong comprehension that certain behavior was ‘wrong’.
However, the woman would have enjoyed the pleasure of intimacy with Adam. And this would have acted as a spark to ignite her ability to ‘reason’, and to consider other ways in which further pleasure could be had from the act of intimacy in reproduction.
And there would have been plenty of suggestions in the behavior of the more primitive primates living in close proximity. The imagery of the account of the woman being tempted by the serpent is then not hard to translate into a real picture. Although constrained by her moral impulses to refrain from sexual encounters other than with Adam, by observing the casual sexual interplay of primates around them, the woman begins to fantasize about what it would be like to do the same. She starts to imagine what ‘forbidden pleasures’ could be had if she just suppressed the feelings of guilt aroused by such fantasies.
No doubt she would have asked herself why it would be wrong for her to do what the other primates were doing. There was no consequence to them for doing it, so what could happen to her? Her ‘reasoning’ appears to have gone into overdrive to justify doing what she knew would be wrong by suppressing the restraint and guilt demanded by her newly acquired moral aptitude.
In the end, the woman succumbs to the allure of the pleasures to be had by indulging her sexual fantasies – “she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.”
And by employing the newly acquired ability to combine ‘reason’ with an ability to communicate, the woman persuaded “her husband” to do the same.
And what they did, it can only be concluded, is indulge in casual sexual encounters with members of the other species around them, and no doubt with other newly formed humans if and when they encountered them.
Now many reading all this about a woman fantasizing about imitating the sexual practices of apes, and engaging in sexual encounters with them, will no doubt ridicule the whole interpretation. So what evidence is there that human beings could act in such a manner, either back then, or now?
Well plenty, actually.
Let’s start with the fantasy part, and humans looking to apes for ‘moral inspiration’. And for that we need look no further than a professor of philosophy, no less – a certain AC Grayling. Grayling is so enamored by his ‘philosophical opinions’ that he set up his own university in London to propagate them. His university is called New College of the Humanities, of which he was appointed Master and Professor of Philosophy.
Grayling claims that the arts (books, music, films and so on) demonstrate the importance of intimate physical relationships to human beings, but laments that the traditional moral consensus that sex should be limited to one other person in a bonding for life, apart from a little youthful experimentation, somehow inhibits what he calls human “flourishing.”
So Grayling cites the behavior of bonobo chimpanzees as a model for a better approach. Being the primates most like humans, Grayling says that the bonobo’s equivalent of shaking hands, or doing a ‘high-five’, is to engage in sex, and to do so often.
Grayling thus claims that “pleasure is good – and sexual pleasure is very good.”
According to Grayling, this all means that sex only becomes a problem when it is “rationed and starved.” So his solution is sexual experimentation. And with a lot of practice, Grayling believes that ‘humans’ can better learn to ‘love’ and be ‘loved’.
But if anyone inhibits your sexual self-indulgence, such as a wife or children, then they need to be made to understand that some human beings have certain “needs and interests,” which the victims simply have to “accept and tolerate … and be open-minded” about.
And it is belief in God (religion) that Grayling claims inhibits this kind of sexual indulgence in the pursuit of human “flourishing” – so he devotes the first half of his book to ‘disproving’ the existence of God. Of course, by getting rid of God, the likes of Grayling hope to get rid of guilt and conscience as well.
Grayling’s ‘philosophy’ is really based on a simple premise – why shouldn’t we behave like animals?
So we see that what is said to have aroused the first woman, and the ‘reasoning’ employed to justify indulging the arousal, is something that has stayed with some members of the species up to this very day. And Grayling is not unique in that regard; it is not an uncommon phenomenon.
But is there any evidence that the first humans did interbreed with other primates? Again, the answer is yes.
In an article in the online journal Public Library of Science (PLoS), Dr Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum, and Professor Wil Roebroeks of Lieden University, say that “current genetic data suggest that complex processes of interbreeding and assimilation may have been responsible for the disappearance of the specific Neandertal morphology from the fossil record.”
In their conclusion, they say that “The momentous cultural changes that followed the arrival of AMH (anatomically modern humans) in Western Eurasia were not uniquely due to the residents’ cognitive or technological inferiority causing rapid and total replacement. The Neandertal demise appears to have resulted from a complex and protracted process including multiple dynamic factors such as low population density, interbreeding with some cultural contact, possible male hybrid sterility and contraction in geographic distribution followed by genetic swamping and assimilation by the increasing numbers of modern immigrants.”
And Villa and Roebroeks cite evidence of this interbreeding in modern human beings: “In 2010 a draft sequence of the Neandertal nuclear DNA provided clear evidence of interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans, estimating that Neandertal inheritance makes up 1–4% of the genomes of people outside of Africa. A revised estimate based on a high-coverage sequence of a Neandertal from the Altai Mountains now suggests 1.5–2.1%.”
Now I am not claiming that the story of Adam and Eve relates solely, or at all, to this possible interbreeding between humans and Neandertals. It is likely that the story relates to a much earlier time when humans were only just emerging as the species we recognize today as humans. The example of the interbreeding with Neandertals appears to be a continuation of something that had started earlier.
The real significance of the story, however, lies in its explanation of how the “morality module” in the human brain was initially activated.
But if the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolizes the “morality module,” why, some will ask, would it be wrong to acquire “the knowledge of good and evil’?
The answer is that to awaken the ‘morality module’ the first human beings had to take some action which offended it. That produced a sense of guilt in the form of a conscience. And as we have seen, according to Genesis, the action which initially activated the “morality module” related to pleasure – “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was PLEASANT to the eyes, and a tree to be DESIRED to make one wise …” As Philo says, “anyone who follows a reasonable train of conjecture, will say with great propriety, that the … serpent is the symbol of pleasure.” And he goes on to say that the “serpent is said to have uttered a human voice, because pleasure employs innumerable champions and defenders who take care to advocate its interests, and who dare to assert that the power over everything, both small and great, does of right belong to it without any exception whatever.”
The story of Eve’s (“the woman’s”) temptation, therefore, clearly illustrates the interaction between morality, instinct and reason.
The serpent represents the instinct for reproduction. The symbolism of the serpent ‘speaking’ relates to the allure of pleasure to be had by indulging the instinct for reproduction. And Eve ‘seeing’ “that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, …” symbolizes the human ability to ‘reason’ to justify taking actions that we ‘know’ are wrong.
The prohibition against eating of the tree represents morality – the neurological moral network within the brain that ‘speaks’ to us of the morality of certain actions, and acts as a restraint to actions which offend against it, if we listen. However, until this moment, the neurological moral network was subconscious.
But once the first humans succumbed to the allure of the pleasure to be had by indulging their primitive instinct for reproduction, the “morality module” (the neurological moral network) was activated. This is symbolized by the words “and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” They realized then that they were different to the other species around them, even those most like them, and that it was not appropriate to simply imitate animal behavior.
And this also suggests that the activation of the ‘morality module’ is directly related to human consciousness. It is only when humans activated the ability to judge their own actions that they became aware of the consequences of their actions, and thus their own mortality. And that brings about an awareness of ‘self’. That is the true meaning of the consequences God is said to have told Adam would follow should he eat of the tree – the Hebrew is not ‘thou shalt surely die’, but in ‘dying thou shalt die’. The consequence related to the afterlife. And that gives rise to a distinction between life and death, and a consciousness of being alive.
Thus the very concept of morality, the human ability to judge its actions as right and wrong, triggers in the brain a sense of mortality, and thus an awareness of life. And that comes from the fact that humans can look at the behavior of animals, even ‘intelligent’ apes, and recognize that the same behavior in humans would be wrong. And that does not only relate to casual sexual indulgences with multiple partners, but to other things like violence.
Genesis tells us that once the “morality module” had been activated, it gave rise to a sense of guilt, and Adam and Eve are said to do what people do to this day in order to justify their actions; they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the Garden.” They attempted to escape the guilt aroused by their actions by seeking justification in their primitive instincts; in “the trees of the garden.” As we have already seen, the trees in the garden symbolize the instincts with which humans were programmed, amongst which are the instinct to reproduce. So when they are plagued by a sense of guilt, they seek to justify their actions by reference to their instincts. They ‘reason’ their way to a justification by attempting to convince themselves that they should not feel guilty because what they did was perfectly natural – just like the animals around them.
But clearly the guilt could not be easily silenced. And so, like today, they started the blame game – Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. In ‘excusing’ her behavior by claiming that “the serpent beguiled” her, the woman is essentially seeking to defend her actions by saying that the attractions of the pleasures she imagined could be had by indulging her primitive instincts were so strong as to be ‘irresistible’. So she should not be to blame.
But, of course, it was all to no avail.
Once they had crossed the moral threshold, no longer did they simply respond to an intuitive restraint from certain actions, they acquired the ability to identify and classify specific actions as right or wrong. Yet, on the other hand, they were also driven on by their primitive instincts. And their ability to reason compelled them to service those instincts, either from fear of pain, or the attraction of pleasure.
The ‘punishment’ that God is said to inflict on them clearly symbolizes the conflict with which humans would be plagued from then on – a conflict between servicing their primitive instincts, or servicing the promptings of their “morality module”.
We can see that the ‘punishment’ puts “enmity” between the attractions of pleasure to be had by indulging primitive instincts, like those of reproduction, and the consequences of doing so. They now realize that the act of reproduction is not simply something to generate pleasure and excitement, it is not simply a ‘romantic’ experience. It is, as John Stuart Mill said, “one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life.” And I would say, THE most responsible act.
And the ‘punishment’ said to have been inflicted on Adam clearly relates to human beings falling into bondage of their primitive instincts. From that moment on, human beings would be driven to provide for their survival and security by relentless toil. The instincts for survival and security generate a fear of being unable to provide for themselves, and a fear of anything and anyone perceived to be a threat to their survival and security.
The words “in sorrow shalt thou eat of [the ground] all the days of thy life” clearly refers to the instinct for security; “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” clearly refers to the fear of death, and the survival instinct.
But there was a far more unpleasant consequence of this awakening of the “morality module”. The previous mental tranquility of intuitively refraining from actions because they knew them were wrong, and responding to the promptings of their instincts “only in taste and in the acts of generation”, had been replaced with an obsessive preoccupation with the pleasures and fears aroused by those instincts. No longer were these first humans content to live day by day without the constant fear of want and death – now they were consumed by a passion to indulge the demands of their instincts so as to alleviate their fears, or feed their appetite for pleasure.
As Philo said, they condemned themselves to “an existence more miserable than death.”
They were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But this doesn’t mean that they were ‘expelled’ from their own brains. It suggests that they lost the mental tranquility they previously enjoyed, and embarked on a life of the relentless servicing of their instincts. And yet, at the same time, they would be plagued by the promptings of the “morality module” to moderate and control their appetite for pleasure, and their fear of pain.
And being deprived of the ability to “take of the tree of life” points to a clear consequence between regulating human actions in accordance with the “morality module”, or in service of human instinct. And that consequence, Genesis is telling us, relates to the afterlife.
From this point on, Genesis, and the Bible as a whole, records the conflict between human instinct and morality as it plays out in historical context.
So we see in the account of Cain and Abel that Abel’s endeavors were proving successful whereas Cain’s were modest. This fired insecurity in Cain, and wounded his vanity. Abel was seen as a threatening competitor who had to be neutralized. The symbolism of God speaking to Cain to ask why he is angry relates to Cain’s “morality module” intervening in an attempt to quell the anger. God says to Cain, “If thou does’t well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou does’t not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
The Hebrew for the last sentence actually says this: “And subject unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”
The message is quite clear – Cain has a choice about how to act. One choice is acceptable, or moral, the other is wrong, and will have consequences. The “desire” to satisfy his instincts is under his control – “subject unto thee.” And morality must rule over the desires of the instincts – “thou shalt rule over him.”
But, like Eve, Cain could not or would not listen to the moral ‘voice’ within him, and planned to slay Abel. We see that Cain “talked with Abel” before he implemented his plan. This is clear evidence that Cain was using ‘reason’, and the ability to communicate, in service of his primitive instincts, and not in service of the “moral law.” And even once he had killed Abel, he sought to deny any involvement, saying he does not know where Abel is. Furthermore, he also asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain’s reaction to the guilt that arises from his actions is first to lie, then to ‘justify’ the lie by ‘reasoning’ that he is not responsible for his brother’s welfare.
We see in Cain a regrettable model for those who believe that satisfying their own “needs and interests” at any cost is their primary ‘duty’ in life, and they ‘reason’ their way to justifying whatever actions they take in pursuit of their ‘goals’. And their goals are always the same – indulging their appetite for pleasure, and relieving the fear of their insecurities; in short, being in the service of their primitive instincts, and silencing the voice of morality whenever it ‘speaks’.
However, Cain realizes that he cannot completely silence the voice of morality, and finally acknowledges that “Mine iniquity is greater than can be forgiven.”
And the only way he can live with the guilt of his conscience is to deny God – “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord.”
That, it seems, is the “mark” which God is said to have put on Cain; the propensity to apply ‘reason’ to justify the servicing of our primitive instincts in defiance of the “moral law” which created us, and which is within us. And humans accomplish that self-deception through the denial of a universal moral law, and thus a denial of God.
In that way, those who seek to impose their own authority and will on others are free to ‘make’ such ‘laws’ as best serve their own interests, and to implement such measures as are necessary to compel others to submit to those ‘laws’.
That is the meaning of Cain building a city which he names after his son Enoch. God is replaced with the pursuit of power and wealth to feed vanity and allay insecurity.
However, at the end of Chapter 4, the story reverts again to Adam and Eve. Eve conceives and gives birth to Seth, and he has a son called Enos. And it is this strand of the genealogy of Adam and Eve that came to the realization that God is indispensable to human existence. That is because, after the birth of Enos, “then men began to call on the name of the Lord.” 
And it is this strand of genealogy that leads to Abraham and on to Moses, and the Ten Commandments. They were the ‘keepers’ of the moral law that reveals God’s Will.
It was through Abraham that “all families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”
The crucial words in that last verse are “because thou hast obeyed my voice.” It was this strand of the human species that stayed most obedient to the principles of the “moral law”; and, it seems, most easily able to decipher it over the clatter of demands from our primitive instincts.
They were the people most able to recognize that the laws which govern the universe are moral laws; and those moral laws are an expression of a will, God’s Will.
Through Abraham’s descendents God’s moral law would be revealed not just to the Israelites, but to all humanity.
This is the “insight regarding God’s will” possessed by the Prophets.
But this kind of insight into the moral dimension of the human mind was not exclusive to the Israelites. It has arisen in many people in many diverse areas over the millennia, at times more clearly than at others. But we can detect from these various sources an unfolding set of common principles, right down to modern Charters and Declarations of Human Rights.
What these sources reveal, however, is not a ‘building’ of moral principles to accommodate changing times, but a discovery of those principles that were well understood by our ancestors millennia ago.
So what we see in these first few chapters of Genesis is a perfect description of the origins of life and the universe that validate and preempt scientific discovery. And we also see a compelling explanation of human behavior, human consciousness, and the capacity for human evil and human good.
But most important of all, we see that the human capacity for moral judgment is a manifestation of the moral content of the laws of physics. And the human capacity for moral judgment finds expression in the human quest for justice, which reveals the human search for a supreme law and a Supreme Lawmaker.
Joseph BH McMillan
This series of articles titled Perspectives on the Scriptures form the basis on which is constructed A ‘Final Theory’ of God.
 Philo, On the Creation, LVIII (163).
 Genesis 3: 1 – 7.
 Grayling, ACX. The God Argument, page 192 and 199. A full Review of The God Argument can be read under Book Reviews on this website jbhmcmillan.com.
 Grayling, page 205.
 Grayling, page 206.
 Grayling, page 201.
 Grayling, page 202.
 Grayling, page 193.
 Villa P, Roebroeks W (2014) Neandertal Demise: An Archaeological Analysis of the Modern Human Superiority Complex. PLoS ONE 9(4): e96424. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096424.
 Genesis 3: 6.
 Philo, On the Creation, LVI (157) and (160) respectively.
 The name Eve is not used in Genesis 3 until verse 20 – “and Adam called his wife’s name Eve …”
 Genesis 3: 7.
 Genesis 2: 17.
 Genesis 3: 17.
 Genesis 3: 19.
 Genesis 4: 7.
 Genesis 4: 13 – also translated “My punishment is more than I can bear.”
 Genesis 4: 16.
 Genesis 4: 17.
 Genesis 4: 20.
 Genesis 12: 3.
 Genesis 22:18.
 Wood, Leon J, The Prophets of Israel, page 63