Did Adam And Eve Have Moral Knowledge Prior To The Fall?
There’s an objection from internet atheists that God was not fair to Adam and Eve because He punished them by casting them out of the garden for eating the fruit from the tree that He had forbidden them to eat from. They say that Adam and Eve couldn’t have known it was wrong to eat from the tree since they didn’t have knowledge of good and evil prior to eating from “The Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil”. Therefore, God was being unfair to them because He’s punishing them for committing sin when they didn’t even know what sin was yet.
How do we Christians answer such an objection?
What Would Follow If They Were In Fact Morally Ignorant?
First off, even if they didn’t have moral knowledge prior to eating from The Tree Of The Knowledge Of Good And Evil, Adam and Eve had no excuse for their sin against God in the garden. God gave them a warning in advance of what would happen to them if they ate of the tree, and yet they did it anyway! God said “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 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 2:16-17). God told them of the consequences. But Adam and Eve did not heed God’s warning (see Genesis 3:1-7). Given that Adam and Eve were warned, I don’t think God was being at all unfair from barring them access to the Garden Of Eden and of the Tree of Life. Moreover, contrary to what many atheists say, God did not “set Adam and Eve up to fail”. He did not “entrap” them. Adam and Eve had free will. They could choose whether or not they ate from the forbidden tree. They had this ability to choose between those two alternatives even if they had no moral knowledge. The ones to blame for the fall are Adam and Eve. Not God, and not even Satan, for all that the serpent could do was tempt them to eat it. He didn’t shove the fruit down their throats!
For example, even if you didn’t know it was against the law to jaywalk, you still have the ability to choose either A (jaywalking) or B (not jaywalking). Your legal knowledge (or lack thereof) doesn’t prevent you from making a genuine free choice.
Think of this; a father may tell his child not to stick his finger in the light socket because if he does, he’ll be electrocuted. The child may not know that it’s morally wrong to disobey his parents, but it’s still his own fault if he sticks his finger in the electrical socket. You can’t blame the parent. The parent warned him. In the same way, even if Adam and Eve had no moral knowledge prior to the fall, God still told them not to do it and warned them of the consequence. They should have thought “Oh, okay. We won’t do this because something unpleasant will happen to us.”
Even if they had no moral knowledge prior to the fall, they were still warned about it, and so are responsible for the consequences of their actions. Just a child is responsible for himself getting hurt if his father warns him not to stick his finger in an electrical outlet. The child may not know that disobeying his father is a sin, but he has still been warned of the consequences of sticking his finger in an electrical outlet, and you can't blame the dad for his child getting hurt if he's warned him time after time after time.
Were They Really Morally Ignorant?
One possibility is that they knew what good and evil were, they just had no experience of evil. They knew what evil was, they just had no experiential knowledge of it. Just like how I know what skydiving is (i.e it’s jumping out of an airplane with a parachute strapped to your back), but I’ve never known the experience of skydiving. In the same way, the type of knowledge Adam and Eve had of good and evil was purely propositional knowledge, but it wasn’t experiential knowledge. It wasn’t the “knowing what it’s like” kind of knowing. In this case, Adam and Eve knew in their minds “Sin is going against the will of God. Virtue is being in accordance with His will.” But they never had the experience of sin. They neither did anything wrong themselves, nor did anyone do anything wrong to them.
If this is the case, then God could certainly hold them accountable for going against His command because they knew what they were doing.