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.