The best an atheist can do in tragedy

Recently, many have rebuked renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson for his latest tweet. In response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Tyson tweeted:

In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings. On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose . . . 500 to Medical errors, 300 to the Flu, 250 to Suicide, 200 to Car Accidents, 40 to Homicide via Handgun. Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

The majority of people responded by calling Tyson’s comments insensitive—just read the comments below his tweet. I agree they were insensitive, but, to be fair, Tyson’s comments are in line with his philosophy of the universe. 

Tyson is famous for his books, videos, and media appearances where he preaches a theory of the meaninglessness of the universe. I say “preaches” because he seems to have the cadence and passion of an evangelist. He believes science has proven that we are just evolved stardust, without meaning or purpose. According to Tyson, there most likely is no God, no authority, no one to worship or thank, no one who establishes good or evil, and no one to whom we must give an account. Or to quote him directly, “The more I learn about the universe, the less convinced I am that there’s any sort of benevolent force that has anything to do with it, at all.” 

In the past, many have praised Tyson for his philosophy. But why? Why are so many people quick to applaud his perspective? I believe his fame stems from our sinful desire to be our own god, removing any kind of higher power to whom we must give an account. If there is no God, no beginning, no end, no purpose, then we can give ourselves over to any desire that we wish. 

But those same people who praised Tyson are now calling him to “repent” and apologize for his lack of empathy. But why? He was just giving the raw facts, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he just living out his worldview that has led to his popularity?


And that leads me to my main point: nobody can live out of an atheistic worldview with complete integrity. 

Read what I said carefully. I didn’t say, “Atheists lack integrity.” Some of the most loving, generous people I know are atheists. But Tyson’s tweet and the world’s reaction show that it’s impossible to build a coherent life on an atheistic philosophy. We know deep down that we are not accidents, that our universe and our lives have meaning and purpose, that there is such a thing as good and evil, and that we will have to give an account to our almighty Creator. 

That’s why even atheists live for a cause greater than themselves. Even atheists call some things good and some things evil. And that’s why when someone like Tyson compares a mass shooting to those who died from the flu, even atheists rise up in protest. 

I know that when tragedy strikes many people blame God, run from him, or claim they no longer believe he exists. To some, tragedy is irreconcilable with an almighty, all-loving Creator. 

But for me, when tragedy strikes, the historical account of Jesus and the Scriptures that he embodied are the only hope. I believe the reason we mourn over evil and chafe at Tyson’s tweet is because God created this world good, like it says in Genesis 1. And humans rebelled against God, like it says in Genesis 3. And God plans to renew this world again into his perfect dwelling place, like it says in Revelation 21 and 22. And he has proven this desire and the power to carry it out in the resurrection of Jesus, who is the sneak peek of what is to come on all people. And right now it is our purpose to live out the hope of God’s work of making all things new. 

So if I was to tweet a response to the recent tragedies based on my faith in Jesus and God’s story of salvation, I would write this: “We mourn with all those who are victims of such evil and wickedness. And we pray that the Lord Jesus Christ might comfort them with the hope of renewal and new creation.”

That’s a message we can build our life on, no matter what the circumstance. 

Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry at a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. From 2014 to 2019, he served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. Currently, he is at Victory of the Lamb in Wisconsin. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.


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