The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Why Ricky Gervais is a Comedian and not a Philosopher


Ricky Gervais has given us all a cheery holiday message about why he’s an atheist.

People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith”. I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “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”, comes across as both patronizing and impolite.
Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­? evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe”, this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me”, but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

There are a few claims here:

  • People who believe in God say (of their belief in God) things like “it’s true to me.”
  • Ricky Gervais has heard that the definition of God is a logical impossibility
  • There is no scientific evidence for God
  • Science seeks the truth (and by implication) finds out the truth about whether or not God exists. Since there’s no scientific evidence that God exists, God doesn’t exist.

I don’t know what it is about an endearing comedian (or actors generally, I’ve noticed) that makes people treat their comments on religion, politics and the environment as though they should be listened to. I’m reminded of the pretension of the Film Actor’s Guild in Team America: World Police. But if Gervais’s comments here are anything to go by, he doesn’t offer anything that isn’t provided by scores of internet message board inhabitants on a daily basis.

First is the suggestion (echoed elsewhere by Christopher Hitchens) that theists say of their belief that “it’s true for me.” It may not be true for you, but it’s my truth, whatever yours might be. I’m never really sure where this myth came from – that believers in God accept some sort of relativism when it comes to the truth. This is the idea that Christians allegedly think that all sorts of conflicting outlooks can be true – true for the people who believe them, anyway. But this comment from Gervais is not aimed at the truth it all. On the contrary, it’s a ridiculous straw man. It is in conservative Christianity more than any other place that I have encountered the strongest opposition to exactly this type of relativism – so much so that evangelicals are frequently dismissed as “absolutist” or “dogmatic.” Whatever phenomenon Gervais thinks he is commenting on, Christians can simply ignore it.

Second, Ricky Gervais has heard (where he heard it, we’re not told) that the definition of God is a logical impossibility. He doesn’t give any reasons for thinking that this is a good definition, he simply tells us that he’s heard it. But so what? I’ve heard a lot of things. In fact I’ve even heard that God, far from being impossible, is a necessary being. So Mr Gervais has heard one thing and I’ve heard the opposite. Perhaps we should arm wrestle to decide who’s right? This kind of hearsay argument hardly inspires confidence.

Third, fourth, and fifth, and in spite of repeated and rather desperate sounding denials on the part of some atheists, Gervais spells out and endorses scientism, the view that science is the only way to know anything at all. If there’s no scientific evidence (that is, no physical proof) that God exists, then that means he doesn’t exist – a premise that stands or falls on the assumption that only things that are physically testable can exist, which plainly begs the question when used as part of an argument for atheism (to say nothing of being a rather obvious argument from alleged silence).

This stuff will, no doubt, be quoted by armchair atheists as serious, crushing and worthy reasoning that Christians everywhere just ignore, or can’t answer. And that really is comedy gold. And tragedy at the same time.

It’s interesting to read Gervais’s own account of how and why he became an atheist:

But anyway, there I was happily drawing my hero when my big brother Bob asked, “Why do you believe in God?” Just a simple question. But my mum panicked. “Bob” she said in a tone that I knew meant, “Shut up.” Why was that a bad thing to ask? If there was a God and my faith was strong it didn’t matter what people said.
Oh … hang on. There is no God. He knows it, and she knows it deep down. It was as simple as that. I started thinking about it and asking more questions, and within an hour, I was an atheist.

Wow. No God.

This strikes me as the norm, to be honest. When telling us why he’s an atheist, Gervais told us earlier that it’s because of scientific and logical considerations. But this is simply not true. He’s flattering himself, and those are not the reasons he became an atheist. He adopted atheism for no scientific or logical reason at all. The move was impulsive and grounded entirely in personal relationships. He realised that other people didn’t believe, so he no longer believed. In giving what he thinks are scientific reasons, Gervais is rationalising a position that he adopted long before science or logic entered the picture – more or less the same thing that Christians are frequently accused of doing.

Mr Gervais, you’re a very talented and funny man. Please stick to the comedy. Thanks.

Glenn Peoples


Does self sacrifice make a greater difference in godless universe?


Christmas 2010


  1. Anon

    “When telling us why he’s an atheist, Gervais told us earlier that it’s because of scientific and logical considerations. But this is simple nonsense. He adopted atheism for no scientific or logical reason at all.”

    Yep, the fool has said in his/her heart that there is no God.

  2. David

    So, did you glid over this bit?

    So what does the question “Why don’t you believe in God?” really mean. I think when someone asks that they are really questioning their own belief. In a way they are asking “what makes you so special? “How come you weren’t brainwashed with the rest of us?” “How dare you say I’m a fool and I’m not going to heaven, f– you!” Let’s be honest, if one person believed in God he would be considered pretty strange. But because it’s a very popular view it’s accepted. And why is it such a popular view? That’s obvious. It’s an attractive proposition. Believe in me and live forever. Again if it was just a case of spirituality this would be fine. “Do unto others…” is a good rule of thumb. I live by that. Forgiveness is probably the greatest virtue there is. Buts 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. And that’s where spirituality really lost its way. When it became a stick to beat people with. “Do this or you’ll burn in hell.”

    You won’t burn in hell. But be nice anyway.

    Just what is there in xianity’s beliefs that are so good and moral AND can only be practiced by xians?

    Is it better to “be nice anyway” because its

    1. The right thing to do
    2. Will get you a reward in heaven
    3. Will get you punished in hell if you fail to “be nice anyway”.

    I vote 1, and I don’t need god(s) to know that.

  3. So David, do you think the arguments that I covered in this blog post are good arguments? If so, why? How, in your view, do they avoid my responses?

    As for the bit you quoted, you probably already know it’s just a silly misrepresentation. Since when have Christians claimed that they “own” being good? What nonsense!

    As for the rest, let me put it very gently by saying that a one-line assertion that moral “right” and wrong can exist without God is not really much of an argument, so there’s little I need to say about that.

  4. Fletch

    Gervais is a comedian? I’ve never been able to stand him, actually.

  5. Anon

    Hi David, most people think they are nice and good, including criminals.

  6. That’s right Anon, we’re all miserable sinners (from birth) and we need Jesus to provide the metaphysical get out of jail card. Check out John Shelby Spong’s recent interview/debate on Premier Christian Radio’s Unbelievable for his reaction to this suggestion. Spong is a far more effective atheist missionary than Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Gervais put together.

  7. Anon

    “Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Gervais”

    Gervais and his comedian mates

  8. Ron

    “Please stick to comedy”

    I recall thinking the same thing about Bill Maher.

  9. Jeremy

    “Spong is a far more effective atheist missionary than Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Gervais put together.”

    Absolute and total agreement with you on that one.

  10. I bet Spong and Glenn would get along great – they’re both apparently considered heretics by fundamentalist Christians.

  11. “fundamentalist Christians”
    Read: “people who have no proper christian education and try and force their ignorance on others”.

  12. Jannet

    “fundamentalist Christians”
    Read: “people who have no proper christian education and try and force their ignorance on others”.

    Amen to that Geoff. I’m just glad that an increasing amount of churches (like the one I’m with) actually care about Bible study and learning more about the faith.

    Fundies can be…distressing to talk to.

  13. well, every part of society has its own fundies, TAM is an atheist fundie 😛

  14. Yeah, I just read the whole thing.

    It is about as bad as the drivel that comes from Penn and Teller.

    I really wish that entertainers would stop overstepping their bounds in general. Religion and philosophy especially.

  15. Richard P

    The actual reason behind the cheap shots in this blog post is proberly due to Glenno’s resetnment towards Gervais, or to be more speciefic his character from The Office David Brent. I’m sure Glenno has a similar boss at his Centerlink day job who walks around making bad jokes, giving out irrelevant advice and annoying Glenno in general. Or am I wrong, Glenno?

  16. Centrelink? Never heard of it, so I guess you’re wrong, Ricko.

    ps I love The Office!

  17. Richard P

    Studylink is it?

  18. Richard P

    And I prefer to be called Richard.

  19. No, not Studylink either 🙂

    And could it be that you think people should be called by their correct name as a matter of respect?

  20. Richard P

    Otago Uni?

  21. Nope.

    And could it be that you think people should be called by their correct name as a matter of respect?

  22. Richard P

    Yale? Oxford?

  23. Geoff, I am compelled to respond to the atheist fundie jab, despite the fact that it was only a glancing blow.

    I’m a Canadian skeptic/humanist interested in furthering a critical analysis of religious belief systems. The name “The Atheist Missionary” is a sarcastic jab at religious fundamentalists. Atheists don’t proselytize and are unified only by their freethinking nonbelief in the existence of a supernatural deity.

    The only fundamentalist streak in me is my admitted belief that the physical resurrection of Jesus is a preposterous myth. Simply put, I agree with Hume: Upon the whole, then, it appears, that no testimony for any kind of miracle has ever amounted to a probability, much less to a proof; and that, even supposing it amounted to a proof, it would be opposed by another proof; derived from the very nature of the fact, which it would endeavour to establish. It is experience only, which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experience, which assures us of the laws of nature. When, therefore, these two kinds of experience are contrary, we have nothing to do but subtract the one from the other, and embrace an opinion, either on one side or the other, with that assurance which arises from the remainder. But according to the principle here explained, this subtraction, with regard to all popular religions, amounts to an entire annihilation; and therefore we may establish it as a maxim, that no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle, and make it a just foundation for any such system of religion (Of Miracles, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

    IMHO, Christianity can be disposed of with one sentence from the Bible: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV)

  24. Ron

    fascinating autobiography, TAM

  25. Glenn, I’m pleased to see that you’ve acquired your own crew of trolls – the mark of a blog that has “made it”.

    # People who believe in God say (of their belief in God) things like “it’s true to me.”

    This is so frustrating. I always want to ask a man like Gervais: is this really the best line of thinking that a Christian has ever presented to you? You’ve really only ever heard Christians say, “Well, it’s true to me…”?

  26. Jeremy

    “IMHO, Christianity can be disposed of with one sentence from the Bible: And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1 Corinthians 15:14 (NIV)”

    it does need to be just in your opinion, as you so correctly point out this is in fact a Christian claim made by Paul of Tarsus. A man who claimed to have met the risen Jesus and to know many of the others making the same claim. A man who had previously been involved in hunting down and murdering Christians. A man who lived a life of considerable deprivation an ultimately died [ brutally killed in a Roman circus?] fully comitted to the fact that Jesus Christ had risen.

    Three things are clear,
    1,a miracle is never going to be probable, otherwise it wouldnt be miraculous, it will always be contrary to usual human experience.

    2, Hume never experienced anything that challenged himself in this way.

    3, Hume for all that he sounds like he is being logical is actually just being intellectually arrogant. His argument amounts to “It is outside my understanding of normal human experience therefore it must be untrue and no amount of testimony will persuade me otherwise.”

  27. Jeremy

    sorry, that line should have read
    —it does NOT need to be just in your opinion—

  28. Jeremy, the fact remains that testimony based on human experience is, by its very nature, fallible.

    Does that mean that miracles are impossible? Of course not. We need look no further than the theory of quantum mechanics to find phenomenon that appear, at least at first blush, to be miraculous. However, it is fair to say that miracles are very, very, very unlikely and we are all naturally inclined to be skeptical of miraculous claims.

    As I may have stated here previously, if you saw me walk on water with your own eyes, you would (quite reasonably) look for a natural explanation and doubt me if I claimed to be the second coming of Christ. If that is how you would respond to something you saw with your own eyes, why would you accept second hand descriptions of miracles that were recorded decades after the supposed events? I have never had a Christian provide me with a satisfactory answer to this question.

  29. T.A.M., “Atheists don’t proselytize.”

    So Ricky Gervais is the only one?

  30. TAM,

    It seems thatyou dont understand the significance of an “:P”. It is a “poked out tongue” which is used to signify the humour for which the words that accompany it are meant to be taken. It is, as we say in NZ, “being a bit cheeky”. It is, in fact, a “literary style” and “context”, which it appears you failed to grasp.
    I only say this because it appears to me to reflect the rest of your comments.


  31. Jeremy

    all history is human testimony, what are you going to believe, nothing unless you experience it?

    Funnily enough God recognises this trait in Humans, the Bible is full of “Try me honestly and I will prove myself to you” pleas from God.

  32. [After finishing my sincere prayer for divine revelation]

    Jeremy, use the common sense that perhaps even some kind of god gave you. Rotting corpses don’t come back to life.

  33. Jeremy

    no claim of a rotting corpse come back to life is made. A claim is made that God raised Jesus from the dead. Not quite the same thing. And not particularly a problem for the God who created life in the first place.

  34. Jeremy, I agree that a physical resurrection would be child’s play for your omnipotent lord. Is nothing that you would doubt as having happened at the bequest of your god as long as it was based on what you considered to be reliable eyewitness testimony? Let me give you a few examples:

    1. The Indian rope trick;

    2. The apparitions at Fatima;

    3. The levitation of saints, including Saint Francis of Assissi; and

    4. My drawing a royal flush from randomly shuffled decks of cards, 10 times in a row.

    Just wondering.

  35. Anon

    “Rotting corpses don’t come back to life.”

    It’s unusual, but so does non-living matter turning into living organism.

  36. Jeremy

    “My drawing a royal flush from randomly shuffled decks of cards, 10 times in a row.”
    Improbable but possible without divine intervention, still as you imply, highly unlikely.
    Tell you what, i will accept your testimony on this [ even without supporting witnesses ] when you die in support of this claim without recanting. Fair enough? this is after all the standard Christians have set throughout history.

  37. “My drawing a royal flush from randomly shuffled decks of cards, 10 times in a row.”

    Possible without divine intervention, but I would never believe that it happened without intervention (i.e. cheating).

  38. Jeremy

    @ Anon
    you are so right, we are a pair of complete wackos because we believe God creates and sustains life and raised Jesus from death. Furthermore we continue to be wackos because we dont accept that a bunch of highly improbable molecules had an equally improbable meeting and some how spontaneously became a living entity. A meeting for which there isnt even any unreliable historical testimony or contemporary but deluded experience.
    Gee, i am ashamed of my obvious intellectual weakness choosing testimony and experience over unverifiable theory and conjecture.

  39. I don’t believe I called anybody a wacko. It’s clear to me that what we have here is simply the application of a double standard. My contention remains that Christians who rely on historical evidence to accept the physical resurrection of Jesus should also be willing to believe a whole host of other supposed miraculous happenings which they don’t.

  40. Jeremy

    My contention is that anyone prepared to accept the historical evidence for Plato, Socrates, Julius Ceasar, Greek history, Roman History as described by Josephus and so on should not be so quick to dismiss the historical evidence for Jesus ressurection.
    The New Testament as an historical document is more contemporary with its subject, has better provenance, and exists from more sources than almost any other ancient document and significantly younger documents [eg Shakespeares plays]. Feel free to check for yourself.

    As i said before , all history is testimony, the question becomes how reliable is that testimony, what do we know of the character of the witnesses etc. Even Christians can know something about judging the quality of evidence, neither does christian necessarily equate to credulous.

    I cant help but notice you avoided two rather important points concerning testimony=
    1, “Tell you what, i will accept your testimony on this [ even without supporting witnesses ] when you die in support of this claim without recanting. Fair enough? this is after all the standard Christians have set throughout history.”

    2, testimony and experience over unverifiable theory and conjecture.

    You dont believe in God, you are welcome, just endless infinitely improbable accidents instead. Great choice. Seems to me that some people will believe almost anything rather than God. I dont think you have any basis for complaint that doesnt apply equally to yourself.

  41. Jeremy, I would never say that there could not be some kind of explanation for the “infinitely improbable accident” of the big bang and/or life of earth, perhaps one that may be forever beyond our comprehension (like trying to explain the theory of special relativity to an ant). What I would say is that the chances of that explanation being the Judeo-Christian god are infinitesimally low.

  42. Jeremy

    As i have said before thats your choice, but make sure you stay honest about it , it is your choice based on your preference and that is all.
    I hope you have a happy holiday.

  43. Preference (because I agree with Hitchens on that score) and the application of reason. Happy holidays to you and yours. [still over 16 hours until Christmas here in Ontario and the kids are getting quite excited]

  44. Anon

    They are both infinitely improbable but the one that is your preference is less probable and an application of reason … I see

  45. Anon, remember it is Christians who profess to provide the answer for the outcome of what appears to be infinitely improbable, not me. I’m just a humble non-believer in the house of cards (resting on a supposed physical resurrection) they have constructed to explain it all. I don’t profess to have any answers and am not afraid to say “I don’t know … and may never know”.

  46. I laugh sometimes when I see people use the word “improbable” to simply mean “I don’t believe it because of my assumptions, but this has nothing to do with any sort of quantifiable probability.”

  47. Jeremy

    I was once told by a person of the American persuasion that there are two kinds of agnostics.
    1,ordinary agnostics— those who say they dont know and leave it at that.
    2,ornery agnostics—– those who dont know and insist you cant know either.

    Says it all really.

  48. TAM, If you entered a lottery in which 7,000,000 people had entered and then read the results in the paper next day and discovered you won. Would this be irrational, silly, obviously absurd?

  49. Not in the least. Every time I buy a ticket, I know that I have a better chance of winning than someone who didn’t buy a ticket, but only infinitesimally better. Kind of like Pascal’s wager …. thanks for reminding me to buy a ticket for tonight’s 6/49. However, I will have a much better chance of winning on my NFL spread parlay.

  50. T.A.M., “Atheists don’t proselytize.”

    So Ricky Gervais is the only one?

    Perhaps it’s just that ‘atheists’ and “skeptics” tend to be intellectually dishonest … and thus will say anything, even blatantly false things.

  51. “fundamentalist Christians”
    Read: “people who have no proper christian education and try and force their ignorance on others”.

    Amen to that Geoff. I’m just glad that an increasing amount of churches (like the one I’m with) actually care about Bible study and learning more about the faith.

    Fundies can be…distressing to talk to.

    Oddly enough, the “fundie” churches in which I grew up 50 years ago were all about “Bible study and learning more about the faith.”

    Are you sure you folks aren’t confusing “fundies” for “liberals”?

  52. IIion:

    Pretty sure.

    Although, if I were to define what I think a “fundamentalist” would be, it would be someone like Glenn, Matthew Flannagan, or myself. However, we would probably considered “liberal” – because that’s what people tend to call people who “believe something other than what ‘I’ believe”.

    Personally, I believe the terms “liberal” and “fundie” are redundant, and useless. They are just insults used by people who have no real ability to defend themselves.

  53. TAM, you write ”Not in the least.”, then you have discovered a counter example to Hume’s argument in On Miracles. Hume bases his argument on the premise that one should not believe testimony unless the probability of the event testified to occurring is greater than the probability that the testifier got it wrong, or was lying. I know of few newspapers which are so accurate that they have a 1 in 6,000,000 chance of getting it wrong, hence on Hume’s position one cannot rationally believe they won the lottery.

  54. I always found Plantinga’s suggestion that the word “fundamentalist” mean’t “stupid son of a bitch whose views are more conservative than mine”. To be the most accurate description of how the term actually functions.

  55. Or, to put it in different terms, the words “fundie” and “fundamentalist” are typically used to mean “those who are serious about Christianity.”

  56. Matt, lol 😛


    You’re missing a word, which is “think”.
    “Those who THINK they are serious about Christianity, but are lacking the prerequisites, such as a formal, liberal, religious education.”
    (and by religious, I mean “about religion generally”, not “taught by someone/place claiming to be religious”)

  57. Do you not realize that Plantinga is actually mocking those who imagine that “fundamentalist” is a slur?

  58. I always thought he was simply saying that it often seems to serve as a slur and little more.

  59. People can say a thing with more than one level of meaning.

  60. Andrew

    Can someone please get rid of “TAM” he’s a right douche

  61. Given that Hume has been spanked by a variety of people over the years, including non-Christians on having a criteria of evidence that amounted to nothing more than chronocentric bigotry and special pleading I wouldn’t regard him as having anything meaningful to say.

    The island prince who’d never seen snow would be justified in dis-believing in it. The moment you suggest that he should accept the testimony of others about it you’re erecting the standard that Christians already accept.

    For a basic introduction to the historical case for the resurrection, grab Mike Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus. If you can’t engage with it, you’re out of your depth in this audience.

  62. @TAM

    Hume’s points are kind of old hat these days. It is hardly, IMO, “rational” or “reasonable” to say “I am not convinced that his miracle has occurred” if you are locked in some kind of epistemic system that discounts them in the first place. I’m sure you believe in plenty of things, just like I do, that you have only eye-witness testimony of. For instance, did you see Krakatoa erupt about a 100 years ago? Did you see the Krakatoa twilights? After all, the sky doesn’t turn fire red at night.

    Though maybe you can refresh my memory as to how Hume defined “miracle”?

  63. Paul Baird

    He does write better jokes than you, Glenn. 🙂

  64. Nick

    To that people that write on Hume, you very very clearly have not read his enquiry. He does not argue that miracles do not happen. He says that it is more consistent with human experience that the narrators of the miracles are lying rather than an actual miracle happening. For example, he gives an example of an Indian Prince, who denied the existence of frost when sailors told him of it. This is rational according to Hume. His guide is not fullproof, but it is the best we have.

  65. “He does not argue that miracles do not happen.” ~ Nick

    “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has
    established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as
    entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.
    ” ~ David Hume
    “There must … be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle.” ~ David Hume

    Nick, you may want to revise your claim that those who see in Hume a denial of the existence of miracles “very very clearly have not read his enquiry.” There is a widely held view that Hume did not make this denial, but that view is not persuasively defended. I recommend Fogelin’s well-known article on the subject:


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