Can People Judge God?

July 23, 2020 - 2 Av 5780

In an interview titled Neil deGrasse Tyson on God with CBS Sunday Morning in 2017, Tyson (astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science communicator, and television host) was posed the following question:

Interviewer: Do you believe in God, a Creator?

Here was Tyson’s response:

So, the more I look at the universe the less convinced I am that there is something benevolent going on. So, if your concept of a Creator is someone who is all-powerful and all-good, that’s not an uncommon pairing of powers that you might ascribe to a Creator, and I look at disasters that afflict earth and life on earth - volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, disease, pestilence, congenital birth defects - you look at this list of ways that life is made miserable on earth by natural causes and I just ask, “How do you deal with that?” So philosophers rose up and said, “If there is a God, God is either not all-powerful or not all-good.”

It seems that Tyson’s argument here operates on an assumption that is as common as it is demonstrably false. That huge assumption is that one can know the internal workings of God's mind sufficiently to accurately re-characterize Him. Let us explain this by way of a metaphor.

So for instance, let's say that your company fires 20 employees overnight. Do you have sufficient insight into that decision-making process to determine that it was either a bad, wrong, or even an evil decision?

Or let us say that the air conditioner in your work building suddenly turns off. Do you have enough information to say that the building’s administration has taken the day of and gone to the golf course? There can be a number of reasons for why the AC has suddenly turned off. If you can't make these determinations with something as simple as a company decision or deactivated AC, you will have a hard time making it with something such as natural disasters.

Now, the Bible does give us some sense of insight into how this type of thing works on a very general level, but it doesn't give us a one-to-one formula for every specific event that occurs, nor does it expect us to even think in those terms. This, by the way, is a mistaken tendency often made by religious people as well - we cannot know or claim to have access to cause-and-effect in terms of current events. This is a practice that is presumptuous and should probably be discouraged. The thing is sealed.

Tyson’s line of reasoning makes another relatively common fallacy that the Bible is interested in providing us reasons for natural phenomenon. If you read or study the Bible you will find that only on rare occasion does it invest any effort in explaining why natural disasters occurred, so that this position is demonstrably false. The Bible places a much heavier focus on interpersonal events than on natural ones. This type of mistake could have been avoided with just a little more insight and perhaps research into the topic at hand.

Tyson’s being an accomplished astrophysicist does not qualify him as a professional in the field of religion, theology, or philosophy. It would have been perfectly acceptable if he had just confessed his ignorance on the interviewer’s question and instead offered his opinion. A little humility goes a long way.

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