The modern day Garden of Eden

But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die. Genesis 2:17, New International Version via biblegateway.com

I’m starting with what appears to have been a dramatatic, not to say melodramatic, conversation in the garden. One might get the impression that there are many others who have said more positive things about knowledge, but the question is whether people really appreciate knowledge these days. Classic quotes such as “knowledge is power” or “knowledge is nourishment for the soul” sounds like a cozy world, but they are essentially meaningless in a society that seems to suffer from a series of bad judgments. Politicians, big pharma and journalists for example have been caught lying and/or suppressing the truth, but we don’t seem to trust them less.

Knowledge is still important, especially the one that is conveyed through the written language. The Jewish people probably wouldn’t be the same if they had been spread out like they are without a common oral history that later was written down word for word. Knowledge used to be important to us too, but it’s mostly thanks to the Icelanders (Norwegians originally settled Iceland and developed a literature) that we still have the literature that documented our culture. It was also the written language that inspired the revolutions in America, France and Russia. The declarations and constitutions from America and France were read in Norway and inspired the Norwegian constitution of 1814 and our secession from Sweden in 1905. In recent years the written language has been used via social media to create an Arab spring, but it is unclear whether this was somethig they wanted themselves or something outside forces tried to encourage. It turned out, anyway, that winter came back quickly. The perhaps greatest revolution has been Christianity and it was the written language that brought God to the Northern outskirts of Europe more than a thousand years ago.

Language has given us a lot of useful knowledge, but also knowledge that had such a frightening prospect that it was declared forbidden. The Church didn’t want any Greek philosophy, but the Church eventually decided to bring philosophy back. Thomas Aquinas (1225- 1274) tried to reconcile Christianity with Aristotle in a time when that was forbidden fruit to most people. Oddly enough the Bible starts with forbidden knowledge, but I don’t think God wanted to ban certain knowledge. I don’t see the story of the creation as more than a myth, a story intended to make sense out of an existence than maybe never appeared to have any. I don’t think mankind rebelled against God, which is the impression given in Genesis 2.

God planted two trees in the middle of the garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. Adam and Eve were told not to eat from the tree of knowledge. It may be a seductive thought to some people, but I don’t think we were created as a bunch of brain dead Star Wars clones. It makes no sense to me to believe that God planted a specific tree in the garden, told us about it, but expected us to stay away from it. I’d think he knew his own creation well enough to know how badly that plan was likely to turn out. It’s more likely we knew the two choices from the beginning, and that we were free to make the wrong choice. We are still free to make silly decisions, but God has nothing to do with it. The responsibility is all ours.

We are currently enjoying the advantages of living downtown. We have to manage without a car for a while, but everything we need is within walking distance. We have been to the library several times this week, what is perhaps today’s version of the Garden of Eden. There is a lot of knowledge there, and if you choose wisely, you can get a lot of benefits from reading. You can also choose books that can have dire consequences, and sometimes good ideas are being used to do evil acts.You can probably still find The Communist Manifesto, published by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. Many people would argue that this book has had a positive influence, and they’d be right about the Labour movement in Norway, but the same ideas were distorted in Russia, China and North Korea. Perhaps this was fruit we could have done without?

I’m not sure about what category to put Uncle Tom’s Cabin in. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book from 1852 was an attempt to describe slavery in the United States from the slaves’ point of view, and it allegedly contributed to slavery being abolished 11 years later. The book may have done some good, but it was also problematic because many of the stereotypes about African Americans stem from this book. The author probably had the best intentions, but the book also did harm.

No one can dispute the fact that Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.… (1859) has had a tremendous impact. That was demonstrated again recently when a headteacher at a Church of England school wrote a twitter message in response to something another headteacher had written. The other headteacher had urged teachers to stick to science when they taught on the beginning of life. Christina Wilkinson wrote that “evolution is not a fact. That’s why it’s called a theory! There is more evidence that the Bible is true.” She also made it clear that the school taught everything in the national curriculum, but this still produced a certain emotional response in the atheists.

Click the photos for caption.

There is another interesting debate here. Are headteachers allowed to express themselves as individuals? It may seem that the answer is no if their opinions violate the biggest dogma in science. In this case the English headteacher had a point. It seems logical that life evolves, but I would still argue that science as a religious community, and it has a strong element of faith, has problems concerning some of the key questions. If I’m not mistaken one of the principles in science is that nothing changes. Life is logical and follows constant laws. Scientists are able to say quite a bit about what will happen in the future because it has happened before, and it will happen anywhere in the universe. It is therefore possible for astronomers to know the position of planets, comets and asteroids far into the future. They can do this because nature is predictable. Regarding evolution the answer science came up with is coincidences. Life is a result of spontaneous mutations in a universe that is constant. It might as well be God behind, the same way he created the universe.

I see the same thing when i think about how unlikely life is. If we had been just a little farther from the sun we wouldn’t have liquid water, and if we had been a little closer all the water would have evaporated. Gravity is very weak on Earth. If it had been stronger we would have been crushed; it might not have been possible for something bigger than mice to exist. The gravity was also just right in terms of gathering the matter in our solar system so that the planets and our star could be created. With too strong gravity we could have ended up with only giant planets or gas giants like Neptune, Saturn and Jupiter. With weak gravitation the planets could have been too far away from each other. Earth also got the correct elliptical orbit, our planet is just the right size and has the right axial tilt. We also have the correct amount of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and trace elements. There were many other factors that had to fall into place before life could arise, and survive. It doesn’t seem very casual or accidental.

I am very excited about astronomy and have been fascinated with SETI and others listenning for life in space since I was a child. The reason they haven’t found anything could be because they follow the principle that everything is constant. They expect life elsewhere to have followed the same technological development that we have. If it has happened here, it must happen there. There is no way we can know that for sure, however.

I like science because I like knowledge, but I still don’t think the main answer is to be found in science. It can’t tell us where all the matter came from, what designed and finetuned the universe. More than 95 % of the universe is dark matter and dark energy, which means that we can’t see it. The scientists know it exists because there must be something invisible to account for the influence they can observe on the remaining 5 %. Could the answer to the ultimate question simply be 42? If that number is cryptic to you I highly recommend The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. All his books are incredibly funny. Science fiction is incidentally forbidden knowledge too. Good science fiction isn’t just entertainment, but also social criticism, philosophy and a warning of future consequences. That made early science fiction controversial and possibly dangerous, which is why it was disguised as science fiction.

I encourage everyone to use the library. It doesn’t matter if you read yourself or prefer audio books. The important things is that you store the words and ideas that in some cases were sent to us from other continents and from before we were born. The library is nothing less than a time machine, and like it or not, it’s also socialism. It gives power to the people if they choose the best fruit. It’s sad when you lose your heroes. There aren’t many left. She was very old, so it wasn’t a shock to hear about Harper Lee’s  death yesterday, but it is still sad.

We can still read and listen to her words, or we can choose to listen to the Kardashian family. The sad thing is that many people choose the latter. I think C-3PO has a point for a chamge: We’re doomed

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