Sarah Beattie

Dr. Sarah Beattie



Driven From Eden: The Tree of Knowledge as the Tree of Reason

The starting point of this paper will be Denise Levertov’s poem Contraband which opens with the lines, ‘The tree of knowledge was the tree of reason. That’s why the taste of it drove us from Eden.’ The poem will be used to examine how the events of Genesis 3 might be interpreted in the light of current trends in moral psychology and philosophy. The paper will explore a biblical perspective of the development of human consciousness and the presence within human nature of both a moral instinct and what philosopher Paul Ricoeur describes as an inclination to evil. This is in order to respond to both philosopher Thomas Nagel’s suggestion that the appearance of reason remains a mystery and  to the contrasting approaches of neuroscientist Sam Harris and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt to what Harris terms ‘the shady groves of reason.’


Sarah Beattie has a BEd, Graduate Diploma in Theology, MA in “Aspects and Implications of Biblical Interpretation” and a PhD which focused on the interpretation of biblical narrative in the 21st-century world. Over the last 20 years she has facilitated, and written material for, small group Bible and theological study. The increasing challenges to biblical testimony and Christian tradition, arising from perceptions of the impact of science on Christian belief, led to her postgraduate research. Although her background is in the Arts she believes that all Christians are now, to some extent, “Christians in science” due to the rapid developments in, and growing dependence on, science and technology. Her work therefore explores how developments in scientific perspectives of reality might impact in a positive way on our interpretation of biblical narrative. This is by enabling the narratives’ unique perspective of reality to contribute to our understanding of, and a way forward for, issues arising from the  complexities of the human condition and the broken relationships withing the 21st-century world; relationships  not only between human beings but also between humankind, the environment in which we live and the other species with which we coexist.