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How Can I Deal with Unbeliever's Excuses About the Bible?

This week we hear from Tim in Bend, Oregon. He writes, “I was talking to some non-Christians about evolution and they said they don’t believe in God because we evolved from apes. How does that fit into the Bible?”

There are two issues I want to address from Tim’s letter. The first is directly related to Tim’s question, while the second relates to the conversation Tim had with his unbelieving friends.

Tim asks whether or not evolution fits into the Bible. There are three distinctive answers I’ve heard over the years. 

The first answer is from the many who believe most of what is written in the Bible is absolute. These folks would answer that evolution is contrary to the Bible, that it is a God-less theory that has no proof, and that to espouse evolution is tantamount to suggesting that God does not exist. This was the most prevalent belief in the church as little as twenty years ago and still has a large number of advocates today.

A second group would suggest that evolution and the Bible go hand in hand. This group believes that the story of creation in Genesis 1 is not at all in conflict with the theory of evolution. They would point out that the biblical word for “day” in the creation story is indefinite in span; indeed, there wasn’t a sun to mark the passing of a “day” until the fourth period of creation. This being so, they contend that God may well have “used” evolution to bring about life and even human beings over billions of years. They would remind us that, in general, the biblical creation pattern of vegetation, sea creatures, land animals, and finally humans, is fully compatible with the theory of evolution. Thus, they claim, the Bible and evolution harmonize just fine—God was responsible regardless of how it was done.

There is one last group to consider. These are the folks, a small minority, who think that the biblical story of creation is just that: a story. They claim that the Bible is a book about faith, about God’s relationship with humanity, and about humanity’s response to God—that it’s not a scientific treatise. Instead of trying to prove that creation is science or that evolution is spiritual, they point out that both views are misguided attempts to force the Bible to be what it isn’t. They believe rather than trying to outguess God, that people ought to read the creation story and then go outside, look up to the heavens, and marvel at the wonders of all the universe and the majesty of God.

The second issue I want to address concerns Tim’s conversation with his unbelieving acquaintances. Over the years I’ve discovered that there are really very few atheists. I do know some, but I have much in common with the vast majority of those who claim to be unbelievers. I’ve found that when someone tells me they don’t believe in God because the Bible is full of errors, or because humans came from apes, or because Christianity has done so many terrible things to people in the past, that it’s all just a smokescreen to protect what they really think. And when we discover what they really think, we may find we believe much more similarly than we might suspect.

How can we get past the smokescreen? Whenever I meet someone who shares in a conversation that they don’t believe in God, I ask them to tell me about the god they don’t believe in. And that’s when I hear what’s really true for them. Most tell me about an angry, judgmental god who has little else to do than to make life difficult. They tell me about a god who is distant, who is thoughtless, and who really doesn’t care what happens to the world. And they talk about a god who is capricious and mean-spirited. Frankly, I don’t believe in that kind of god either. And when we’ve shared together, when we’ve compared notes, we often find a common ground to begin a meaningful conversation around spirituality.

So Tim, keep the conversations going because evolution isn’t the destination, it’s only the beginning.

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