Genesis, Flourishing and Other Course Questions

Question from Jordan:
How might an Atheist answer these questions regarding human nature, purpose and flourishing…what does it mean for humans to flourish, how do they achieve spiritual, emotional and mental well-being? What are the consequences of the Fall of human nature (Gen 3)? What is revealed of human nature (from Gen 1-2)?

Answer by SmartLX:
I answered the first part in a comment because someone asked the same question from the same Christian Worldview course, but I’ll cover it again. My other piece has a lot of material you might also find useful.

To flourish is to grow or develop in a healthy way. Physically, mentally and emotionally that means having the resources you need along with something which provides a challenge. Food, exercise, study, work, art, interpersonal relationships, meditation/reflection…it all has a role to play. To a Christian the essential resource is God, and without a relationship with Him a human cannot flourish properly. I think there is no God and yet lots of people happily flourish in all kinds of ways, so what they need in order to flourish would seem to be other things.

Genesis 3 is where Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge, their eyes are opened (figuratively, as they aren’t actually blind before that point), and God curses the living daylights out of them both. The message is that humans would have been better off knowing only what God chose to tell them, not because the other knowledge is inherently harmful but because God is incredibly tough on disobedience. Human nature didn’t change after they ate because it wasn’t perfect before they ate – Eve wanted the fruit before she ate it. They just suddenly knew more, and their circumstances changed because of the curses they received and life got harder in lots of little ways (e.g. labour pains, arbitrary enmity between people, farming difficulties).

Humans don’t show up until the end of Genesis 1, and Genesis 2 doesn’t say anything about Adam’s nature except that God decides he needs an Eve. From the above, even Genesis 3 says far more about God’s nature than human nature. But now’s as good a time as any to say that by the nature of evolution, geology, physics, etc. there’s no way the story of Adam and Eve was real and I’m interpreting a work of fiction here. That said, a parable can say a great deal about human nature, I just don’t think this one does.

One thought on “Genesis, Flourishing and Other Course Questions”

  1. Questions regarding human nature are best answered by considering our biology and evolution.
    Both cooperation and selfishness are ingrained in us for e.g. … hard-wired into us. Selfishness – for survival purposes, cooperation too for survival purposes (since a hunter-gatherer species as weak as human beings could not have survived before agriculture without cooperation during the hunt).
    Being a weak species (compared to the other hunting species out there), we compensated by becoming more ingenious in our hunts – started making and using tools etc. This sort of led to our exploratory and creative nature. Since everyone’s contribution was required equally during a hunt, our notions of equality and justice also developed.
    Our evolutionary trail explains everything about our behavior, more or less.

    As far as “spiritual growth” is concerned, as an atheist I equate it with overcoming the baser (and by base I mean damaging to oneself or to society at-large) impulses and urges of our essentially animal natures … by allowing our rational, reasoning brain to take over from the more primitive and emotional part of our brain. Mental and emotional well being also equate with having such control.
    I view various spiritual efforts (prayer, meditation etc.) as disguised attempts to gain this control. These practices just use some underlying fiction/ story/ un-defensible conceptualization of how the universe functions – since stories tend to motivate us more than logic (think hunters sitting around a fire recounting tall tales of a hunt to bond and motivate each other – that’s why stories impact us so much more). And I guess, there’s nothing wrong with fairy tales making our behavior better (we often tell fairy tales with some moral underpinnings to our kids as well) … as long as such tales don’t end up making our behavior dangerous to ourselves or to society at large (because then the whole purpose of the fairy-tale/ spiritual fiction is defeated).

    Both organized religion and woo-woo type, new-agey spiritual practices can lead to overcoming of baser (damaging) urges. But blind belief in such fictions leads to a lot of trouble – as the world has witnessed over the centuries (and sadly continues to witness).

    A lack of God belief does not mean we automatically start thinking in terms of what’s best for humanity. We are a short sighted, action oriented species that cannot really think too far into the future. Thinking precisely about non-linear systems (our world in general) is beyond us … even straight forward, unbiased linear thinking is difficult for a large number of us.
    But religion doesn’t help much in showing us the proper path to harmonious existence and flourishing either … and top of it, it usually constrains thinking beyond its narrowly defined boundaries and untenable dogma.
    Atheism removes those boundaries – and is thus intrinsically more beneficial to growth and flourishing. But whether one can develop better thinking habits and an ability to take more informed, long term beneficial actions after those boundaries are removed is each individual’s own initiative, I guess.

    Some might argue that since individuals cannot be fully trusted with taking the pains to think things through (its clinically proven that human beings tend to take the path of least resistance and are prone to group think), religion is a good substitute. But that’s not a very palatable argument (at-least to me).
    Maybe its my biologically hard-wired equality seeking and exploratory urge that compels me to feel that way 🙂

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