Stephen Fry and Blasphemy

I was on the BBC Nolan Show this morning opposite Peter Lynas of the Northern Ireland Evangelical Alliance. The exchange is on AudioBoom (see below).  The discussion was about Stephen Fry’s interview by Gay Byrne on RTE – part of which was re-broadcast at the start of the discussion (and is featured in the AudioBoom).

Peter Lynas at one point asked me how, as an Atheist, I could explain the ills of the world. I didn’t really get the opportunity to answer. Many of the ills are caused by humans inflicting their world views on others through war or persecution or terrorism. But natural phenomena – disease, pestilence and natural disasters – cannot be explained as such. These things afflict people who are often born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Science, reason and investigation have sought to reduce the riskiness of living in this world. We live in safer houses, travel more safely, and have eradicated many of the world’s nastiest diseases and pests. As non-believers we seek to explain the world through logic rather than with the idea of original sin or the concept of a god or gods. Secular charities, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seek to make the lives of people in some of the world’s poorest countries better through better medicine, mosquito nets and pesticides, and greater availability of birth control.

One of my favourite quotes is from the late, great physicist Richard Feynman who once said, “I think it’s much more interesting not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.”  I agree.

A link to the discussion is below.



  • Superfluous

    “Peter Lynas at one point asked me how, as an Atheist, I could explain the ills of the world.”

    I think a more apt question would be how a theist could explain the ills of the world? If there is an omnipotent god and he has the power to stop bad things from happening to good people, then at best he’s lazy and disinterested, or at worst he’s a sadist.

  • the rich get richer

    Excellent point there Superfluous.

    I do like that quote there from Richard Feynman as well.

    Its past time that we have grown up debates about such matters.

    Thats with all sides knowing that we may not come up with a definite answer but it surely must be good for us all to discuss amicably.

    Belief in anything without doubt or question is not much of a belief to me !

  • carl marks

    sometimes to explain the cruelty, poverty and disease in the world the old free will canard is used, my reply is what choice does a starving child hunger a matter of personal choice.
    Yep if god exists he is not nice, but he could possibly be nicer than some of the buffoons who claim to be believer’s

  • Barneyt

    Blasphemy laws are out-dated and inappropriate in this world.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I do not think it was blasphemy. If there is an active blasphemy law within the Republic it would seem that Stephen Fry is not in breech of it.

  • Barneyt

    The implication is that if Stephen places himself in danger, you will be impressed.

    We are are entitled to our views, and I do believe we have to take some care not to overtly provoke, but when religious sensitivities develop to such an extent that you can lose a limb or life for expressing a view, then that religion or specifically those that protect it, can be challenged.

    The Atheists amongst us would see his stature and marked intelligence as assets that can allow him to debase much of the nonsense that exists about creation and the role of an all-seeing, all powerful..however detached…being.

  • carl marks

    well sure a bit of airtime for a well educated and intelligent atheist is a good thing, it has opened s debate on the subject and it not like theists don’t get any airtime.
    I suppose there were no complaints when other “celebrities” came on and told everybody how great god was.
    Katy price, well if you think her views are important in this context but while she seems a canny businesswoman doesn’t strike me as the type to hold deep theological positions not maybe your best comparison you could have made !

  • carl marks

    i see no such implication but did you know that the vast majority of scientists do not believe in god,

    but i do believe that the majority of people in prison do.

    so all round Atheist’s would appear to be smarter and more law abiding since there is a lower percentage of Atheists in prison than there is in the population at large!, certainly the smart (the scientist’s) people are!

  • Barneyt

    Everyone would like a smart intelligent man in their camp (regardless of the debate) to delightfully articulate attacks that strengthen the camps position and to make the “enemy” recoil. I wasn’t suggesting that atheists are smarter than believers. No doubt they can be as blinkered as any believer…but an interesting point however.

    If Fry chose a harder religious target (perhaps in the middle-east) he could very well be harmed. I know you dont intend for this, but that would be a possible impact.

    If he is anti-monarchy, then I too would expect him to vocalise attacks against them, and use any proximity to put his point across. I have no time for Churches and their wealth dripped hierarchies…and in that sense, the Vatican and House of Windsor are similar – notwithstanding the scales.

    However, there are more immediate and more recent evils associated with the RC church presently, and yes, it may be an easy target, but that should not detract from his argument.

    I fully agree that if Jesus was the man he was supposed to be (not talking about the trickery that has been attributed to him) he would surely have no tolerance for any of the main Christian (even orthodox) churches. In that sense, it is important to make the Christian churches understand that they would (and they know this) completely alienate someone like Jesus Christ. It will however fall on deaf ears as its power and wealth that inspires these churches more than anything.

  • oldgit

    No, but Hitler was raised a Catholic and mentions his religion several times in Mein Kampf

  • carl marks

    well not completely true, Both attended seminaries,Stalin got his name from Father Steel the alias that he used along with his habit to avoid the tsarist secret police, now he was a atheist but Adolf, here are a few quotes from the man himself,

    “We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations; we have stamped it out” [2] ~Adolf Hitler

    and again,

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice…For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.” [3]

    “The greatness of Christianity did not arise from attempts to make compromises with those philosophical opinions of the ancient world which had some resemblance to its own doctrine, but in the unrelenting and fanatical proclamation and defense of its own teaching.” [4

    so we have parity of esteem there, but if you wish i could list all those madmen in history who happily stole and slaughtered in the name og god?

  • carl marks

    well not all of them that would take a awful long time!

  • carl marks

    hey you brought him into the discussion to show how bad atheist’s were, to be honest i was surprised but you are far from the only one to make that mistake.
    and would you explain that painter/trust thing

  • carl marks

    Im sorry how is that relevant, does he spend all or most of that airtime expounding on his Atheist views! if he did then your point might hold but i don’t think you can describe QI as a forum for Atheist propaganda.

  • carl marks

    but it was in his writings and he (if you bother to read my quotes from him) stated his belief in Christ as his saviour was the thing that moved him to act in the way he did.
    still you will have to explain, i thought the painter thing was weird but now your saying there is something rum about being a vegetarian, are you arguing that house painting and not liking meat made him a monster, but his schooling and religious beliefs are not relevant!
    to be honest Godwins law has never been so well proved you made a big mistake bringing up Hitler to support your argument!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hey I’m a painter, doesn’t mean that I’m going to invade Poland or anything……..

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.”

  • Tacapall

    Maybe it was the influence of others John.

  • carl marks

    well i agree Hitler’s action’s were certainly not good and i can understand how many christians would be appalled at his claim to be christian but by his own words he was, and he was hardly alone in History among religious people who done bad thing’s indeed history is nearly all religious people who done bad things!
    and of course many many christians fought with courage and honour against hitler but that does not change the fact that Hitler himself gives his Christianity as the reason for his actions.
    Many Atheists also died in hitler’s death camps as did many socialists and gay men and women.

  • chrisjones2

    Which god doesn’t exist?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It was blasphemous – but what of it?

  • tmitch57

    Both Hitler and Stalin were beaten repeatedly as children. I think considering the well known effects that child abuse produce later in life on those who suffer it, that this should be the start of your explaining the pathologies of Hitler and Stalin rather than their diet or their religious beliefs.

  • carl marks

    listen you brought Hitler into it, you claimed he was a atheist, i proved you were wrong, with quotes from the man himself.
    now a bit more info.
    Poland was not invaded by Adolf Hitler in some lone adventure but he used hundreds of thousands of young germans to do it,many of those were practising catholics.
    Listen you made a mistake picking hitler to show how bad atheist’s can be, he was a christian, now get over it, try a different tack but the evil atheist dictator idea does not fly, History is full of bloodthirsty dictators and most of them were not atheists.
    Oh im interested were did you get the info that he was a ex catholic, this is something the historians are in disagreement on,there is no documentation (letters, diaries etc) that he left the church and he was never excommunicated, you are making a claim that very few historians would believe they have the information to make with confidence.

  • carl marks

    I am not claiming that hitler or stalin were influenced by their religious schooling , the minds of mass murdering sociopaths is beyond my understanding. i am merely trying to point out that Hitler was not a Atheist. after John wrongly claimed he was.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    On rare occasions, John, usually in order not to offend a beeming host who has cooked somethng special and has not asked if I am vegetarian. Its rather like the way the gentry thought about alcohol only a few years ago. I remember a very elderly member of my family attempting to stretch his understanding to take in the fact that his cousin had not actually “given up drink”, — simply stopping drinking spirits meant that to him — “But he will only take a little porter and some wine now!” Some wine meant a bottle or two of Beune in the evening, mind.

    If it helps, I do grow my own food, wear sandles and ride a bike.

  • Kevin Breslin

    QI is not a forum for any type of propaganda. Fry has said some unkind things to religious people who are contestants on the show, but he hardly uses the show to get others to share his personal views.
    One of the regular contestants is a CoE minister.

  • Abucs

    I’m sure John you know full well Hitler’s war on Christianity.'s_Table_Talk
    quote :

    The Table Talk indicates Hitler continued to wish for a united Christian Church of Germany for some time after 1937, in line with his earlier policy of uniting all the churches to bring them more firmly under Nazi control, so they would support Nazi policy and act as a unifying rather than divisive force in Germany, that had largely proven unsuccessful. By 1940, however, it was public knowledge that Hitler had abandoned even the syncretist idea of a positive Christianity. Instead, after 1938 Hitler began to publicly support a Nazified version of science, particularly social Darwinism, at the core of Nazi ideology in place of a religious one – a development that is reflected in private in his increasingly hostile remarks towards religion in Table Talk

  • carl marks

    Now if you want to play atheist madmen versus religious madmen, then I am up for it,
    sorry but I will take Hitler own words as proof that he was a Christian over your wish that he wasn’t.
    by the way if we apply your definition of Catholic to the Irish population then it isn’t a Catholic Country, North or South.
    Now you have been running down Stephen Fry ( you even brought Hitler into it) Here is a good idea don’t you answer what Stephen Fry said, explain eye worms and child cancer and why god made them,

  • carl marks

    Yeah great, No other Christian group or sect has tried to make all the other do it there way and when that doesn’t work declare war on the heretics, that is the history of Christianity, from the splits into the roman and orthodox church’s down to the burning of heretics.

    read my quotes Hitler was a Christian (his own words) maybe not the sort you approve off, but I suspect I know quite q few Christians who would not approve of you and vice versa of course you pride yourself on being a learned man, I put the same challenge to you that I put to John,
    Here is a good idea don’t you answer what Stephen Fry said, explain eye worms and child cancer and why god made them,
    I hope that is clear enough but if it isn’t please say so and perhaps some else could put the question to you again in their own words.

  • carl marks

    you see it’s like this, there is a science called history, it is based on what can be proved not on what people would like to think,
    I am very sorry if it disturbs you but History record’s Hitler on many occasions declared he was a Christian, end off!
    Now I asked you and Abucs a question I notice you avoid it so I must assume that you cannot answer Stephen’s Charges. therefore in the absence of any defence I must conclude you have no defence!

  • Croiteir

    Why shouldn’t we suffer? We are part of nature? We suffer with it, we eat and we are eaten. We live and we die in this nature. What Stephen Fry is articulating is the religion of the materialist, the cult of the body.. This cult worships the body in its desire of comfort and flight and antipathy from any and all austerities of life. It also scorns life as a giant expression of misery and seeks to destroy it, it scorns life even to the point of destroying it before it can see the light of day. It is narcisstic in nature, its icons are the selfie and twitter account. And it is just as hollow

  • carl marks

    that’s twice and no answer!

  • carl marks

    Well I thought it was strange to bring Hitler into this, which begs the question of WHY DID YOU DO IT!
    And I note you make no attempt to answer my question,
    please refute Stephens points and stop already with the straw men.
    by the way that’s Three times you have been asked to defend your god from the accusations led against him by Stephen Fry and three time’s you have refused to come to your gods defence, getting all very biblical now isn’t it.

  • carl marks

    John I understand, you have no answer that you can put forward, no argument against Stephen Fry’s argument, (don’t feel too bad, Abucs despite all his bluster is in the same boat) but I must admit like Abucs you do have a wonderful talent for throwing up straw men and backing yourself into a corner.
    bye on this and in parting could I give you the same advice I give to Abucs, check your facts. Abucs doesn’t seem to mind being caught out every time but you should try harder.

  • carl marks

    right that’s Atheists ‘s told off, evil little swine imagine asking awkward questions, but I notice apart from what amount’s to a “that’s the way it is ok” argument I note you don’t explain why a “good God” would deliberately cause such suffering as we see among the most innocent around us!

  • Abucs

    Didn’t Adolf state he wanted peace in Europe and friendly relations with neighbouring countries. I guess Hitler must have been a pacifist then? 🙂

    You might be interested in the Papal encyclical of 1937 that was smuggled into Nazi Germany and read in the churches during Palm Sunday by brave German priests. The Pope was scathing in his condemnation of ‘Hitler the Christian’

    quote :

    7. Take care, Venerable Brethren, that above all, faith in God, the first and irreplaceable foundation of all religion, be preserved in Germany pure and unstained. The believer in God is not he who utters the name in his speech, but he for whom this sacred word stands for a true and worthy concept of the Divinity. Whoever identifies, by pantheistic confusion, God and the universe, by either lowering God to the dimensions of the world, or raising the world to the dimensions of God, is not a believer in God. Whoever follows that so-called pre-Christian Germanic conception of substituting a dark and impersonal destiny for the personal God, denies thereby the Wisdom and Providence of God who “Reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly” (Wisdom viii. 1). Neither is he a believer in God.

    8. Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds.

    9. Beware, Venerable Brethren, of that growing abuse, in speech as in writing, of the name of God as though it were a meaningless label, to be affixed to any creation, more or less arbitrary, of human speculation. Use your influence on the Faithful, that they refuse to yield to this aberration. Our God is the Personal God, supernatural, omnipotent, infinitely perfect, one in the Trinity of Persons, tri-personal in the unity of divine essence, the Creator of all existence. Lord, King and ultimate Consummator of the history of the world, who will not, and cannot, tolerate a rival God by His side.

    10. This God, this Sovereign Master, has issued commandments whose value is independent of time and space, country and race. As God’s sun shines on every human face so His law knows neither privilege nor exception. Rulers and subjects, crowned and uncrowned, rich and poor are equally subject to His word. From the fullness of the Creators’ right there naturally arises the fullness of His right to be obeyed by individuals and communities, whoever they are. This obedience permeates all branches of activity in which moral values claim harmony with the law of God, and pervades all integration of the ever-changing laws of man into the immutable laws of God.

    11. None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are “as a drop of a bucket” (Isaiah xI, 15).

  • carl marks

    and no answer to the question, lot of bluster but no relevant content, as I expected.
    Of course you will go on about anything rather than answer the question! ask yourself not only why you can’t answer but also why you will go to such length’s not to answer it

  • carl marks

    you two should get a room, when either one of you get’s the sphere’s to answer the question get back to me, until then be gentle with each other.
    oh and John get Abucs to send you a link to his site, you will love it, he has the same approach to history as Ruth Patterson.

  • Abucs

    Hello Croiteir,

    I have found that many atheists demand Heaven, right now, otherwise there is no God. It is an ill-considered position smacking of narcissism as you point out.

    There is little concept of mankind struggling to overcome evils and obstacles to reach the intellectual and moral position of God. I think this is because the atheist mind tends to be self centred and inward looking where their own reality stops at the point of death. Therefore they judge the present as somehow a god’s attempt at Heaven. If it falls short then there is no God.

    What can you say? This is so far removed from the Christian perspective of mankind reaching Heaven through intellectual and ethical progress towards God which has then largely built Western civilisation.

    Given all of the blessings we have received it seems ungrateful that atheists such as Fry would then want to DEMAND Heaven as the starting point.

    I have an uncle who is much the same. He says to me that he can’t believe in God because of all those poor people in the third world.

    I spend much of my time in the third world and can see that they are much happier than he is. They would find his attitude and reasoning towards them quite bizzare and a little insulting.

    I have to agree. When I go back home, his reasons for not believing in God because of somebody else’s perceived pain look ill considered, ungrateful and self centred,