A Response to Ricky Gervais’ Defense of Atheism

December 22, 2010

Ricky Gervais, funnyman from the British “The Office,” delivered a holiday letter as an op-ed piece as to why he is an atheist: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/12/19/a-holiday-message-from-ricky-gervais-why-im-an-atheist/

The superficiiality of the debate is what is most annoying. I often enjoy the work of Ricky Gervais, but reading his admittedly honest and thoughtful holiday letter expressing why he does not believe in God, I was struck  the same way I Am When I debate any vehement atheist on any forum or simply peruse their rationales…he even invoked their evangelistic slogans proving they can be fundamentalists too: “christians have just rejected one more God than me,” etc.  Apparently the burden of proof is on believers, Gervais insists. So it is up to us to prove the scientific rationale for the existence of the ground of all being. For after all, that’s where I and many see God. The dictionary definition Gervais posts in his essay is one easily doubtable and debatable and it shows another facet of this problem and its dumbed-down superficiality. The terms in popular use and especially in atheist critiques do not reflect theological development. The general public can not debate spiritual matters because most do not truly understand their own religious tradition. The “new atheist” side, to which Gervais aligns his arguments with, insist on the unbiased, noble, straightforward embrace of truth and nonpartiality supposedly found in science; that science does not affirm God thus God is not real. The problem, as world religion scholar Huston Smith proves in his work “Why Religion Matters,” is that Science is not always so definite and unbiased; that Science is great, and Smith as opposed to his opponents from science who enter religion to write and debate against it, actually reads plenty of weighty science to hone his opinion and argument. Smith shows that much science takes propostions for granted–things that have not and can not be “proven” are defended up and above other hypothesis as the science field, like all others, becomes political. That much science in the past 30 years as played out has been hypothetical  and uncertain. Most of all, that the west has given a blank check to science to provide all answers even though much of what we need to know to live and flourish lies outside of the realm of what science can possibly address.

I’m not so naive as to find agnosticism or atheism as ridiculous mindsets to hold. Doubt is palatable and tragedy in the world, amongst many other things, can certainly point to a reason to doubt spirituality or God. Yet the conversation as it is now is of the basest denominator–not in a vulgar manner, but in a superficial one. Does Gervais read and wrestle with science and theology texts or just assume science has the answer without dipping his toes in what science even posits these days? The deity that most nu-atheists reject is one most theologians of the modern age reject; do those who reject a singular, anthropomorhic figure who controls, intervenes and judges humankind (and is usually a “He”) even ponder what a single, underlying, within and without, creator, sustainer, redeemer force, power and reality is and says about life and its purpose?

A process theology text I really enjoyed recently stated: “is Process Theology true? I don’t know, but it might be” and the moral and life structuring system it creates to believe in is powerful and positive. Gervais might find life worth living for with pizza and beer, both good things, but I think belief in  a reality and grounded in a being of love that insists we be open and receptive to it to feel its peace and to be put to work as its hands and feet to bring gabout justice and mercy in this broken world is a much better and more vital reason for living.  

I respect the answer of dissent; I see the appeal in believing science and human reason can measure, rationalize and answer all things and leave us with an ordered and reasonable world–this is however a rather recent development in terms of human history and the fallout from our high estimation of such reason and order is ever apparent. I have doubt yet find it essential to faith; I respect faith that takes on vastly different langauges, concepts, and structures than my own–but I deny Scientism as a worthwhile belief because the world it leaves us with is cold-devoid of magic, mercy, and grace; devoid of deep purpose and redemptive quality; devoid of art and music and random acts of kindness. I do not hold science and faith in opposition though; God is both love and truth for me so whatever is true is of God. I simply deny science a blank check for providing my life with order and meaning when the deeper truths that make life what it is will forever  be out of the realm of science and its ability of discernment.

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3 Responses to “A Response to Ricky Gervais’ Defense of Atheism”

  1. Rich Lane said

    I’d like to know what propistions [sic] science takes for granted. What exactly does it take for granted that has not and can not be “proven”?

    • dmhamby2 said

      Rich, Smith in his work is referring to particular ypothesis of Darwin’s as well as some concepts from recent theoretical physics, etc. I myself would just agree that, while I do not deny evolution and think it’s pretty likley that is the method by which human life as we know it physically came to its current form, I do not find it unlikely that many of Darwin’s propositions are taken for granted and pushed to extremes without full consideration of conflicting hypothesis. I also feel that science like any field is full of adherents who espouse their faction’s ideas over any conflicting ideas out of loyalty–that it is not always completely unbiased. I certainly am not one who doubts what a concensus of science says–I won’t try to disprove something that seems verifiable simply out of some anti-science bias which I hope I do not have. My main point of this admittedly off the cuff blog post is that I give to science its realm and I do not expect science alone to give my life meaning and purpose. A recent poll I read showed “scientists” as the group most trusted by Americans–my complaint is, trust for what? For answers in the defined field of science, sure; but not in all matters of life.
      Anyway, I appreciate the comment; I perused your site and will admit up front that my personal knowledge of science might not be up to par to debate particulars with you in any true depth!

  2. […] some of the vehement exhortations of particular strains of modern atheism on this site before (see a-response-to-ricky-gervais-defense-of-atheism,   the-secular-bible, or concerning-fundamentalist-atheism), yet I understand and respect those […]

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