A Response to Ricky Gervais

Last month British comedian Ricky Gervais wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why I’m an Atheist.” I like Ricky Gervais. I think he’s one of the funniest guys around right now, and his article reflects his skillful comedic wit and style. It’s easy to hear his voice and cadence in your head as you’re reading.

Now the way I see it, these quick and overly simplistic snippets don’t really win new converts to atheism. No recent poll I know of shows more than 16% of Americans believing that atheism is true. But these kinds of debates with Atheists inherently give the advantage to the Atheist, because for the Atheist to “win” the debate they don’t really have to prove that atheism is true. All they need to do is use their cultural capital as an actor or comedian or musician to take a little bit of the wind out of the Christian’s sails of faith in the truthfulness of Christianity. That’s an easier burden in the debate.

But any Christian knows from experience that to actually live the Christian life, you must have a courageous faith in Christ’s promises that are secured by his life and death and resurrection. People who get intimidated or confused by those with the cultural capital like Ricky Gervais most likely won’t become Atheists. Just passive, impotent, and confused Christians.

You can read Ricky Gervais’ article here.

Of course, I suppose the question could be asked, “What qualifies a comedian like Ricky Gervais to be able to publish an article in The Wall Street Journal on such a difficult and complex philosophical issue as God’s existence? Woody Allen is one thing, because God’s existence, or not, is a constant theme in his films and writings. And his work did, in fact, offer something to the discussion. But Ricky Gervais? Is Ricky too now among the prophets? Should we soon expect to read another article in The Wall Street Journal from Bono on why he does believe in God? A kind of metaphysical ping-pong played by our culture’s pop icons in The Wall Street Journal on the dense and complicated philosophical issues of God’s existence.

Gervais asserts, “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe.” Well then, I guess that about wraps it up.

Or does it?

Gervais further writes, “Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know.” Of course, that very statement admits that there are things in this universe that science, well, “doesn’t know.” But science is humble? One thing about the new Atheists and their “scientific” claims is that they certainly are not what I would describe as humble. When citing science as his atheistic evidence, Gervais is using an authority that studies ONLY the material, physical universe, and yet somehow from that he makes bold spiritual claims.

It’s easy for us in these modern years to buy into the false premise that science is the ultimate authority on reality. And the “new Atheists” would like you to do just that. For example, scientist and Atheist author Richard Dawkins writes in his book, “The God Delusion” (p. 58-59); “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question.” Really? Not exactly a humble statement.

Atheists like Dawkins and Gervais are slipping you a big mickey right there with those kinds of statements! That’s a bold claim that would be true ONLY if the “creative super-intelligence” was a physical, material part of the universe.

Dawkins’ and the new Atheists’ claim that belief in science intellectually demands atheism goes way beyond any scientific evidence. It’s like the Russian cosmonaut in the early 60’s who was the first man into space returning to earth confidently assuring everyone in the USSR that the state religion of atheism was true simply because he did not see God out in space. As if that should settle the issue for good. “Well then, I guess that about wraps it up.”

Those who claim that science is the only ultimate measure of reality are not exactly being humble about the limitations of their discipline and authority to make such assertions. Claiming that “there is absolutely no scientific evidence for God’s existence” is like saying there is absolutely no evidence that music exists because it doesn’t weigh anything. Or the color blue doesn’t exist because we can’t smell it. Perhaps a little more humility on the part of science is still needed.

The subject matter of the natural sciences is, by science’s very own definition, limited to the physical—material realm. That’s ONLY what it observes. But the Bible claims, and so Christians believe, that God is spiritual, not material or physical. And that God certainly is not part of his created universe (It would be like trying to prove the existence of Shakespeare by studying Hamlet—while Shakespeare indeed created Hamlet, you will not find him anywhere in it). So it would be impossible for the natural sciences to prove or disprove God’s existence. A discipline that studies and observes only Subject A should not be so arrogant to then assert that therefore only Subject A exists.

But that’s exactly the logical fallacy the likes of Ricky Gervais are falling into when they assert, “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence.”

Of course, Ricky Gervais himself actually does believe all kinds of realities exist that science cannot prove or disprove. Toward the end of his article he writes “‘Do unto others…’ is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. But that’s exactly what it is—a virtue. Not just a Christian virtue. No one owns being good. I’m good. I just don’t believe I’ll be rewarded for it in heaven. My reward is here and now. It’s knowing that I try to do the right thing. That I lived a good life.”

Now, has science ever proven that “Do unto others…” is in fact a “good rule of thumb.” What science book is that in? “Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is.” Really? Exactly why, scientifically speaking, is forgiveness the greatest virtue? And in what way has scientific evidence established the fact that “being good” is the “right thing?” Tell me where, exactly, does scientific evidence EVER tell us about right and wrong, good and bad, virtue and vice? And yet Gervais very much believes in those things. What’s his basis for such beliefs?

We all make those kinds of “leaps” when we instinctively believe in the reality of things like love, morality, the human soul, meaning to life, the value of human beings, etc.

One big reason I believe in Christianity is that there is convincing historical evidence for a real Jesus who lived, did miracles, was crucified, and rose from the dead. I believe the New Testament is not a book of myth, but of historical fact and truthful teaching on the realities I see everyday in the human condition: that sin is destructive, that human beings have souls, that love is better than hate, that evil is real and good is real, that life has meaning and death is foreign to my created instincts.

CS Lewis once said that “a young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading” (Surprised By Joy, p. 191). I would suggest that there are books by much smarter men than either me or Ricky Gervais that are written by those who are quite skilled at thinking and reasoning on the deeper issues. The God Who Is There, by Francis Schaeffer is one of my favorites, as well as Mere Christianity, by CS Lewis. A more recent work by Tim Keller is The Reason for God, which is also very good at challenging and answering the new Atheists’ arguments.

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