Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 76.djvu/147

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143
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
By Professor T. D. A. COCKERELL
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO

IN an ancient story, it is told how primitive man ate of the tree of knowledge, and thus lost his original simplicity. "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil." In later years, we have reason to suspect, our ancestors returned at frequent intervals to the fateful tree, and took therefrom cuttings to plant in their own gardens. The universities, if I mistake not, had their origin in this manner; and it is even possible that the faculties within them have a distant relationship to the serpent of Eden. The modern Adam and Eve are perhaps not so easily beguiled; but, on the other hand, the fruit has been improved by selection and cultivation, and it is no longer necessary to go to the trouble of picking it off the tree; it is served up in dainty dishes, cooked, flavored and predigested. Even those who will not taste acknowledge that it pleasantly stimulates the olfactory nerve.

For all this, the curse has not been lifted. Our animal ancestors were, under ordinary circumstances and for vast periods of time, strictly orthodox. They traveled the straight and narrow path, turning neither to the right nor to the left. Life to them meant the performance of certain acts as their fathers performed them, under conditions such as their fathers enjoyed. Mediocrity—the middle line—was the true standard of excellence. They were not conscious of sin, for they sinned not.

Man, with his dawning self consciousness, found himself in possession of a new power. From this moment he must choose and judge; and thereby usurping the functions of God, be to a considerable extent his own creator. His whole history is a story of how well or ill he played this part, his whole future depends upon his ability to face this responsibility. The ancient curse of failure serves but to spur him on; it is the whip which awakens him from the constantly recurring tendency to sink back into mere animality.

This is the truth at the bottom of the doctrine that all men are evil, and must become conscious of the fact before attaining salvation. Progress depends upon a "divine discontent," and this, like charity, may best begin at home. It has been well said that he who has reached the age of twenty-five without at any time holding himself to be a fool, is indeed one, with small chance of cure. It is a common error to sup-