Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Atheist

It's all over the twitters! Ricky Gervais turns the tables on theists and demands proof in his column, A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Atheist

His big point is to place the burden of proof on the theists, rather than the atheists. I imagine he'd be surprised to see such a fuss made about this point. It's not new. It's the application of scientific method (specifically empiricism) to God. In short, the idea is that God can't be objectively measured or observed, and that means there's no reason to believe that God is real[1].

Case closed. Right?

Well, yes and no. It provides compelling argument against a particular concept of God, while opening questions about the application of cross-disciplinary analysis. One at a time, though. The interesting question is whether the scientific method is the superior method for answering all questions. Whether God is real is a metaphysical question, but scientific method is not metaphysics. Should we use aesthetic methods to analyse the federal budget? Why is scientific method considered superior to aesthetic methods? Is it even appropriate, or is it like using a hammer when a screwdriver is appropriate? The use of scientific method is great when applied to scientific questions, but it's not a universally-applicable method.

As for the compelling arguments against God and heaven, he makes a great point. He talks about God as the one who lets people into heaven or sends them into hell.
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.”
This is brilliant. Religion based on a two-ways thinking of reward and punishment is driven by selfishness and fear. Instead, Ricky wants us to do unto others as we'd have them do to us. It's not unique to Christianity, but it's right near the centre.

And although I don't think that Ricky's plea is quite as strong as Jesus' command to love, it's a great start. We should be good to each other for no reason and no reward. That's going to be hard enough, and the right step towards genuine love.

1. I hesitate to say whether God "exists" or "is" because those are other kinds of questions.

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