I am currently working on an Updated Edition of my last book, A ‘Final Theory’ of God. The update will primarily focus on scientific developments/discoveries since the book was published in 2014, and especially developments in neuroscience. However, these scientific developments require some consequential revisions to other arguments in the book. For the benefit of those who have already read the book, I would like to share one small revision I shall be making.
It relates to the interaction between the neurological networks of instinct, reason and morality, and specifically how the activation of the neurological moral network (morality module) in the first of the human species is portrayed in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.
The revision relates to Chapter 7 of the book (The Manifestation of the Laws of Physics as the Human Brain – The Meaning of the Garden of Eden), at pages 131 – 133. For those who have not read the book, abridged articles on Genesis chapters 2 and 3 can be found here http://wp.me/p5izWu-7r and here http://wp.me/p5izWu-7C.
I should stress, however, that these and other revisions do not detract from the overall arguments in the book; they reinforce and clarify those arguments.
Brief Background Summary
Chapter 7 of the book is an analysis of the culmination of the unfolding of the fundamental laws of physics as a human organism with a capacity for moral judgment.
Preceding chapters explain how the brain developed the distinct neurological faculties (neurological networks) of instincts and reason. Initially the capacity to reason was limited to servicing those instincts. The primary human instincts are survival, security and reproduction, which are instincts we share with animals. Instincts are activated by the prospect of pleasure or the fear of pain. However, the human capacity to reason (think, scheme, evaluate, plan etc) at a higher level than animals causes humans to devise ways to indulge (or over-indulge) the pleasure to be had by servicing their primitive instincts and react (or over-react) to the fear of pain. To counter this propensity to over-indulge or over-react to the prospect of pleasure or fear of pain, the human brain is endowed with what neuroscience now recognizes as a neurological moral network, or morality module (McMillan, 2017). The neurological moral network was somehow activated at some point during the development of the human brain.
Chapter 7 of the book explains that the description of the Garden of Eden and the story of Adam and Eve are metaphors for the formation and functioning of the human brain, and the process by which the neurological moral network was activated in the first of the human species to experience it. The book describes the metaphor of the Garden of Eden as follows.
The “trees” [that are “made to grow”] perfectly correspond to [the various neurological faculties] – “pleasant to the sight” refers to instincts; “good for food” refers to the innate ‘knowledge’ of how the universe and life functions and the human compulsion to consciously acquire that ‘knowledge’; and “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” refers to the neurological moral network (page 120).
But the “tree of life” is more problematic. If the “Garden of Eden” refers to the human brain, and the “trees” to the various faculties (neurological networks) that constitute the brain, then the “tree of life” should correspond to a neurological network. And it should be noted that “the man” was not prohibited from eating of the “tree of life” (Genesis 2:16 & 17).
The revision that I will be making to the book resolves that problem, and it is found in a proper understanding of the symbolism of “the serpent” (Genesis 3:1-5). In the book, I explain these verses as follows:
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 to it (pages 131 – 132).
In adopting that interpretation of these verses (ie Genesis 3:1 – 7) I was swayed, to an extent, by the interpretation of Philo Judaeus (also called Philo of Alexandria, the great Jewish philosopher who lived at about the same time as Jesus) who described the symbolism of “the serpent” like this:
Anyone who follows a reasonable train of conjecture, will say with great propriety, that the … serpent is the symbol of pleasure. … 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 (Philo, 2015, p. p. LVI (157) and (160) respectively).
However, after considerable reflection, and specifically in attempting to explain the “tree of life” in the context of the Garden of Eden being a metaphor for the human brain, it became increasingly obvious that “the serpent” represents the human capacity to reason (think, reflect, scheme, devise, evaluate, plan, investigate etc). I will be setting out the argument for that conclusion in full in the Updated Edition of the book but set out here the argument in outline.
The Outline Argument
“The serpent” symbolizes reason advocating for the pleasure that could be had by succumbing to the demands of some or other primitive instinct (and the phallic imagery of “the serpent” suggests the instinct for reproduction) to indulge in some physical act or acts which the neurological moral network cautions is ‘wrong’. The reply to “the serpent” by “the woman” that God had prohibited them from eating of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (the “fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden”) is the response from the neurological moral network cautioning that the behaviour contemplated is wrong. The response from “the serpent” symbolizes reason then challenging that warning from the neurological moral network against indulging in the contemplated behaviour by proclaiming that “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” (Genesis 3:4 & 5).
That final response from “the serpent” (reason) induces “the woman” to find ‘justification’ for ignoring the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network by citing the perceived ‘benefits’ that she thinks (reasons) may be derived by indulging her primitive instincts:
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, and took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband with her: and he did eat (Genesis 3:6).
The words “pleasant” and “desired” pointedly refer to pleasure; the pleasure reason perceives is to be had by indulging in some or other type of physical behaviour (and the imagery of “the serpent” suggests sexual behaviour of some kind) that the neurological moral network cautions is wrong.
That “the woman” perceived the tree to be “good for food” refers to the primitive human instinct to find the means to satisfy the demands of our primary primitive instincts of survival, security and reproduction. The word “food” refers to the desire to provide ‘sustenance’ for primitive instincts, and “good” refers to those things which can most effectively provide such ‘sustenance’. But in this case, ‘sustenance’ was not an issue because there was an abundance of other fruit in the Garden that they were free to ‘eat’. The reference to “the woman” justifying ‘eating’ the fruit on the basis of it being “good for food” thus symbolizes reason invoking an otherwise ‘natural’ human action (simply responding to our instincts) to justify an action that the neurological moral network was strongly warning was wrong. It wasn’t for basic ‘sustenance’ that she was justifying eating of the fruit, but over-indulgence of some primitive instinct because of the perceived additional pleasure it may generate.
Finally, the words “to make one wise” refer to the human instinct to acquire ‘knowledge’ of the world and how it functions as a means to better cater to the demands of our primitive instincts. However, in this case, “the woman” applies reason to justify indulging an action that offends against the neurological moral network on the pretext that it would provide additional ‘knowledge’ (“make one wise”) even although it had nothing to do with servicing the basic needs for survival, security or reproduction, but only for the perceived pleasure it may generate.
Once that moral boundary had been crossed, the descendants of these human beings would pursue pleasure for the sake of pleasure itself, not just to satisfy a particular instinctive need such as hunger or reproduction. Philo put the distinction well:
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 (Philo, 2015, p. p. LVIII (163)) – and I would add, not just his “eyes and ears”.
Interestingly, the insightful Jewish scholar, Nahmanides, also proposed that “the serpent” may symbolize the human capacity to reason. He said, “It is possible that the verse intended this when it said “…God made men straight, but they have engaged in too much reasoning.” (Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7:29) ‘Straight’ means that one should seize on a single straight path and ‘engaged in too much reasoning’ means that one seeks various acts among which they can choose.” (Nahmanides, 2015, p. 2:9)
Why acquiring knowledge of good and evil was wrong
The reason it was wrong to ‘acquire’ the “knowledge of good and evil” is that an act had to be taken which offended against the neurological moral network for it to be consciously activated. That opened the way for human beings, who up until then had simply conformed to the subconscious constraints of the neurological moral network, to ‘rationalise’ setting aside any sense of guilt or conscience caused by indulging the demands of their primitive instincts and seek to maximize pleasure and eliminate at any cost any perceived threat that may cause ‘pain’. From then on, human beings would no longer be satisfied with simply sustaining their lives in harmony with nature. They began to desire in excess. They proclaimed ‘ownership’ of more land than they needed for their own survival, even if that meant depriving others of the basic necessities. They sought to conquer, plunder and destroy to allay their fears and insecurities. It meant building castles, building kingdoms, building empires. The human species had fallen into bondage of their primitive instincts. They became slaves to the pursuit of pleasure and the fear of pain. But as Philo says, “And those who have previously become the slaves of pleasure immediately receive the wages of this miserable and incurable passion” (Philo, 2015, p. p. LX (167)). A condition, says Philo, “more miserable than death” (Philo, 2015, p. p. LVIII (164)).
A further consequence arises from “the serpent’s” initial claim that eating of the Tree would make them “as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). They would not then need to pay any attention to the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network, they could do as they please, and would be accountable to nobody. There would be no need to believe in God. They could decide for themselves what was right and wrong, and they would not feel any guilt for their actions.
Reason and The Tree of Life
Recognising that “the serpent” symbolises the human capacity to ‘reason’ leads to the supposition that the “tree of life” is a metaphor for ‘reason’ as well. But there is a difference. And that relates to the application of reason. I shall set out the argument in outline only.
The “tree of life” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” that were in the “midst of the garden” (Genesis 2:9 & 3:3) refer to the initial harmony between reason (“the tree of life”) and the neurological moral network (“the tree of knowledge of good and evil”). At this early stage of human development reason subconsciously complied with the restraint of the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network when responding to the demands of primitive instinct. That is not idle speculation. It is supported by anthropological evidence, as can be seen in the earliest of the human species, whose descendants survive to this day, most notably the San people of southern Africa (and I would include also perhaps other indigenous peoples like the Aboriginal people of Australia and the Inuit). Those who have not yet been ‘civilized’ respond subconsciously to the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network.
This state of harmony between reason and the moral demands of the neurological moral network is symbolized by the words “and they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
But the human capacity for reason was not and is not genetically limited to subconsciously complying with the restraint cautioned by the neurological moral network. The human capacity for reason was and is capable of contemplating and entertaining actions which would violate the neurological moral network. And human beings were and are capable of ‘rationalising’ disobedience to the restraint urged by the neurological moral network by citing the need and benefits of servicing their primitive instincts. That is symbolised in the exchanges between “the serpent” and “the woman”. The “serpent” symbolises this malevolent aspect of the human capacity to reason, but it also demonstrates that the human will is free to choose whether to serve the moral demands of the neurological moral network or the demands of primitive instinct, although it does know which choice is right.
So when the first human beings took some action that violated the neurological moral network it caused a sense of guilt; it pricked their conscience, and they sought to ‘cover up’ their indiscretion by blanking it out, so to speak – that is, they sought to suppress the sense of guilt and conscience they felt. That is symbolized by the words “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Genesis 3:26).
But they could not escape the sense of guilt and conscience. Notwithstanding their attempts to justify their actions in terms of a natural response to the demands of their primitive instincts, the sense of guilt and conscience persisted, especially when they were no longer in a state of heightened passion that had originally provoked their disobedience to the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network. That is symbolised in Genesis 3:8 with these words: “And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the Garden.”
The “voice of the Lord God” symbolises the persistence of their guilty conscience.
The “cool of the day” symbolises reflection on their actions when they were no longer in the state of excited passion about the pleasure they anticipated by indulging in the contemplated action.
That they “hid themselves … amongst the trees of the Garden” symbolises them seeking to avoid the guilt they were feeling by justifying their action as a natural response to their primitive instincts.
Consequences of violating the neurological moral network
Of course, no matter how much they sought to suppress the sense of guilt they were unable to do so. And the consequences were dramatic, for the first of the human race to succumb to the temptation to defy the ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network, and to their descendants, right up to the present day. Once the neurological moral network had been consciously activated it could not be de-activated. From that moment on, the human capacity to reason would be in constant tension with itself in discerning and choosing between the demands of their primitive instincts and the moral prescriptions of the neurological moral network.
This consequence is symbolised in this verse: “And I will put enmity between thee [the serpent/reason] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
The word “enmity” refers to the state of tension or opposition that had arisen between the demands of primitive instincts and the neurological moral network on the human capacity to reason.
The “serpent” represents the capacity to reason, and “the woman” represents the human will which is compelled to choose between the conflicting demands on reason to act in accordance with primitive instinct or the neurological moral network.
That the “enmity” will continue “between thy seed and her seed” symbolises the fact that this tension (“enmity”) would afflict the human capacity to reason in all the descendants of the first human beings who consciously activated the neurological moral network.
That “enmity” shall “bruise” the head of “the serpent”, and that “the serpent” shall “bruise” the heel of “enmity”, symbolises the conflict between the competing demands on reason. On most occasions, the demands of primitive instincts will prevail in this conflict and reason shall succumb (“it shall bruise thy head”); at other times, reason will resist and make the right decision (“thou shalt bruise his heel”).
But the consequence for the human condition is that they would be ruled thereafter by the pleasures and fears aroused by their primitive instincts. They would have to strenuously and consciously strive to hear the ‘voice’ of neurological moral network above the clamour of demands from their primitive instincts. The ‘voice’ of the neurological moral network had been silenced, unless they strove assiduously to discern it. Human beings would only hear dim rumblings. They had become morally deaf, blind and mute.
That is the symbolism of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden.[i] “Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken” (Genesis 3:23).
And the next verse is particularly apt in respect of the ability of reason to conform itself to the demands of the neurological moral network once that network had been consciously activated: “So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Genesis 3:24). Human beings would no longer enjoy the mental tranquillity of automatically and subconsciously living in conformity with the prescriptions of the neurological moral network. For reason to re-discover that tranquillity it would face considerable and almost insurmountable obstacles (“Cherubims and a flaming sword”) due to the overwhelming need for reason to devise ways to service the demands of primitive instinct. The “way of” naturally conforming to the moral law had been lost. That is symbolised by the words “to keep the WAY OF the tree of life”; that is, the way of reason in conformity with the neurological moral network.
Why compliance with the prescriptions of the neurological moral network is significant is dealt with under the sub-headings “Mind/Body Debate” and “Mind/Soul Debate” in the article titled “Addressing some contemporary issues between science, philosophy and religion.”
This interpretation is also important in understanding the intricate connection between the origins of religion and justice. I shall be addressing that issue in the next article.
Joseph BH McMillan www.josephbhmcmillan.com
#science #neuroscience #philosophy #religion #morality #brain #Genesis #reason #God
Anon., 2011. NASA Researchers: DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/dna-meteorites.html
McMillan, J. B., 2016. Science in Genesis Chapter 2. [Online]
Available at: http://wp.me/p5izWu-95
McMillan, J. B., 2017. Addressing some contemporary issues between science, philosophy and religion.. [Online]
Available at: http://wp.me/p5izWu-bC
Nahmanides, 2015. Ramban on Genesis. [Online]
Available at: http://www.sefaria.org/Ramban_on_Genesis.1.26?lang=en&layout=lines&sidebarLang=all
Philo, 2015. On the Creation. [Online]
Available at: http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/text/philo/book1.html
[i] Adam had by then called “the woman Eve, because “she was the mother of all living” – Genesis 3:20