In his book Glimpsing the Face of God, Alister McGrath points out an obvious truth that most miss.4 He uses the illustration of chemical formulas. Every molecule of water has two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. The formula H2O remains true, no matter what race of people or what gender analyzes it. Can one really say, “It’s not fair to oxygen that there are two atoms of hydrogen in water; so to be fair, there should be two atoms of oxygen as well”? You can give two atoms of oxygen, if you want to—but if you drink it, it will bleach your insides (if not worse), because that would make it hydrogen peroxide and not water. Naming and actual reality have a direct connection in physics, even as they do in morality and in metaphysics.
So the question arises, Why do we readily accept the restrictive absolutes of chemical structures but refuse to carry these absolutes into our moral framework? The answer is obvious: we simply do not want anyone else to dictate our moral sensitivities; we wish to define them ourselves. This is at the heart of our rejecting of God’s first injunction. It has very little to do with the tree and everything to do with the seed of our rebellion, namely, autonomy. We wish to be a law unto ourselves.
Of course, we also wish to have control over the tree of life. We desire perpetual and autonomous existence—in effect, wanting to play God. Even though we did not author creation, we wish to author morality and take the reins of life. Combine the two attitudes, and it boils down to this: we want to live forever on our own terms.