Continues from Myths of Climate 01: Creation, order and disorder

The myths of Eden and the Fall, tell us there is something unspoiled, friendly and beautiful in the environment and elsewhere that we have lost. It appears to neglect the fact that living systems are complex systems, and that there never has been an unchanging ideal and primal world.


The myth of Eden suggests a return to a simpler age, with attempts to restore ravaged nature, or to preserve nature in some pure and pristine state beyond change. We can see this with natural parks and ‘wilderness’ movements. Eden is perhaps the foundational myth of wilderness, and often invoked when we are shown an area teeming with what we think of as ‘wild life’ but with no humans.

The aim of restoration and perfect preservation of the natural world is impossible as nature is a complex dynamic process and continually changing. The process we call evolution is constantly at work; creatures fail to reproduce, genes do not replicate perfectly all the time, new variants of species and new species are continually coming into being. Creatures move out of one ecology into another. ‘External events’ such as volcanic eruptions, meteorite strikes, climate change, storms, fires, and so on change ecologies and change how the system of life might work, opening it up to possible colonisation by new species, or recolonisation by old species. It is not normal or ‘natural’ for complex systems of life to remain the same, or to be without competition and co-operation, which affects some members deleteriously.

Attempts to keep nature pristine and unchanging have to rely on human force and thus violate any natural pristineity. As Cronon argues, Edens are essentially artificial. This does not mean that national parks and wilderness areas may not be necessary, especially to save environments from those extractive industries which would change them completely and forcibly, but that natural systems are complicated and changing – as all complex systems are.

If we were to wish to restore the world, as a whole, to an artificial purity in which we could easily survive, then we would have to kill a large portion of the world’s human population and a massive number of other ‘pests’ that have moved into new places. This might be morally difficult (certainly not ‘pure’), and we have no surety as to the percentage of people who would need to die to restore the lost Edenic world. However, there are people who seem to celebrate massive disasters with huge death tolls as ways of engineering the return to nature. Perhaps they neglect the destructive effect of those disasters on the non-human world as well?

The Fall

This myth also holds a counter-position, in which post-fall nature can be seen as harsh and hostile, as opposed to humanity, as ‘brute’, uncaring, violent or primarily cruel. The world may even be a place of punishment, a substitute for the way it was meant to be, or a reminder of loss.

This hostility, and departure from the intended reality, suggests that the brutal and savage fallen world, and humanity, requires both law and enforcement. Here we have both desire and fear together – the fear propelling us to control, to impose the lost order of God on the world. We are riven here, caught within unresolved opposites, which I think we generally solve by keeping them separate, so that the law becomes better than the world, while the rebellion of the world against the law or, more accurately, the failure of the law in the world, is taken as showing the supremacy of law and the evil of the world.

Many writers rely for their persuasiveness on the topos that nature is hostile without our ordering (as implied in myth 01). However, both positions of Eden and the Fall are projections, as the world just is what it is.

Humans seem to be not just fallen or bad, but competitive and co-operative, capable of being both violent and loving, cruel and kind, selfish and absurdly generous, and so on. Most evidence I am aware of suggests that most humans are not as violent as portrayed in our society; they have to be trained to be repeated killers, even when drafted to be soldiers, and they tend to suffer trauma and pain afterwards. Group violence and orders help sponsor individual violence; people tend to do what they need to survive against what other people show them is normal.

We may both expect humans to be too bad to change, or demand that they be so good they fail. Neither place might be helpful. The myth of the fall suggests we cannot progress even a little, and we must always expect the deliberate worse from humans and world, rather than that humans stumble and life is difficult.

In this myth we are riven, caught within unresolved opposites, which immobilise us. When we invoke one side of the mythic topos, say by arguing that we should preserve nature, some listeners will hear that we wish to preserve the brutality and precariousness of the fall. If we wish to discipline nature with law, we are destroying the natural Eden.

Whatever we do will invoke the contrary myth, leading to resistance and possibly paralysis.


Relating to the world as Eden or Fall, distorts our perceptions of the world and our actions in the world. We may need new ways of mythically relating to the world, and that may come again with sitting with the contradiction.