O’Reilly’s guest for the evening—or at least for a short segment of it—was David Silverman, the head of an atheist organization that had bought space on a billboard in Huntsville, Alabama, that both invited residents to a regional meeting of atheists and described all religions as scams.1 The latter part struck O’Reilly—and, to be fair, probably plenty of others in Huntsville, and a large percentage of however many people watch The O’Reilly Factor—as rude and offensive.
Whether it was indeed rude—and whether O’Reilly’s rather inhospitable treatment of his guest was any more appropriate—could be the subject of a long, energetic, and almost certainly fruitless debate that doesn’t particularly interest us at the moment. Suffice it to say that regardless of one’s point of view, the discussion between Silverman and O’Reilly probably managed to find a way to irritate or offend just about everybody watching, one way or another, without actually solving or illuminating a thing.
However, more important to us than O’Reilly’s interest in polite behavior—or at least his interest in witnessing it, if not actually participating in it himself—is the example he used, over the course of the conversation, as evidence that religions aren’t scams. After prefacing a statement earlier in the show by admitting “I know I’m not the smartest guy in town,” he then—in an apparent giddy rush to prove himself right—offers, as evidence of God’s existence, the fact that “[The] tide goes in, [and the] tide goes out.” According to O’Reilly, the tides are proof that God exists because “You can’t explain that.”
Bill O’Reilly’s argument, rephrased for convenience, is that because we can’t explain tides, God exists. According to his reasoning, then, being able to explain the tides would be evidence that God doesn’t exist. It’s actually somewhat fortunate for O’Reilly—not to mention very fortunate for God—that his logic is shit.
O’Reilly’s argument here is a sort of variation on the Argument from Ignorance—he’s essentially saying that if he can’t explain something, then it can’t be explained. While the flaw in this line of reasoning should be fairly obvious, please allow us to illuminate them anyway by using the same argumentative framework O’Reilly uses on the following statement:
“Yo-yo goes down, yo-yo comes back up. You can’t explain that.”
Here’s how the O’Reilly method operates here (and why it fails):
- I don’t know how a yo-yo works. (This part, I’m sorry to say, is true.)
- Therefore, nobody knows how a yo-yo works—not even those who dedicate their lives to studying, designing, and constructing yo-yos, assuming people like this still exist. (This statement does not logically follow from the previous statement, and is also demonstrably false.)
- Therefore, yo-yos are magic. (This also isn’t true, and it also does not follow from the above statements.)
|Ancient yo-yoing is apparently for real. Who knew?|
The only thing that an argument from ignorance really has a chance at proving is—sorry, Bill—the “ignorance” part.2 And indeed, tides are actually very well understood and have been for centuries; moreover, they can be easily explained to, and by, folks with little scientific expertise:
To put it simply rather than thoroughly, tides are caused by the gravitational pull of Earth’s moon and, to a lesser degree, the Sun. (While the Sun is far more massive than the Moon, it’s also some sixteen to eighteen miles farther away, and thus its influence on tides is diminished to about half of the Moon’s.3)
|The sun and the Moon both affect the Earth’s tides; higher tides result when |
the two pull in the same direction. All objects life-sized and to scale.
All matter is affected by gravity,4 and therefore everything on Earth—not just the oceans, but also dirt, pandas, tractors, pirates, and even Cream of Wheat—is influenced by the Moon’s gravitational pull. It’s been estimated, perhaps even measured, that the tidal pull of the Moon moves the ground beneath our feet by around a centimeter. However, as the oceans are mostly liquid,5 and thus much more malleable than solids (examples of solids: continental plates, tractors), it’s in the oceans that the tides are most noticeable; in certain places such as the Bay of Fundy, the difference between high and low tide can be as much as 55 feet.6 If the entire Earth moved to the same degree that the seas do, tides would be much harder to observe—but they’d still be going on.
|In order to affect the tides, an object must be extremely massive.|
So at the risk of patting ourselves a tad too hard on the back, we believe the above is a decent if very basic explanation of what causes the tides, and astute readers will note that the question of God’s existence7 is no more or less settled than it was two or three paragraphs earlier. We believe it’s perfectly clear that we haven’t offered any opinion whatsoever on the existence or non-existence of God, and simply hope that—whatever your opinion of God, organized religion, atheism, science, or The O’Reilly Factor—it’s clear to everyone that both God and religion are very fortunate that Bill O’Reilly is not their best or only defender.
Please check back soon; in a future installment we hope to reveal the fiendish sorcery responsible for elevators.
1. If you haven’t yet clicked on the link above and are wondering, this is not hyperbole on our part. The word used on the billboard was indeed “scams.”
2. One has to wonder if O’Reilly is concerned about whether a high enough tide might tip Guam over.
3. All figures made up on the spot.
4. We’re pretty sure about this, although we have a hunch it gets disproved in at least one or two Star Trek episodes.
5. The ice caps, being ice, are solid, but they don’t amount to much, especially lately. Cream of Wheat, on the other hand, somehow appears to be simultaneously liquid and solid—go ahead and try to explain that, atheists!
6. We have no idea how big a distance this is, but we suspect it’s at least five or six times larger than a centimeter.
7. We are aware that for many of our readers (not to mention our billions of non-readers), God’s existence is not in question. To be fair, though, to plenty of other folks, God’s non-existence isn’t in question either. So we’re just going to leave it exactly as we wrote it in order to irritate everybody equally.
The following is the relevant segment from The O’Reilly Factor. The host’s comments about the tide occur a little after 1:48.