God – Mean Ogre or Transcendent Benefactor?

An Aeon article on the possibility and ethics of a human imposed artificial hell opens with the following statement:

Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment.

I wouldn’t want to worship that god either.

Chat Botté and the Ogre by Gustave Doré

Illustration of Chat Botté and the Ogre by Gustave Doré (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

But God isn’t that. He created man sin free but with an ability to become otherwise through an act of disobedience.

We are responsible for evil in the world.

The fact that God saw fit to create man and communicate with him at all, even as a friend, is amazing. That He did all this knowing we’d disobey is a wonder. That He would sacrifice His Son on our behalf is a miracle beyond compare. That he would save any (rather than none) is a superlative I can’t express.

It’s characterizations like that in the Aeon article which lead others to make heartrending statements like this:

As I have explained previously, the problem of evil prevents me from believing in God, or at least an all-powerful God who gives a damn about us. But the problem of beauty keeps me from being an adamant atheist.

Beauty is an attribute of God and His habitations. He set beauty in our midst for our enjoyment and so that we’d look to him for salvation.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Mistakes God for Who He Is Not

Of course all humans fail and err. However, does Tyson mean to impugn God?

According to Mother Jones’ biblical and cosmological authority, Chris Mooney:

To be a Young Earth creationist is to hold a truly unique place in the history of wrongness. These religious ideologues don’t just deny human evolution; their belief in a universe that is only a few thousand years old commits them to an enormity of other errors, including many beliefs that fly in the face of modern physics.

But maybe he’s just host of MJ’s Climate Desk.

According to Mooney, Tyson explains:

To believe in a universe as young as 6 or 7,000 years old is to extinguish the light from most of the galaxy. Not to mention the light from all the hundred billion other galaxies in the observable universe.

But, by this statement, Tyson fallaciously misrepresents his opponent.

Crab Nebula (NASA)

Crab Nebula by Hubble Space Telescope (Public Domain)

Someone of no import nowadays, John Calvin, had this to say of God’s prerogatives with respect to His universe:

With regard to inanimate objects again we must hold that though each is possessed of its peculiar properties, yet all of them exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God. Hence they are merely instruments, into which God constantly infuses what energy he sees meet, and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure. No created object makes a more wonderful or glorious display than the sun. …No pious man, therefore, will make the sun either the necessary or principal cause of those things which existed before the creation of the sun, but only the instrument which God employs, because he so pleases; though he can lay it aside, and act equally well by himself: Again, when we read, that at the prayer of Joshua the sun was stayed in its course; that as a favor to Hezekiah, its shadow receded ten degrees; by these miracles God declared that the sun does not daily rise and set by a blind instinct of nature, but is governed by Him in its course, that he may renew the remembrance of his paternal favor toward us…

We addressed this previously with our blog post Superstition. Another expert, Aldous Huxley, said:

Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence… No philosophy is completely disinterested. The pure love of truth is always mingled to some extent with the need, consciously or unconsciously felt by even the noblest and the most intelligent philosophers.

However, I think we’d all do well to heed John Horgan when he says:

Of course we feel validated when others see the world as we do. But we should resist the need to insist or even imply that our views—or anti-views—are better than all others. In fact, we should all be more modest in how we talk about our faith or lack thereof.

By way of disclosure, we do not hold to typical creation hypotheses, we believe Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are in harmony, and John Horgan does not endorse the content or views expressed on this blog.