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.