As a disclaimer: I love Ricky Gervais. The Office (both the British and American versions) is one of my favorite shows. I found Gervais’ performance and writing of The Invention of Lying to be fantastic. I look forward to viewing his stand-up in the near future.
Gervais took time on Sunday to give the world his own holiday message. This would seem to make the season even more jolly until one realizes Gervais is writing about why he is an atheist and about the foolishness of religion. Seeming to have bitten the “new atheist” bullet, the British actor/producer adds his own lament for religion and faith along with the writings of Richard Dawkings, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger.
I would encourage you all to read Gervais’ essay – especially if you consider yourself a Christian. It is well-written, entertaining, and it forces the Christian to think about his or her own beliefs. My preference is that more Christians would subject their eyes and ears to skepticism and its proponents so that they would be forced into the activity of critical thinking. It is the lack of critical thinking which gives much ammo to the new atheist front. (Just read some of the comments to the essay. There are irrational thoughts from those on both sides of the aisle, but the ones from professing Christians should make you gag.)
As one whose mind was stimulated by this piece – thank you Ricky. Thank you for your comedy, and thank you for allowing people of faith to step into the shoes of a non-theistic worldview and get a glimpse of what it is like. We need to do so more often so that we may be sympathetic to persons we disagree with on these issues.
However, I would challenge Gervais. He over-generalizes in saying, “People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief.” In other words, Christians and other religious folk are merely fideists. They believe in God and are devoid of any critical thinking in such process. But non-theists, especially atheists, hold a monopoly of sorts on “science and reason.” I wonder how well-read Gervais actually is on these issues. If all he has read is the literature of the new atheists (and perhaps the likes of Max Lucado and Rick Warren only), then this over-generalization isn’t surprising. Unfortunately for Gervais, the literature on this issue is vast, and one doesn’t have to search far to see that the “reason” sector of “science and reason” has been dominated by Christian philosophers over the last 40-50 years.
In his testimony of “conversion” to atheism, Gervais writes of his reception of “the gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world…And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.” What gifts indeed! I can see why Gervais thinks that adding on God offers little to the good gifts humanity already has.
Yet, consider this final thought. With Gervais’ starting point of “doubt” instead of “wonder” in approaching the cosmos, how certain can one be of the goodness of these gifts? Do these gifts really constitute as gifts that exist? Why think that “truth” may be attained if the purpose of natural selection is survival, not to form true beliefs (indeed, survival may be best maintained through the formation of false beliefs). Why believe that our brains exemplify the proper function of forming and possessing truth-bearing beliefs? In addition, why think we possess free will? Gervais and others may find it ironic that a Calvinist treasures the gift of free will, but what is to avoid the conclusion that humans possess no moral responsibility since our choices are the direction result of the brain’s function in the biological evolutionary process? Natural, chemical reactions determine our choices. Why believe in the notion of a “will”?
What is love? (Baby don’t hurt me. I couldn’t resist.) I come home from work and I hug and kiss my wife, saying, “I love you.” Do I call this love? This, being the mere reaction of chemicals stimulated through the sensation picked up through my eyes as another stock of chemical reactions approaches my field of vision. Nothing deeper is found for love is Gervais’ presumption of skepticism is correct.
It would be an honor to have a beer with Ricky Gervais. I want to laugh with him, hear Hollywood stories (not all of them), talk about philosophy (and British comedy), etc. Yet, all that time my new found friend would lack any rational reference point for the rationality of our conversation. As brilliant as Gervais is, he is only brilliant due to borrowed capital, not to his own autonomy. He can’t even drink a beer or send us on the web his holiday cheer without implicitly presupposing his Maker.