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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

An Open Letter to 'Hobbit' Star, Stephen Fry

Written by  Graham Senior-Milne
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Stephen Fry as 'Master of Laketown' Stephen Fry as 'Master of Laketown'

Hello, Mr. Fry,

I see that over four million people have watched the

with Gay Byrne on the RTE One TV programme ‘The Meaning of Life’ on 1/2/2015. You are clearly angry with God, calling him a ‘capricious, mean-minded, stupid God’, an ‘utter maniac’ and ‘utterly monstrous’. I say that you are ‘angry with God’ but it is clear that you don’t actually believe in God at all; what you meant was that if God exists then he is a monstrous maniac because, as you see it, he has created a world of unnecessary suffering and pain, including bone cancer in children.

 

I think it is a great shame that you should feel this way and I also think that you are wrong. Indeed, I think that you could hardly be more wrong and I would like to help you and other people who share your views by explaining why. I will try to do this by finding things we can agree on and then take the discussion forward from there. So here goes; bear with me and let’s see if we can put you on the path to solving the problem.

Many children with rich parents have a very privileged existence. In many cases rich parents spoil their children rotten and encourage them to think of themselves as superior to people less fortunate than themselves. Some children seem to survive this treatment quite well and turn out to be good and caring people, but many turn out to be spoilt, arrogant and pretty unpleasant. Some rich parents, on the other hand, insist that their children make their own way in life and they refuse to help them at all. We all know why they do this. It is because success is only fulfilling when it is earned the hard way and these parents want their children to lead genuinely fulfilled, happy and rewarding lives. Success without effort and risk-taking is meaningless, which is probably why so many lottery winners are miserable. Note to God: I don’t actually mean that so please can I win the lottery next week. Thank you. (Joke alarm)

Risk-taking necessarily means that there is no guarantee of success; which means that we can do all the ‘right’ things, take all the ‘right’ steps, and still not succeed. Why is this? Because if success was guaranteed merely by taking certain known steps then there would, in effect, be no risk; the outcome would be guaranteed to all intents and purposes.

What would happen if taking certain steps or doing certain things guaranteed a certain outcome? Well, we would have about a billion rich and famous film stars for a start, including, perhaps, 10,000 Stephen Frys. Now, while I am sure that 10,000 Stephen Frys would be a good and desirable thing, I think we can all agree that such a state of affairs would be impossible and, in fact, undesirable; there would be no-one to empty our rubbish bins, serve us in the shops, grow our food, make our clothes or our cars and so on. We can’t all be captain of the ship, chairman of the company or king of the castle. Thus, uncertain outcomes are an essential part of life and mean that some people will set out in life to be a film star and find that they actually become a doctor – or something like that – and they will eventually realize that they are better suited, more fulfilled and of greater benefit to the world doing something different from what they originally set out to do. Some people will set out in life to be rich and famous, fail and eventually realize that they are far happier leading an ordinary life and bringing up a happy and loving family. I would call this ‘the spice of life’.

So we can agree that success is only fulfilling when it involves the risk of failure. The lesson is that true happiness only comes from facing the possibility of unhappiness. Thus success and fulfilment in life comes through striving and fighting and taking risks and facing the possibility of failure. Do you see what I am getting at? Namely that happiness necessarily implies the existence of unhappiness. Similarly, you cannot have gladness without sorrow, you cannot have light without dark, you cannot have love without hate, you cannot have good without evil and you cannot have life without death. You might not be prepared to go quite so far at this stage but bear with me.

 

 
Let’s take the next step.

I would like to ‘walk you through’ a sort of parable. Let’s call it ‘The Parable of the Kindly Father’. You are the kindly father, although, of course, the kindly father is really God. I am just going to put you in God’s place and ask what you would do. I think you will be surprised at the answer.

No parent wants his or her children to suffer harm. But the only way to avoid harm is to avoid risk. Some parents actually try to do this and molly-coddle their children accordingly; they wrap them up in cotton wool and don’t let them go into the garden and climb trees. We all know the likely result; such children are often little ‘mummy’s boys’ - weak and pitiable and probably bullied at school as a result (but some might turn out to be mathematical geniuses of course). This means that the parent has tried to protect their child from an unpleasant outcome (falling out of a tree) but has actually caused an even more unpleasant outcome (being bullied at school). Sensible parents know that their children have to be exposed to some risk or they will never grow up and be able to face the world or succeed in life. So children must be allowed to go into the garden and climb trees. They might fall out of a tree and hurt themselves; they might even fall out of a tree and break their necks, but while we try to minimize the risk of that, it is a risk that we cannot and should not try to avoid altogether. In short, it is a risk worth taking. Funnily enough, my mother was always saying to me ‘Why don’t you go and climb a tree?’ (Joke alarm)

So we are agreed then; you would allow your child to go into the garden and climb a tree, even though there is a risk of harm in allowing him or her to do so.

But what would you do if you were the father of a million children? If you take a million children and let them out into the garden, there is a mathematical certainty that some of them will drown in a puddle, some of them will fall out of a tree and break their necks and some of them will poke another child in the eye with a stick and blind them. As the kindly father of these million children, what would you do? Ban them all from going into the garden? Clearly not. Remove from the garden all the trees and anything else that could cause harm? Well, you could, but the children will not be able to do anything but lie on the grass (the only thing left in the garden) and do nothing. Any form of play would risk injury or death. In fact, you will have to remove the grass as well because some children might eat it and choke on it. So, as the kindly father of the million children you have to let them go and play in the garden even though you know that some of them will die as a result.

So you, Stephen Fry, the kindly father, would let the children into the garden knowing that some of them will die as a result. The garden is, of course, the Garden of Eden or ‘The world wot we live in.’

But what about bone cancer in children? Where does that come into it? Is it really necessary?

The first point I would make is that pain is a necessary part of life. A crackling log fire is a nice thing, but if there was no pain you could warm your trousers in front of the fire, set fire to them and not feel a thing. In short, you could cause yourself serious harm, or even kill yourself, if you didn’t have pain to warn you that you were about to harm yourself. So, pain is a warning that we are harming ourselves or are about to harm ourselves.

"OK", you say, "pain is a necessary part of life but that does not mean that diseases are." But what is a disease? In the widest sense I would say that a disease is a form of life that causes harm to other  forms of life. But practically every form of life would qualify as a disease on this basis – and mankind would be the worst disease of them all. Naturally, we don’t think of ourselves as a disease; we think of things that harm us as diseases. But what would a cabbage say? To a cabbage the human race is just about the worst ‘disease’ imaginable (after goats perhaps). So, I would say that the variety of life itself implies the existence of forms of life that cause harm to other forms of life, usually by eating them. The only way to avoid such harm is to avoid variety in life; all forms of life would have to live isolated from each other (in test tubes perhaps) and live off nothing but sunlight or eating mud or something. That sounds fun (not) but at least we would be pain-free. Let’s go for it; you can have the first bowl of mud.

Some diseases are not external forms of life but result from things that go wrong in the body. But what is your solution? To avoid the possibility of anything ever going wrong? The very existence of life implies that living things grow and change and develop. So can one avoid the possibility that things can grow and change and develop in a sub-optimal (less than perfect) way - or even in a ‘wrong’ way? But if so why stop there? We can all be not just disease free but perfectly beautiful as well. But being perfectly beautiful means that we would have to be exactly the same. And if we are all equally beautiful then there would be no ugliness; no-one could be more beautiful than anyone else and, in fact, one would not have different types of beauty. And how would we know what beauty is if there is nothing to compare it with – when we cannot say that one person is more beautiful than another or beautiful but in a different way? What kind of life is that?

But I am labouring the point. The general point I am making is that life (that is, any form of life worth living) necessarily implies the possibility of a variety of outcomes, both good and bad. Do you want a world where everyone shares the same equal optimal outcome and therefore necessarily knows what that outcome will be?

This of course would effectively remove choice from the menu of life (because we will all get the same optimal - and therefore equal - outcome). Lack of choice means lack of free will and lack of free will means that you are nothing more than a slave; not even human in fact – just an automaton. This is where we get to the crux of the matter. God gave us free will and an innate sense of right and wrong. We have within us both the potential to do good and the potential to do evil. To me, this is what ‘original sin’ means; we are ‘stained’ with the potential to do evil (even a certain propensity to do evil – you have a nice car, I like your car, therefore part of me would like to steal it) but if we did not have that potential there would be no merit in choosing to do good (because we couldn’t, in fact, make that choice). God wants us to make the right choices but he is not going to force us to do so. He wants us to perfect ourselves; to fulfil our potential – in fact (here it comes) to become like him, to be one with him. But having a choice necessarily means being able to make the wrong choice; to choose evil rather than good.

This answers another question which people often ask; namely, ‘If God exists then why doesn’t he just show himself?’ The answer is very simple. Consider what would happen if God were to appear and say ‘If you don’t behave yourself you will go to Hell.’ Well, of course, you would behave yourself like mad. But you would do so out of fear, not out of choice. This would, of course, be completely self-defeating. Why give us free will but then deny us the opportunity to use it (that is, our judgment) by making us act out of fear. So, the answer is that God cannot reveal himself; he must leave us alone to make our own decisions; to come to him or not as we choose. We must work it out for ourselves.

So we live in a world of pain, of sorrow, of ugliness, of hate, of disease and of death – but we also live in a world of joy, of hope, of love, of beauty, of fulfilment and of life. More importantly we live in a world where we can learn and grow in wisdom and choose good rather than evil. This is the divinity within us. You will only find God when you look for and find him in yourself. He is there, I just hope I have helped you, perhaps, to take the first step on the path to finding him. Look at your own life. You have had your fair share of misery and failure and pain – but would you like not to have lived it because of that?

Let me finish with a related issue; our innate sense of right and wrong and evolution. Evolutionists define evolution as ‘random variation and natural selection’. The important thing is that the ‘random variations’ that are ‘naturally selected’ (that is, those that survive) can only be those that confer an immediate advantage in terms of the survival of the fittest. Since evolution fully explains how species develop, according to evolutionists, there is nothing that can happen outside the evolutionary process; if it does it is not random variation and natural selection and so would blow their theory to pieces. If it isn’t random variation then it is non-random variation (that is, it must be designed) and evolutionists do not admit the possibility of design. If it isn’t natural selection then it is unnatural selection (that is, designed).

This means that if a million years ago a monkey had been born that could fly an aeroplane, this would have conferred no immediate advantage on the monkey in terms of its ability to compete and survive (for the simple reason that the aeroplanes did not exist a million years ago – sorry to point out this obvious point but evolutionists are not quick on the uptake), so that ability would not have survived as a variation; unless variations can survive over many ages without being naturally selected (and this would contradict the theory of evolution at its most basic level).

This is the reason, for instance, that there is no such thing as a ‘cowardly lion’, as in ‘The Wizard of Oz’; because a ‘cowardly lion’ would not survive in the wild for very long. You don’t see ‘nice lions’ for the same reason; that is, lions that feel guilty about tucking into a baby zebra. Thus, a lion with a sense of morality (or even the tiniest beginnings of a sense of morality) is never going to survive even if some random variation in the evolutionary process somehow created such a lion in the first place. This is because a sense of right and wrong confers no advantage in terms of survival; in fact, a sense of right and wrong is a serious disadvantage in terms of survival because it prevents us doing things (‘bad’ things) that we would otherwise do – like killing a baby zebra. You cannot argue that a sense of morality survived because it would be useful at some future time because the evolutionary process, by its very nature, knows nothing about the future; it only relates to the ‘here and now’ – survival in the existing environment.

By the way, if you think that a sense of morality is not a disadvantage in life just ask any politician, banker or lawyer (actually don’t, you won’t get a straight answer).

So, if a sense of morality would not have survived even if it had occurred as a result of some random variation in the first place, because it is actually a serious disadvantage in terms of immediate survival (feeding and breeding), where did our innate sense of right and wrong come from? Evolution has no answer; it has been hoisted by its own petard. ‘Survival of the fittest’ means the ‘survival of the fittest’; it does not mean the ‘survival of the nicest’ and it does not mean ‘survival of things that might be an advantage in 10,000 years’ time. If you aren’t stronger, faster, taller, have bigger teeth or a longer neck or whatever then you don’t survive. Being nice doesn’t come into it – and if it ever does ‘come into it’ by means of some random variation, it won’t survive very long.

In a last desperate rear-guard action, evolutionists will claim that we don’t have an innate sense of right and wrong. OK, Mr. Richard Dawkins, look me squarely in the eye while you steal the wallet of your blind watchmaker. Oh wait, you already have.

 

 

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Last modified on Friday, February 6, 2015