Neil deGrasse Tyson’s New, Mighty Argument

We have a new and mighty argument for atheism from celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson.  He finally gets to it at about 1:07

Here it is:

Key quote: I can say that if God is benevolent, and I look at the universe and see asteroids rendering life extinct, there is an absence of benevolence in the actual universe that I see.

Atheist activist Hemant Mehta was excited by the “argument”:  “I love how simple an argument that is: If God is benevolent, the universe sure doesn’t show it when you consider all the ways we could be wiped out.”

This, of course, is just another of the myriad of versions of the argument from evil.  As I have noted in the past, modern day atheism is built on two things: a) God of the Gaps reasoning that demands gaps (the “evidence”) and b) the argument from evil.  So it’s not surprising that Tyson (and Mehta) would think they have some meaty argument here.

First, we need to deal with the way the whole thing is presented.  We have a celebrity scientist speaking for Tech Insider about his area of expertise.  This creates the illusion (intentional or unintentional) that he is speaking and reasoning as a scientist.  But that is not the case.  Science has no way to detect or measure benevolence.  It’s not as if Tyson is speaking after spending decades of scanning the skies with his Benevolence-o-Detector.  If he was, he might ask him what % of the universe is benevolent.  And then get to the truly thorny question –  If God did exist, what % of the universe should be benevolent?

Since science cannot detect and measure benevolence, Tyson is simply expressing his own subjective opinions rooted in subjective impressions. In other words, he is not speaking as an authority here.  He is not representing “the scientific viewpoint.”

So what then is his argument?  That God cannot exist because an Evil Asteroid killed off the dinosaurs?


Atheist Argument Against God


Doesn’t Tyson know that had that asteroid not killed off the dinosaurs, we would not have come into existence?

And what’s Mehta’s argument?  That the universe is filled with Evil Asteroids out to get us?  Let’s strip away the sciencey veneer and put the argument into our everyday lives – Considering all the possible ways we can die, God cannot exist.  So just how many ways of dying are allowed to co-exist with the existence of God?

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15 Responses to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s New, Mighty Argument

  1. 22056 says:

    (Note: Not vetted for errors, as I did not have time…sorry)

    I’m sorry to be blunt, but good god these people can sometimes be morons who don’t think through their own arguments. Why do I say this? I say it because their very claim that “If God is benevolent, the universe sure doesn’t show it when you consider all the ways we could be wiped out” undermines itself and actually does show the benevolence (I would use the word ‘concern’ or ‘interest’ of God).

    Let me explain with an analogy:

    Imagine, for example, that you just happened to be standing upright, unarmed and helpless, with no defenses, in the middle of a massive battle (imagine World War I at the Battle of the Somme or World War II at during the D-Day landing). Furthermore, you cannot move from your position. Now imagine that as you stood there, thousands of bullets flew around you, countless artillery shells exploded beside you, gas clouds drifted past you, and multiple tanks rolled to the left and right of you while planes bombed the battlefield from overhead; however, even amongst all this, you remained unharmed. Now at first you might think that this was just due to luck, but now imagine that as hours passed while the battle raged on around you, you still remained unharmed. Then days passed as the battle continued, and yet you were fine. Then weeks. At this point, you would be rather justified in rejecting the claim that your lack of harm in this battle was due to luck; indeed, at this point, it would be completely rational for you to come to believe that the reason that you remained unharmed was because the people waged the battle were concerned for you and were taking specific actions to keep you from harm.

    This is a form of the Likelihood (or Expectation) Principle, which says that a fact or observation counts as evidence for Hypothesis A over Hypothesis B if the fact or evidence is more likely (or expected) on Hypothesis A than on Hypothesis B.

    And what these atheists do not understand is that if they are claimed that there really all so many ways that we could be wiped out, then, on naturalism, given all these different ways, it would be likely (or expected) that we would be wiped out by now. And yet we are not wiped out, which is evidence against naturalism.

    By contrast, on Christian theism, and given a God who cares for us, we would expect NOT to be wiped out even though there are many ways to be wiped out. And that is what we find.

    So the fact that we continue to exist in spite of all these different ways we could be wiped out is evidence in favor of (something like) Christian theism, not naturalism.

    Note as well that if the universe was completely benign and there was little to no risk of us being wiped out, then we would have no way of knowing if that was due to the protection of God or simply due to the natural state of the universe. So it is the very fact that the universe is incredibly dangerous, and yet we still exist when by all rights we should not, that points to the care that we are under.

    Now the atheist could claim that we just happen to be the lucky planet in the whole universe, and this could be a way to avoid the theistic inference; but what the atheistic cannot do is claim that the universe’s vast ‘wiping out’ resource is somehow evidence for atheism.

    On a side-note, you ever get the feeling that the main issue is that atheists just wanted God to create a playground without them needing to do the work to earn their place on it first….


  2. TFBW says:

    “An absence of benevolence” sounds strikingly similar to its “absence of evidence” counterpart. It raises question #1: what does Tyson think this “benevolence” would look like if it existed? After all, abstract nouns aren’t the usual domain of scientific inquiry. Then we need question #2: why must this kind of “benevolence” exist in order to accept that God exists? At this point, we’ve almost certainly entered the realm of pure theology, so I guess question #3 has to be, “what kinds of theological reasoning are valid?” It can’t be “none”, as that would undermine question #2 and invalidate the rest of the argument.

  3. John says:

    A similar argument is used by other atheists,but with more scientific certainty behind them.

    About 3.75 billion years from now,the sun will have become a red giant and the Earth’s water will have disappeared and all terrestrial life will be over.Then our sun wil expand even beyond Mars and Earth will have been destroyed.And after our sun goes supernova our solar system would basically have been reduced to a lifeless wasteland because a white dwarf cannot give as much energy to our solar system.Then our sun will become a nearly invisible black dwarf.

    Now,22056’s anology may be a good analogy in the context of our definite survival.But his analogy might not be complete enough because there is no certainty of destruction in his analogy as it is in reality for the Earth.

    And because of this,some say that God cannot exist because our solar system is unavoidably destined to become a cold and lifeless wasteland and our Earth is destined for destruction.

    But there is another possibility.Humans,if they survive long enough,will have become so technologically advanced that they might master planetary engineering and would survive after our sun dies in some way.

    And then there is the entire speculation of whether the entire universe is destined for some sort of death in which all possible life will de destroyed and won’t exist.

  4. TFBW says:

    … some say that God cannot exist because our solar system is unavoidably destined to become a cold and lifeless wasteland and our Earth is destined for destruction.

    Which is weird, because the Bible (e.g. 2 Peter 3:10) said that the heavens and Earth were destined for destruction long before it was a scientifically popular idea. Of course, it also spoke of salvation from that destruction, which makes “the Earth is doomed so God doesn’t exist” seem like an argument from not listening.

  5. Larry Olson says:

    “We have a new and mighty argument for atheism from celebrity scientist Neil deGrasse
    Tyson. ”

    Neil De Grasse Tyson is not an atheist, never will be, and never has been. You should do research before lumping every person under the sun as a new atheist when clearly they are not. Neil speaks out against atheism. Check out his Big Think video regarding atheism and the morons who keep changing the wikipedia page to say that Neil is an atheist, when he is not. He has made it very clear that the only label he accepts is Scientist, not atheist. Neil is even open to the Simulation Argument by James Gates and Nick Bostrom which would mean we would have programmer god’s above us, hence he is NOT an atheist, never will be, never has been.,

    Good job fraudulently labeling pretty much every intelligent person as a “new atheist” when they are not.

  6. Larry Olson says:

    Oh and to add to my previous comment, Sam Harris is also open to the simulation argument which means technically he is not an atheist either, as a God or Gods could have programmed the simulation. However just because it is a possibility, does not mean that’s the religion they believe in. i.e. there is no need to commit to the simulation argument, like immature christians commit to their little jesus on the cross (or else go to hell, how mature)

  7. Kevin says:

    Yeah people who believe we might be in the Matrix are indeed bastions of reason.

  8. Michael says:


    Woke up to a blizzard of your comments containing a flurry of confusion. Representative examples:

    Good job fraudulently labeling pretty much every intelligent person as a “new atheist” when they are not.

    Please quote where I labeled Tyson a “New Atheist.”

    Neil De Grasse Tyson is not an atheist, never will be, and never has been.

    How do we define atheism? Disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. Or as American Atheists explains, “The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings.”

    Tyson lacks belief in gods or supernatural beings. Ditto for Harris.

    God job blowing smoke.

  9. Dhay says:

    Larry Olson > Neil is even open to the Simulation Argument by James Gates and Nick Bostrom which would mean we would have programmer god’s above us…

    We “would have programmer god’s above us”? Hardly, for Bostrom’s Argument posits our being computer simulated as but one out of his three possibilities, and not a necessary one. Bostrom himself says:

    Personally, I assign less than 50% probability to the simulation hypothesis – rather something like in 20%-region, perhaps, maybe. However, this estimate is a subjective personal opinion and is not part of the simulation argument. My reason is that I believe that we lack strong evidence for or against any of the three disjuncts (1)-(3), so it makes sense to assign each of them a significant probability.

    Looking at Bostrom’s arguments, they look rather familiar; in about 1980, after re-playing my recording of the Christmas special which bridged the original two BBC Radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and musing on it, I wrote:

    In the office of the Editor of ‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ is a Simulator. It produces a complete and exact electronic simulation of the entire universe (says Douglas Adams)…

    In that simulated universe must be a simulated Editor’s Office containing a simulated Simulator producing a complete and exact electronic simulation of the simulated universe…

    In that simulated simulated universe must be a simulated simulated Editor’s Office containing a simulated simulated Simulator producing a complete and exact electronic simulation of the simulated simulated universe…

    And so on, indefinitely. – Like a set of Russian dolls, the original universe, then each simulated universe in turn, contains a complete and exact electronic simulation of itself…

    An analogy is with a newsreader, and beside him a television set showing {the newsreader, and beside him a television set showing {the newsreader, and beside him a television set showing {the newsreader, and beside him a television set showing {the newsreader, and beside him a television set showing{ the… } } } } }… – And so on…

    What is done by the people of the original (unsimulated) universe is also done by the simulated people of the numberless simulated universes; the same tests are done, the same conclusions reached, the same opinions held…

    You and I are of course convinced we are the original You and I, and that we are not some mere simulation of ourselves; but the numberless complete and exact electronic simulations of ourselves necessarily simulate our conviction that we are the originals, and are likewise convinced they are the originals…

    If there is one original pair of You and I, and numberless electronically simulated pairs of You and I, the likelihood that any You and I is the original is vanishingly small: the overwhelming likelihood is that we are not the originals; the overwhelming likelihood is that we are electronic simulations…
    Do you know for sure there is no such Simulator anywhere in the universe?…

    Perhaps there are many; perhaps every Editor of a major Galactic Publishing Company has one. (And what a disadvantage not to.)

    If all things are possible, indeed probable, in an infinite universe, there probably is such a Simulator somewhere; and if so, the chances of what we reckon to be the substantial material universe being so are infinitesimal; all this solidity is almost certainly an electronic copy of the real thing…

    We cannot be sure in principle, therefore we cannot be sure in practice.

    My lazy-Editor nested-universe-simulation scenario looks rather like Bostrom’s post-human nested ancestor-simulation scenario. And like Bostrom’s, it was based upon wild flights of fancy; mine was definitely tongue-in-cheek.

    One strong critic of Bostrom would be Sam Harris; for Bostrom supposes that simulated people can be conscious:

    Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct).

    Harris most certainly does not accept that position in the philosophy of mind, as his October 2011 blog post entitled “The Mystery of Consciousness” makes clear:

    …the idea that consciousness is identical to (or emerged from) unconscious physical events is, I would argue, impossible to properly conceive—which is to say that we can think we are thinking it, but we are mistaken. We can say the right words, of course—“consciousness emerges from unconscious information processing.” We can also say “Some squares are as round as circles” and “2 plus 2 equals 7.” But are we really thinking these things all the way through? I don’t think so.

    Then there’s the question of your “which would mean we would have programmer gods above us”. So what. Assuming for argument’s sake that the we are indeed simulated, and also that Sam Harris is wrong about consciousness so that simulated people can be conscious, and that we are within this indefinitely deeply nested hierarchy of simulated simulated universes — assuming that, at the end of the chain of programmed simulated universes stretching upwards — and in Bostrom’s scenario there must be an end — would be one that would not be programmed, a level which would not have a “programmer god above”, a topmost level requiring a quite different explanation of its origin and features.

    So no, your argument is unpersuasive: you don’t actually know and understand Bostrom’s Simulation Argument, and you draw silly conclusions from your misinterpretation.

  10. Isaac says:

    Tyson is a serial user of completely subjective and stupid arguments about God. One of his more famous ones was something along the lines of “sure, you can look at a frozen waterfall and see evidence for God, but then you can look at a hideous millipede and see evidence against God.” Probably intended as a dig against Collins. All I thought was, “I find millipedes fascinating and cool, speak for yourself.”

  11. Larry Olson says:

    You said “I find millipedes fascinating and cool, speak for yourself.”
    I bet you also find Black Widow spiders extremely intellectually interesting and wonderous. They eat their husband after making love. The true feminist spider. Men are only useful to provide the seed, and then they get killed after intercourse. That’s how the black widow spider life works. Women literally eat and murder the male spiders. How godly, a christian god must have designed this, but only after we ate from the tree of knowledge and talked to the talking snake. I suppose the poisonous apple caused this black widow spider feminist to exist. If only we had stuck to eating from the correct tree, then there would be less evil. (pfft.)

  12. Kevin says:

    Do you have some sort of point you’re trying to make?

  13. TFBW says:

    That’s the trouble with Larry’s recent comments: they do not attempt to engage the discussion, make no cogent points, and contribute nothing of intellectual value. It’s a bunch of hit-and-run taunting and jeering. It’s not even creative trolling: it’s just tribal bellowing.

  14. Dhay says:

    Jerry Coyne’s blog post dated March 13 2016 and entitled “Neil deGrasse Tyson puts metatarsals in mouth twice” disses Tyson for ignorance about sexual reproduction:

    I’m not sure why Neil deGrasse Tyson is suddenly tw**ting pronouncements about evolution, but he is. Sadly, they’re wrong.

    Then he goes on to explain at length why the first (“If there were ever a species for whom sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago.”) is wrong “on several levels” before indicating how the second (“If you have a gene for celibacy, you didn’t inherit it.”) can also be seen to be obviously wrong.

    Coyne concludes with:

    I’m not sure why Tyson is making these pronouncements. Maybe he knows they’re wrong and is trying to taunt biologists, but I doubt it—that’s not like him. Readers are welcome to speculate.

    I speculate sheer ignorance of biology on Tyson’s part.

    The more general message is how quickly famous science popularisers can each lose the plot, and become utterly incompetent, once they stray out of their speciality.

    The more general message yet is a rhetorical question: do we know of any other famous science popularisers who repeatedly put metatarsals in mouth when each steps out of their narrow speciality.

  15. Isaac says:

    Larry Olson (if by some chance you are reading this 2 years later…)

    Your muddled argument about black widow spiders seems to assume that the spiders are sentient spiders from Pixar cartoons. If that were the case, then I would hate to wish such a miserable existence upon the males of that noble race. Surely God is cruel.

    Oh, wait, spiders are just &$#@* spiders.

    My worldview must be far more scientific than yours, because as a Christian I do not need to anthropomorphize spiders. Bluntly put, their lives, liberty and individual rights are of no consequence. Those of humans are, because humans are made in the image of God.

    In my Christian worldview, cruelty to animals is wrong because it poorly reflects on the human inflicting the cruelty; not because animal lives are equal to those of humans. If you disagree, then be sure to tell me how often you have wept and mourned for the many precious insect lives that will perish today in your own house. And why you can walk through a grocery store without gagging just as I would if the meat section was stocked with human flesh.

    On the other hand, if you think that it’s silly to value animal life at the same level as humans, then tell me why it is logical, to an atheist, to care about human life either, since in a materialist worldview a human life is no more meaningful than an animal’s.

    You have been checkmated. The only move left is to claim either that atheist DON’T care about humans at all (which is not broadly true) or else claim that atheists value human life over that of animals because, well, they just feel like it. Which is not to move at all, but to leap right off the board.

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