A video featuring comedian Ricky Gervais on a popular youtube talk show has been circling around the skeptic community for some time, but does it provide anything of substance? Let’s dive in.
I’ve ignored this video for the most part due to its arguments being more philosophical in nature rather than historical which is the field I chose to pursue, but at a reader’s request, I decided to address this praised piece of “infallible” arguments. The video can be broken down into three points. I’ll go through them one by one.
- “Atheism Isn’t A Belief System.”
I don’t argue for the definition of atheism much because I think it’s entirely irrelevant. We’re not looking at atheism, we’re looking at Ricky Gervais. Gervais isn’t a Christian, so he doesn’t see the world the same as a Christian would see it (that is a world governed by a personal creator). Whether atheism is the belief that God doesn’t exist or a lack of belief in the existence of God, Gervais has the burden to explain his philosophical claims (such as philosophical naturalism or the ontology of morality) without incurring the existence of a God.
A good source on this is the book The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist: Or the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments by Andy Bannister. The chapter entitled “The Scandinavian Sceptic” is especially thought-provoking. I’ll include a link to it below.
2. “Have you investigated all religions? If not, how do you know yours is true?”
This is a popular atheist talking point that’s very inconsistently applied and shows a great deal of ignorance towards the nature of truth. Firstly, it is implied that all religions are the same. In other words, their truth claims are nothing but a myth. Secondly, truth, by its very nature, is exclusive. The Christian, by claiming that Christianity is true, excludes every other possibility. If someone such as Lee Strobel thoroughly examines the evidence for Christianity and finds that Jesus really claimed to be God and that He rose from the grave three days later, that excludes the option of religions such as Islam that insist that Jesus DID NOT claim to be God and DID NOT rise from the dead.
We can find a similar example in the truth that the universe had a definite beginning at a finite past in the Big Bang. We conclude the Big Bang to be true because of scientific evidence. This excludes the possibility of pantheistic religions which state that the universe is eternal and never had a beginning. If we apply Gervais’s logic consistently we cannot conclude the Big Bang or evolution to be true unless we examine every single truth claim regarding the universe made by every single person. This logic is absurd.
It’s the same for religion. I’m a Christian because of the evidence for Jesus’s divinity and resurrection, so I am thereby logically excluding every claim that doesn’t line up with the data. One doesn’t need to study every truth claim in order to conclude Christianity is true, one only needs to provide sufficient evidence to rationally justify belief in its truth claims. (If you are interested in examining the evidence I recommend a browse through my list of beginning resource material.)
3. “I Simply Deny One Less God Than You Do”
In a similar fashion to objection two, this one also implies that all religions are the same and that their truth claims are just as reasonable as each other. The objection also possesses a serious logical problem that is inconsistently applied.
We can point to an analogy of a wall of crime suspects to uncover the fault of this objection. Let’s say we have five suspects and I say Nick, the one with a red hair and a dragon tattoo, stole my camera. The officer beside me asks, “How do you know?” to which I reply, “I have sufficient evidence and my personal testimony.” If we applied Gervais’s logic, however, the officer should ask, “But there are 10 million potential criminals out there and you believe 9,999,999 people didn’t commit the crime?” The officer believes in one less criminal than I do regarding my stolen camera. The number of criminals that exist is an irrelevant question. We simply need to uncover sufficient evidence for the suspect who stole my camera.
In summary, just because there are thousands of religions or millions of people who are innocent of a crime it doesn’t logically follow that no religion is true or no one is a suspect in a crime.
Gervais is a fine comedian, but not someone to be taken seriously regarding philosophy and religion.
Link 1-“The Scandinavian Sceptic”