Atheist bible literacy fail

Here’s a graphic I spotted on social media.  I know the Christians know what’s amiss, but do Atheists?

atheist bible fail

I begrudgingly agree there are a good many Christians and Christian churches who shun the idea of intellectualism.  They seem to think that if they embrace philosophy, logic, and reason they’ve somehow lost something.  They needn’t feel this way.  God gave us our minds, we should use them.  But I’ll give you a hint as to what’s wrong with the image: Zappa didn’t know the bible.  Shocker!

The referred to passages in the bible are found in Genesis 2 and 3.

Genesis 2:16-17 —  The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…

Oops.  Looks like it wasn’t the tree of knowledge, rather the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Big difference.  But that’s not the only error.  Surprised?  Me neither.

Genesis 3:16 — “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Oops again.  Not that you’re gonna be as smart as God, but having the knowledge of good and evil.  Think about how peacefully ignorant children are of the evil which plagues the world.  It seems God’s instruction to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was for Man’s own benefit.

I often find that Atheist’s complaints about the message of passages in the bible are rooted in misquotation, misinterpretation, and no drive to humbly accept a charitable interpretation.  It’s like, anything to make the bible as unintelligible as possible is their goal.  They’ll accept only interpretations which do a disservice the message.  That’s really unfortunate, especially since Atheists generally assert the moral and intellectual high-ground.  You’d think they could be honest with the text while rejecting it.

If the above quote attributed to Zappa is accurate, it’s a shame he didn’t spend more time familiarizing himself with that which he criticized.  And the Atheist group smugly circulating the graphic is no better.

Perhaps if they should spend more time reading a bible that they’d have less to criticize, but well, we cant have that, can we.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post has been updated


  1. If we’re going to examine those verses, I have a few questions.

    1. Even if we ignore the fact that God already knew that we would eat from this tree, why do you think would God make this tree available to us in the first place?
    2. How is it possible to know good if we do not know evil?

    • Z

      The image depicts fatal-to-the-point misquotations.

      The point is someone, zappa and others, form a criticism based on misrepresentations amd misquotes. Thats what we’re discussing here.

  2. If the above quote attributed to Zappa is accurate, it’s a shame he doesn’t spend more time familiarizing himself with that which he criticizes.

    Not for nothing, John, but Frank Zappa is dead and has been for the last 20 years.

  3. wiley16350 says:


    Your 2nd question actually answers your first one.

  4. And just for a little more clarification (since you’re talking about what the scripts actually say in that verse), it doesn’t say anything about an apple.

    • Eugene, I was going to mention that, but I figured its not a substantive mistake. But you’re right. It is yet more evidence that he just didnt know what he was talking about.

  5. @wiley
    Actually, it doesn’t.

    If we are to assume that your God created us only good and then gave us the temptation to introduce evil, how would we even recognize evil in the first place? The first question gives you the opportunity to explain why God would set us up this way when he already knew the outcome.

    Your post appears to be about people not understanding Christianity correctly. You point out where the non-Christian was wrong and I had some follow-up questions – that’s all. I guess you don’t want to actually discuss the actual misunderstanding.

    If your point was to show that Zappa was mistaken, then well done.

    • My point, again, is that Zappa and many other atheists often base some complaint or criticism of the bible or Christianity on a false premise. Either a misunderstanding of a theological issue, or a misinterpretation of a passage, or on an opinion formed based on a misrepresentation of a passage.

      My experience is the atheist who happens to be guilty of one of these often refuses to be corrected. Either they refuse to listen to any attempt to clear things up, or they concede the point but use the same complaint some other time.

      In any event, its not intellectually honest. A better attempt should be made to be accurate.

  6. I understand why you’re upset, but let me make an attempt to explore what the poster addresses.

    It has been depicted throughout history that there was an apple presented by a snake in the Garden of Eden. Just do a simple image search on the subject. It may be a stretch to say this poster is “intellectually dishonest”.

    In the context of the poster, the difference between the “tree of knowledge” and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is insignificant. It is intellectually impossible to know good without knowing evil. Ironically, you yourself say it was to man’s own benefit to not eat the fruit. This attitude of remaining blissfully ignorant makes intellectualism seem undesirable and against God’s command.

    My initial question addresses the need for this fruit to be there in the first place.

  7. wiley16350 says:


    Adam and Eve were created without any knowledge of good or evil. God told them what to do and what not to do. They could have lived on and on without ever doing wrong as long as they never disobeyed the one command God had given them. Therefore, the recognition of evil wasn’t necessary for them to do wrong. They knew something was wrong because God told them explicitly that it was wrong. By extension, this would also mean that man would have no true concept or experience of what is good, since he would never have experienced the lack of good (evil). Since man would have no recognition of the goodness and love of God in their original un-fallen state, it was God’s purpose for man to fall away and experience the contrast of good and evil. His purpose for doing so was so man could truly appreciate the goodness and love of God by the experience of living life without God.

    I am sure you would then ask me about hell, which I have said plenty of times before, hell is not a place of eternal torment. Christ will lead all into salvation because he is the savior of all. We don’t all come into salvation at the same time, but it surely will happen by the consummation.

    So you see, the second question answers the first because of it’s truth, we can’t know good if we don’t know evil and for that reason is exactly why God would make the tree available to them, knowing that they would eat of it.

    • Z

      There is a huge difference between knowledge in general and knowledge of a specific subject. It would benefit the atheist to pretend there’s little distinction as it would allow them to accuse that Christians are commanded to shun knowledge…which isnt true.

  8. @John

    You seem reluctant to address the overall concept and pick on this detail that you find important.

    The same question stands: Your God commanded man to not eat the fruit from the tree that would give man knowledge of good and evil. How is it possible for man to have knowledge of one without the other in the first place?


    I’m unable to understand your logic. So before the fruit, we were incapable from knowing good or evil? God did the fruit thing on purpose, knowing we would eat it? Then everyone born after this event is guilty for it and now the only way to salvation is through Jesus?

    Please don’t think I’m trying to make fun here – I’m genuinely interested in trying to understand you.

  9. John,

    How can there be any presumption of good when good cannot be defined without evil?
    If we are to believe that evil was only introduced when the fruit was eaten, how is it possible that only good existed before then?

    • Why cant you describe good without evil? I can describe good without making a comparison, cant you?

      But even if not, it is certainly possible for Adam and Eve to experience joy, elation, happiness, and pleasure without experiencing sorrow, depression, or other negative physical and emotional states.

      One doesnt need to be conscious of evil to experience and know good.

  10. wiley16350 says:

    It seems to me that you understood what I said. What I said is based on what must logically be true from what the bible tells us.

    1. God tells us that he has all knowledge, there may be some leeway on this but most Christians agree that this is true.
    2. God placed the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden and gave Adam and Eve the command to not eat from it.
    3. God gave the serpent the ability to not only tempt Adam and Eve, but allowed it to happen.

    It flows from these facts that if God knows everything there is to know, then he knows that humans will eat of the tree of life and that they will fall prey to the serpent. If he doesn’t want that to happen then he needs to get rid of the factors that allows man to fall into sin. Since he didn’t, It is then most logical to conclude that God’s intention was for man to fall into sin. You know this, that is why you asked your first question. This view doesn’t go against the bible.

    If you mean that every man has to endure evil because of what Adam and Eve did (when you said that everyone is guilty for it), then you understood that correctly.

    Yes, Jesus is the only way to salvation, for he is the only one that can accomplish it. He is the only mediator between God and Man. He is the only one that could take your sins upon himself, the only one that could die for you, the only one that has the power to forgive you and the only one that can transform you into who God meant you to be.

  11. wiley16350 says:

    @ John

    But even if not, it is certainly possible for Adam and Eve to experience joy, elation, happiness, and pleasure without experiencing sorrow, depression, or other negative physical and emotional states.

    I would agree with what you said here. I would add that there is a difference between feeling or experiencing something and then actually knowing something. You could feel happy and feel that it is good but not really know or appreciate that it is good because you have never experienced the opposite or lack of it. It is in that sense that were talking about the knowledge of good or evil.

    • I dont agree, wiley. I think you could know what youre feeling, and not know what the opposite is. You dont need a comparison of something to know it.

      I could never know what rain or precipitation is to know its sunny and clear.

  12. @John

    You could not possibly know “good” because you wouldn’t have any frame of reference for it. It would be like trying to describe something “tall” when “short” doesn’t exist or something “dry” when “wet” doesn’t exist.

    One doesnt need to be conscious of evil to experience and know good.

    As I understand the implication here, evil existed before the eaten fruit but man just wasn’t conscious of it, therefore man wasn’t really guilty of anything – is that right?

    If so, then ignorance IS bliss and this new knowledge results in the fall of man and the need for salvation.


    Thanks for clarifying. There’s certainly more here to discuss…

  13. wiley16350 says:

    @ John

    I could clarify better. Basically, Adam and Eve felt happiness and would probably know that they’re happy. What they wouldn’t know would be why it’s a good thing or why it would be a gift from God and possibly after living a long time just being happy they may grow not to appreciate it since it has no contrast. In heaven we will be happy and know that we’re happy but we’ll also know why it’s good and definitely appreciate God for giving it to us.

    • And none of that tertiary knowledge is necessary.

      Bottom line is the atheist meme is trying to claim the bible teaches that knowledge and being intellectual is a bad thing.

  14. Apparently gaining knowledge from the tree of good and evil resulted in the fall of man and the introduction (or at least recognition) of evil in the world.

    Damn atheists.

  15. wiley16350 says:

    Apparently gaining knowledge from the tree of good and evil resulted in the fall of man and the introduction (or at least recognition) of evil in the world.

    Damn atheists.

    This is exactly why atheists should not claim intellectual superiority. I’m sorry, but if you think that is what has been claimed, then you should definitely question either your ability to think or your motive in searching out truth for the existence of God. As John said, it was the disobedience to God’s clear command to not eat from the tree.

    Damn atheists.

  16. paynehollow says:

    Clearly, if Zappa was trying to be literally correct, it was not an apple, it was not the Tree of Knowledge.

    At the same time, given the number of times that you all repeat back “my” position (or the positions of others) and it turns out to be NOT my position – sometimes even the OPPOSITE of my position – perhaps you should cut Zappa a bit of slack.

    Or perhaps the point of the Zappa comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek humor and he was fully aware of the exact quotes. I certainly don’t know and it seems a trifling point.

    Regardless, we all have a tendency to misunderstand and misquote the “Other.” It would seem to me that simple helpful corrections and clarifications and owning up to the mistakes would be in order for all involved.

    Grace, forgiveness, love.


  17. paynehollow says:


    1. I said that quite literally, Zappa’s quote was mistaken, as to what the Bible actually says (although maybe not so much in how it gets interpreted…).

    2. I simply made a call for grace and, by doing this, place my lot soundly on the side of Christians and ALL who believe in Grace and Forgiveness in dealing with others, including our “enemies.”

    Just to be clear.

  18. paynehollow says:

    “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?”

    She said, “No one, Lord.”

    And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”

    …But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law…

    …Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

    ~The Bible

    That’s what I was trying to say. That’s all.


  19. @ztxq To answer your question succinctly from my view:

    1. Even if we ignore the fact that God already knew that we would eat from this tree, why do you think would God make this tree available to us in the first place?

    There are many possible answers. One plausible one is that free will is a greater good than a world where no evil could be committed.

    2. How is it possible to know good if we do not know evil?

    You are asking for epistemology, and discourse on good and evil require a sound ethical theory. I would posit two types of moral knowledge, experiential and conceptual. I would define evil as the absence of goodness.

    If God’s presence is one kind of goodness, then pre-fall, Adam and Eve would have experiential knowledge of goodness, but not evil. If they declined to eat the fruit, they could possibly have been taught about concept of evil, and know of its possibility. Still, they would lack experiential knowledge.

    I think my terms for evil and knowledge are sufficient but not necessary so as to be consistent when applied to the text. What do you think?

  20. paynehollow says:

    Interesting thoughts, CD. May I raise a question? You said…

    I would define evil as the absence of goodness.

    Do you think this is a definition that would hold up?

    In a sphere where there was no one outwardly being kind, loving, sharing, helpful, wholesome, etc, but where no one was outwardly being harmful, hateful, bitter, brusk, etc, would the remaining acts (indifference?) are actually evil?

    I think most of us tend to think that “evil” is (as the English dictionaries describe it) a descriptor of profound, deliberate wrong, not casual indifference. It may be that we might include casual indifference (to the needs of others, to the feelings of others, to the opinions and desires of others) as an “evil,” but, well, I’m not sure that really fits totally.

    What do you think?

    Not arguing, just politely raising the question.


  21. Dan, I appreciate your challenge. Since I am conceiving of a definition with respect to a theory, it will hold under the framework of the theory.

    You’ve referred to a dictionary definition of “profound, deliberate wrong, not casual indifference.” These words need to be unpacked, too. Does deliberate imply free will, agency, or a Hobbesian vacillation with a stopping point? How does one quantify or qualify what is profound? People may rely on folk definitions, but disagreements arise readily from those kinds of conversations. There are minimal predications of evil that everyone might agree to call “evil,” but nominal consensus seems like a poor basis for defining evil consistently. How shall we speak of things that many people find profound and deliberate, but others do not? How shall we discourse with strict determinists who hold that deliberation is a folk label to describe an illusion?

    I think though that defining evil as an absence of goodness is not incompatible with acts and objects that seem indifferent. The moral value of an act or object may seem obscure, but that does not mean it actually doesn’t have that value. If God exists, then everything that has come into existence or could come into existence is either good or evil in some qualified sense, even if it does not readily appear to be so.

  22. paynehollow says:


    If God exists, then everything that has come into existence or could come into existence is either good or evil in some qualified sense

    Another question: Why? Why “if God exists” then everything that exists is either good or evil?


  23. paynehollow says:

    If I were to try to wax philosophical on a topic as grand as Good and Evil, I reckon I’d probably do it this way:

    Good and Bad are not those things that we find in an ancient text telling us that God tells us is good or bad. Rather, those things are Good which promote health, kindness, grace, love, well-being, the noble and pure. Conversely, those things are Bad that are bad for us, that cause harm, reduce health and well-being in ourselves and/or others, that promote hatred, acts of cowardice or bitterness or ill-will.

    We humans call “evil” those bad things that seem especially bad to us – it is bad to choose to miss your child’s birthday party because you just don’t want to be with him doing stuff you don’t like to do. It is EVIL to kill the child because you don’t want to be with him doing stuff you don’t like to do. “Evil” is just the “especially bad,” This all seems a reasonable approach to considering the nature of Good and Bad/Evil.

    There’s my brief stab at an incredibly complex topic.


  24. Dan, you’re right, it’s a little complex, but I think you and I can continue to dialog rationally and coherently if you’d like. But I also understand if you find better things to do. To answer your question:

    Why “if God exists” then everything that exists is either good or evil?

    I am drawing from the first premise of the moral argument for the existence of God. One version states, “If objective moral values and duties exist, then God exists.” This is the case because for morals to be objective (more than things that change according to what we feel or decide) they need to be grounded in reality. God is the only plausible candidate that can ground morals (I can unpack this statement if you’d like). Otherwise, morals are just constructs; that is, they don’t really exist.

    In what you’ve offered I see three threads of ethical theory.

    1) Emotivism, after David Hume’s essay on “moral sentiment.” On emotivism, moral statements are nothing more than an expression of sentiment: “cheating is wrong” would really mean “cheating makes me angry” or frustrated, or contemptuous, etc.

    2) Conventionalism: each culture has it’s own moral system, which is just the sum of what people think to be moral. Moral relativism and personal subjectivism can interact fairly well with conventionalism.

    3) Consequentialism: an act is moral only if it produces the desired end (similar to utilitarianism).

    Now each theory has its strength and weakness. I would say that utilitarian, divine command, areteic (virtue), and deontological (duty) based principles can support a case for Biblical morals very well.

    A couple questions I have off the bat for you. Do moral statements represent emotions sometimes or all the time? Do moral statements point to anything more than our feelings about actions?

  25. paynehollow says:

    Do moral statements represent emotions? No, I don’t think so.

    Some of the time? I don’t know, maybe, not generally, I wouldn’t say.

    I’m not suggesting an argument based on emotion or feelings, I’m suggesting (at its core) that “bad” = that which causes harm. Now, harm may be more or less easy to measure/assess/evaluate, but that doesn’t mean that one would be appealing to emotion, but to assessable harm.

    Thus, the person who steals a wallet is causing harm to the person he stole it from, thus it is wrong – it does bad for us, it causes harm, reduces health and well-being in ourselves and/or others, it promotes hatred, acts of cowardice or bitterness or ill-will..

    The person who overdrinks and drives causes harm/reasonably potentially causes harm to himself or others.


    It’s not about emotions (that is, “I don’t like it when people drink and drive, it hurts my feelings!”), I’m talking about harm, an assault on well-being, etc.

    Do you see that as being about emotions, somehow? I’m not seeing it.


  26. You used “profound” and “seem” to bring meaning to good and evil. It just reminded me that a popular way of knowing right and wrong is intuition, which can come as a “feeling,” or emotional experience.

    You’ve rightly noted that assessing what is harm or bad may not be easy to measure, assess, or evaluate. I would just encourage you that those theories I listed previously are ways that professional ethicists conceive of morality, or good and evil, right and wrong, good or bad. The topic is complex but manageable.

    Your approach does remind me a bit of Sam Harris, who identifies morality with scientifically established well-being. I think such an approach is problematic, because ultimately, someone has to define the parameters of well-being, and I think common experience informs us that people have a hard time agreeing on what is good and what is bad. In other words, who is to say what is good or evil?

    I know you have provided examples of what seems evil, but what reasons make those things evil? Badness is kind of circular. Harm sounds like consequentialism, which is a principle I can work with.

  27. paynehollow says:

    It’s been too long since I’ve had my ethics/philosophy courses – and I was in a different place at the time than I am now – to recall all the various theories. I will say that I sort of like consequentialism to a degree, but have disagreements with it, too (or, at least my understanding of it).

    What makes something evil? Again, as noted above, I would say that evil is a way that WE have of emphasizing something especially bad, a behavior that’s especially harmful done for harmful reasons.

    Normally, the act of cutting a child’s chest open with a knife would be called evil, but if the “cutter” is a doctor and his/her intent is to promote health, not harm it, it moves from an evil act to an actually good act. And that would be true even if the patient ultimately dies.

    The point being, it’s still about harm (or acts done that cause harm, reduce health and well-being in ourselves and/or others, that promote hatred, acts of cowardice or bitterness or ill-will) when we’re speaking of the Bad, and acts that promote health, well-being, kindness, support, etc, when we’re speaking of the Good.

    Does that answer that question?

    You asked…

    In other words, who is to say what is good or evil?

    I think we all are, it’s just that we all are not perfect at recognizing Good and Bad. This is true whether you think Good and Bad are some List God has told you is Good and Bad or if you think Good and Bad are that which either promote health/well-being or that which promotes harm.

    Isn’t that fair?


  28. paynehollow says:

    By the way, is your name all about the contemplation of Bad? (Thinking Fowl/foul?)

  29. Dan, I agree that it is fair to state that we all are to say what is good or evil. Ultimately, each person will choose her own view on what is good or evil, if she is so inclined. An unwilling mind can’t be changed. As for me, I will accept what is reasonable.

    My name merely evokes a duck who likes to think about things. I don’t suppose your name is about how pain is illusory?

  30. paynehollow says:

    Naw. Named after artist/writer Harlan Hubbard, whom I admire. Feel free to look him up.

    I tend to think that most of us strive to make choices for the Good, against the Bad. We do not, generally speaking, deliberately choose Bad to be Bad for Bad’s sake (although I’m sure there are those who do). Rather, we confuse the Bad for the Good we seek to do, sort of as Mary Wollstonecraft said… “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

    So, the soldier or politician who supports a Hiroshima-type or World Trade Center-type bombing of innocent civilians does not do so because they hope to accomplish evil, but because they are convinced that, in context, this is the more moral option even though for many of us, it is abundantly clear that it is objectively evil.

    The problem of good and bad, I am convinced, is not THAT overwhelming on a day to day basis. Be kind, be generous, go out of your way to help others, to promote well-being and health, etc. and, contrariwise, don’t harm others, go out of your way to avoid pettiness or acrimony or cowardice. In short, embrace a Grace-filled, loving life.

    And yet, what seems so obvious in theory gets more complicated quickly.

    May God give us wisdom and grace.


  31. I pray God will someday give Dan Trabue both the wisdom and true grace he sorely lacks. He hasn’t so far. Hiroshima was not the bombing of innocent civilians. It was the bombing of a major target of a fierce and unrelenting enemy, supported greatly by its citizens. That the target was within an area of many civilians was an unfortunate aspect of the bombing, but not the target. At the same time, it resulted in a quicker ending of the war and the saving of many more lives, both allied and Japanese. Comparing it to the ruthless felling of the WTC by muslim radicals shows an incredible lack of both wisdom and grace. But I’ve come to expect that from Dan Trabue.

  32. paynehollow says:

    You’re reaching, Marshall. Even if we accept your theory, I noted that we bombed innocent civilians in Hiroshima. This is a fact. If nothing else, the tens of thousands of children we knowingly bombed were innocent civilians. But you help illustrate my point: People are capable of justifying as “good” even the most horrifying of actions.

    And I’m not comparing Hiroshima to WTC. I’m comparing the ability to rationalize even horrific actions, even the bombing of children, from our doing it in Hiroshima or others doing it at the WTC.

  33. I’m NOT helping you in your argument, since you fail to acknowledge that even the most severe actions might be justified. That is to say, it isn’t whether or not an action can be justified that counts, but whether that justification is reasonable, rational and logical, rather merely a cheap rationalization of bad behavior, which is what you’re suggesting. Hiroshima WAS justified. There is no way to rationalize the WTC attack. This is not a vague distinction, except to those with a twisted concept of pacifism and peace keeping.

  34. paynehollow says:

    “Hiroshima WAS justified.”

    Again, thanks.

  35. MA,

    It was so much worse to have killed thousands in the Hiroshima bombing than to have killed hundreds of thousands or millions invading the Japanese home islands. Of course it’s really our fault any for forcing the Japanese to invade the entire Far East and bomb Pearl Harbor.

    We can also excuse the Japanese genocide, inhuman treatment of pow’s and vile medical experimentation on prisoners as we’ll.

    Obviously the Japanese bear absolutely zero responsibility for the destruction as they were simply minding their own business when a couple of liberal pacifists dropped a big ol bomb on them.

    Really MA, you should know better than even to try to justify that cruel unprovoked attack. Had we tried to settle the problem nonviolently eventually their arms would have been so tired from all the beheading that they would have given up because they just ran out of room for the corpses.

  36. I don’t know, Craig. I intended to assume Dan was thanking me for once again correcting his superficial position on Hiroshima, formed in the comfort of 70 year hindsight, dismissive of the times and the efforts already put forth to convince the Japanese their quest for domination was not nice. I could be wrong.

  37. MA,
    You could be right, but Dan doesn’t strike me as someone who is likely to thank you for correcting his errors. Really though the whole a bomb thing just seems so mean and excessive. It’s so much kinder to make your enemies march hundreds of miles through the jungle with no food and water, or to use them for medical experiments, or force women into prostitution than to drop big mean bombs on them. Had we only had a liberal president at that time he could have used non violent protests to convince the kindly Japanese to give up their quest for domination and cured them of their societal racism as we’ll. It’s just too bad our president during the 30’s and 40’s was a violence prone conservative instead of a peace loving liberal. Oh, and if only the conservative president hadn’t approved dropping the a bomb life would have been so much better.

    Oh crap, wrong Roosevelt. My bad.

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