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My answer to Stephen Fry


English comedian, writer and ardent atheist Stephen Fry recently appeared on the Irish TV show The Meaning of Life with host Gay Byrne, who asked him what he’d say if he were “confronted by God” at the pearly gates, after his death. Fry chuckled, and then proceeded to shock his host by answering:

“I’d say: ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”

Fry’s answer impressed many atheists, but one atheist who was not impressed was Professor Larry Moran over at the Sandwalk blog, who mocked Fry for his presumption in a post titled, Stephen Fry blows it by assuming he knows the mind of god (January 30. 2015):

He makes the assumption that he knows the mind of god and attacks the god for not being nice to humans. In other words, he accepts the problem of evil and assumes that the god he is facing gives a damn about some obscure species on a minor planet in one of billions of galaxies. Later on Stephen Fry concedes that he could be talking to the Greek gods or some other gods but by then it’s too late.

The god he is addressing may or may not have done any of the things in the Bible. If he isn’t that god then he will know that Stephen Fry is attacking a strawman. If he is the god of the Bible then presumably he/she/it had his/her/its reasons for doing apparently evil things and Stephen Fry is about to get educated about the real mind of god. That may turn out badly for Stephen Fry.

If you ever run into any real gods I’d advise you not to mess with them.

Professor Moran continued:

Most intelligent Christians have developed some very good rationalizations concerning the problem of evil. They’ve heard it all before and they know how to respond. One of the classic responses is that cannot they know the mind of god. But Stephen Fry knows the mind of god and this is puzzling because Fry is an atheist.

Another writer who found Fry’s response tedious was Tim Stanley of the Telegraph, who offered a crisp rebuttal in his article, Richard Dawkins wants to fight Islamism with erotica. Celebrity atheism has lost it (January 31, 2015):

Terrible things happen because of a) random acts of nature, b) the intervention of the Devil or c) the corruption of man. I’m not saying anyone has to believe what I write, but please don’t act like it’s never been said before or that the answer to Fry’s facile question doesn’t exist. Dear Stephen imagines that he’s the first person in history to wonder why folks suffer. He’s not. He is, however, strangely upset about something that he doesn’t even believe in. Who gets angry about an imaginary conversation?

Ultimately, I don’t care that Fry doesn’t believe in God or that he spouts off about it at every given opportunity like a crazy man on a bus. What irritates me is that his remarks are reported as though they are important. He’s not Oscar Wilde (who died a Catholic). He’s not even Benny Hill (who was funny). Celebrity atheism was a big thing ten years ago but now is old hat and rather tiresome. Oh, there are atheist thinkers out there whose opinions are worth hearing and there are eloquent people of faith ready to respond. But why must it always be the same old bores boring on about the subject? This yawnfest has to stop.

Moran and Stanley both make some telling points. However, I imagine that Fry (who is an intelligent man), might respond as follows: “The God I’m talking about is an omnipotent, omniscient Being, which is what most people mean when they say ‘God.’ Obviously, I can’t read God’s Mind, but if he doesn’t want what’s best for us – as the suffering we see in the world appears to suggest – then I would conclude that if He exists, He’s not benevolent. The actions of such a Being cannot be excused by appealing to random acts of Nature, because from His perspective, nothing is truly random: every event in the natural world is foreseeable. And regardless of whether God is capable of foreknowing the choices made by human beings, He can certainly foresee the possibility of our making wicked choices, and take preventative measures in advance to thwart them, so that nobody gets hurt. An omnipotent Being with foresight could surely do that.”

So here’s my answer to Stephen Fry.

“You’re accusing God of wrongful creation – making a world in which suffering can occur, and then populating it with people. But by the same token, you would have to say that two parents who chose to bring a child into the world, knowing that it was liable to inherit a life-threatening form of cancer, would be wronging that child, simply by procreating it. And to that I say: how dare you tell someone that they have no right to create a human being? Whether it be short or long, life, in itself, is a good thing.

“I’ve got another question for you. Suppose instead that the parents in the hypothetical scenario above were told by their doctor that while any child they chose to bring into the world would probably get cancer, the cancer would not be terminal. Suppose that it could be treated over the course of several months, by a very painful course of chemotherapy, but that after that, their child would enjoy a full and happy life. Surely even you would concede that it would be morally justifiable for the parents to bring a child into the world, in this case. Now suppose, hypothetically, that the child’s full and happy life turned out to be an indefinitely long one, because scientists had recently discovered a way to make people live forever. In that case, no-one would say that the prospect of getting bone cancer would constitute a valid reason not to create a child: it would be a treatable illness. All right, then. Heaven is forever. How, then, can you accuse God of being unjust?”

Well, that’s my answer to Stephen Fry. What would other readers say? Over to you.

Cancer doesn't have the intention to do evil to blame God for an evil creation, Cancer is a disease and like all diseases it is rooted in the destruction of the Golden Balance. The story of Adam and Eve symbolizes the first humans that lived in an area especially designed for them that provided them natural antibiotics for every kind of disease. Since they left this area because of knowldge the golden balance broken down and diseases started to appear. People knew at the time of Jesus that they carry the sins of their parents, everyone in the New Testament blames the sins of their ancestors, they didn't know what hereditary diseases are but they knew that if someone does a bad life or an inbalanced life probably the descentants will have health problems, the sin that Christianity talks about its not an evil spirit, it is an action that harms your organism and creates diseases. We help cancer to evolve and that's our fault. JimFit
Graham2... Quote: "55R: So retarded people should also be very sick people ?" Not sure I understand your question/point. Most people who would be considered retarded, would be EVERYONE on planet earth--self included, aren't physically sick, but also NOT physically perfect as Adam & Eve were before their fall from the nest (Eden). For the most part, it's Russian roulette, because stupid and/or ignorance is rampant. Those who are/were wise enough to practice the Mosaic law, to the best of their ability, are/were immune to most all ills of ignorance and/or stupidity of this world. Again, if there is someone suffering, it is due to ignorance and/or stupidity (not practicing the law as handed down at Mount Sinai), period. You've heard the expression... "What doesn't kill you, will make you stronger", right? Well truth is... what also kills you will make you stronger (wiser anyway), because, we ALL have the second resurrection (second chance--despite what you were taught in church/Sunday school) to reflect on what happened in this life. 55rebel
Well, Fry may be a writer, but is apparently not much of a reader. Or a thinker. The argument from bad design and evil in the world is so bad, so juvenile, so weak, it is embarrassing for anyone who considers themselves to be an intellectual to put it forward. On the other hand, maybe the response was from Fry the Comedian. That makes more sense. Eric Anderson
I think we bring it on ourselves Heard about the germ theory ? Graham2
I don't believe God goes around zapping everyone for doing wrong. In fact I don't think God zaps anyone. I doubt God wakes up and thinks hmmmm, what has Graham2 been up to this morning, let us zap him, no I don't think it works that way. I think we bring it on ourselves. God gives us commandments on how to live our lives. If we disobey we suffer the consequences, not because God punishes us but rather because each action has a consequence. If you sleep around and get pregnant or become HIV+ that has nothing to do with God. In fact he warned you not to. But because we disobey we now suffer the repercussions of those actions. Remember we were blessed with free will, we choose to behave as we do. As for cancer, our poor diets, toxins in the air and water, frankenfoods (GM foods), vaccinations and other dangerous medications, all most likely contribute to this monster of a problem* *I recognise we are doing what we can with our limited knowledge and understanding but our medicines, vaccinations etc are not without side effects, possibly even making things worse for ourselves long term. God does not ask us to war with each other or create conditions through greed and selfishness where people starve and suffer, we do that, us, people, not God. We are responsible for the suffering in our world today and we need to stop shifting the blame and accept the accountability and responsibility of our actions both as individuals and as communities etc. Atheists are especially allergic to these two words "responsibility" and "accountability". They will wriggle, squirm and invent all manner of insane theories to avoid these pesky concerns. humbled
from http://www.knowtruth.com/issues/human_suffering.php The Problem of Human Suffering There is a paradox that needs addressing about this great and mighty God regarding the problem of suffering in the world. Does God care about hate, pain, suffering, crime, and all the other bad things in the world? Does He care that children suffer, and that good people get hurt? Surely if God was as good as the Bible makes Him out to be He would desire for these things to be abolished. And if He was as intelligent and powerful as the Bible says, He could easily take care of these problems. Where is God when good people get senselessly killed or hurt? Where is God when a drunk driver hits an innocent child? What is Good? We may want to begin by asking a slightly different question - What is Good? If God is truly good, wise, and powerful then He above all else would know. Conversely, as mere humans with finite minds and experiences, we are not in the very best position to assert our opinion about what good is. Perhaps what we perceive as good is not good at all. Perhaps God's infinite wisdom can see beyond the immediate circumstance for which He takes the blame. This might be hard to swallow at first, but if we put ourselves in the position of a child it is easier to see. As a child, our parents were the infinitely wise and powerful beings that we looked up to. But surely if they were so good and powerful they would want me to be happy each and every moment of my childhood life. Surely they would want me to have chocolate bars for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Surely they would want me to do whatever I want and never be disciplined under any circumstance. After all, discipline is often painful. Naturally we would argue that broccoli and carrots are better for the child than chocolate. Discipline helps the child learn how to function safely and respectfully in the world. Is this an oversimplification of how God operates? It would only be fair to say that it is. But we might reconsider our ideas about what is good, fair, and just in the world with our own human limitations in tow. Freedom to Choose With these things in mind we must also remember that, while God loves His creation, He has empowered us with completely free will. We have the freedom to choose to have chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we have the freedom to never discipline a child. These obviously absurd examples would lead to disaster. There are many choices not so shortsighted and obvious, which we make with similar consequences. Corruption and immorality pervades humanity, and yet these are clearly free-will choices. If God wanted to remove them He would have to remove free-will altogether. C.S. Lewis said it this way, "Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself." 1 From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, man chose to do wrong. It was the choice of humanity to bring sin and its consequences into the world. For this very reason God has provided mankind with the alternative solution of redemption through Jesus Christ, wherein we ultimately escape the pain and suffering of this world. This was necessary in order for God to demonstrate His love. For God to eliminate free will is tantamount to binding a child and forcing him to say he loves his father. He might say he loves his father, but under duress genuine love is quenched. The simple fact is that God did create a world free from suffering, hate, death, and pain. Man chose to rebel and bring sin into it, and this corruption still exists today. That pain exists in the world is a fact that cannot be denied, especially by Christians. But atheism and agnosticism are not the answer. The best answer is one that provides hope. Perhaps God is disciplining us, perhaps He is growing us in some way, or perhaps we are suffering the consequences of sin in the world. Whatever the reason for our suffering Christians can call on their hope, "And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5) Do you really think Stephen Fry would want his free will taken away in order to eliminate suffering? Cross
55R: So retarded people should also be very sick people ? Graham2
It's called schooling in... "The Knowledge of Good 'AND Evil'"; A path we chose, way back in the Garden of Eden, and therefore, a school that we are ALL required to attend. 'Ignorance', and just plain 'stupidity' are potentially Evil and/or just plain Evil. If someone is suffering, I can guarantee you, that it is due to someone practicing one, or both of those traits. It all boils down to... "Cause and Effect". One can only truly learn a particular subject matter through personal experience, period. If you think about it, it's a NO-brainer. 55rebel
2. There’s a moral difference between creating a world in which children get cancer and intending that they do so.
I think that argument would only hold if God created a world with cancer by mistake, and wasn't able to stop it. This isn't a terribly omnipotent sort of God.
3. If Fry’s argument is about God’s foresight rather than His intentions, as I assume it is, then the parents of the child with cancer had the relevant foresight: they knew that their child would probably get cancer. Thus the parallel holds.
But the parents have to balance their desire for a child against the chances it would get cancer. An omnipotent god can make sure that such a child wouldn't get cancer. Plus an omnipotent god doesn't have human fallibilities. Bob O'H
Fry is simply upset because his conscience, what's left of it, is working over time to justify him using his power, wealth etc to seduce his new young boy toy husband. Lashing out at God is a coping method nothing more. Stephen Fry and new toyboy husband http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/stephen-fry-husband-elliott-spencer-5125327 humbled
God is Just. Sin must be punished. At a minimum, our human legal systems require punishment to be commensurate with damages. No damages, no harm, no punishment. A God who preempted the damages of sin necessarily preempts the basis for punishing that sin. No damages, no losses, no IOU's, no recompense. God is also Merciful & Gracious: Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for the sins of all mankind, He picked up the IOU's for the damages wrought by all mankind, which puts Him in the legally just position of punishing those who wrought the damages, from Satan on down. Sin has wrought damages, and recompense is legally required. Jesus is the holder of everyones IOU's. He can collect, or not, as He chooses. God is Merciful and Gracious as well as Just. That Jesus simply forgives recompense from His believers while reserving the legal right to not waive recompense from those who deny His atonement and propitiation (those who deny they have outstanding IOU's) and deny their personal responsibility, and inability to recompense, for those damages, all depends upon the predicate of legally recompensable damages. Charles
“I’d say: ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world where there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I’d say.”
I wonder if Jesus didn't also wonder why God created a world which is so full of injustice and pain when He hung on the cross. I imagine that listening to the contempt and scorn of those who He was dying for, that they and all their children might be delivered from it, would be very wearisome. But instead He asked His Father to forgive them, for they knew not what they were doing. awstar
VJT: Why are Christians so twisted ? We bring children into the world and allow them to take the same chance we do. We don't wish it on them. They run all the risks we do: getting hit by a bus, etc etc etc. The world is an unpredictable place. We don't 'intend' our children to suffer any of these. Why are you people so twisted ? Graham2
Bob O'H and sebastians, 1. The parents may not be omnipotent or omniscient, but they still had the choice to refrain from procreating a child at all. 2. There's a moral difference between creating a world in which children get cancer and intending that they do so. 3. If Fry's argument is about God's foresight rather than His intentions, as I assume it is, then the parents of the child with cancer had the relevant foresight: they knew that their child would probably get cancer. Thus the parallel holds. vjtorley
ES: Oh jeeez, OK. Graham2
Graham, you fail the reading comprehension test. Nobody in this thread has claimed that cancer is a punishment for our sins, although some have set forth that it is a consequence. EvilSnack
Tim Stanley makes an observation that I have as well: The noisy atheists speak as if their rebuttal of the possibility of the Christian God is a novel take on the issue, unlike any other, and when we take a moment to examine the argument we find the same old argument, often not even dressed in new clothes. Fry has proven exactly one thing: That he is a poor theologian. EvilSnack
BS: (!) So cancer is punishment for our sins ? The truly, amazing, astounding thing about creationists, is that they can make statements like that in public. In the big tent, maybe, but out in public ? Perhaps the only thing even more gobsmacking is that Barry, KF, BA77 et al will not give the slightest murmur of dissent. Unless its a Poe. Graham2
The way I see it, GOD didn't create or cause bone cancer or any of the other evils in this world - we did. We sinned against HIM and told HIM "we know better"...so GOD allowed us to have our way. Now, some of us are crying and lamenting about the consequences we caused by our selfish behaviour and trying to blame HIM for that?! Sorry Mr Fry, sin brings death and destruction, and unless you've lived a sinless life, you have no right to judge GOD for our sins. Blue_Savannah
My thoughts exactly Graham. It is why I come here to appreciate the latest ecumenical squabble, before leaving to visit sites which produce research. rvb8
Isnt there something interesting happening in the world of ID ? This place seems to be reduced to theological discussions. Graham2
Theology is lost on atheists like Fry for they are not theologians nor do they even attempt to study it. If there was never a point in human history that contained suffering and wrong, some of the most key attributes of God could never be made known or revealed to us. The ironic thing is a man with length of life and mental capacity of Fry could delve so deep into the mind of God if he wanted to however sadly that is a rarity as "God chooses not the wise of this world..." Dr JDD
Of note: the problem of evil, and our reaction to tragedy in our lives, was almost central to Dr. Neal's following talk on her near death experience. At around the 15:00 - 17:00 minute mark of the following video, Dr. Neal spoke about how she, when in the presence of God and being able to see things from that much higher perspective, finally understood why God allows evil in the world (i.e. she finally ‘got it’) and understood how our limited perspective severely clouds our judgments and our reactions to those tragedies in our lives. (The take home message is to trust God no matter what) Dr. Mary Neal's Near-Death Experience - (Life review portion starts at the 13:00 minute mark) - video https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=as6yslz-RDw#t=787 ============= “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis Doodle - animated apologetics (the transcendent nature of the moral law) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_VYCqCexow bornagain77
Why should we be judged waa? It's a "fitness" thing. Survival of the "fittest". ppolish
JDH: Beautiful thoughts. ;) gpuccio
I am sorry, but I just don't get it. I have never had a problem with the problem of evil, pain, suffering... Maybe, I am just not smart enough. To me it all comes down to a few principles. 1. The concept of infinity ( eternity ). Have you ever noticed that people who point out how God should not allow suffering always point to finite suffering? They don't point to never ending suffering. They point to finite suffering. The Bible clearly states that "...the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." This is something I take on faith. I believe that the infinite glory revealed in us will far outshine any suffering. And to those who would rebut that this makes God unable to care about suffering because he makes it trivial. This is an error. The finite being can not understand the infinite. The infinite being certainly can understand the finite. God, who inhabits eternity, can both know that the eternity of glory will wipe out any finite suffering, and at the same time feel the slightest cry of the most insignificant being. "The very hairs on our head our numbered." 2. The fallacy of the supposed different path void of suffering. I assume God has a will and this means he wants certain outcomes to occur. Assumed in any answer of these people is that for any path that involves suffering and/or pain which leads to a certain outcome , there is also a path which God should have caused to happen which leads to the same outcome sans the pain/suffering. This is a completely unwarranted assumption. It may be that certain outcomes ( e.g. the raising up of formerly finite rebellious beings to complete submission and unity with the perfect and eternal ) can only happen if God allows the finite pain and suffering to occur. We just do not know if that path is possible without the possibility of pain and suffering. "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done." JDH
Why should we be judged?
To see if our souls belong in Heaven. Joe
How could we be judged in a perfect world?
Why should we be judged? Bob O'H
VJ: Very good! I agree. gpuccio
Only imbeciles would think that God would create a perfect world in which nothing bad happens. Why can't it be that cancer in children is the result of entropy- that is a once very good design is wearing down over the generations due to random effects? How could we be judged in a perfect world? Why do people who can't take care of kids have kids anyway? Why is that God's fault? What if the children go to heaven when they die? I would say that is much better than being here. Atheists just can't think when it comes to God. Perhaps they just can't think at all. Joe
Your examples are not equivalent at all. 1st, the parents are not omnipotent and omniscient. 2nd, you are assuming that everyone will go to heaven. sebastians
Your cancer counter-example suffers a flaw: the parents aren't omnipotent so they don't have the choice of having a child which will never get cancer. An omnipotent god has that option, which I think is one basis of Fry's view. Bob O'H

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