Episode 129 – “Probe 7, Over and Out”

In popular culture, philosophy and religion are often lumped together. In the few remaining bricks-and-mortar bookstores, for example, there’s usually an area reserved for philosophy, religion and spirituality. You might find a book on the philosophy of language near a copy of the King James Bible. Indeed, philosophy and religion are intertwined along several dimensions. Philosophers and religious leaders, as well as followers of particular faiths, are all attempting to answer some of the same questions.  What is the meaning and purpose of life? How ought we live? What makes actions right or wrong?  Some religious leaders, like Father Malebranche and Bishop Berkeley, have been first rate philosophers as well. Some philosophers endorse particular religious doctrines and provide arguments in support of particular scriptural claims.

Philosophy attempts to make answer the basic questions about existence, mind, and morality, and it does so often as a consumer of the claims and concepts of other disciplines. So, for example, when new scientific theories come on the scene, philosophers look at those theories in order to make sense of how our concepts are being used in new ways, and to make sense of the trajectory of scientific progress. Philosophy also examines the claims made by the various religions, and asks what reasons we have for adopting those claims, rather than others. Philosophy also tries to figure out whether the claims of different religions cohere with each other, and with our scientific beliefs.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some philosophers have been critical of particular religious doctrines, practices, and institutions, just as they have of particular scientific views. Philosophers examine the reasons offered for various religious claims, and assess the validity of the arguments offered in their support. However, though religious leaders like Malebranche and Berkeley offered philosophical arguments for their beliefs, religion is not simply philosophy directed to the question of God’s existence. An important strand of religion, perhaps its most important strand, stresses that belief should be acquired by faith rather than reasoned argument.  Pierre Bayle held that the fact that a religious doctrine doesn’t make sense makes it a true test of faith. One should believe in spite of the fact that one’s beliefs are not supported by reason. Kierkegaard held  a similar view.  Achieving faith is often not due to the use of reason, but depends on the power of story-telling, reach of religious institutions, the draw of art and architecture, and many other cultural, historical, and even political elements.

With this background in view, we can consider the philosophical significance of “Probe 7, Over and Out” as an updated version of the biblical story of Adam and Eve.   To adherents to the Old Testament, the episode might provide the opportunity to further reflect on the creation story and its significance.  The episode does a good job representing the challenges Adam and Eve might face in forming a cooperative union, and the challenges they would face as a couple in starting the human race. These may be helpful, though not particularly philosophical, reflections.

A philosophical critique of the Story of Genesis might be fashioned, not by comparing the original story of Adam and Eve to the updated one, but by considering the possibility that they are one and the same. There is a possible world in which human life on earth began when creatures from other planets, creatures who happened to be humanoid, crash-landed on our planet, and that world is presented as the fate of  Colonel Adam Cook and Eve Norda in this episode.  This version of the Adam and Eve story has the advantage over the biblical account that it is composed of historical claims that could be verified or falsified, and also compared to other accounts of the origin of our species on earth, such as the theory of evolution. This contrasts with biblical versions, which assert that God created “man” on the sixth day.

There’s much more to the biblical story of Adam and Eve then the positing of the two first human beings. The aspect of the story that has been of greatest interest to philosophers is God’s directive that Adam should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve does eat from the tree, and Adam follows her. The story is invoked in connection with the problem of evil: It appears inconsistent with God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence that evil could exist. God could prevent it, and certainly would not introduce it. The solution is contained in Eve’s action. God forbid the choice, but didn’t prevent her from making it. Thus the existence of evil is due to the exercise of our free will, and the poor decision to do something that God expressly forbid.

“Probe 7, Over and Out” quietly shows Eve Norda picking the apple. But it also shows that both Adam and Eve are already shaped by their experiences with other creatures of their kind. They begin with deep suspicions about each other. Norda’s first act is to throw a rock at Adam’s head!  It takes them a while to begin to trust each other, and we realize that the prospect for their long-term success is cloudy, based on what we already know about their human nature.

Further Reading:

Gottfried Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics (1650) (also cited in “The Mind and the Matter”).

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