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Austin Cline

Bill O'Reilly: You Can't Explain Tides, Therefore God Exists

By January 17, 2011

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Bill O'Reilly of Fox News has asserted that humans don't know how the tides work, therefore it's reasonable to believe not only that some god exists, but that a specific god exists and be a Christian. Frankly, I don't know which part of Bill O'Reilly's comments is more absurd and stupid: the claim that tides are unexplained or the claim that this somehow validates theism.

Variations on the Argument from Ignorance have long been popular in Christina apologetics. It's a sign of just how weak Christianity is that believers depends so frequently and so heavily on arguing from a basis of what they don't know rather than from a basis if reliable, testable knowledge. Still, I don't think I've ever seen a worse, more stupefying example of it than these recent comments from Bill O'Reilly.

O'Reilly: I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam. In my opinion, all right? Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that. You can explain why the tide goes in...

Silverman: Tide goes in, tide goes out...?

O'Reilly: Yeah, see, the water -- the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always goes in...

Silverman: Maybe it's Thor up on Mount Olympus who's making the tides go in and out...

O'Reilly: No no, but you can't explain that... you can't explain it...

Source: Friendly Atheist

Do you think Bill O'Reilly sincerely believes that the tides are unexplained -- that we humans don't understand how and why the tides work? Perhaps he really is that stupid and I can't say that I've ever seen him exhibit any great intelligence. Even so, it's still hard to believe that anyone could have reached the position he has while be that mind-numbingly dumb.

The other alternative is that he fully well understands that the tides can be explained but thinks that his audience doesn't and so is pandering to them. That would make this comments an especially egregious lie because he's saying something he knows to be false and recognizes is obviously false, but he thinks so little of his viewers that he assumes they can't and won't know any better.

The status of his logical reasoning is just about as bad. Even if it were true that the tides couldn't be explained, how could that possibly justify believing that some sort of god exists or that some religion is reasonable? There's no logical connection there whatsoever and thus we are again faced with a tough a choice: either Bill O'Reilly is completely incompetent when it comes to basic logical reasoning or he thinks so little of his audience that he assumes that they can't recognize basic logical fallacies.

Then again, I suppose both could be true, couldn't they?

Regardless, the sad fact remains that these sorts of arguments are all too common when it comes to Christian apologetics. If it isn't the allegedly inexplicable tides that Christians are using to justify their religion, it's something else: the origin of life, the origin of the universe, the origin of a vague discoloration on a piece of toast that looks vaguely like Jesus if you hold it just right under the kitchen lights, etc. Ignorance is the best they have and they are going to milk it for all it's worth.

January 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm
(1) DavidABrooks says:

I couldn’t believe this myself when I first heard. O’Reilly is a college-educated man and you would think he knows how the tides work. Or does he really believe that his god sends out “tide angels” to control them? I don’t know. But like alot of Christians who know of some scientific reason for things occuring still accredit their god for causing it nonetheless. Yeah the moon causes the tides but God still did it! He created the moon for that purpose! There’s no talking to people like that.

January 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm
(2) MikeC says:

As a caller mentioned on last weekend’s AETV episode, Bill also said “Sun goes up, sun goes down”.

The caller rightly reminded us that the sun does NOT “go up and down” – it appears to, because our planet spins on an axis, and orbits the sun.

The tides are simply lunar gravitational pull.

And as the caller so wonderfully pointed out, the tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands a few Christmases ago sure seems like a miscommunication!

O’Reilly is a fool who leads the foolish.

January 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm
(3) Mikko says:

press the button on the lamp and darkness disappears press the button again and darkness comes back

must be god


January 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm
(4) sornord says:

Another sign of the lack of general science knowledge of the US population…

January 18, 2011 at 12:46 am
(5) P Smith says:

Even money says if you asked Bill O’Liarry:

“Which is larger, the sun or the moon?”

He’d answer “They’re the same size. Why else would the moon be the perfect size to cause an ecplise?”

What’s really frightening is that there are millions viewers just as ignorant who didn’t bat an eye at his statement. A lone idiot can be ignored, millions are a mob capable of violence.


January 18, 2011 at 2:28 am
(6) James Hafseth says:

I think O’Reilly was setting up for something else, to be honest. I think he expected Silverman to explain the lunar pull so he could say “explain that.” Eventually, we’d have come to a point where Silverman could no longer explain (either because O’Reilly (and his audience and, let’s be fair: most people, even atheists) couldn’t follow the maths – especially without the aid of a whiteboard, etc., OR because Silverman would eventually exhaust his own levels of scientific knowledge (a single person can’t know everything, after all)) and O’Reilly would have loved the opportunity to force Silverman to say “I don’t know.”

Now, of course, Silverman could still have made any number of responses, like “Just because I PERSONALLY don’t know, doesn’t mean it can’t e explained” or “We don’t know yet, but we’re working on it” or “Just because I don’t know the alternative doesn’t HAVE to be god by default” but does anyone think O’Reilly would have allowed him to? No, he’d have crowed over the top of him and then cut the feed to make it look like he’d won. I think, given the circumstances, Silverman’s actual answer – namely to move into ridicule, and specifically point out the CHRISTIAN god assumption in doing so – was probably the best he could have done.

Still, I would have liked to see him criticise O’Reilly’s debating technique too. For example, while O’REilly was blubbering on over the top of him on various points, rather than shout him down, I think he should have shut up, waited for O’Reilly to wind down and then say something like: “Are you finished? Did you actually want me to answer a question or are you just in love with the sound of your own voice because I was under the impression you invited me here because you actually wanted some answers. Braying like a donkey over the top of those answers doesn’t make you right.”

January 24, 2011 at 5:32 am
(7) Coryat says:

“Fu**in’ magnets, how do they work?”

February 10, 2011 at 9:28 am
(8) Carlton says:

F*cking Tides! How do they work? http://twitpic.com/3y5fpc

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