“I have to tell you … I will tell you about this. I was asked that question once. This is 40 years ago in the presence of John Gerstner. And I said that ‘I don’t know, and I don’t know of anyone who does know, and I know that I don’t know, and I know that this side of heaven I will never know.’ And he really jumped on me. He said, ‘That was a very arrogant statement!’ I said, ‘Arrogant? I was trying to be humble! … I was trying to say, I am not going to untie this knot which nobody else has been able to do.’ And he says, ‘Well, do you think that you have already reached consummation of all knowledge that you could ever acquire in your lifetime?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, you might learn the answer tomorrow, so don’t be so arrogant today.’ But 47 years later, he knows now because he is in heaven, but I still don’t know.”
In John’s first Epistle we are told the following:
18 Then [after the resurrection], I say unto you, they [the wicked] shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.
“Evil,” in the context of Genesis 2:9, 17, has a broader meaning than just wickedness or sin. The word “evil,” in the biblical narrative, also means adversity, hardship, suffering, pain, punishment—as well as wickedness or sin. Here are some examples:
7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.
15 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
In these verses “evil” means adversity, suffering, pain, hardship—usually as a punishment for sin. It means something that is unpleasant and undesirable to have, as opposed to what is desirable and good. The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not meant to just give them a theoretical knowledge of “right and wrong,” but an experiential knowledge of good and evil—in its widest sense of the term—meaning being exposed to adversity and hardship—as well as to temptation and sin. That is something that needed to be experienced; and they couldn’t do that while they were living happily ever after in the Garden of Eden. So God placed the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden (assigning death as a necessary prerequisite for partaking of it), and permitted man to partake of it if he chose to, because knowing good and evil is not in and of itself a bad thing. He was forbidden to partake of it because it entailed a heavy cost—for God as well as for man. For man it involved a cost of experiencing death, pain, and sufferings of various kinds, as well as being exposed to temptation and sin. It also entailed another cost: some of Adam’s descendants would not be saved, because by their own volition they would choose evil rather than good, and fail to comply with the requirements of the gospel to be redeemed. For God it entailed a very heavy cost of atoning for man’s sins, which is what Jesus had to accomplish.
The Book of Mormon tells us that there has to be an “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Everything is known by its opposite—light with darkness, good with evil, truth with falsehood, happiness with unhappiness. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden were surrounded with, and experiencing only that which was good. They had no experience of evil—using that word in the widest sense of the term, meaning adversity, hardship, and unhappiness; not just wickedness or sin. That means that they could not really appreciate the good that they had because they had no experience of its opposite. They could not appreciate happiness, because they had not been exposed to unhappiness. They could not appreciate the virtue of righteousness and holiness, because they had not been exposed to the consequences of unrighteousness, unholiness, and wickedness. The purpose of them partaking of the forbidden fruit was to give them that opposite experience.
This does not mean that people have to sin in order to appreciate the virtue of righteousness and holiness. It means to be exposed to the consequences of those things. Jesus never committed any sins; but he was exposed to the consequences of those things as a result of our sins. He had to “learn obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). He was made “perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). And being “made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). “For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted [i.e. tried, tested], he is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). We all have to go through those experiences, but on a lower scale than Jesus did—and learn good and evil in the process. Jesus had to learn good and evil (meaning to experience them), and so do we. That is how he “learned obedience by the things which he suffered,” and was “made perfect through sufferings”—and so do we. That is one of the purposes of mortality, and it was made possible by the Fall.
We also have this interesting scripture from the New Testament:
Another mistake that R.C. Sproul (and others) make is that they assume that sinning necessarily implies some kind of innate predisposition to sin. That need not always be the case. One can also be deceived. In the case of Eve, it is evident that she was deceived. When God created Adam and Eve, he did not immunize them against all possible kinds of deception. Only God knows everything and cannot be deceived. Man can be; and all of us have been at one time or another.
Another thing that can cause people to sin, without necessarily having an innate predisposition to sin, is pride. They want to do what they want to do, rather than what somebody else wants them to do, including God. Why did Satan (and the angels who followed him) sin? (2 Peter 2:4.) Were they created with an innate predisposition to sin? If so, why didn’t they all sin? Why did some angels sin, and some didn’t? Did God create some angels with a predisposition to sin, and others without? If so, how does that square with the integrity of God in punishing them for sinning? Satan (and the spirits that followed him) fell through pride. Isaiah 14:12–16 explains how that happened. He became proud and rebelled against God. He wanted to dethrone God and take over. God didn’t manufacture him that way. He had the innate freedom to make that choice for himself, and he did. Calvinistic false doctrine of predestination and predetermination causes huge theological problems which Reformed theologians can’t solve and don’t even want to look at. God made man (and angels) “free, to choose liberty and eternal life, … or to choose captivity and death, …” (2 Nephi 2:27). If they decide to choose the latter course, that is their decision, not God’s.
Here are some interesting theological perspectives on the subject from modern LDS scripture (punctuation revised):
2 Nephi 2:
11 For it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
12 Wherefore it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes; and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness, there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God. And if there is no God, we are not, neither the earth, for there could have been no creation of things—neither to act, nor to be acted upon. Wherefore all things must have vanished away.
14 And now my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are—both things to act, and things to be acted upon.
15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet, and the other bitter.
16 Wherefore the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.
17 And I Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.
18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore he said unto Eve, yea even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies; wherefore he said, Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.
19 And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit, they were driven out of the garden of Eden to till the earth.
20 And they have brought forth children, yea even the family of all the earth.
21 And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore their state became a state of probation; and their time was lengthened according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost because of the transgression of their parents.
22 And now behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever and had no end.
23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence; having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.
25 Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall, they have become free forever, knowing good from evil, to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men; or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.