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A Viral Video on the Problem of Evil

May 17, 2015     Time: 20:26
A Viral Video on the Problem of Evil


Actor Stephen Fry says God is a 'maniac"! Dr. Craig discusses two aspects of the Problem of Evil shown in Fry's statements.



KEVIN HARRIS: Several people have sent us a video that has become somewhat viral, Dr. Craig.[1] It is an excerpt of a longer interview with British actor Stephen Fry. He is being interviewed on a UK television show called The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. I think the viral status of this video shows for one thing that the problem of evil continues to intrigue multitudes of people, and for another that so many people still don’t think that there are good answers for the problem of evil. We want to take a look at this excerpt and we will pause from time to time when you want to comment.

GAY BYRNE: Suppose it is all true, and you walk up to the Pearly Gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her or it?

STEPHEN FRY: I will basically (what’s known as theodicy, I think) I’d say bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault. It is not right. It is 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?

DR. CRAIG: Now, Kevin, as you know in discussing the problem of evil, I have found it very helpful to distinguish between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. The intellectual problem of evil lies in the province of the philosopher and concerns how to reconcile the existence of God and the suffering in the world. The emotional problem of evil lies in the province of the counselor or pastor and concerns how to dissolve people’s dislike of a God who would allow them to suffer.

I think it is very evident that what we have expressed here by Stephen Fry is the emotional problem of evil. He’s confronted with God at the Pearly Gates and his reaction is, How dare you allow this suffering in the world. That is evil. What sort of capricious, mean-spirited God are you for allowing these sorts of things? That is clearly just an emotional reaction to these things. It is not an intellectual question saying Why is it that these things were permitted to occur? What were your reasons for allowing this? Because that sort of open-minded philosophical question would be one to which one could seek a sincere answer. You are not daring God or challenging God. You are saying, Since you exist and all this evil has occurred in the world, you must have had good reasons for allowing it. What were they? Explain them to me. Then God could do so. Fry just assumes that God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing bone cancer in children, or for other atrocities and so forth. That is simply to beg the question. It is not an intellectual objection. It is just an emotional reaction.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s continue with the video.

STEPHEN FRY: That’s what I would say.

GAY BYRNE: And you think you are going to get in doing that?

STEPHEN FRY: No! But I wouldn’t want to. I wouldn’t want to get in on his terms. They are wrong.

DR. CRAIG: See, that again shows very clearly this is an emotional problem, not an intellectual problem. Even if God exists he wants nothing to do with God. He is like Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov where he says, I would rather continue with my indignation and rejection of God even if I am wrong. It doesn’t matter if he is wrong. As an atheist he will still continue to reject God and hate him because of this. So the emotional problem of evil is not a matter of refutation. It is a matter of rejection. The person just wants nothing to do with God, and therefore isn’t really looking for intellectual answers to the problem. This is a very different sort of problem that calls upon a pastor or counselor to dissolve that anger and rejection of God.

KEVIN HARRIS: You would have to take off your philosopher’s hat and put on your pastor’s hat, wouldn't you?

DR. CRAIG: Or at least wear both of them at the same time perhaps.

STEPHEN FRY: Now, if I died and it was Pluto, Hades, and if it was the twelve Greek gods, then I would have more truck with it because the Greeks didn’t pretend not to be human in their appetites and in their capriciousness and in their unreasonableness. They didn’t present themselves as being all-seeing, all-wise, all-kind, all-beneficent because the God who created this universe (if it was created by God) is quite clearly a maniac.[2]

DR. CRAIG: Again, he is talking here about the capricious gods of Greco-Roman mythology who were blood-thirsty, profligate, promiscuous, inconstant, and unfaithful. He can understand the way these gods behaved because they are just finite beings that are flawed morally. But the concept of God in Judaism and Christianity is of a morally perfect being. So the question is: how could a morally perfect being allow a world in which so many awful things happen? I think what the Christian will typically say is that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing these things to occur. The Christian agrees that they are evil, and that these are painful and awful. He is not like a Hindu who denies the reality of evil. The Christian admits that evil is real and needs to be overcome by God and will be overcome ultimately by God. So we admit the reality of evil but then we would maintain God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing it to occur. The assertion that God is an evil maniac is just name-calling. What the atheist needs to do is to give us some good argument to show that God either cannot have or probably does not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the suffering in the world. There is a vast literature, of course as you know, on this. This burden of proof has been so heavy that no atheist has ever been able to successfully shoulder it.

KEVIN HARRIS: Continuing with the Fry video.

STEPHEN FRY: Utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him?

DR. CRAIG: Now, for any finite being to demand worship and that you fall on your knees before him would be inappropriate. I think that Stephen Fry’s difficulty is that he is thinking of God as one British reporter put it as “just another one of the chaps.” He is the chap up there – a sort of finite being. It would be inappropriate for any sort of being of that sort to demand worship. But when you think of what God is in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is the greatest conceivable being. That includes moral perfection. He is absolute goodness – the fount of all goodness and love – and therefore deserves worship. In fact, the fulfillment of human existence will be found in relationship to this infinite good. It is only in relationship to this infinite good that our deepest longings can be forever satisfied. Being in relation to any finite good, after a prolonged period of time, would prove boring and finally even torturous. Only an infinite, inexhaustible good can satisfy man’s longings for eternity. Once you have the proper concept of God you can see that the appropriateness of worship and adoration of God flows out of the sort of being that he is.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, I have to think. There is a new Superman movie coming out. I’m a Superman fan of Superman movies, comics, and everything. Superman, as great as he is, as helpful and loving as he is, powerful; he is not ever depicted as worshiped. We like him a lot and like to have him around. He is a hero. But . . .

DR. CRAIG: He’s finite.

KEVIN HARRIS: He’s finite.

DR. CRAIG: Right. I think it is so sad that so often unbelievers are rejecting a caricature of God of their own manufacture. A caricature that we, too, reject. But they think that they are rejecting the genuine article when all they are rejecting is this caricature that isn’t representative of the true Judeo-Christian faith. It is really sad when you hear this sort of angry diatribe against this sort of Superman-God or Father Christmas in the Sky or something of that sort. That is not the classical concept of God.

STEPHEN FRY: What kind of God would do that? Yes, the world is very splendid. But it also has in it insects whose whole life cycle is to burrow into the eyes of children and make them blind. They eat outwards from the eyes. Now, 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.[3]

DR. CRAIG: I do not know what type of insect he is talking about.

KEVIN HARRIS: He might be talking about river disease in Africa where black flies cause this kind of larvae. By the way, there has been tremendous Christian missionary and humanitarian work to eliminate that and to fight against it. That might be what he is referring to.

DR. CRAIG: Again, what he needs to show is that God probably doesn’t or couldn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing those kind of evils and suffering to occur. When you look at countries of the world, such as Ethiopia where these sorts of things are occurring, it is precisely in such countries that people are turning to God in faith, finding eternal life in Christ. If Christianity is true, they find eternal life forever in heaven and would look back on this life and see its sufferings as an infinitesimal triviality compared to the joy of eternal life and relationship with God. Fry would be offended at that, I’m quite sure, but that is because he doesn’t believe in God. If there truly is a being such as God is, then bringing people into relationship with him would justify allowing suffering in this life if it were conducive to that sort of end because that would be an incommensurable good, a good to which these finite evils couldn’t even be compared. So the real question is: does such a being exist? Is there such a being as God? Here you have got to look at the evidence for and against.

KEVIN HARRIS: Typically, Christian theologians, when it comes to most natural evils, will appeal to Christian theology on a fallen world. The Fall has so affected nature that it has developed larvae who will damage you like this. Nature is not kind to man. Things like that. I don’t hear you appeal to that a lot.

DR. CRAIG: No. Because I am not a young Earth creationist.

KEVIN HARRIS: Even old Earth – a fallen world . . .

DR. CRAIG: Well, you anticipate me. I do like the way Bill Dembski frames this point by saying God, in his sovereignty, knowing that humanity would fall into sin and alienation from God, has created a world which is a suitable environment for fallen creatures who need to be brought back to God, brought to repentance, and faith in him freely. I do think natural evils have their role to play in such a world. A world which is suitable for bringing fallen creatures into relationship with God.

KEVIN HARRIS: I was going to ask you about something because I heard this the other day and I’ve never heard it – never even thought of it. It has never occurred to me. I heard a Christian broadcaster say, In the same way that Christ’s death on the cross was efficient even for people who were born hundreds of years before him – his death was efficient for them, had efficacy – in the same way because man would fall and even though this is an old Earth, the effects of that Fall extended back millions of years to nature then in the same way.

DR. CRAIG: Because I don’t think there is such a thing as backward causation, I don’t like that. But I think Dembski captures the point through appeal to divine foreknowledge or divine middle knowledge. God, knowing that humanity would fall into sin and alienation from him, has placed the human race in a universe which is suitable for a fallen creature and will be conducive to bringing them freely into relationship with himself. Historically that is exactly what you see. The history of humanity is a history of suffering and war and yet it is also a history of the expansion of the Kingdom of God as millions and millions of people are coming into relationship with Christ, turning to him, today in unprecedented numbers. Again, I realize that for a non-Christian like Fry this would just seem absurd, just offensive. But if you think in terms of knowing an infinite good for eternal life, of course it would be worth it to experience blindness during this life for some 60 or 70 years if that means you will ultimately find (or someone else will find) this sort of joy and blessedness in the afterlife.[4] These evils must not be viewed independently of God’s overarching purposes for the human race.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s see where Stephen Fry goes next.

STEPHEN FRY: So atheism is not just about them not believing there is a God, but on the assumption that there is one, what kind of God is he? It is perfectly apparent that he is 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.

DR. CRAIG: What he is saying is that if there is a God and he is, say, all-powerful, he can’t be all-good. That is the sort of classical statement of the problem of evil. But then what you have to show as an atheist is that God, if he exists, cannot have morally sufficient reasons for allowing these sorts of evils to occur in the world. And has he offered any reason? No. He has simply appealed to our emotions. He knows that we all react with horror at these tragic cases of suffering. Then he will rely on that emotional reaction to carry his argument against God. But honestly, for all its emotional power, there isn’t any intellectual substance there. No argument has been offered to say God couldn’t have a morally sufficient reason for permitting this black river virus or whatever it is.

KEVIN HARRIS: He said there are two aspects to atheism. One is that you don’t believe that there is a God. The other is, if he does exist, well, apparently he is a bad booger and we rebel against him. Rebel atheists.

DR. CRAIG: It just seems to me a classic expression of the emotional problem of evil. Certainly, emotionally it really is horrifying when you look at the awful things that happen in life. No one is trying to deny that these horrifying things occur. The whole question is: have we heard an argument yet that an all-good being could not have or does not have a morally justifying reason for allowing these things to go on? Well, there just isn’t any argument here.

KEVIN HARRIS: I think Mr. Byrne is about to have a heart attack here or think that lightning is about to strike.

GAY BYRNE: That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series.

KEVIN HARRIS: That is where it ends. So the question was: what if it were all true? What would you say to God?

DR. CRAIG: Right. That is important to understand. Because he set Fry up to give an emotional answer because he had said in the question, “It is true.” So if it is all true – if God really does exist – then if it is all true, you can’t deny the truth. You can’t present any intellectual objection. All you can do is rebel against it and react emotionally against it. So in a sense this whole response was set up by the question by saying “If it is true what is your reaction to it?” And you get this emotional reaction to it. Otherwise, if you don’t react negatively and emotionally to it then I think the appropriate reaction would be curiosity. What I said before: You must have had then morally sufficient reasons for allowing these things. What were they? I would like to know. I am curious. Because it is true, right? That is set up in the question. In one sense this whole interchange was determined right from the beginning by the way the question was phrased. People should not think that we have here a powerful formulation of the intellectual problem of evil. It is not that at all. This is simply an expression of the sort of Dostoyevskian rebellion against God because one just will not accept the suffering in the world that he has allowed.[5]