Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, in an essay that drew a deluge of comments, British comic, actor and filmmaker Ricky Gervais argued against the existence of God.
To give Wall Street Journal readers a chance to respond, we asked Gervais to answer via email some of the most frequently asked questions
about his article.
In your piece you write, that “Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know.” In fact, mainstream
scientific thought has sometimes been wrong, and it is constantly
changing and revising itself. So how can you be so sure that science
supports your belief that God does not exist?
Ricky Gervais: Science doesn’t concern itself with the non-existence of something. The periodic table of imaginary things
would be too big for a classroom- infinitely big in fact, and rather
pointless. It’s not trying to prove the non-existence of anything
supernatural. All it knows is there is no scientific proof of anything
supernatural so far. When someone presents a jar of God it will test it.
If it finds some evidence of “godness” it will follow the evidence till
it knows everything it can.
The fact that science can say “we don’t know” is exactly my point. Science doesn’t start with a set of convenient conclusions and try to
justify them. It follows evidence. In fact, it tries to prove itself
wrong. When it can’t, it’s right. Superstition, religion and blind faith
cherry pick the evidence and justify the results by changing the goal
posts. There are no cover-ups in science. For better or worse it finds
stuff out. It has no moral code as such. It leaves those decisions to
society. It discovers life saving drugs but leaves it up to you whether
to use them or not. It discovers that splitting the atom can release a
massive amount of energy very quickly and leaves it up to governments to
try it out or not. It finds out what and how and why. It asks can we?
Not should we? This is why it baffles me that some god fearers believe
that without a god there is no reason to be good. Really?
Doesn’t the idea that God was somehow involved in the making of the universe seem immensely more reasonable than believing that some
random form of matter has existed for all of time, or that matter just
up and popped into existence?
So you’re asking whether it’s more plausible that everything in the known universe including man was made by a supernatural being, in 6
days, than from a massive explosion of matter that expanded and
gradually became the known universe in all it’s beauty over the last 14
billion years? I don’t think so, no.
If you don’t know what made the universe it seems pointless to say a God must have made it then. You have to then say “But what made God?” If
you are then willing to say that God was always around, you may as well
say that the universe was too. Saves time doesn’t it? How long did he
wait till he made the universe by the way? And where was he? Did it turn
out just like he planned? If he had to make another one would he do it
any different? Where would he put it?
Does science really have an objective agenda?
Wasn’t it also used to justify slavery, genocide and the subjugation of women? Why should we trust science when it comes to God?
When was science used to justify slavery, genocide and the subjugation of women? There are bad people who believe in God and bad
people who don’t but neither can claim to have science on their side
when they commit their deeds. I don’t know who’s been going round saying
that science justifies any of those things. It certainly doesn’t and
anyone who says it does is taking the name of science in vain. Many
theories try to wear the badge of science to give their practices
credibility but the badge is a forgery. Religion even tries to claim
scientific evidence but fails. Astrology wants to be recognized as a
science. It isn’t. Real science comes along and shows them the door. Its
only agenda is truth. It doesn’t wish something were true. It finds out
whether something is or isn’t true. Believing something is true simply
because you wish it was, isn’t science. It’s faith.
Woody Allen is widely quoted as having once said: “You cannot prove the nonexistence of God; you
just have to take it on faith.” Is being an atheist as unscientific a
stance as believing in God? Isn’t it more intellectually honest to be
Well Woody Allen was being facetious but makes a good point. Is being an atheist as unscientific a stance as believing in God? No definitely
not. How can not believing in something that is backed up with no
empirical evidence be less scientific than believing in something that
not only has no empirical evidence but actually goes against the laws of
the universe and in many cases actually contradicts itself?
What does a comedian really know about God anyway?
Since there is nothing to know about god, a comedian knows as much about god as any one else. An atheist however is alone in knowing that
there is nothing to know so probably has the edge. An Atheist comedian
can make people laugh about belief or lack of it. A good atheist
comedian can make people laugh AND think about belief or lack of it. An
agnostic would say that since you can neither prove the existence nor
the non-existence of God then the only answer to the question “Is there a
God?” is “I don’t know.” Basically they are saying just because you
haven’t found something yet doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Well firstly
we have to know what definition of God we are asking about. Many can be
dismissed as logical impossibilities. In the same way that if you were
asked can you imagine a square circle the answer is of course “No.”
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s just say there is a
definition of a God that is possible. Does he exist? “I don’t know” in
this case is indeed the correct answer. However this must also be the
answer to many other questions. Is there an elephant up your a—? Even if
you’ve looked you can’t say “no.” It could be that you just haven’t
found it yet. Please look again and this time really believe there is an
elephant up there because however mad it sounds no one can prove that
you don’t have a lovely big African elephant up your a—.
People who believe in God sometimes have moments of doubt about their faith. Have you had any moments of doubt about your atheism?
Atheism isn’t a belief system. I have a belief system but it’s not “based on” atheism, it’s just not based on the
existence of a god. I make none of my moral, social, or artistic
decisions based on any god or superstitions. Saying atheism is a belief
system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby. I’ve never been
skiing. It’s my biggest hobby. I literally do it all the time. But to
answer your question I am constantly faced with theories of God, and
angels, and hell. It’s everywhere. But unless there is an ounce of
credibility to it, I reject. I have to. You can’t lie to yourself. If
you do you’ve only fooled a deluded person and where’s the victory in
How do you plan on celebrating Christmas?
Eating and drinking too much with friends and family. Celebrating life and remembering those that did, but can no longer.
They are not looking down on me but they live in my mind and heart more than they ever did probably. Some, I was lucky enough to bump into
on this planet of six billion people. Others shared much of my genetic
material. One selflessly did her best for me all my life. That’s what
mums do though. They do it for no other reason than love. Not for
reward. Not for recognition. They create you. From nothing. Miracle?
They do those every day. No big deal. They are not worshiped. They would
give their life without the promise of heaven. They teach you
everything they know yet they are not declared prophets. And you only
I am crying as I write this.
It usually gets me this time of year. That’s what’s special about Christmas. It’s when you visit or reminisce about the ones you love. And
reflect on how lucky you are. How they helped shape you. I remember the
first time my mum took me to see a movie. I’d never been to a cinema
before. I can still remember the place to this day. Everything seemed
carpeted. The floors, the walls, everything. I had sweets and Pepsi and
the biggest screen in the world, I thought. I was blown away. I lived a
life in a couple of hours. When I thought Baloo was dead I was sobbing
uncontrollably but trying to hide it. My mum was consoling me but didn’t
seem as distressed as me. Then when it turned out that Baloo was still
alive I was f—ing euphoric.
But it made me think. On the way home I asked my mum how old I’d be when she died. “Old,” she said. “Will I care?” I asked worried about my
far off future feelings. She wasn’t sure what to say. She knew I wanted
the answer “no” in some ways but as usual she chose honesty. “Yes,” she
said. “But it won’t happen for a very long time.” That was good enough
When I returned to school a few weeks later we had to do a little presentation about our holidays. I proceeded to act out the entire movie using the other kids in the class. I told them where to stand and what
to say, filling in the action with narration. Eventually the teacher had
to stop me because I was taking up the whole day. Now I’m a real
director I never make that same mistake. I’m home by 4 o’clock on any
movie I do.
I haven’t seen the film for 40 years so I’m not sure how good it is but it’s still one of my fondest memories because it was a gift from my mum. My mum died when I was 40.
She was right by the way. I did care. But luckily 35 five years before, I’d learnt the bear necessities to get me through.
Just like Baloo, she’s still with me.
Dads are pretty cool too. Mine was a man of few words. He let me make my own way. He taught me one important lesson though. That it’s OK for a
man to cry. He only cried once in his life. Just one time. When his mum
died. Luckily for him all his children out-lived him. Otherwise there
would surely have been a second.
I hope you are with your loved ones at this wonderful time of year. That’s what will make it wonderful.
Peace to all mankind. Christian, Jew, Muslim and Atheist.
What about Agnostics?
Uhm?…I don’t know. Only joking. Yes even Agnostics.
Peace and goodwill to ALL mankind.
Ricky Gervais is the star of HBO’s “Ricky Gervais Out of England 2: The Stand-Up Special.” Ricky will be answering more questions on his blog at rickygervais.com over the holiday period.