Friday, May 7, 2010

Would God Deceive Us?

1. A common argument against a literal reading of Genesis is that this contradicts impressions of an apparent history as found in nature. Since God does not deceive us, the reasoning goes, such impressions must reflect actual historical truth.

Thus, for example, Jitse vanderMeer (2009, “Primate ancestors”, p.9) writes:
“If people living today would have been created by fiat creation rather than by evolutionary creation, there would have been no branching pattern unless the Creator would have wanted us to believe there had been a history which never actually occurred. Since the Creator does not deceive us I conclude that He created us by means of an evolutionary process thereby giving us a real evolutionary history.”

Similarly, Don Stoner (A New Look at an Old Earth, 1997, 87) contends:
Either God’s creation testifies that it is much older than 10,000 years or God has deceived us in his creation”.

Appeals to God's inability to deceive are not new. Rationalist philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), in his Meditations on First Philosophy (III-IV), argued:
God is perfect, hence God cannot deceive. So God would not permit me to be deceived concerning the truth of those propositions that seem entirely clear to me, hence these propositions must be true.

Cartesian philosophy became a major factor in the attack on Biblical authority within the Reformed churches in the Netherlands in the second half of the 17th century.

It is interesting that, in all these cases, God's alleged inability to deceive through His work is used to contradict what God explicitly says in His word, which is thereby itself reduced to deception. These authors overlook the more plausible possibility--that their human inferences err, else God is deceiving us in His word. Indeed, the supposed deception invariably arises when evidence is interpreted within an epistemological framework that does not give sufficiently high regard to Scripture. The delusion is caused by applying faulty presuppositions.

2. But is it really the case that God cannot deceive? Note first that God is closely identified with truth. God the Father is "the only true God" (John 17:3), Jesus is "the truth" (John 14:6), the "Spirit of truth will guide you unto all truth" (John 16:13), and "your word is truth" (John 17:17).

Also, the Bible does say that "God never lies" (Titus 1:2), even that "it is impossible for God to lie" (Heb.6:18).

It is noteworthy, however, that these remarks occur in a clearly covenantal context. Both these texts refer to God keeping His promises to believers: God cannot lie to believers because He is faithful to His covenant.

The situation differs when God deals with unbelievers. Scripture specifically says that God at times deceives those who reject His word:
"and if a prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the LORD, have deceived that prophet...and they shall bear their punishment...that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me..." (Ez.14:9-11)

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth…” (2 Thes. 2:11)

There are indications that God does not deceive directly but uses secondary means. For example:
  “I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him...And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ ” ‘By what means?’ the LORD asked. ” ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.” ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the LORD. ‘Go and do it.’ “So now the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours.” (Kings 22:19-23)

Deception is closely linked to temptation. We do (or believe) what we desire by deceiving ourselves regarding its value and consequences. The words of James are pertinent here:
"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire...Do not be deceived, my beloved brother." (James 1:13-16)

Ultimately all religious deception is traceable to Satan, “the serpent of old . . . who deceives the whole world” (Rev.12:9). “When he (Satan) lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

In sum, God does use deception. This occurs via secondary means, including Satanic influence and our fallen human proclivity for self-deception, but only on those who have first rejected His word.


RubeRad said...

I can't find your #3, but I'm guessing it must be "No true Christian has ever believed in an old universe"

"God's alleged inability to deceive through His work is used to contradict what God explicitly says in His word, which is thereby itself reduced to deception."

To use the phrase "what God explicitly says" is as naive as Pascal's "those propositions that seem entirely clear to me".

Eric Greene said...

Add an "ex nihilo" agrument to your list.

If God creates something out of nothing, then whatever he makes will have some observable "deception". A speck of sand, drop of water, or a massive earth and universe - all do NOT look like they came from nothing. Any piece of this universe has the appearance that it came from somewhere or something. Nothing in the observable universe declares that it came ex nihilo. In fact it all looks as if it is saying the opposite!

My point is that those who hold on to this "God can not decieve me" argument must necessarily denounce that God made all things out of nothing. Creating all things out of nothing will appear deceptive to the something that is created. Yet the eyes of faith (Heb.11:3) would say "Thank you", not "You have decieved me!"

This whole deception argument against a young earth position has got to be the weakest, most ridiculous, and illogical point for anyone who also affirms creation ex nihilo.

Eric Greene

RubeRad said...

Everything in this universe "looks" like it Big-Banged from nothing. That's why scientists resisted Big Bang for so long, because it implied creation ex nihilo.

john byl said...

Hi Ruberad

Thanks for your comments. Allow me to reply:

1. Until the last 200 years, the vast majority of Christians did in fact believe that the Bible clearly taught the world was created less than 10,000 years ago (contra Stoner), that Adam & Eve were directly created by God (contra vanderMeer), and that Jesus arose bodily from the dead (contra Bultmann).

If such events are now falsified, would these Christians not have been deceived by their reading of the Bible?

By the way, the reference was to Descartes, not Pascal. Pascal, unlike Descartes, did submit his reasoning to Scripture.

2. It is debatable whether “everything in this universe “looks” like it big-banged from nothing.” Big- bang cosmology has many problems.

Nor does it imply creation ex nihilo. Some astronomers (e.g., Fred Hoyle) did initially reject big bang cosmology for that reason. However, the earliest proponents of the big bang (Erasmus Darwin in 1791 and Poe in 1848) envisioned it as part of an eternal cycle of expansions and contractions. George Gamow postulated that the big bang was preceded by a contraction. More recent versions postulate that our present visible universe exploded from a previous universe, and so on for eternity.

john byl said...

Hello Eric

Thanks for your “ex nihilo” argument. Yes, I concur. More generally, the deception charge seems to ban miracles since these have a supernatural cause, whereas humans naturally attempt to interpret reality in terms of natural causes. Hence any miraculous event will appear to have a history that is, at least partly, illusionary.

Henrietta said...

This posting reminds me that unregenerated man's understanding of Biblical truth is darkened...

steve said...

Take a beach. There's a cyclical process by which beaches naturally form and erode over time. If God created a beach ex nihilo, he'd create the beach at some point in the ongoing cycle.

RubeRad said...

"If such events are now falsified, would these Christians not have been deceived by their reading of the Bible?"

Yes, just like for thousands of years God's people were "deceived" by the bible into believing in Geocentricity -- rather, the fault was not with the Bible, but man's interpretation of it. But then we grew in our understanding of nature, which in turn helped us correct our understanding of scripture.

RubeRad said...

Note: rereading your whole statement, I want to be clear that (a) nobody has falsified the resurrection (and if anybody ever does falsify the resurrection, then yes, we were deceived by the bible and our faith is in vain (1 cor 15:14), and (b) personally, I believe that God directly created specific individuals Adam & Eve, and that all mankind (descending from him by ordinary generation) sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first sin.

RubeRad said...

"In sum, God does use deception. ... but only on those who have first rejected His word."

So back to your original point. What about someone who has never read God's Word, and who grows up to study science and believe in an old universe? How have they rejected God's Word and triggered God's deception?

What about the thousands (millions?) of young 6-day creationists who desperately clung to their understanding of God's book of special revelation while studying God's book of natural revelation, until eventually, overwhelmed by the evidence for an old universe, they ended up rejecting Gen 1 (and all of Christianity along with it)? Did God deceive them because they rejected his Genesis, or did they reject Exodus-Revelation because they were deceived into thinking that 6/24 is the article on which the church stands or falls?

Eric Greene said...

The following is a good article dealing with this discussion:

MSC said...

Unless I am wrong I don't think pre-Copernican Christians believed in geo-centricity because they thought the Bible taught it, but because it was what Ptolemy taught and it became the scientific consensus regardless of what anyone thought the Scripture taught.

JohnV said...

A recently posted article on RA summarizes the views of Dr. Peter Wallace. I did not yet read his essay, but the summary itself seems to advocate a kind of distance between the actual history of the beginning and that which God wishes to teach us by including Genesis 1 in the Bible. The six-day creation seems to more about what God wants us to govern ourselves by concerning our observance of days to regulate our lives than about the actual beginning. The one point that seem emphasized, in my reading of it, was that scientific models for how one understands the Bible are replaceable with other models, as long as we understand the religious model God is teaching us.

This would suggest to me that the old-earth theories are not so much about God deceiving us as it is about God freely using our scientific models to teach us religious models, whatever our scientific models may be.

This does not help, of course, but rather makes things worse. This idea seems to want to cut the ties between historical accuracy and religious relevance. If you recall, this was a huge issue in the "God is dead" debates. It was posited: if the Bible is not reliable in the areas of history and science, then on what basis do Christians believe it to be reliable in the area of religion?

If we cut the Bible's ties to science and history, then we will fall into the "It is true becuase I believe it" realm, and right out of the "I believe it because it is true" realm.

As I read the submissions of the old-earth proponents, the idea of their making something true because one believes it seems to come out rather strongly. They are reluctant to state that their old-earth cosmology is absolutely true, but they do admit that the choose to believe the "evidences", and think it right to impose those choices on the Bible.

I do not know a lot about science, or history, or philosophy, but I do know the very basics of Reformed hermeneutics, which forbids the glossing of Scripture by man. And I know that the term "evolutionary science" is a very puzzling and questionable term.

I think we a long ways yet from any kind of conclusion that God would deceive man by placing a seeming history where there was no history. Dr. Byl is quite right in calling into question the conclusion that God would deceive us without first asking ourselves if perhaps we have deceived ourselves.

Anonymous said...

As Steve Hays has pointed out repeatedly at Triablogue the universe does not look young, old or anything in between. It is our theoretical frameworks, that are the grid through which are theories are interpreted.

The more I read about the creation/evolution debate the more I am driven to the philosophy of science, and to the sand that the pilings of scientific theories are driven into.

Rick Duker said...

Science has never proven Copernicanism nor falsified geocentricity. Science can only measure relative motion. It is the same with any theory. If you repeat it often enough and tell enough people that it is reality, it eventually becomes the status quo. Then when someone challenges it, they are ridiculed.