Albino Rainbow

Becky and I were in Milledgeville, GA this weekend for Philip Gubser’s Senior Recital. We were staying at the Hampton Inn. Shortly after nine this morning, Becky headed to the motel breakfast while I detoured to put some luggage in the car. The morning was cold and foggy and I saw something I had never seen before: a white rainbow.


I didn’t even know these existed. They are also known as “fogbows” and “sea-dogs.” It occurs when the water droplets are so small that diffraction smears out the colors that would be produced by larger drops.

What Really Happened In Eden?

This entry builds on three previous entries. The first advances the notion, suggested by computer science pioneer John McCarthy, that a human level intelligence must meet the requirement that “All aspects of behavior except the most routine should be improvable. In particular, the improving mechanism should be improvable.” The second builds on this idea to show that good and evil arise out of goal-seeking behavior and that McCarthy’s requirement means that our “wetware” has no fixed goal. The third asked the question, “how did Eve know that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was good before she ate that which would give her the knowledge of goodness?”

Excerpting passages from Genesis 2 and 3 we read:

And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. ... The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” ... So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. [Genesis 2:8-9, 15-17, 3:6-7, NRSV]

One answer to the question “how did Eve know the fruit was good for food” is that this just means that Eve understood that the fruit was edible; that is, good in the physical sense, but not in the moral sense.

This answer betrays a misunderstanding of how our minds work. As
previously noted, “good” and “evil” arise from goal-seeking behavior of self-aware beings. “Good” is our evaluation of that which leads to a goal; “evil” is that which leads away from a goal. Eve exhibited goal-seeking behavior when she observed that the fruit would satisfy her physical needs. Now, animals also exhibit this same goal-seeking behavior, yet we typically believe that they are not moral creatures. Sometimes the reason given for this is because they are not self-aware. In particular, they neither reflect on their choices, nor are they aware of the consequences of their actions. Yet from the Genesis account, it seems obvious that not only was Eve self-aware, but that she had been informed of the consequences of her actions. She at least knew the consequences, even if perhaps the serpent was able to put doubt in her mind. Since Eve was a self-aware goal-seeking individual who knew, if not fully understood, the consequences of her actions, I don’t agree with the supposition that she wasn’t morally awake.

What, then, is this story trying to tell us? I think the answer is found in the repetition of the phrase, “and God saw that it was good.” I believe this means is that every creature that exhibited goal-seeking behavior used the
external standard set by God as their goals. That is, animals, Adam, and Eve exhibited fixed goal-seeking behavior with the goals set by God. Zoologists say that animal behavior is driven by the four “f’s”: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproducing. When Adam and Eve ate of the “fruit” (not that this needs to be taken literally, mind you), they no longer had fixed external goals. Their behavior was thereafter driven by goal-seeking behavior based upon variable internal goals. When Scripture says that they would become “like God, knowing good and evil”, this meant that they became capable of setting their own goals, apart from God. As animals are driven by the four “f’s”, we became driven by five: feed, fight, flee, reproduce, and fix. This additional attribute is shown in the Genesis account by the pair clothing their nakedness with fig leaves. It is what enables us to build machines and create works of art.

Am I mistaken in this interpretation? Am I reading McCarthy’s design requirements for human capable intelligence back into Genesis? Could it be just the case that McCarthy and the author of Genesis were shrewd observers of the human condition and came to the same conclusion about human nature? Is it coincidence that an atheist luminary in computer science and an ancient writer described the same thing in different ways? Could it be that science and Scripture aren’t at odds, at least when it comes to the software run by our brains?