Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil

Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil

Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil

Out of Eden: Adam and Eve and the Problem of Evil


In Out of Eden, Paul W. Kahn offers a philosophical meditation on the problem of evil. He uses the Genesis story of the Fall as the starting point for a profound articulation of the human condition. Kahn shows us that evil expresses the rage of a subject who knows both that he is an image of an infinite God and that he must die. Kahn's interpretation of Genesis leads him to inquiries into a variety of modern forms of evil, including slavery, torture, and genocide.

Kahn takes issue with Hannah Arendt's theory of the banality of evil, arguing that her view is an instance of the modern world's lost capacity to speak of evil. Psychological, social, and political accounts do not explain evil as much as explain it away. Focusing on the existential roots of evil rather than on the occasions for its appearance, Kahn argues that evil originates in man's flight from death. He urges us to see that the opposite of evil is not good, but love: while evil would master death, love would transcend it.

Offering a unique perspective that combines political and cultural theory, law, and philosophy, Kahn here continues his project of advancing a political theology of modernity.


Evil makes us human. We learn this early in Genesis, when Adam and Eve are cast out of Eden because they chose to do wrong. Genesis tells us that not only ourselves but our world is a consequence of evil: “Cursed be the ground because of you.” Finding ourselves fallen, we cannot be at ease: “For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” Nor can we be satisfied with our achievements, for labor is our punishment. If evil brought us to where we are, then the Western religious tradition tells us that our essential task as individuals and communities is to overcome the evil in our nature. We want to return to that “image of God” that we were at creation. We must recover Eden.

Fall and redemption have offered more than a religious frame of reference. These concepts shaped the Western imagination. They offered the frame through which philosophers, theologians, and political leaders, as well ordinary people, understood themselves, their communities, and their relationship to the larger world. Evil and redemption gave meaning to life and death. Without the concept of evil, individuals would not have approached themselves with the same sense of urgency, a sense that their lives are the scene of a great moral battle in which literally everything is at stake.

Today, all this may be changing. Outside of fundamentalist religious groups, there is a reluctance to appeal to the idea of evil. In place of evil, contemporary human sciences examine the social causes of pathology, while postmodernists speak of a need to respect cultural differences. In place of redemption, we are counseled by experts on the need for therapeutic interventions in the lives of individuals and

For example, Susan Nieman recently argued that the history of modern philosophy
can best be understood as an inquiry into theodicy—the problem of understanding why an
omnipotent God allows evil to inhabit our world. S. Nieman, Evil in Modern Thought: An
Alternative History of Philosophy

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