Wednesday night on The Late Show, host Stephen Colbert and his guest, actor and comedian Ricky Gervais, proved it's possible to have a civil, yet robust, discussion about different viewpoints regarding religion. Colbert, a devout Catholic, started off by asking Gervais, an outspoken atheist, "Why is there something instead of nothing? Why does the universe exist at all?"
For Gervais, the question isn't "Why?" It's "How?"
"This is atheism in a nutshell," he explains. "You say there's a God. I say, 'Can you prove that?' You say no. I say, 'I don't believe you then.'"
Gervais brings up just how many gods have been worshiped in various belief systems throughout history, reports KFI-AM. "You don't believe in 2,999 gods, and I don't believe in just one more."
Colbert said he knows he can't convince Gervais there is a God, nor does he want to. "I can only explain my experience, which is that I have a strong desire to direct that gratitude [for existence] toward something or someone."
Gervais said that humans "want to make sense of nature and science." When Colbert then suggests trusting scientists to have the answers is also a form of faith, Gervais gives a thought-provoking (and relevant) response: "If we take any holy book, and any other fiction, and destroyed it, in a thousand years' time, that wouldn't come back just as it was," he said.
"Whereas, if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they'd all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result."
"That's really good," Colbert admits.
Several viewers commended the pair for how they conducted themselves. "An atheist and a Catholic CAN have a great conversation," one YouTube commenter wrote.
David Robertson, minister of St. Peter's Free Church in Dundee in Scotland and director of Solas the Centre for Public Christianity, said he "loved" Gervais' appearance on the Stephen Colbert show, and published an open letter in Christianity Today in response to some of the questions the atheist raised during the show.
Why is there something instead of nothing? "You stated that the question didn't make sense and that that is not the two choices. I'm afraid that your answer doesn't make sense. The question itself is the oldest and deepest philosophical question - and of enormous significance to everyone of us. Avoiding it, is not really answering. It's ok to avoid questions like 'does the Loch Ness Monster exist'? , because it's not really that important, unless you go scuba diving in Loch Ness!, but you cannot just dismiss the whole question of existence! And I would love to hear what the third choice is...1) something 2) nothing 3)...? (fill in the blanks...)"
The Question is not Why, but How? "You dismiss the question of why, I suspect because you have no answer. Forgive me saying this but only regarding as legitimate those questions to which you have an answer, is neither humble nor intelligent. I realize that you are following the standard atheist doctrine as espoused by Dawkins but I'm afraid it is very weak. For Christians both the Why and the How are vital. Today a friend of mine is being buried after a tragic death. I know How he died, but what is far more important to me is Why. We may not know the answers, but the question goes deep. Don't be so dismissive of the very questions that make us human. Humans are the only animal who ask the why question. Please don't dehumanize us."
Outside Science and Nature I don't Believe So "Thanks for this comment. By it you show your faith and your belief system.You don't believe that there is anything outside science and nature. You of course have no evidence or proof for that. You just believe it. You have faith. It's a philosophy that is sometimes called scientism (note not science which we all accept) or naturalism or logical positivism. Logical positivism states that the only things that are true are those things which can be empirically or mathematically proven. The trouble is, as AJ Ayer (the prime founder of that philosophy) admitted towards the end of his life - it is a self-contradicting philosophy. Why? Because the statement 'the only things that are true are those things which can be empirically or mathematically proven' is itself not empirically or mathematically provable. You claim to have a belief based on science and evidence - and yet that belief itself has no evidence!"
I'm an Agnostic Atheist who is convinced there is no God "An agnostic (Greek for no knowledge) is someone who doesn't know. And yet you say you do know or at least are convinced that there is no God. To be convinced of something on the basis of ignorance isn't exactly the smartest way to go is it?"
Atheism isn't a Belief System "Again you are contradicting yourself. I know this is part of the atheist creed, repeated ad nauseam online and in debates as though it were a devastating sound bite. But it is completely superfluous. If atheism is not a belief system how come that Dawkins and you, manage to spend so much time expounding a system that doesn't exist? I am reminded of my good friend Dr Andy Bannister's book The Atheist who Didn't Exist. Happy to send you a copy if you want! The fact is that your atheism (belief there is no God) is based upon your belief system (as outlined above), which is itself atheistical."
Can you prove there is a God? You say no. So I don't believe you. "Actually it depends what you mean by prove. In the strict terms you are now using this phrase I doubt you can 'prove' anything. Can you prove there are minds other than your own? Can you prove that we did not all come into existence yesterday? Can you prove that we are not all wired into the Matrix? But what you are doing is a mental slight of hand. What you should be asking is 'is there evidence for God?' And the answer is yes - overwhelming. The trouble is that you have already pre-determined that there can be no such evidence and therefore because of your atheist faith, you automatically dismiss or explain away any such evidence. You remind me of the atheist on the Dawkins website who told me that it was impossible to have an intelligent discussion with someone who believed in God. When I asked why, he said "intelligent people don't believe in God, someone who believes in God therefore cannot be intelligent, you can only have intelligent discussion with intelligent people, therefore you cannot have an intelligent discussion with someone who believes in God." A superb example of circular reasoning. But one you seem to have bought into hook, line and sinker...Maybe it's time to break out of that very closed-minded circular outlook?"
You Don't Believe in 2,999 gods, I just don't believe in one more "I think what amused me about this was the fact that the audience laughed and clapped as though this were a brilliant, original thought which they were hearing for the first time! Again it's a standard oft-repeated doctrine of the NFAs (New Fundamentalist Atheists). The trouble is that it's such a dumb argument because it is arguing against polytheism not monotheism. By logical definition there cannot be two (never mind two thousand) Almighty, Eternal, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Supreme Beings who created everything! There is the Creator and from that Creator comes all created things. If you stopped and thought about what you were saying and stopped repeating it as some kind of mantra delivered from on high, you would see the illogicality of your own statement."
We want to make sense of nature and science and its unfathomable "Forgive me but this is again a self-contradictory statement. You have been arguing that science works precisely because it is fathomable and now you are saying it is unfathomable. Of course I know what you are doing - you are indulging in the 'God of the gaps' argument (yet another part of the NFA creed). People only believe in God because of what they DON"T know, and the more they know, the less they are likely to believe in God. It's a bit superior and patronizing and also untrue. I think of people like Francis Collins, the scientist behind the Human Genome project, who pointed out that we believe because of what we see, not because of what we do not see."
But Science Works -- Religious Books in a Thousand Years would not come back, Science books would - Cue lots of clapping. "I'm sorry that Colbert let you off with such a demonstrably false statement. You see there have been science books from a long time ago which have been found to contain things false - as there will be science books today. Even some of the tests have been shown to be false. Real science has a humility which your philosophy of scientism does not. Instead you do a disservice to science by indulging in a kind of 'science of the gaps,' in which you assume that the only questions worth asking are scientific ones, and that anything worthwhile we do not know, one day we will discover 'Science did it'! Such blind faith!"
"Another enormous error is in your view of the Bible. It has been around for 2,000 years and many people like yourself have mocked, attempted to disprove, and to destroy it - and you have failed miserably. Jesus said that 'heaven and earth will pass away (science agrees) but my words will never pass away' - so far he has been right! In fact there are more people on earth today who believe that Bible than there have ever been before! The Bible has been tested - and it has not been found wanting. Maybe you should rethink?" Robertson posed to Gervais.
"When you sit in the comfort of your well off life-style and pontificate about science, religion and the existence of God - when you dismiss in such a cavalier fashion (without any evidence at all) the Why questions that God has set within the heart and soul of humanity, you are depriving people of the very thing that makes us human," he wrote.
"We are made in the image of God. We are made for God. Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The Why is what makes life worth living."
Robertson challenged Gervais to no go for the low hanging fruit by mocking an illiterate, ill-tempered ignorant, pseudo-religious person (thereby implicating all religious people) because he said "it's cheap and patronizing ad hom."
"Your telling anti-religious jokes in front of a largely anti-religious audience is a bit like a racist comedian telling racist jokes at the BNP Alt-Right dinner party! Why not discuss and debate with someone who offers you more of a challenge?" asked Robertson.
"Maybe it's time for you to come out of that wee celebrity 'safe space' you inhabit and actually start to engage with the most fundamental questions of all! I look forward to hearing from you."