I recently claimed that Adam and Eve were not morally culpable for disobeying God in the Garden of Eden. I’d like to explain why I think this a bit more.
Imagine you are getting a soda from a dispensing machine. You put your money in, press the button for Pepsi, and retrieve your soda. Unknown to you, an evil scientist has rigged the Pepsi button to an electric chair. By purchasing that soda, you also killed a man strapped into the chair. Are you morally culpable for his death?
It doesn’t seem like you should be since we are generally only concerned with intentional action. In the case above, we have an intentional action–purchasing a soda–and an unintended (perhaps even unpredictable) consequence–electrocuting a man. While pressing the button technically does both things, we certainly did not intend both. This seems to parallel nicely with an example used by Anscombe. A man is sawing a plank that happens to belong to Smith. He can be sawing a plank intentionally without sawing Smith’s plank intentionally.
With that understanding, let’s take a second look at Adam and Eve while in Eden. God commanded them not to eat of the tree of knowledge. They did not, however, have moral knowledge (since that didn’t come until after they ate from the tree). So, they disobeyed God’s command intentionally and they ate from the tree intentionally. But they did not do something wrong intentionally. The moral wrongdoing was clearly unintentional. They could not know that either of the properly intentional actions were also describable as wrong without moral knowledge, just as you did not know that your action of releasing a soda was also describable as an execution.
Thus, God’s punishment of them was unjust.