Was Jesus a Creationist? Or Did He Know About Evolution?
For those of you who will not read an apostate's perspective or consider it inherently untrustworthy, many of the same arguments and scriptural citations in this article can be found here, from a Christian perspective. Anyway:
A perspective I often encounter from moderate Christians is that no contradiction exists between the Biblical account of origins and science. Not because that's true, but because they would dearly like it to be true.
…Or rather need it to be true, as they cannot otherwise reconcile their recognition that evolution is factual with their prior emotional commitment to Christianity, having spent long hours in one-sided parasocial conversations with a literary character about their deepest fears, hopes, desires and feelings, as well as coping with the death of loved ones by taking for granted that they will be waiting in Heaven (I've been guilty of this, death is awful.)
It's very hard to give up on all that without feeling hopelessly foolish, and as such it's off the table for people who are already too far gone to be helped. For people in this position who nevertheless are powerless but to accept evolution once they understand it, quieting their cognitive dissonance requires forcing puzzle pieces to fit together when they simply don't.
As I wrote about in this prior article, there exist problems with the order of events in the Genesis creation week which aren't possible to resolve by claiming it's allegorical. While poetic language is used, even an allegorical description of cosmological and biological origins as revealed by science would still proceed in the correct order as the story is told chronologically. But Genesis doesn't do that.
Certainly it recounts events chronologically, going so far as to specify which events happened on which day, ordering the narrative numerically from day 1 through day 7.
However, Genesis puts the creation of the Earth before the creation of the sun. The sun is created on day 4 along with the Moon and all other stars, when these things in reality formed at very different times; the Moon formed from or was captured by the Earth, necessitating the Sun to have already existed for Earth to orbit around, and there exist untold billions of stars in the night sky that are much, much older (and younger) than ours. On top of all this, Genesis has birds appearing at the same time as fish (day 5), before land animals (day 6).
The last line of defense is to bring up the second creation story contained in Genesis. Not because it actually gets the order right (it still doesn't), rather because the apologist hopes the skeptic isn't aware of it and he might regain his lost footing by embarrassing him with superior scriptural knowledge before changing the subject. Then there's what the Bible says about the shape of the Earth.
But Biblical Cosmology is not what this article is about, as that topic was already adequately covered. The question addressed herein is whether Jesus himself knew about evolution, or whether he believed as most Jews did during that period that the Genesis account was an accurate report of how the Earth, cosmos and life came to be.
This isn't just trivia, it explains why evolution was so coldly received by Christians (And Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.), as well as why the Scopes Trial was such big news when it occurred. Modern US Christians who rarely touch their Bibles except to read verses at random for comfort likely don't see what the big deal is. If all you know about Christianity is the sanitized Cliff's Notes version, it may be unclear why evolution is so staunchly opposed, and what problems it could possibly pose for Biblical credibility.
One such problem is that Luke's genealogy of Jesus traces through King David back to Adam, and says that Adam is the son of God (Luke 3:38), making Adam the first human. The genealogy is unbroken, there isn't any point at which Luke divides the begats into "real people" and "metaphorical people".
If one considers Adam metaphorical, never having existed as a real human, what is the basis for belief that Jesus is a descendant of King David, one of the qualifying criteria to be the messiah predicted by the Torah?
This is hardly the biggest problem created by a metaphorical Adam, however. If Adam and Eve did not exist, nor the Garden of Eden, whence came original sin? Jesus died in atonement for the sin all living humans inherit from Adam, as affirmed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:18:
"Yes, Adam's one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone."
Paul also said "The first man, Adam, became a living person." But the last Adam - that is, Christ - is a life-giving Spirit" in 1 Corinthians 15:45, and "From one man [God] created all the nations" in Acts 17:26. Whether these are compelling verses will depend on how authoritative and reliable a source you consider Paul to be.
As for Jesus, in Mark 10:6 he said "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'" This would seem to affirm both creation and a literal Adam and Eve. Concerning the events recounted in the Old Testament, in John 5:46–47 Jesus is recorded as saying "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"
There is enough here already to put the lie to the moderate Christian conceit that the Bible and science are in harmony, or that the authors of scripture were metaphorically communicating the modern scientific understanding of origins. But besides the scriptural affirmations of a literal Adam/Eve and Garden of Eden, if humans evolved, that would mean there were thousands/millions of ancestors prior to Adam that were never offered a chance of salvation (including Adam and Eve's parents).
As an aside, I've long wondered how Adam and Eve could be expected to know it was wrong to ignore God before they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but I digress.
Catholics are, in my experience, the most stubborn about acknowledging these issues. Their usual recourse is to assume some apologist, somewhere, has already addressed the problem and whatever they had to say should be good enough for me, or to refer to statements by the Pope affirming that no conflict exists between evolution and the credibility of scripture.
The basis for this claim is the August 1950 encyclical Humani Generis wherein it is written:
"The Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God."
The encyclical did not actually affirm evolution but portrayed it as unproven at the time of writing, while expressing receptiveness to it should the evidence ever rise to a threshold that satisfied the Vatican:
"This certainly would be praiseworthy in the case of clearly proved facts; but caution must be used when there is rather question of hypotheses, having some sort of scientific foundation, in which the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved."
However, in this very same encyclical which the Pope references and which Catholics reference indirectly when quoting him, it actually agrees with my position: That a metaphorical Adam, either as a mythical figure or as one protohuman ancestor among many, is fatal to the scheme of sacrificial atonement for original sin as described in the New Testament:
"When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own."
This is consistent with the contents of the Catholic catechism where it addresses evolution:
"The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ." Catechism 389
"Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin"." Catechism 417
So if you're a Catholic who doesn't know much about Catholicism, having never read the catechism of your own religion, the Pope's seeming endorsement of evolution is all you need to hear. Probably you'll not dig any deeper than that, not wanting to find out any different on the off chance you're wrong.
Likewise with mainstream US Christians whose understanding of Christianity is just that we're supposed to be patient and gentle with one another, but that abortions and gay marriage are not permitted. Namely, only the teachings that line up with how they already feel the world should be.
A complete reading of the Bible, however, paints a very different picture. Many of the compromises that moderate Christians, Catholics in particular, are enamored of have no scriptural basis and in fact there exist verses directly contradicting them. Human evolution and a billions of years old Earth in fact pose show-stopping theological problems for the lineage of Jesus, original sin and the larger scheme of salvation via Christ's atonement on the cross.
This is why Scopes was such a big deal, because nominally Christian Americans weren't as much of a thing back then. Folks actually read their Bibles and understood what a lethal threat widespread understanding and acceptance of evolution posed to the survival of their religion, hence the ferocity of their reaction to it.
The Day-Age Apologetic was the copium US Christians needed, during Scopes' time, to swallow that bitter pill (though verse 5 of Genesis 1 makes clear it's talking about literal days). It has also served as a sort of gateway drug to get people away from what moderates scornfully call Biblical Literalism (in fact just sincere belief in the apparent intended meaning of the Bible's authors) towards a compromise, more tenable in light of what science has discovered about the cosmos and life since the Bible was written.
The problem is that eventually they forgot it was a compromise, coming to sincerely believe it was the intended meaning of the authors, and that anything else is bad exegesis. Their own exegesis, you see, proceeding from the assumption that the Bible could not possibly have anything demonstrably untrue in it, so wherever it appears to, it actually means something else.
That's how we got into this mess, where many Christians are so distantly divorced from what's actually in the Bible that they believe it lines up with science. But how do we get out? Probably not by argument: In 1990, 86% of Americans self-identified as Christians. In 2008, it was 76%. Then 71% in 2014, then 65% in 2019. The single biggest factor cited in deconversion? Not argument with skeptics, but disgust with Christian homophobia and handling of abuse cases.
One might suggest it's pointless to try to change anybody's mind with argument, then. Clearly, appeals to emotion and morality are what actually gets butts into or out of pews. Still, someone has to set the record straight.