The biblical account of the Garden of Eden sounds very mythical to many. Its terms, the differences between the Earth as we know it and the Garden, and some similarities to other creation stories lead to its outright dismissal as fiction or a downgrade to parable. The same could be said of many of the stories in Genesis.
Jesus didn’t downgrade Genesis, however. Jesus quotes it as factual. For this reason, I approach it as the Word of God. If Moses recorded Genesis, it had to be relayed to him somehow. God would have to have a hand in this.
Many of the unusual aspects of the Eden story can be at least explained in a plausible way. Mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests that all of us are related to one small population of humans. That fits with the Noah story. All could be the offspring of one woman. That would be Eve. Animals were created by “kinds” according to Genesis. While evolution can be seen to happen. The prominence of negative mutations suggests that only micro-evolution happens, or in other word, evolution within “kinds”. A world where nothing dies and all are vegetarian, as in Eden, would require different systems in nature, but they are not unimaginable. The presence of God walking in the Garden doesn’t happen now, but why could it not happen? There is no fossil evidence for Eden, but it may not have existed for long. The existence of a sinless couple of humans seems far-fetched considering our sordid history as humans, but the story explains the change as the result of sin and entrance of evil into the world. That brings us to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the topic of evil itself.
What is evil? I know it when I see it, but it is hard to define. Evil is destructive. It appeals to the darkest part of our humanity. It is responsible for so much pain, horror, hopelessness and death. It is anti-God and anti-human, because we are loved by God. Evil is different than morals. Morals may be changeable within a society (Whether they should be is debatable). Evil is something you try to avoid through laws and morals. Evil is seen as conceptual. The Bible describes evil this way as well, but also describes evil as something you physically become. It is not merely bad decision making.
Satan was not created evil. He was created free and creative. That freedom was was to reject God and he became evil, though some mechanism. Adam and Eve didn’t even know evil existed. They had one rule, don’t eat from the tree in middle of the Garden. By observing their one rule they honored God as God. Evil was suggested to them, they disobeyed their one rule, and they became evil. There choice was not just a one time rebellion. Because of its nature it changed them. Evil is perhaps best described as rebellion against God and deviation from what He says and is.
How can someone “become” evil through one misstep? How can that misstep be eating fruit? The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil seems like the mythiest part of a mythy story (to coin two words). Was it magic? Honestly we are not told, but consider this possibility. Adam and Eve had a pristine genome that created a body that would never die. (Don’t scoff, our aging seems to be very much a genetic function) It also produced a brain that was not prone to selfishness or anything outside of the character of God. Since DNA is a code or language, would not Adam and Eve’s DNA be a form of God’s Word? He speaks things into existence. If that DNA is altered, wouldn’t it be a distortion of what was written in them and potentially produce not only a death process but evil? Could not the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil be nothing more than a biological agent that acted like a virus. A virus can alter your DNA. Not magic at all.
Adam and Eve not only understood the concept of evil, their bodies included the mechanism of it. In time all people would have the same problem with additional distortions. We would collaborate on evil and draw each other into evil. We would create wounds that created more wounds passed down for generations.
If God knew this tree was so toxic, why would He allow it? The answer is beyond the information that we have.
This explanation does shed light on why Jesus would have a virgin birth. He needed to be a sinless human being but still able to die. That is a special genome that is not passed to any other.
It explains why we don’t have to teach evil to our children. They seem to know something about it from birth.
It also explains why we still need to physically die, even though saved by Christ. We need to trash our trashed genome. It also suggests that our mortal remains are not critical to the formation of our resurrected body. The “seed” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15 is not our damaged DNA but our ideal DNA stored in the mind of God. We will not be cloned but spoken into existence again.