A Scientist and a Comedian Discuss God Part 1July 05, 2015 Time: 19:38
Richard Dawkins interviews Ricky Gervais on God and religion.
A Scientist and a Comedian Discuss God Part 1
KEVIN HARRIS: Believe it or not, that is actor-comedian Ricky Gervais in 1983 in the British pop duo Seona Dancing. It was not a successful band but they were very popular in the Philippines. Ricky has gone on to be a very successful comedian and actor. Why are we going to evaluate an interview with Ricky Gervais and Richard Dawkins? Neither are philosophers so are way off on so many things they say about God, so why bother? The answer is: when a video on YouTube or elsewhere goes viral it obviously influences the culture. Perhaps we should offer some perspective to as many as we can who maybe misled by it and to help our regular listeners of the Reasonable Faith podcast to graciously interact with the things that so penetrate culture. If you think about it, many of these videos that go viral (are popular) because they have a certain common-sense appeal or rhetorical or technical power. It is good to unpack what is being said. That is what I’ve asked Dr. Craig to do today with a video that features Dr. Richard Dawkins interviewing Ricky Gervais. We’ll take it a segment at a time and pause to hear from Dr. Craig on certain points. Here’s the first of that interview.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Some people would say that the scientific view is rather bleak and cold. Here we are on a cloud of, on a bit of dust really orbiting the sun, and it is all going to go, it’s all going to be destroyed one day. Do you find it bleak?
RICKY GERVAIS: There is no God-fearing person of any religion who feels as much awe as me when I see a mountain or a tree . . .
RICHARD DAWKINS: . . . or the stars.
RICKY GERVAIS: . . . or the stars or anything in science and nature and art. I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy it. The fact that this is a miraculous mistake . . .
RICHARD DAWKINS: You and I are privileged to be here to enjoy it, even if for a short time. That is a wonderful thought.
RICKY GERVAIS: Yeah. It is good that we were born after they discovered fossils of dinosaurs, isn’t it?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Or that we were born at all. But yes.
RICKY GERVAIS: Oh yeah, of course, yeah. What would that have been like?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Nothing.
RICKY GERVAIS: What would you be like if you were pre-Darwin?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Oh, I would probably believe in God if I were pre-Darwin.
RICKY GERVAIS: Well this is the other thing. Sometimes I say to Christians, “Why do you believe in that God?” And they say, “well it’s the only God to believe in.” But if you were born in Delhi, you wouldn’t believe in that God probably. If you were born in ancient Rome, you certainly wouldn’t believe in that God.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, you believe in the god of your parents and your grandparents. Most people do.
RICKY GERVAIS: I think so, yeah. I mean, you know, there is conversions. Many people that seek one – they window shop – they go “What can you do for me? What do I have to do? Forget it. What do you do? I can still smoke and drink? I like that one.” You know? Of course.
RICHARD DAWKINS: There are people who say, “I was on a quest and I tried Buddhism, and it was all right, but I thought maybe I’d try again so I tried Hinduism.”
RICKY GERVAIS: Yeah, yeah. Which one spoke to you? Yeah, I know.
DR. CRAIG: This is interesting because Gervais unknowingly makes a point that undermined Dawkins’ own assertion. He asks Dawkins, What would you believe if you lived prior to Darwin? and Dawkins said, I would be a theist. Then Gervais comes back by saying, Well if you had been born in New Delhi you wouldn’t believe in God. If you’d been born in some ancient place you would have had different beliefs than the ones you do have. He’s implying that therefore one’s present beliefs are invalid and false because if you’d been born someplace else you would have had different beliefs. What that suggests is that Dawkins’ own atheism – his own beliefs – are just a product of his being born in this time and place and that if he had been born someplace else he would have had quite different beliefs. This is the kind of double-edged sword that the genetic fallacy gets you into. Trying to invalidate a person’s beliefs by showing how he came to hold them is a fallacy. Pointing out that you would have held different beliefs if you were born in a different time and place in history does absolutely nothing to invalidate the truth of the beliefs that you do have. If they do then it invalidates Dawkins’ own beliefs.
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, they started the video off talking about the beauty of the trees and the stars. Ricky says I have just as much appreciation and am just as awed as any God-believing person. What’s the point they are trying to make there?
DR. CRAIG: The point was supposed to be that the world mediated to us by modern science is not bleak. But I don’t think that refutes the claim. When we talk about the bleakness of the world that is described solely by science, what one means is that this is a world which exists to no purpose, it will ultimately end in the heat death of the universe as the universe expands into a cold, lifeless, dark, and dilute condition from which it will never re-emerge. It puts a question mark behind the entire edifice of human civilization and accomplishment. All of the things that Gervais mentions as noble and good about humanity are all doomed to destruction in the heat death of the universe. That’s the bleakness of the worldview – of scientific naturalism. It has nothing to do with the fact that one can appreciate the beauty of a mountainside or art or music or something of that sort.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s continue.
RICKY GERVAIS: It should be irrelevant, but it isn’t because it does infringe on people’s liberties. Certainly religion. Not spirituality. Someone believing in God – that’s fine.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Harmless.
RICKY GERVAIS: Absolutely. Doesn’t bother me at all. Religion isn’t harmless. It is when your God starts telling you that you should kill homosexuals . . .
RICHARD DAWKINS: Exactly.
RICKY GERVAIS: That is when it is not harmless anymore.
DR. CRAIG: Dawkins himself has affirmed that we are just animated chunks of matter so on his own view (this demeaning view that we are just a bag of chemicals on bones) why is that troubling? Because it means that we are not rational free agents. We are just determined. There is no free will. There is no ability to reason rationally. We are just determined in everything that we do by our genetic makeup and the stimuli that we receive through our senses. That is, indeed, discouraging, I think. As Dawkins says in The God Delusion, there is no good, there is no evil, there is just pitiless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA, and there isn’t anything more to our existence than that. I think that is a very depressing view of human existence.
KEVIN HARRIS: What did you think about what they said about believing in God – be spiritual, that is harmless. Dawkins hasn’t treated it like it is very harmless. He has really gone after theism. But he said religion is not harmless. Religion can cause great pain. I don’t know anybody who would disagree with that.
DR. CRAIG: I know. So much of this interview is just banalities. I don’t even find it interesting. It is just banal talking about these silly truisms that religion can be misused for great atrocities. Well, the same thing is true of atheism. Look at Stalin. Look at Mao. For goodness sake – the atrocities perpetrated in the name of atheism make atrocities in the name of religion pale by significance. So this is uninteresting.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s continue the video.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I was interested you said that you really objected to people being bored. You should never be bored. And I think that is right. The world is a wonderful enough place you should never be bored. If you are bored you are doing something wrong.
RICKY GERVAIS: Well, you are probably ignorant in some way. I don’t mean that in a nasty way, but you haven’t seen the possibilities. No one has pointed them out to you. Opportunity, that’s very important. The place you are born. There are some places people are born into poverty with less opportunity and less things to do and see. If you’re being shot at or your firstborn has a 1 in 4 chance of not surviving the first year, you are probably not thinking of taking up macrame. So, you know, privilege is luck to a certain extent. But then it is what you do with it. There again that is politics. I consider myself privileged certainly.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes. It is a lot easier to enjoy life if you are privileged in that sort of way.
RICKY GERVAIS: Of course. You know.
RICHARD DAWKINS: There are some people who say that to explain existence – to explain life, to explain that we are (as they would put it rather demeaningly) a bundle of chemicals, somehow makes it, makes life not worth living.
RICKY GERVAIS: Why?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Why, indeed.
RICKY GERVAIS: I don’t understand it.
RICHARD DAWKINS: It is wonderful even if you can explain it. It is even more wonderful if you could explain it.
RICKY GERVAIS: There is a magic there. There is a magic to consciousness, introspection, free will.
RICHARD DAWKINS: And the fact that you can say that it is done by nerve impulses speeding around the brain doesn’t diminish it in any way. It is still wonderful. Actually, I think it is more wonderful.
RICKY GERVAIS: I think it is because it is amazing. Magic does it for you. Magic goes as magic.
RICHARD DAWKINS: It is amazing that this conscious being, this thinking being that is me, and that thinking being that is you, is actually produced by millions of nerve impulses whizzing around inside our brain. I mean that is a magical thought.
RICKY GERVAIS: It is great isn’t it – we are in each other’s dream. Even if free will is an illusion, it makes no difference. It makes a difference to us.
KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, this is the magic show!
DR. CRAIG: I know! They keep using the word magic! I’m sure they are meaning this in a metaphorical sense – it is magical in the sense of wondrous. They said “amazing.” But it is worse than that. It really is magic that on a scientific naturalistic view of the world, you’ve got these transcendental selves – these consciousnesses – which Gervais thinks have free will. I am not sure what Dawkins’ view is of the self, but in any case if it is totally dependent or supervenient upon the brain and the direction of causal influence is totally from the brain to the consciousness (not from the mind to the brain or the body) – if the direction of causality is asymmetrical (it is just from the body to the consciousness) – then again that lands you right into determinism. While that may be complicated and amazing in that sense (which it is) nevertheless that completely robs human life of any sort of moral significance or, I think, rational decision-making. It just turns you into the bag of chemicals that Dawkins was talking about earlier.
KEVIN HARRIS: He says, though, that because this is just chemical firings in your brain that that does not diminish the magic of it one bit, or the wonder of it one bit. In fact, he thinks because it is all natural and God doesn’t have anything to do with it, he thinks that makes it more wonderful. Why would he say that?
DR. CRAIG: I think because of the complexity of it. As he said, it is amazing. The human body is absolutely astonishing. The human brain is the most complex organism in the entire universe. There is nothing more complex than that single human brain. So it is astonishing and amazing. I agree with him completely about that. But the question we, I think, are supposed to be asking is: is human life worth living on this sort of naturalistic view of the self and the person? What I am waiting to hear is something that would invest human beings with freedom of the will, rationality, moral significance, and those sorts of things don’t come into the picture on scientific naturalism except by the repeated appeal to magic.
KEVIN HARRIS: We’ll continue.
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.
DR. CRAIG: All right. I’ve heard this from other naturalists, too. It doesn’t matter if free will is an illusion because you think you have it. You are under the illusion of acting freely and so you can do nothing else. But of course it matters enormously because if you really don’t have any free will then you are literally deluded. You are the most pathetic of creatures to think that you have free will and are making significant choices when in fact you are not. You are just a machine is all, and your choices have no moral significance. They are not done for rational reasons. I think they have completely stripped humanity of any sort of significance different from that of a worm. It is just a more complicated nervous system. They don’t seem to get the point.
KEVIN HARRIS: They are reacting to what they are always being told, what is always being thrown at them, in the same way that atheists, agnostics, and so on are always said, “How can you be moral without God?” We’ve demonstrated, and your work has shown, yes, you can. You can recognize morality. In the same way they are saying, OK, not only can we recognize and act morally without God, we can also recognize beauty and enjoy life and we are tired of you people telling us that we can’t without belief in God. That is what they are reacting to. They are trying to convince the public that, Yes, we can. Maybe we need to do what you are doing and not just throw in their faces, How can you guys appreciate the world and life?
DR. CRAIG: Oh, but he does say that. Nobody says atheists can’t appreciate music and beauty and architecture and literature. They are fighting against bogeymen of their own imagination. No intelligent Christian is making those sorts of claims. They are making the claims that I just made that they are giving us a worldview that strips us of rationality, moral significance, and freedom. Yet they don’t seem to understand the existential importance of that because they are happy to be deluded. They are happy to operate under the illusion that you have these things.
KEVIN HARRIS: He said, If it is an illusion, great. I’m enjoying this illusion.
DR. CRAIG: Yeah, right. It reminds me of what Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist said. People would choose inauthentic existence rather than authentic existence because they can’t bear the heavy burden of freedom and really making significant choices. I can think of nothing that more exemplifies the choice to be inauthentic than what we’ve just heard. Inauthentic existence – I would prefer to operate under the illusion that I have free will and am significant than face the hard facts of what my worldview implies.
KEVIN HARRIS: Let’s pick it up there next time on Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. Be sure you come back.