Stephen Fry, God, Evil and Critical Thinking
by David Glass
Stephen Fry’s recent outburst against God generated a huge amount of discussion, much of it critical but some rallying to his defence. At Saints and Sceptics we’ve already had two articles on it (here and here), but here I want to look at Fry’s argument and some types of responses in terms of the subject of ‘critical thinking’.
First, let me quickly set the scene. Suppose you’re an atheist and after death you discover that you are wrong. Most people understand the difficult position they would be in and realise they would have some explaining to do. But not Fry. Roles are reversed and Fry takes God’s place as he launches into a diatribe on the problem of evil, demanding an explanation from God. He raises the issue of suffering and then asks, ‘How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault?’
The normal protocol of exercising some humility seems more appropriate in these circumstances. After all, it is the Creator of the Universe so humility seems justified – it is possible, isn’t it, that your reasoning might be mistaken? So, is Fry’s response just the pomposity of a comedian and writer who has got carried away with his celebrity status to the extent that he has the confidence to put God in the dock? Or is Fry’s viewpoint really as convincing as he seems to think?
Many people seem to think that it is convincing. ‘Perhaps Fry’s comments were a bit over the top’, they will say, ‘but believers have no adequate response’. It’s not for the want of trying. There have been a huge number of responses – some good, some not so good. Giles Fraser’s response is one of the oddest. First, he doesn’t criticise Fry for his overconfidence, but praises him for being heroic in his confrontation with power (poor start). Then he makes the point that in Christianity ‘God is not some distant observer but suffers alongside all humanity’ (good recovery), but finally undermines it by seeming to deny that God exists in any meaningful sense – ‘God is the name of the respect we owe the planet’ (oh dear).
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to teach critical thinking to foundation year students (i.e. a year of study taken before embarking on a degree programme). Both Fry’s comments and the various responses would have made ideal material for a case study, so I thought it would be worth considering how this might be explored in the context of critical thinking…
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