Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Stephen Fry: A Response To The Responses - Why Evil & Suffering Are Not Valid Objections To Christianity

There have been one or two responses to Stephen Fry's viral video from prominent atheists (such as from Larry Moran and from PZ Myers), claiming that to give any attention to the theodicy problem is to give Christianity too much intellectual consideration. I wrote a Blog post in response to Stephen Fry's video, which received a widely positive reception, although one commentator was disappointed that I didn't, in his view, actually attempt to respond to the theodicy problem (the problem of evil and suffering).

It's true, I didn't, but for good reason - and the reason is, when it comes to Christianity's truth or falsehood, there is no theodicy problem in the first place, because propositions about theodicy depart from the central claims of Christianity, so cannot be used as a tool against its efficacy. For example, suppose I made the following three claims:

1) Hinduism is false because India is not the richest country in the world.

2) Islam is false because it hasn't rained in Mecca every Tuesday since Mohammed's birth.

3) Astrology is false because the moon isn't made of cheese.

Now there are plenty of good arguments for why Hinduism, Islam and Astrology are false, but the ones I gave above are not good examples, they are extreme and irrelevant. I've picked extreme cases to make the point obvious: they are not good arguments against Hinduism, Islam and Astrology because those claims are not claims made by Hindus, Muslims and Astrologers, so have no bearing on their truth or falsity.

For example, astrology is false because the position of the sun and the constellation configurations at the time of a baby's birth bears no relevant relation to the personality or future endeavours of that baby - it is not false because of the moon's lack of cheesiness, for the simple reason that astrology makes no claims about the moon's cheesiness. Similarly, Hinduism is false because the gods the founders made up don't actually exist; it has nothing to do with India's material prosperity because Hinduism makes no claims about that.

Now notice how those extreme examples are brought to bear on the issue of Christianity. Stephen Fry rejects Christianity on the basis that suffering occurs in the world, but just like the above examples, Christianity doesn't make any claims of a suffering-free world - quite the contrary, we are told that this temporary state of affairs comes with tremendous amounts of evil, pain, injustice and general misery. This is the affliction - the tragedy of being human - from which the cross offers us eventual escape and emancipation, as the book of Revelation tells us.

The only rational basis on which Christianity can be dismissed is by counterclaims to what the faith intrinsically says about itself. It cannot be rationally dismissed with an argument (like the existence of evil and suffering) that Christianity doesn't even claim to be true of itself.  So although Mr Fry may feel like there is too much evil and suffering in the world to justify belief in a perfect Divine Creator, if we are being faithful to solid, rational enquiry, it should be made known that philosophically the issue of evil and suffering is not a sound objection to Christianity - it is, like most objections to Christianity, an objection to a made-up alternative version of Christianity to which most Christians don't actually subscribe.

* Photo courtesy of