Many people have emotionally and intellectually wrestled with the evils and sufferings of this world. Everyone, Christian and atheist alike, genuinely wonder about the reasons for the existence of these evils and sufferings. When evil and suffering is as prevalent as it is, it is a natural curiosity for anyone of any background to contemplate these things. Worldviews (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, etc…) approach the matter of earthly evil and suffering in different manners, some more effective than others. However, Christianity stakes a claim that no other religion does. God condescended himself into the form of man and experienced evil and suffering from a first hand human perspective while simultaneously remaining fully God. In the process of Jesus’ earthly ministry, God opened the door for everyone to experience eternity without evil in His divine presence through His everlasting sacrificial act of drying on the cross and resurrecting on the third day. All that is required is to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to inherit eternal life with Him through His grace.
After watching the video of Stephen Fry, you’ll probably get a different impression of the Christian God than the one I very briefly described above. Fry and I approach this matter from two very different perspectives; I know Fry isn’t the only individual who feels this way about the Christian God. Among the unbelieving community, many are discontented by the very same perception of God. In their mind, the Christian God is a seemingly evil one. As Fry states during this video,
“…the god who created this universe, if indeed it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac. Utter maniac. Totally selfish. Totally. We have to spend our life on our knees, thanking him? What kind of god would do that? Yes, the world is splendid, but it also has in it insects, whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. That eat outwards from the eyes. How — why? Why did you do that to us? You could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist. It is simply not acceptable…It’s perfectly apparent that he’s monstrous, utterly monstrous, and deserves no respect whatsoever. The moment you banish him, your life becomes simpler, purer, cleaner and more worth living in my opinion”
Fry isn’t the only atheist who’s expressed his passionate discontent with the Christian God. Richard Dawkins famously wrote the following in his book, The God Delusion,
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
I could continue to list quotes from the New Atheists concerning their feelings on how seemingly evil Christian God but I’ll spare you the extra reading. The main point being made by these unbelievers is that the Christian God is evil (if He exists) because of the fallen condition of the world. Is there an adequately satisfying answer to this difficult concern? Does Fry point out anything in the video that would substantively add anything to this conversation? Is atheism a more satisfying approach to the problem of suffering and evil? Since Fry clearly considers Christian theism to be a worldview that miserably fails to account for the fallen condition of this world, it’s important to assess whether his own worldview accounts for this problem any better. If it doesn’t, would Fry be as outraged about atheism as he was at God during this video?
Is God a Bad Guy?
If I understand Fry correctly, God is an “utter maniac” because of the perceived injustices that are observed in the form of natural evil (i.e. tornados, hurricanes, disease, etc…) and moral evil (i.e. evil freely performed at the hand of moral agents), but is this a sound inference? Can it be firmly established that God is a bad guy because he permits certain evils to occur on Earth while undoubtedly having the power to stop them? Respectfully, I found Fry’s response to be grossly presumptuous and arrogant. I don’t make this comment as an ad hominem attack to Fry’s character because he’s very cleverly spoken (similar to Christopher Hitchens), but he has a grossly inflated sense of his own understanding of God. While Fry sincerely believes he was accurately presenting the qualities of the Christian God, his critique couldn’t have been a more misrepresentative description of the way God truly is.
Fry’s indictment of God being a perverse selfish monster is ultimately without solid foundation under an atheistic worldview. Those who are committed to an atheistic worldview, such as Fry, find themselves without an absolute standard to morally judge the God they’re denouncing. Fry’s moral denouncement of God must be supported by an objective standard of morality if it is to have meaning. For Fry to insinuate that God is morally despicable would be comparable to me calling a foul in a game without rules. This point can be made persuasively through the moral argument. As Frank Turek says, “atheists have to sit on God’s lap to slap his face”.
Given Fry has made his grievances against God clearly known, should he be satisfied with how the atheistic worldview addresses suffering and the existence of evil. Obviously, there wouldn’t be a God to point at and scold for being the cause of all perceived variations of evil. Under atheism, God cannot be blamed for any evil or suffering because God would not be a reality. A committed atheist must chalk all of these perceived natural injustices to a uniform state of amorality. The adjective ‘selfish’ would not have any objective moral meaning while using it to describe someone’s behavior because it is an adjective that describes a moral quality.
Something that is more depressing is that atheism provides no hope for anyone. No ultimate justice will be issued to anyone for any wrongdoing. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, the mass murdering dictators of the 20th century, will not receive ultimate justice for their murderous actions in the same way that Mother Teresa will not be rewarded for her love of Christ and her life she devoutly dedicated to serving the less fortunate in His name. Atheism’s hopeless reality doesn’t mean that it’s false but it does reveal that Fry’s comments directed at God are ultimately meaningless if his atheism is true. There is a philosophical contradiction in the way Fry believes the world ought to be and the logical implications of his own atheistic worldview. Atheism doesn’t permit absolute morality but Fry freely issues moral denouncements of God as though an absolute standard of morality actually exists. If Fry desires justice, atheism is the wrong worldview to ultimately attain it.
Christianity offers a framework that best explains the existence of suffering and evil. Fry’s descriptions of God are grossly misinformed, but they seem to be an inference he’s sincerely made based upon his perception of evil and injustice he’s observed in the world. Outside of the philosophical inconsistencies between his worldview and his moral assessment of God, Fry has not persuasively demonstrated that the existence of evil and the existence of God are incompatible. Other than Fry’s strongly worded demeaning of God aimed at explaining why he thinks a good God wouldn’t permit such evils to occur, his explanation of “You [God] could easily have made a creation in which that didn’t exist” still fails to justify why God and evil cannot exist simultaneously without contradiction.
God has made us in His image, which has given us the personal ability to make free choices. This is a mechanism imbedded within humanity that permits people to freely conduct themselves in an evil (or righteous) way, which has subsequently resulted in many of the world’s most incomprehensible evils. Our God loves us enough to let us make our own free decisions. Anytime you give someone the opportunity to make their own free choices, the possibility always exists that the wrong choice will be made. The nature of freewill allows for a wide range of results, from absolute evil to absolute love. That’s why much of the evil we observe is at the hand of people freely acting in evil ways. When we complain that God allows too much evil throughout history, are we saying that we would prefer God to intervene anytime evil is about to be performed in order to live in a world without evil? The fact is that God would constantly be intervening in our lives because we constantly sin. Every day that we live (unless we are in a coma) we sin. Should God forcefully remove our freewill to keep up from voluntarily sinning in every instance where evil will be the result of our actions? If so, freewill will have been revoked and we are no longer free to make choices on our own.
While it’s hard to comprehend the reason why God would permit such seemingly gratuitous evil and suffering, especially over the last century, God is the only being capable of knowing the end result for every action ever taken within His creation. Yes, these free actions performed by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc… were evil, but God had moral justification for permitting such an evil. Given God’s divine omniscience, He would be able to see the ultimate good that would arise out of those evil actions. It’s incomprehensible for us to fully wrap our minds around, and many unbelievers still default to the ‘a good God would never allow such events to happen’ approach without providing justification for their reasoning because they cannot reconcile this issue in their own minds. Ultimately, it will likely always remain a mystery why certain evils are permitted to occur but we can confidently infer that God is an all-just God through the evidence provided by natural and special revelation.
Do Parasites Discredit the Benevolent Character of God?
Fry is quite presumptuous when he talks about how God failed in his creation (“if indeed it was created by God”.) As a fallible being that exists in a minutely small window of temporal time, how can one deliver a reliable critique about the perceived imperfections of nature? Does Fry presume to know the ultimate meaning and purpose of all creation? Ultimately, if one doesn’t know the purpose of the design, how can one effectively measure whether nature is performing optimally? Fry cites the Loa Loa African Eye worm that burrows “into the eyes of children and make them blind” as an explicit example of one of God’s evil creations. This parasitic creature is one of many in the parasite family, but does the existence of parasitic creatures illustrate the monstrous nature of God’s character? Absolutely not.
As it turns out, parasites serve a valuable purpose in nature despite what Fry would have you believe. While parasites may not be pleasant to think about, many have a valuable function. Parasites can regulate species population, stabilize the food chain, feed on decomposing flesh, and bolster immunity is certain cases (source). While some parasites may be more beneficial than others, claiming that parasitic creatures are the concoction of an evil God is scientifically and philosophically misinformed. Fry must support the claim that parasites are inherently the production of an evil God. If he cannot justify this hefty claim, especially after seeing the scientific evidence for the value of parasites within nature, his accusation that God is evil because of perceived evils found within creation falls embarrassingly short of his target.
Should We Thank God?
In the context of talking about how much evil and suffering exists in the world, Fry asks, “We have to spend our life on our knees, thanking him? What kind of god would do that?” The Christian God, creator of Heaven and Earth, redeemer of all sins, requires that we believe in Him in order to inherit eternal life in His presence. God, by definition, is the only being worthy of worship. Looking at God from the holistic perspective that I’ve laid out above (any many other places on this blog), it can be confidently inferred that God is genuinely worthy of worship (and thanks!) Should we be thankful for our existence? Yes. Should we be thankful for the opportunity to freely choose to accept Christ? Absolutely. God has given us the opportunity to not only accept Him, but reject Him if we so choose. Fry has made His choice to freely reject God, sadly however, he’s rejecting a God that he’s largely imagined on his own. God, honestly and accurately defined, warrants our gratuitous thanks and love.
Most generally, I wouldn’t respond directly to a comment made by a hostile atheist. However I find that this is an issue that disturbs a ton of people in the unbelieving community (and many within the Church) and it is truly worthy of further exploration and serious thought. Not simply to address Fry but to address those with the same types of qualms and concerns. This is an objection that has been around for centuries and it is not going to vanish anytime in the foreseeable future. Given this fact, Christians should become familiar with the objection and learn how to respond to it with intellectual integrity.
In the end, sadly, we’re largely left in ignorance as to why certain evils are permitted. However this fact does not justify the claim that God is evil or nonexistent altogether. To hatefully speak against God, in the way Fry has, is to deem oneself more superior in knowledge than an incomprehensibly omniscient God, who has an exhaustive knowledge of the past, present, and future. While I still wonder about why the Holocaust was permitted, I can rest assured knowing that if God permitted it to happen; He would be in an infinitely better position to know what the moral justification was for it than I would.
This indictment against God’s righteousness that many unbelievers have irresponsibly made is ultimately futile. Moral good or bad cannot exist without a God, which would make all moral denouncements of God’s character impotent. If God does exist and these inferences are still being held to, then the basis for their description of God is sadly misinformed. In the end, the indictment fails and God’s righteousness remains solidly intact.