… or do I mean, Stephen Fry and the problem of evil? Either way, one of the links which has been doing the rounds on Twitter today is that of Stephen Fry talking to Gay Byrne about God, and more specifically, about what he would say to God if Fry died and found out he was wrong about his atheism.
Stephen Fry’s answer focusses on the problem of theodicy, which is a philosophical term meaning the problem of reconciling evil with a good God. (There would be no need to reconcile evil with an evil God, obviously – the problem only exists if we start out by assuming that God is good).
Now good/evil and atheism are two subjects I’ve written about here quite often (e.g. whether secular society would be a good thing, and godless ethics), so here I’d just like to focus on one thing. Stephen Fry says that a God who allows (say) bone cancer in children would be “evil”.
My point is simply this: evil is a problem for everyone, not just Christians. Whether you like it or not we live in a world where children do get bone cancer, where parasites exists, where ‘evil’ exists. I would therefore suggest the question is not simply ‘how could God let this happen?’, but rather ‘which worldview best answers the question of evil?’
Let’s think briefly about atheism. Atheism demands that there be no God, no purpose in the universe – we are simply the result of an accident, some sort of cosmic blip which caused everything that we see. In other words, you and I are nothing, we are simply the product of blind forces acting in accordance with the laws of an uncaring universe. What that means, and this is what Stephen Fry and others seem to have missed, is that bone cancer and parasites (etc) are completely natural. If atheism is true, then we are exactly the way we are intended to be: evolution just dumped us here, in a place where illness and death exist – the universe has no categories of right or wrong, it just simply is.
As Richard Dawkins famously said:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
So, my question for Stephen Fry, and others who share his opinion, is – from where does this category of “evil” come from? In the interview, Fry seemed to understand evil to be an objective thing, something which really exists. And yet, that cannot be if atheism is true, if – as Dawkins says – the universe has no design, purpose, etc.
I believe Fry has essentially contradicted himself in his answer: atheism does not and indeed cannot explain or account for evil. In fact, ironically, I think Fry demonstrates the truthfulness of Christianity in his answer because only the idea of a good God can give rise to the idea of an objective moral good and evil.
Personally I believe that Christianity is the best explanation that we have for the universe as we perceive it, evil and all. Very, very briefly: (1) evil is an alien intrusion into the world, caused by the Fall (see Genesis 3). This explains why we have a higher ideal for the world than the one we actually see – because creation is not as God originally created it. In other words, illness, death etc are not ‘natural’; (2) despite that, God promises that there is a purpose in all suffering – that “all things” work for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28, see also Genesis 50:20 and elsewhere); (3) One day God promises to end all suffering (Revelation 7:17). To my mind that is a far more convincing and comprehensive answer to the problem of evil than anything atheism could provide.
The important thing to remember is that all of us have to give account for the world as we see it: it’s not a question of God being on trial, but rather – every view needs to be put on trial. I find it surprising that someone as intelligent as Stephen Fry should be so blind when it comes to critiquing his own views. Is it too much to ask for a little consistency and rigor?
Post script: I’m nearly finished working my way through Christopher Ash’s excellent commentary on Job. It deals a lot with precisely this question – how a good God can be reconciled with evil. I hope to be writing a review on it soon.