Atheism’s best argument
How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right…It’s 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?…I would say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?’ Because the God who created this universe, if it was created by God, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac. Totally selfish. We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of God would do that?
Whoa. Why don’t you tell us how you really feel. British actor, comedian, and atheist Stephen Fry had been asked what he would say to God if confronted by him, and he seems to have held little back as he envisioned having the opportunity to grill the Being he has no respect for and doesn’t believe in. It’s a question other, and perhaps many, atheists have had posed to them. One thinks of the oft-quoted response from Bertrand Russell to the suggestion of being asked by God why he didn’t believe in him. “Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!” But while Russell’s response referenced a lack of evidence for God, Fry’s cites a preponderance of evidence against him.
When I envision this big bluster of a man standing before the God of the universe, he’s saying none of what he wanted to say. Because he can’t speak. And neither is God speaking, because Stephen Fry is not owed an explanation for any of the suffering that God has allowed. When Fry beholds God’s power and majesty, as surely all of us will someday, he would be a greater fool than he already is to even dare open his mouth.
But does he have a valid complaint? Is it possible that God does exist but is “quite clearly a maniac”? I don’t believe so, because an evil being presupposes a good one, so wouldn’t be God, who is the greatest conceivable being. We only recognize evil because it is a privation of what we recognize as good. What Fry has to say is that God can’t exist because of all the apparently innocent and gratuitous suffering in the world.
Considered apart from all the arguments for the existence of God, this argument for atheism is formidable but not insurmountable. What the problem of pain and suffering boils down to is, is it possible, or even probable, that God has good reasons for allowing bone cancer in children and every other grievous evil that screams injustice even to many believers? The atheist would have to show that it isn’t, and no one that I’ve ever read or heard has been able to do that.
A Christian and an atheist can walk into a bar, have a beer together, share stories of pain and suffering, and not be fodder for a good joke because they may make no distinctive, indicative remarks. Both bemoan the ubiquity of suffering and grieve over its apparent injustice in the lives of many. As bearers of God’s image both feel compassion for those who suffer. Where they will part company is where they were when they joined company, in their opposing views of God’s existence. The Christian has good reasons to believe in a God who has good reasons. She believes the evidence in nature, conscience, and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is overwhelmingly in favor of the reality of a good, loving, omnipotent God and far outweighs the questionability that the presence of evil, pain, and suffering lays on the scale. For the atheist, there’s nothing on the other side of the scale and so is tipped decidedly in favor of atheism.
Though as finite, created beings we humans can’t expect to know all the “whys” of misery, affliction, and pain, we can reason to some degree of understanding, and I’ve tried to do that in these posts.
The Christian does have some answers to “Why?” and can find real meaning in suffering. For the atheist suffering is simply pointless and futile. There is no God to provide significance nor to blame. Unfortunately for him, that only compounds the misery.