Earlier this year, comedian Ricky Gervais rocked the Hollywood establishment with his humorous, yet poignant, criticisms of them. Upon searching for him on YouTube, I came to find out he is an atheist. He has appeared on Stephen Colbert’s late show¹ to discuss his beliefs, and I found out that, as far as he defended them on this show, Gervais’ beliefs lack the serious thought necessary for holding such beliefs. But what else can you expect from a comedian?
Colbert asked Gervais why there is something rather than nothing—the universe, for instance—to which Gervais answered by saying that is the wrong question. The correct question, Gervais said, is not “why” but “how.” Here I think he is mistaken. It is entirely appropriate to ask why something exists rather than not and, in fact, that is the first question one asks when encountering an oddity—something that stands out from its surroundings, possibly because it has aspects of design.
Near a park where I live, there is a round stone structure. My first thought encountering it is, Why it is there? It quite possibly might not exist and should not exist there , and asking why it’s there opens me up to asking if somebody created it and why they created it.
The same thought process goes on, and should go on, with other items that bear the mark of design, including DNA, where we ask why it exists and who might have created it when scientific evidence suggests it should not exist at all.
I suspect that Gervais was, without deliberately saying so, avoiding a theistic answer to the “why” of the universe and everything in it. By asking only “how,” Gervais, I think, has asked us to consider only naturalistic explanations and not theistic ones because, I suspect, he does not favor them.
My suspicions were confirmed later in what he has to say about science. Colbert asked Gervais whether he believes in a “prime mover,” a god of sorts, and Gervais retorted that he does not believe there is such a thing outside science or nature. Later Gervais says that “science is constantly proved all the time.” If we took every holy book and destroyed them, he said, in 1,000 years they would not come back the same, but that is not the same with science books that would come back in their entirety. The message Gervais seems to be offering us is that science is objective and rational and religious claims are temporary, false, and usually disproven.
Several things need to be said about his approach
First, Gervais conflates science and nature; nature is something around us we study and science is a way to study it. God may be transcendent to nature and in another dimension, yet detectable by our sciences when he interacts with this world. That is how creationists have argued for a long time.
Second, Gervais seems to be arguing that God, being outside nature, is not capable of being comprehended. Gervais is not the first atheist to use this line of reasoning. The problem in this reasoning is that the same atheists who argue this way later claim that the existence of evil in this world disprove God’s existence. If they can know what God would or could do—even to the point of perhaps scientifically knowing them—then in what way can God be outside science or nature?
Finally, Gervais has an overly optimistic view of science and apparently doesn’t know the many times that scientific judgments have been wrong. Evolutionistic theorizing is replete with declarations that were presumed true but which later turned out to be false, and, as Jonathan Wells has pointed out, many textbooks should and could be rewritten. While it’s true that scientists should be able to repeat an experiment, scientists make presumptions based on their world views that turn out later to be false.²
People may ask why I am criticizing a comedian, and they would have a point in asking it. I critique Gervais because he’s not an agnostic who is a willing searcher for truth. He’s an outspoken example of an atheist who sets up his arguments to preclude considering that God exists and is overly confident in his ability to do so.
- Wells is the author of Icons of Evolution and other books explaining that many of the much-cited evidences for evolution (the “icons” of evolution) are false.