On John Dickson On Stephen Fry

John Dickson has published a response to Stephen Fry’s recent little hypothetical of what would you say if you met God…? 

After reading this piece twice, I was left still confused about who it is actually targeted at, but I’m now concluding that, despite the ‘thought experiment’ challenge offered within, it is actually targeted at the potentially wavering faithful, and not atheists at all.  The title sub-clause (…if You’re a Christian) seems to verify that.  Even so, it doesn’t offer those folks anything more than a call to stay the course and to remember that God really does love you.

As to Stephen Fry’s comments, Dickson says:

…there are reasons it cannot succeed as a logical case against God’s existence or goodness.

Except that – and this is the key flaw in Dickson’s piece – Fry was not making an argument for the non-existence of God.

He was answering a question based on a set up statement of conditional logic.  In other words, “… if the Christian God turned out to be real, and you got an audience with Him, what would you say?”

He was not asked “what is your reason for not believing in God?”.

What follows then is a rather pointless invitation from Dickson, apparently based on the above incorrect assumption (ie., that Fry was making the argument from evil as a demonstration that God doesn’t exist) to try and view the issue through the eyes of a Christian.

To what end?  Most atheists that would even bother to consider this already recognise that Christians are satisfied with the answer about God’s eternal mystery. Patronisingly walking us through Christian thinking, as if there will be some new revelatory material to be discovered, demonstrates only that there is still nothing new or powerful to be added to arguments of theism. It does remind us, however, that one of the almost defining characteristics of belief seems to be a blasé and irresponsible credulity.

… the extravagant, unnecessary display of divine love in the cross provides adequate warrant for taking God on trust for everything else.

And there we are.

The atheist might dismiss this as the “God’s ways are mysterious” cliche, but it is surely just cool logic: God is all-knowing and we are not, so there’s an obvious knowledge gap to recognise.

This brings us back to Stephen Fry.  Indeed, atheists are not at all satisfied by the God-works-in-mysterious-ways position.  Hence, with the opportunity to have a 1-on-1 the Big G Himself, Fry’s question about suffering is a perfectly reasonable one, given that He’s chosen a moment only after our mortal death to make Himself known without ambiguity to the honest sceptic.  Indeed, the real opportunity then would then be God’s, to set the record straight about a few things.

I have attempted the atheist form of the thought experiment. I am just hoping atheists will return the favour and acknowledge that, on Christian assumptions, suffering remains emotionally unsettling but not intellectually crippling.

The point is already made above that this is windmill-tilting.  But Fry has already taken the thought experiment one step further, at Gay Byrne’s invitation, by assuming that the Christian God is indeed real.  Furthermore, there may indeed be a morally cogent bigger picture to evil and suffering that our mortal minds couldn’t comprehend, as Dickson insists.  Therefore, if God is capable of showing Stephen Fry that he is indeed real, then He should be able to answer Fry’s question. Right?

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