Posts Tagged ‘Ricky Gervais’

“Yes, free will is an illusion,” say Dawkins and Gervais, “but don’t worry about it”

July 14, 2015


The two most recent podcasts of Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig have analyzed a popular YouTube video in which “new atheist” author and scientist Richard Dawkins interviews fellow atheist and comedian Ricky Gervais.

I was intrigued with the atheists’ candor regarding free will: they’re happy to concede that it’s an illusion, as you see in the following exchange.

RICHARD DAWKINS: I feel as though I have free will, even if I don’t.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. And, you know, I’d say determinism is sound. But it is when they start making these leaps that we can’t be responsible for our own actions. Well, you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. It wasn’t me that did the murder . . . it was my neurons and my genes.

RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. Yeah, it doesn’t work. There is obviously a little bit of that creeping into everything – responsibility, being adult about things. But yeah it doesn’t change a thing. I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So yeah it is not even worth worrying about. But yeah this thing that takes the art out of something or the humanity or the beauty – why? Why does it? It is strange.

Why, from their point of view, is free will an illusion?

Because, as philosophical materialists, they’re committed to a worldview that says nothing exists beyond this material world. Obviously, this worldview rules out God—and it also rules out immaterial created things like angels and demons. But if you’re an atheist, who cares?

The problem is that it also rules out another immaterial thing that every human being, whether theist or atheist, experiences all the time: an independent mind, which stands over and above our bodies and has the power to direct our thoughts and actions.

From an atheistic point of view, however, the “mind” is nothing more than the byproduct of blind, unguided physical processes that take place in the brain. These physical processes in the brain create the “mind” at every moment—the way a movie projector projects an image on the screen. Just as an actor on-screen can’t step outside of the projected image to adjust the focus or the volume, or go to the concession stand and buy popcorn, so our “minds” have no power to control our bodies.

Everyone, including Dawkins and Gervais, grants that the mind seems to have this power, which we call “free will,” but it’s only an illusion. Who cares, Gervais says. “I feel that I make my own choices, and if I don’t I certainly feel like I am choosing. So, yeah, it is not even worth worrying about.”

He hastens to add, however, that our lack of free will doesn’t eliminate individual responsibility. (Really? Explain how.) But even it does, “you’ve still got to lock someone up if they go around murdering people to protect the innocent.”

Is he blind to the irony of that statement? His words are truer than he knows: If we have no free will, then, by all means, you’ve “got to lock someone up.” I mean, you’ve got to—because the people who are going around locking others up also have no choice! They’re only doing what blind, unguided physical processes are compelling them to do. And all the while, their brains are lying to them, making them believe that they’re choosing to do so.

Yet somehow Dawkins and Gervais have no problem with this? I say that they are “of all men most to be pitied.”

After all, in the very next breath they complain about Christians who insist on a worldview that fails to see the world as they do. But why complain? By their own reasoning, Dawkins and Gervais aren’t atheists because they’ve thought it through, and they’ve chosen the worldview that makes the most sense of the world; they’re atheists because—again—blind, unguided physical processes have made them this way.

And those same blind, unguided physical processes have made Christians like me the way I am.

They should simply have compassion on less enlightened people like me. Of course, whether they do or don’t isn’t up to them.

The myth of being who we are

May 2, 2011

Pam defies TSA regulations to say goodbye to Michael

Unlike many of you, I found myself strangely unsentimental about last week’s episode of The Office. I’m not sure why. I thought the farewell scene between Jim and Michael was very effective, but I couldn’t suspend my disbelief over the final scene at the airport. I was distracted by the thought that Pam couldn’t have made it through security without buying a plane ticket!

Still, this has been a strong season of The Office overall—perhaps the best since Season 3. And I’m intrigued by the “competition” to replace Michael. One candidate (if we believe the network hype) is none other than Ricky Gervais, who co-created the BBC Office series on which the American series is based and played David Brent, the boss on that show. (Gervais has an executive producer’s credit on the American show, along with co-creator Stephen Merchant.)

One of my friends said that Gervais would be perfect for the role because, after all, “he’s the same character.” That’s exactly wrong—as anyone who’s seen the BBC series can attest. There are similarities, of course. Both characters are incompetent as managers and often act wildly inappropriately. But their chief character flaws are drastically different.

Gervais’s character is desperately insecure. He craves other people’s approval and affection. And he is often made painfully aware of how other people (accurately) perceive him. He resents them for it and consequently has a massive chip on his shoulder.

Michael, by contrast, enjoys a complete lack of self-awareness. No matter how disastrous his decisions, no matter how buffoonish his behavior, he believes everyone basically loves and approves of him. In fact, the most painful moments on the show were those mercifully rare occasions when self-awareness began to dawn on him. I’m thinking of the Dundee Awards episode from Season 2, when patrons at Chili’s yelled insults at him.

As someone who tends to be overly self-conscious and has often struggled with self-esteem, I find much to admire in Michael. Here is someone, after all, who never worries about what other people think of him. He never fails to be optimistic. No matter what life throws him, he never doubts his ability to land on his feet. He is, for better or worse, his own person. He is true to himself.

But of course that can’t be right—not from a Christian perspective. Humanity’s problem, after all, is that we are unable to be ourselves. We are unable to be who we truly are—which is to say, unable to be who God created us to be. In fact, as David Mills points out in this excellent First Things article, there was exactly one person in history who was able to be completely himself—who “was perfectly who he was”—and we killed him on Good Friday.

Remember the temptation in the Garden. The serpent didn’t say, “Eat this fruit and become who you truly are.” He said, “Eat this fruit and become like God.” This is profoundly insightful. Human history tells the tragic story of our efforts to be someone—or Someone—we are not. The truth is, we are not any good at being gods. As my systematic theology professor once said, “We can know Jesus was God because he was the only person who ever lived who didn’t act like God.”

No wonder Jesus taught that the path to authentic personhood and true living was self-denial; taking up our cross and essentially killing ourselves—that is, our false selves. This seems so contrary to the spirit of our times, but there’s no other way to find lasting happiness. Michael Scott seems happier than most people simply because he’s unaware of how far short he falls of the person he might otherwise want to be.

I like this quote from Mills:

Christ reveals man to himself, not just generically but particularly. He reveals you to yourself. If you truly want to know who you are, look at Jesus, and imitate him as best you can. Any small effort to do what he did makes you a tiny bit more ourselves and removes a little piece of whatever vesture you’ve put on. Taking up your cross, following him, losing your life for his sake: all modes of self-knowledge.

Ricky Gervais and the F-word

December 30, 2010

Ricky Gervais, co-creator and writer of the funny, pessimistic BBC series The Office, on which the funnier, more optimistic American version was based, wants you to know why he’s an atheist. There’s nothing enlightening about his argument: He’s an atheist because “there is absolutely no scientific evidence for [God’s] existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe.”

Let’s take the first part of that sentence: “There is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence.” The proper Christian response is, “Of course there isn’t! What’s your point?” The second part of his sentence points to the reason why: God is not a part of “this known universe.” If God were a part of it, God would be one thing among other things. And God is not a thing at all. If God were a thing, God would be less than God.

And because God is not one thing among other things in this universe (i.e., God is transcendent), God is not something that science can ever “see” or pass judgment upon. There is no scientific evidence for God, by all means! But there is also no scientific evidence against God. Science, which by definition limits itself to physical phenomena in this universe, is agnostic on the question of God. (See this blog post for further discussion. I love that quote, attributed to Merold Westphal: “Anything my net doesn’t catch isn’t a fish.” Science isn’t the kind of “net” equipped to apprehend a transcendent God, but that hardly means that God isn’t real.)

Atheists—at least the ones like Gervais who get media attention—usually fail to appreciate this limitation of science. In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins makes this mistake. He first defines God, in part, as “supernatural,” but then spends the rest of his book talking about God as a being limited to nature’s laws—as if God were just a more powerful, more complex, and more highly evolved version of ourselves. Christianity has never proclaimed such a God. Whatever we are, God is something else entirely.

Regardless, Gervais concedes that having faith is well and good for some people: “As an atheist, I see nothing ‘wrong’ in believing in a god. I don’t think there is a god, but belief in him does no harm. If it helps you in any way, then that’s fine with me. It’s when belief starts infringing on other people’s rights when it worries me.”

Come again, Rick? Aren’t you a man of science who lives by the cold, hard facts and says, “Show me the evidence”? What are these “rights” of which you speak? How do you determine what they are? Why is it wrong—there’s a loaded word!—to “infringe” on the rights of others? Prove, scientifically, that such things are real or have any meaning. You started it. Remember what you said? “You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.” What are the facts?

Further contradictions abound:

“‘Do unto others…’ is a good rule of thumb.” What is good? Prove that acting in this way corresponds to it.

“Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is.” Does science teach this? After all, it’s not even clear that forgiveness-as-virtue represents a consensus among the world’s religions—much less some kind of scientific truth. It was hardly self-evident to most people of the Greco-Roman world of the early Christian era.

“You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.” Why? Prove scientifically that we ought to be kind.

I could go on—in addition to love, compassion, and justice, Gervais seems to be a big believer in honesty, integrity, freedom, and courage—but you get the point. This essay proves that Gervais, like those of us who believe in God, is a man of great faith.

Unlike us, however, by his own principles he has no reason to be.