The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2011

Oh man.  As a high school & college physics professor, I have to say that I’ve heard some pretty bad arguments regarding physics in my day, but I think this one is worth a mention: Fox News celebrity Bill O’Reilly displays his gross ignorance of basic physics by… well, by ignoring gravity.

Bill O’Reilly on Science: You Can’t Explain the Tides

Apparently, Bill O’Reilly has never heard of the moon. In a debate Tuesday with Dave Silverman, head of the American Atheist group behind this, the Fox host tried to prove the existence of God by citing the unknowable mysteries of the tides. “I’ll tell you why [religion is] not a scam, in my opinion,” he told Silverman. “Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can’t explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in.” …

Yup, he’s ignoring gravity and replacing it with God.  Just watch the video for yourself (the relevant part begins at the 1:40 mark)…

Wow… just, wow.  Apprently, Mr. O’Reilly has never studied the universal law of gravitation (which is standard in any high school physics class) which explains quite clearly – without any mention of God, Zeus, Thor, or Santa Claus – where tidal forces come from.  Essentially, tides in Earth’s oceans exist because one side of our planet is closer to the Moon (or the Sun, both exert tides) than the other.  Thus, the side closer to the Moon (Sun) is pulled slightly more than the side further away from the Moon, resulting in the tidal bulges which lead to the rising and falling of the oceans.  This article on Wikipedia (ever heard of Google, Mr. O’Reilly?) and graphic can help illustrate the point I’m making:

Graphic of tidal forces; the gravity field is generated by a body to the right. The top picture shows the gravitational forces; the bottom shows their residual once the field of the sphere is subtracted; this is the tidal force. Source: Wikipedia

Essentially, O’Reilly is making a stunningly stupid argument from ignorance (in this case known as the god-of-the-gaps) by saying that just because he doesn’t know how the tides work, then that must mean that his version of God is real.  Of course, it might be interesting to ask Mr. O’Reilly’s feelings on the matter after he’s had a lesson in basic physics – would he then conclude that the tides are evidence against the existence of God?  That precarious position is precisely why serious theologians & philosophers do not engage in arguing from ignorance.

Such ham-fisted arguments are also why natural science separated itself from supernatural causes back in the 19th century as natural philosophy transitioned into what we now call modern science.  It seems that O’Reilly is still stuck in the 1800s.

In closing, despite my atheism, if Mr. O’Reilly or anyone wants to believe in God, that’s fine by me I suppose, just so long as they don’t piss all over science in the process.

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4 Responses to “God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Danny Strickland. Danny Strickland said: God, Gravity, and the Anti-Science Lunacy of Bill O’Reilly – http://bit.ly/hIQVEv [...]

  2. Bebe99 said

    re: “just so long as they don’t piss all over science in the process.”

    Attacks on science get me fired up too. Why pick on science? They could just as easily “prove” the existence of God by using stories of near-death experiences, or the dream they had where their dead mother told them where her lost heirloom was located, or Jesus on a piece of toast. Science doesn’t care about religious philosophy, but the religious are obsessed with science.

    When people mindlessly attack other points of view with nothing but emotion, they often get very off track/unreasonable. O’Reilly’s laughable argument jumps the shark, again!

  3. M said

    There is an article on The New York Time about gravity.
    I suggest that Bill O’Reilly may have been referring to the fact that the tide going in and out..is not understood as well as the simple people would claim. The pioneer probe is closer to the sun than it should be, for instance.
    Do the words..dark matter, expanding/contracting universe or the general theory of relativity ring any “scientific” bells?

  4. [...] I’ve posted about how Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly displayed a great deal of scientific ignorance when he tried to argue that God exists because “we cannot explain the tides”.  Of [...]

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