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Monday, December 17, 2012

The Challenge
"But of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat of it, ..."  --  Gen. 2:17

From the beginning, it appears that humanity's purpose has been to challenge those forces that are beyond us.  In previous posts, I have emphasized the power of those forces and the need to adapt to them.  Most living creatures accept the environment and adapt themselves to it.  However, humans are driven to test every aspect of the environment, most often at considerable cost.

Does this uniquely human characteristic imply some cosmic purpose?  The parable of Adam and Eve indicates that this question has engaged the human psyche since humans have become self-aware.  The similar tales found in other ancient cultures further support this.

Adam and Eve were created in the comfort of the Garden of Eden.  Then they were given freedom of choice.  God warned (commanded) them not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge, and they chose to test God's warning.  This led to consequences of their own making.  They were forced to leave the comfort of the Garden and dwell in a harsh world.  Does this imply that human beings were created to deviate from Divine governance?  If you believe in one God that created and governs everything, then the answer is yes.  Then, why did that all-powerful God create a creature that had the power to deviate from God's will.

Could the answer be found in the text: Now the Lord God said, "Behold man has become like one of us, having the ability of knowing good and evil," (Gen. 3:22)?  Note that the text says, "having the ability of knowing good and evil".  The acquisition of knowledge requires challenge, and is achieved with great discomfort.  Is it possible that humans were intended to have the power to acquire knowledge?

A response to that question might be found in the anthropic principle of astrophysics and cosmology.  The four forces that govern the interaction of matter and energy have just the right properties to allow atoms to bond together into molecules.  These are the building blocks of the universe, and, ultimately, of intelligent life.  If the value of the fundamental constants, that determine the nature of these forces, were to deviate by an infinitesmal amount our universe would not exist.  This theory of the "fine tuning" of creation, is called the anthropic principle.   This led Brandon Carter, one of the founders of the anthropic principle, to state that "The universe must have properties that allow life to develop because it was designed to generate observers."  I consider this the most profound metaphysical statement of the twentieth century.  This also raises another question.  Does this need for intelligent life imply that the universe, or some aspect of it, is intelligent?

The function of an observer is to acquire knowledge.  Is that the purpose of humanity?  Maimonides responded to that question in metaphysical terms.  He asserted that the perfection of humans is attained by the acquisition of knowledge of God. 

As observers, humans have the capacity to interact with the cosmos.  Within certain limits, we can use our knowledge to adapt our environment to our purpose.  We are not corks floating on a vast sea.  We can choose to be partners in creation.

However, there is a price to pay for this elevation of humanity.    The price, as Genesis 3:15-24 teaches, is we become responsible for our choices and their consequences.  In this way, God's response to our challenge is to challenge us.  This is the gateway to self-empowerment.
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