Commentary: Eve, the Mother of … Human Free Will?

Eve’s role in the story of the Fall has been interpreted and re-interpreted. At times labeled villain, at other times celebrated for her wisdom and self-sacrifice, the Mother of All Living remains a sufficiently complex character, inviting, as the human species progresses, reconsideration at nearly every Judeo-Christian cultural turn. Given the recent trend in therapy that argues a person doesn’t do something, even something bad, unless she gets some payoff from doing it, I have wondered what it was Eve may have gotten out of her transgression of eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some would say, “Well, she took the first difficult steps in God’s plan for mankind, making it possible not only for us all to be born but also for us to learn to choose between good and evil and return to His presence through the Plan of Salvation.” Sounds good, but this answer is more about what we get out of the Fall. What, besides the title “Mother of All Living” and mixed reviews, does Eve get?

I think the fact that it was Eve, not Adam, who chose to disobey the Lord means something, but not what many people think it means–that she was weak, stupid, defiant, or irresponsible in contrast to Adam’s strength and obedience. Nor do I think that it necessarily means that she was self-sacrificing. The story itself contains no evidence pointing inarguably to such conclusions. What the story does tell us is that she listens to the Serpent and sees everything together, probably for the first time: that the “tree was good for food,” “that it was pleasant to the eyes,” that it was “a tree to be desired to make one wise.” So on one hand, she has God’s word: “Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” On the other hand, she now has the Serpent’s words, “Ye shall not surely die,” as well as the provocative qualities of the fruit and tree. Then Eve does something that, according to the story, nobody had ever done before–she chooses. By this one act, an act of new consciousness, Eve changes the world.

For one thing, she and Adam can no longer live in their original, innocent home–the only place in this world they’ve ever known. Now they must work the earth to get what they need to live, the same earth, according to the story, from which they were formed. Also, Eve’s act forces them out of the only state of mind they have known as mortals–complete, unexamined obedience to God.

Did “agency,” as LDS call it, exist before Eve made her decision to partake of the fruit? According to LDS beliefs, those of us that have been born on this earth chose this life when as spirits we were presented with two plans for the future of mankind–Satan’s and Christ’s. But here on earth, Eve’s choice was the first manifestation of human agency, and in this matter she may be considered a pioneer, the “Mother of Human Free Will.” Many modern cultures take human agency for granted, but the Creation story suggests that agency started as some new spark of consciousness in Eve. Before taking the fruit, the brand of obedience she and Adam manifested may be compared to children accepting choices that have already been made for them. Like children, Adam and Eve were all innocence, no responsibility, until Eve left her childhood behind and chose an option that lay outside those the Eternal Parent provided (although it could be argued that if God really hadn’t wanted them to eat of the Tree He could have placed it somewhere out of reach).

Eve was in a unique place; her choice opens the Age of Accountability. It also opens up possibilities for the rest of us when we read the story. Because of that story we have the commandment not to partake of Forbidden Fruit and we’ve also got Eve’s choice to partake laid out next to the commandment, and that’s a gift. But back to our original question: What did Eve get out of eating the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Well, one could say she got free will, the first of its kind and a big payoff, indeed. Intelligence being tied inseparably to active free will, she experienced those first stirrings of progressive intelligence as she chose from among possibilities, became aware of the consequences of her actions, saw new possibilities, and chose from among those. It appears that Adam gained human agency as a result of Eve’s initiation of the physics, chemistry, and biology of choice in this world.

Just for fun, let’s take this a step farther: Eve’s choice in the story of the Garden of Eden suggests human free will is feminine domain, and recent genetic research suggests this domain extends to the genetic level, since newly developed gene maps lay out clear genetic female paths but not clear male ones, indicating at this point in the research matriachal control of the genetic momentum of the human race. Then there exist all the cultural cliches about women, such as “It’s a woman prerogative to change her mind,” an idea published throughout the globe, such as here, in Pope’s “Moral Essays”: “Ladies, like variegated tulips, show/’Tis to their changes half their charms we owe.” In the Pro-Choice philosophy, femimine control of the genetic momentum of the human race collides with the folk-whimsey that “By an unwritten law it is held to be the priviledge of the woman to change her mind, a licence of which she rarely fails to avail herself” to produce the assertion, “It’s my body, I can do with it what I choose.” A double-edged philosophy–one reflective of Eve’s act in the garden, but perhaps as mirror image. And like Eve’s role in the Fall it requires further scrutiny not only of the choices it offers, but of how consequences of such choices play out for the rest of us.

21 thoughts on “Commentary: Eve, the Mother of … Human Free Will?”

  1. newly developed gene maps lay out clear genetic female paths but not clear male ones 

    What do you mean by this? 

    Posted by Jared

  2. I’m no expert in this and make this comment as an overgeneralization for the sake of brevity and opening up conversation, but to date, the idea as I understand it seems to be that male DNA gets recombined, but mitochondrial DNA remains unchanged from mother to daughter (unless there’s been a random mutation)for many, many generations. So while there’s a clear matrilineal DNA inheritance for mothers, research so far suggests there is no such inheritance for males. Although of course this assertion could change any day now, research science itself being the sort of stuff that mutates before the general literature from the last vital discovery enters the public eye.

    Correct me if I’ve got it wrong. 

    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  3. PGK,

    You have mitochondrial DNA right. On the male side is the Y chromosome, which is passed father to son–essentially unchanged.

    Sorry to knit-pick. But to make up for it, here’s this: the default development “program” for humans is female. Some key male genes need to be expressed in order to switch on male development. Failure of those genes leads to female development, in spite of the chromosomal makeup. 

    Posted by Jared

  4. Jared,

    Reaearchers claim it’s possible to map matrilineal mitochondrial DNA for hundred of generations. To your knowledge, has such a thing been attempted yet for patrilineal DNA? Furthermore, I understand that males have their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.

    On the male side is the Y chromosome, which is passed father to son–essentially unchanged. 

    Do you mean it may be passed down father to son for hundreds of generations, remaining essentially unchanged, in the same way that matrilineal mitochondrial DNA has been?

    I don’t want to derail this into a DNA discussion, the DNA point isn’t my main one and reflects more upon the “we know who your mamma is, but is your daddy who you think he is” problem that raises questions of who’s choosing our DNA paths.


    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  5. Interesting take on the narrative of the fall, Karamesines. While there are some fun and intriguing aspects, I think that it doesn’t mesh well with the Mormon position…but maybe it is just semantics.

    As I see it, free will is an eternal part of our beings. We were free before the world was and we are emergently free in mortality. Both Adam and Eve were perfectly free (otherwise the fall is God’s fault). The knowledge that they lacked prevented accountability. As I see it, accountability (or the capacity to sin) requires free will and knowledge, both.

    Also, as much as I sympathize with the tendency to laud Eve for her choice, as I am a feminist, this is simply indefensible. There are allot of reasons why this is so, but I find the most interesting, the fact that she was “beguiled”. She was tricked into it. Not particularly wise (again, something that requires knowledge), it seems.

    Posted by J. Stapley

  6. J. Stapley,

    Also, as much as I sympathize with the tendency to laud Eve for her choice, as I am a feminist, this is simply indefensible. 

    I’m not sure what you mean by “this” in “this is simply indefensible.” Do you mean that lauding Eve is simply indefensible? If so, I’m not praising Eve for the choice that she made, I’m looking at the implications of her making a choice, the first of its kind here on Earth (as the story has it). I’m looking at Eve’s choice as representing the arousal of human consciousness to the realization that one may choose between what God says one ought to do and what the Serpent says one can do, options the story of the Fall suggests didn’t really exist until the Serpent introduced Eve to the possibilities. I believe free will is an eternal aspect of our beings, too, but I wonder if free will takes on new depths, at least for us, when, according to the LDS story, we come here to exercise our agency in ways that makes it possible to become more like God and then return to his presence.

    Not particularly wise (again, something that requires knowledge)

    If I suggested that Eve was “wise” when she made the decision she did, that wasn’t my intention. Whether she made the decision out of wisdom or out of foolishness the important thing is that she made a choice, something that hadn’t been done before in this world.

    I find the most interesting, the fact that she was “beguiled”. She was tricked into it.

    Might not a person be deceived yet still gain vital insight from the deception? Believing a lie may still lead to an epiphany or other kinds of higher knowledge, perhaps even to a deeper knowledge than that acquired by merely accepting every truth without testing it. I have acquired a fair amount of my own “knowledge,” if I may be so bold as to call it that, by acting on my own misunderstanding of a truth and by acting on other people’s deliberate and undeliberate misrepresentations. In other words, my “eyes were opened,” (Gen. 3:7) after I made my choices. In the course of maturing, one often acquires wisdom after one makes choices and sees the results.  

    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  7. Well said. I think I was projecting alot onto your post that wasn’t there. There is a tendancy of late to revise the story a wee bit…something that you were not doing.

    I’ll have to think on your comments some more. I do know that just about all my knowledge is result of believing things that aren’t true, synthesizing from them.  

    Posted by J. Stapley

  8. Interesting. But was it really the first choice? When Adam and Eve had been choosing not to partake of the fruit before then, was not that a choice? When Adam specifically rejected Satan and tells him he will not eat of the fruit, was that not a choice? I don’t understand why the choice to eat the fruit is a manifestation of agency while the choice not to eat it is not. 

    Posted by Eric Russell

  9. has such a thing been attempted yet for patrilineal DNA? 


    I understand that males have their mother’s mitochondrial DNA.


    Do you mean it may be passed down father to son for hundreds of generations, remaining essentially unchanged, in the same way that matrilineal mitochondrial DNA has been?


    Sorry for the threadjack. 

    Posted by Jared

  10. Jared:

    Thanks for answering my questions! It will sharpen up my thinking about this.


    I think there is reason to suggest that Adam and Eve’s not partaking of the fruit prior to Satan’s appearance wasn’t a choice because all they had then was God’s will. What options were there to choose between? Satan is the one that presented a true option for disobedience.

    When Satan does appear, Adam’s first response seems to be merely to assert God’s will without consideration. Perhaps there’s some way Adam’s response could be seen as initiating God’s plan that we learn to tell the bitter from the sweet (or life from death), but it could also be seen as an appeal to authority rather than an actual engagement of the ideas at hand. Furthermore, Adam’s response to Satan changes nothing.

    Eve’s response appears to be an act of consideration, of weighing choices; perhaps it could even be seen as an act of imagination. She seems to recognize the conflict in God’s commandments, especially after Satan says a few things. Her response seems to be an actual choice, a choice that in contrast to Adam’s response changes everything. Change, or progress, appears to be an essential component of active free will, the catalyst for development of intelligence individually and communally.

    I think it’s interesting to note that in all LDS versions of the Creation we are told that it isn’t good for Adam to be alone and he needs a help meet, or a suitable help. Perhaps God considered that eating the fruit was something Adam might need suitable help doing.

    For us, choosing not to partake of forbidden fruit is another matter because God’s commandment not to eat combines with the narrative of Eve’s choice and its effects to inform our choices. As far as we know, Adam and Eve had no such narrative for instruction, no such range of possibilites.

    BTW everybody, I’m not exploring these ideas to replace anything or restructure Gospel Doctrine lessons. I’m no authority of any sort. For me, this whole commentary is just an interesting experiment in narrative.  

    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  11. Why is it that we pay lip service to “recent genetic research suggests this domain extends to the genetic level” but as soon as someone presents us the troubling problem of the lack of any trace of Hebrew genes in the Native Americans we trot out something as preposterous as God being able to manipulate DNA? 

    Posted by Andy

  12. Andy:

    You are welcome to comment here as long as you can directly address the topic on hand. The scope of this blog is Mormon culture [with an emphasis on the aethetics rather than the sociological meaning of culture — although, of course, those two do intersect (and collide)].

    But concerning your comments:

    Discussions on your first comment can be found elsewhere in the Mormon blogosphere and on the Web. I invite you to take your questions and perspectives there.

    Your second comment is inappropriate. I’m letting it stand. But future comments that are off-topic and denigrate people of faith (of any persuasion) will be deleted.

    Judging from your blog, you have taken upon yourself an anti-Mormon mission. That’s fine. The beauty of the Web and of blogging in particular is that anyone can publish pro or anti material on any topic. But you are not welcome to use AMV as a platform for your personal crusade. That’s what your blog is for.


    For all other AMV readers….

    AMV is about Mormon culture. We invite all to comment on positive and negative aspects of Mormon cultural products — but we especially welcome comments that are thoughtful and well-informed. If you need further details on what is appropriate and what isn’t, I invite you to e-mail me — see the link in the right column. 

    Posted by William Morris

  13. Andy, don’t be a troll…ever here of the Limited Geography Theory? Oh, I get it…eyes wide shut.

    Sorry for the troll-baiting, AMV .

    For a number of reasons that I have posted elsewhere, I am quite uncomfortable with the idea that God gives a commendment that he intends Adam and Eve to break. That is not a just God. I also think the narrative doesn’t require it. Lucifer’s self defense is, I believe, the greatest insight into the third way.

    Adam and Eve where waiting for more knowledge…I believe that there was a non-transgressive manner to take the fruit. 

    Posted by J. Stapley

  14. J.

    Yes, please don’t troll bait. Mentioning Limited Geography Theory is re-opening the debate — and one that is not within the scope of this blog.  

    Posted by William Morris

  15. But to return to the subject at hand.

    I understand that the Adam and Eve story brings up several theological/philosophical issues.

    But what I find most fascinating is that the narrative — as such (not J.’s counter-narrative) — seems to be endorsed by latter-day revelation (c.f. the Pearl of Great Price, the LDS temple ceremony).

    It seems to me that the narrative itself is less about the problems of free will and, and more about mortals realtionship to God and Satan (and the goals and methods of each).

    After all, Adam and Eve aren’t worrying about whether or not they were set up by God with contradictory commandments — or if there would have been another way to resolve them (waiting for further knowledge instead of eating the fruit). Instead they’re faced with some of the most important issues that their descendants experienced (and continue to experience):

    1. How to respond in the face of temptation (and what that face looks like).
    2. How to maintain a partnership.
    3. What to do once you sin and esp. how to relate to God after giving into temptation.

  16. J. Stapley,

    I believe that there was a non-transgressive manner to take the fruit.  

    Yes, I agree that’s possible, even likely–I’m not a big fan of “it’s the only way” language, given that it’s nearly always associated with Satanic intent, i.e., to channel people in a particular direction solely to enhance the power of the person doing the channeling. “You have no choice” is Satan’s language; “Choose ye this day” is characteristic of the language of God and intends progressive intellect (intellect that progresses, as ours hopefully does). I have an unpublished paper comparing Satanic linguistics which have as their purpose bringing on isolation, illness, and even death to the linguistics of choice, healing, and restoration. My comments here regarding Eve’s choice relate to the narrative we have, though I wonder what other narratives might have been.

    I am quite uncomfortable with the idea that God gives a commendment that he intends Adam and Eve to break.

    My comment about Eve being a suitable helpmeet to get Adam to take the fruit was perhaps cheeky. I’ll even take it back to improve the tenor of discussion. Here: I take that comment back, it’s not of sufficient quality and is not necessary to the discussion.

    What if we take discussion in this direction: God gives commandments and He and the laws He moves within provide for possibilities where we might transgress commandments or even outright sin in breaking them: He may not intend solely that a commandment be broken, but he does appear to intend choice, which suggests he acknowledges that we may or will break commandments. Let me suggest there’s an ecology to agency, and that this ecology, which includes non-transgressional choices, transgressional choices, sin, repentance, justice, mercy, and redemption, is an inherently healthy system in all aspects.

    As for knowledge acquired through non-transgressionional means, I wonder if we even know yet what sort of knowledge that might be, since so much of our thinking here on Earth seems to involve getting ourselves out of trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into (which nonetheless allows progress). T.S. Eliot says in Four Quartets that “Sin is behovely, but/All shall be well, and/All manner of thing shall be well.” He also says, “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.” I think Eliot’s appraisal of the human condition may allow for traveling through transgressional knowledge to arrive at a point of non-transgressional knowledge.

    Do you know of LDS literature that explores non-transgressional knowledge?


    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

  17. Do you know of LDS literature that explores non-transgressional knowledge? 

    As we’re dealing in archetypes, I guess we could consider the Passion such a narrative. But I really don’t know what that means. I don’t know about any other literature…I’ll have to do some digging.

    I’m really quite interested in your unpublished paper, Karamesines. If you don’t have a home for it, may I suggest Archipelago .


    Posted by J. Stapley

  18. This excellent reading of the Eve story reminds us why we will never really be compatible with evangelical Protestantism which, because of Martin Luther and John Calvin, actually despises free will. And why “free agency” is such an unassailable feature of LDS culture, despite misguided attempts to downplay it. 

    Posted by R.W. Rasband

  19. How do we know that Eve’s act was a considered act of free will? Satan seems to be telling her that she should take the fruit because then  she know good and evil and choose between them.

    I have to admit though that I see the garden and the fall as models for lots of our daily lives, especially in our exercise therein of agency. 

    Posted by Adam Greenwood

  20. Hooo-kay (cracking knuckles, wiggling fingers), I’ve done some laundry, watered the lawn (a chore that makes no sense to me but pleases my Utah Mormon neighbors), taken care of miscellaneous other business, and I’m good to go.


    It seems to me that the narrative itself is less about the problems of free will and, and more about mortals realtionship to God and Satan (and the goals and methods of each). 

    I absolutely agree that the overarching narrative is about relationships to the world we’re in, to other species, to God, to Satan, and to each other. My exploration is of the role agency plays in those relationships, and agency seems to take center stage in Eve’s story. There are other scriptural stories that turn upon acts of agency–David’s sending Joab and his servants off to run the war while he “tarried still at Jerusalen,” for instance, and then that whole Bathsheba business and the change in circumstances David’s choices brought upon everyone involved, whether they were quite aware of what was happening or not.


    Maybe some Eastern and Far Eastern philosophies have spawned literature that’s non-transgressional in manner, but even in those philosophies there seem to be assertions that we must rise above illusions of the senses, which at the very least suggests transgression on the “lower levels” of consciousness. Interesting stuff, useful too, but I’m not sure Crime and Punishment doesn’t address similar themes and with a pizzazz I personally find very satisfying. But maybe that’s because my consciousness is not sufficiently developed.

    About the aforementioned paper, maybe what I’ll do is trim out some of it and post it here in parts I, II, etc.


    How do we know that Eve’s act was a considered act of free will?

    I can see that some of my comments may have suggested I thought Eve’s choice was a well-considered act of free will. Of course, we may make choices that are well-considered and we can make choices that are not well-considered–we may even make completely uninformed choices. What I’m trying to get at is that Eve’s act of realizing she had choices and then choosing from among them is a considered act of choice, even if it isn’t an especially well-considered act. Given her child-like state, how could it be? However, Eve’s choice, well-considered, not very well considered, or completely uninformed launches true human free will in this world. Even after the Fall, even after she gained some knowledge, I could see how her choices may not be especially well-considered, human intelligence and consciousness still being quite young at this point.

    BTW Adam, I appreciate your constant effort to keep up on the plight and science of brain-injury and make available articles about it over on the T&S sidebar. A truly valuable service.


    Posted by P. G. Karamesines

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