Bill O'Reilly is a real piece of work. His O'Reilly Factor program on the Fox News Channel has over 3 million viewers who love his no nonsense, shoot from the hip, straight talking, tough talking conservative political commentary. He is a forceful character, to be sure. And sure is exactly what he is pretty much all the time. He is a Christian (Roman Catholic in fact). He is sure that there is a God and he can prove it. Now, certainty that there is a God and that Jesus Christ is both the son of God and part of God is one of the basic tenets of Christianity and that's fine. However, the existence of God cannot be proven. Belief in God requires faith, another tenet of Christianity and most other theistic religions. Faith in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is rewarded with a heavenly afterlife. Evidence of God is neither required nor sought. I ought to know, for I was also raised in the Roman Catholic tradition and during mass the priest would often talk about the mystery of faith.
Last week I came across a video of Bill O'Reilly responding to a question from a viewer (I suspect this was not an actual viewer). The viewer was himself responding to a recent episode of the O'Reilly Factor where Bill claimed that the tides prove the existence of God. It seems that Bill has become annoyed at what he perceives as a growing atheist movement in the United States. An organization called the American Atheist Group has taken out advertisements on billboards, such as the one pictured below which sat outside New York's Lincoln tunnel around Christmas last year.
Some have said that the approach of this campaign is inflammatory, and they may be right. David Silverman, the group's president, explained that it was intended to encourage atheists to come out of the closet and declare their belief (or lack thereof). More info here. Whatever the intent, Bill O'Reilly was so incensed by this stunt that he invited Silverman onto his program for a debate. Silverman bravely agreed. During this debate, O'Reilly challenged Silverman to explain how the tides could come in and out with such regularity without the existence of God. This was a golden opportunity for Silverman to blind O'Reilly with science and explain how the moon's orbit affects the tides, something which any eighth grader ought to know. Unfortunately Silverman was so taken aback by this blunt challenge that he was unable to formulate an answer. Well, a viewer from Beverly Hills, Florida named David sent in this question for Bill to answer in his Backstage Conversation webcast. "What do you mean when you refer to the tides when you are asked about the existence of God? Science explains the tides... the moon's gravity pulls on the oceans." You can see this and O'Reilly's possibly predictable answer in the video clip below.
"How did the moon get there? Who put it there?" is the basic idea. Okay, sure. I get that. And I'd be happy to let that go but for the following: Bill O'Reilly labels the viewer a "pin head"; he calls this type of argument "desperate"; and he declares that "it takes more faith to not believe" and to accept that life on earth is just random chance. I had someone on Twitter tell me that last week. This argument really amuses me because it seems to completely misunderstand the whole concept of faith. Faith is belief without proof. God exists for some people because his existence cannot be disproved. It is not possible to prove a negative. This belief without proof is so important to the concept of Christianity that Jesus had this to say to his apostle Thomas, who demanded to feel Jesus' wounds before accepting his resurrection: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” This is the origin of the phrase Doubting Thomas. Thomas, like me, was a sceptic. Bill O'Reilly has misunderstood the relationship between faith and proof. This does not surprise me since he is no less an idiot than he is an asshole.
I don't believe in God because I have seen no evidence of God's existence. The universe as it is known to exist does not require a creator. The very notion of a creator is problematic. It immediately leads to the question of who created the creator. Nevertheless, I'd be more than happy to accept that notion if there was evidence. If a supernatural being descended from heaven and declared to the world "I am your God. Worship Me and you may join Me in My heavenly kingdom." I would say sure. Yeah, okay. Something similar may have happened a couple millennia ago. There's a book about it. But I find the claims in the book rather fantastic and hard to believe. Science has given us tools to query and understand the universe that were not available to folks in biblical times. There is much that we still do not understand, and we may never understand all that there is to know. But I demand to see proof of God's existence and Christ's divinity. Apparently this means I am going to Hell. I don't believe in Hell so I don't really care. I cannot accept that a creator would bestow this curiosity and intelligence upon our species and expect us not to question his and our very existence. If God created Man in his image, then it is our birthright to examine and attempt to discover what that means.
And now I challenge Bill O'Reilly to prove that in fact I did not put the moon there myself. Bill, I am your God and I put the moon there, okay? Can you prove I didn't? I'll bet you can't. Although the moon has been around much longer than I have, how do you know I'm not a time traveller? Do you demand to see proof? I don't want to show you. You must have faith, Bill. I have powers that you couldn't possibly imagine, William James O'Reilly, Jr. You might say that I can be killed. You might actually kill me, but that's not proof. I might just be testing you. I might just want you to believe that I can be killed. My ways are mysterious, Bill. If Bill O'Reilly can prove that I did not put the moon there then he truly does deserve Heaven. He cannot though, so I cordially invite him to go to Hell.