The Wise and Unwise
Christians need to stand out as they speak out and live their lives as a testimony to their love for God and his Word. And engaging in conversation founded in God’s Word when witnessing in his world is of paramount importance in today’s godless culture. The term apologetics is often associated with this type of engagement as it refers to the ability to give a reasoned defense of the faith and proclamation of the gospel as per the command of 1 Peter 3:15.
Having a reasoned defense of God’s Word, especially when discussing foundational issues such as the question of origins, moral issues, social standards, etc. is essential in witnessing and social engagement in culture. And God’s Word speaks about conducting ourselves wisely when we do so:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise. (Ephesians 5:15)
The book of Proverbs, for example, contains Holy Spirit-inspired insight and advice for believers, referred to as wisdom literature. Wisdom is like a toolkit for thinking, and God’s Word says we should seek wisdom (Proverbs 4:6-7) and ask for it if lacking (James 1:5). It makes sense that Christians should seek wisdom, as Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
Who Is the Fool?
The opposite of wisdom is foolishness, and the Bible clearly identifies who typifies foolish thinking at the most basic level: the fool says in their heart that there is no God (Psalm 14:1). So, the Bible clearly identifies atheists as fools, and yet many Christians seem nervous to engage with atheists intellectually, and some are downright fearful of trying to make sense of their arguments against God. Why?
Obviously, some atheists have a high I.Q., so this “foolishness” the psalm mentions is not purely cognitive ability; rather it is a mindset or worldview that omits the idea of God, which cannot lead to wise conclusions. As the atheistic worldview is entirely naturalistic (and the Bible reveals everything was created by a supernatural creator), it comes to many wrong conclusions about the world we live in.
For Christians looking for wisdom in responding to atheist’s arguments against God, Proverbs 26:4–5 gives clear direction into both how to and how not to answer their objections.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
What Is the Fool’s Folly?
Now although this verse may be speaking about a variety of people being foolish, we know that atheists are definitely counted among them. So, let’s identify what the “fool’s folly” must encompass for atheists.
Classical atheists declare there is no God, so they must have an alternative way to explain existence without a supernatural creator, and the only option then is some form of “evolution.” No matter what you call it (Darwinian evolution, neo-Darwinian evolution, chaos theory, punctuated equilibrium, etc.), it’s the concept that everything came about through naturalistic processes. And that is the foolishness the psalmist speaks about (a-Theos- no God). Atheists, many claiming that they are “open-minded,” rational, or logical, live inside a mental paradigm called naturalism, and they don’t think outside that box, so to speak. So, all thinking atheists must believe in evolution—that is their main folly.
What Not To Do
Now that we’ve examined who the fool is and what their folly is in this specific context (atheists believing in evolution), let’s examine the application of the two verses above1. (Note that the apparent contradiction between these verses vanishes in their application as we’ll show.) Verse 4 says not to answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him. That means Christians shouldn’t answer atheists by “buying in” to their way of thinking or they will appear foolish themselves. (The last thing an atheist needs to hear from a Christian is they affirm their foundational doctrine [evolution] is true!)
As an example, observe the following discourse from a debate between theistic evolutionist Francis Collins (a professing Christian who believes God used evolution to “create”) and famous atheist Richard Dawkins:
COLLINS: By being outside of nature, God is also outside of space and time. Hence, at the moment of the creation of the universe, God could also have activated evolution, with full knowledge of how it would turn out . . .
DAWKINS: I think that’s a tremendous cop-out. If God wanted to create life and create humans, it would be slightly odd that he should choose the extraordinarily roundabout way of waiting for 10 billion years before life got started and then waiting for another 4 billion years until you got human beings capable of worshipping and sinning and all the other things religious people are interested in.2
Dawkins easily pokes holes in Collins’ statement because Collins doesn’t start with a plain reading of God’s word and a commitment to biblical authority. Rather than stating what the Bible actually says, he says God “could have activated evolution.” Dawkins’ ridicule is valid because Collins is starting with conjecture and opinions based on man’s word rather than God’s Word. Furthermore, the Bible isn’t about what God could have done—it’s about what he said he did.
Declaring Genesis 1–11 as compatible with evolution is practically indefensible against an informed opponent because of the effects this would have on the entire biblical narrative. By affirming evolution and long ages before humans appeared, Christians cannot explain the gospel rationally or give a ready answer to the number one philosophical question skeptics ask about Christianity: “If there is a loving God, why is there so much death and suffering?”
Famous Darwin historian and Bible skeptic Peter Bowler easily demonstrates how theistic evolutionists’ position deconstructs the evolutionist Christian worldview (because of its introduction of death and suffering existing prior to Adam sinning) in this statement:
If Christians accept that humanity was the product of evolution—even assuming the process could be seen as an expression of the Creator’s will—then the whole idea of Original Sin would have to be reinterpreted.
Far from falling from an original state of grace in the Garden of Eden, we have risen gradually from our animal origins. And if there was no Sin from which we needed salvation, what was the purpose of Christ’s agony on the cross? Christ became merely the perfect man who showed us what we could all hope to become when evolution finished its upward course.
Can you see how foolish a skeptic can make a Christian seem if they “answer the fool according to his folly” (i.e., agree with the skeptic’s foolish foundational worldview)?
What To Do
Now Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” In this case, it is the second half of the verse that provides the context for how to answer.
I can remember that as an atheist, when I met Christians who could not answer my questions or seemed to try to avoid certain topics and re-route the conversation towards something more comfortable, I often felt that they were simply mentally inferior and illogical because they wouldn’t engage my concerns intellectually. They seemed mostly to appeal to emotional arguments from morality, so I became “wise in my own eyes,” feeling that the Christian faith was for simpletons that just couldn’t deal with “science and evolution.”
It wasn’t until I met a Christian that answered me according to my folly (i.e., understood what evolutionists taught and believed and pointed out the numerous obvious challenges to it), making me step back and defend it intellectually, that I no longer felt so wise. I now had to put on my own thinking cap and try to rally a defense around the whole concept instead of regurgitating evolutionary talking points I’d been taught that were assumed rather than robustly critiqued and arrived at logically.
By answering atheists according to their folly and showing them how unwise it is, stumbling blocks to the faith can be removed. And the Answers in Genesis ministry has a whole range of faith-building resources that can equip you to stand firm on the authority of God’s Word when declaring the gospel. And in this way, we can rest in the grace of Christ and better fulfill the greatest commandment by loving our Lord with our heart, soul, and mind.