Oh Those Mysterious Tides

I, like many other reasonable people, did a double-take during Bill O'Reilly's recent interview with President of American Atheists, David Silverman. O'Reilly brought Silverman on his show to ask him why atheists are "provoking people of faith." Yet, he rarely let Silverman finish a sentence, barely listened to what Silverman did say, and announced that there must be a god because "Tide goes in, tide goes out . . . You can't explain that."

From the beginning of the interview, it was clear that O'Reilly had no intention of listening to anything Silverman had to say. Silverman was there more as a prop or a target for O'Reilly's outrage. Beyond O'Reilly's Tidal Truth (an argument that will surely stop atheists in their tracks), the entire segment was so full of crazy that sorting through it now makes my head hurt.

Watch the full video (about five minutes):

The Insult

The discussion starts with O'Reilly accusing Silverman of "insulting" religious believers by saying that religion is a scam. To which Silverman responds, "If people get offended because we're saying what we believe, that's not us insulting them."*

Through the crosstalk, Silverman repeatedly explains that it is not an insult to the followers of a scam to point out that a scam exists. O'Reilly refuses to accept that answer. After his Tidal Truth argument (see below), O'Reilly continues to assert that saying something is a scam is the exact same thing as saying that people who fall for the scam are morons, therefore American Atheists are calling believers morons.

Give yourself a gold star if you recognize the false premise in that argument. Though O'Reilly doesn't see it, saying, "[Something] is a scam" and saying, "People who fall for scams are morons" are two entirely different things. There are many reasons people fall for scams. Often it is because they are well-intentioned but naive.

Religion is a matter of belief. It is a fact that there are people who believe religion is a scam. Some of them are open about their non-belief, others are afraid to come out of the closet. By publicly asserting that religion is a scam, those at American Atheists are telling closeted atheists that they are not alone.

Some believers may be offended that atheists think religion is a scam, but that does not mean atheists are insulting believers. It's no different than a Christian saying that it is not an insult to atheists to believe that atheists will burn in hell.

The Tidal Truth

In the midst of insisting that an insult has taken place, O'Reilly asserts his reason for knowing that religion is not a scam: "I'll tell you why it's not a scam, in my opinion. Tide goes in, tide goes out, never a miscommunication. You can't explain that."

Silverman was momentarily thrown by that argument, and I'm sure my own bewildered stare matched his perfectly. It was a surreal moment that took a follow up question to understand that O'Reilly was actually saying that there is no way to understand the mystery of how the tide goes in and goes out each day without fail.

If I had been sitting in Silverman's chair, I'm fairly certain my response would have been, "Uh, how about the moon?" Followed by a brief explanation of how oceanic tides are caused by the moon's gravitational pull as it orbits our planet, and possibly a question or two about what else O'Reilly's middle school didn't teach him.

Yet, Silverman's response may have been better. Instead of getting sucked into a science vs. religion debate, Silverman met fantasy with fantasy by saying, "Maybe it's Thor on top of Mount Olympus who's making the tides go in and out."

I'm curious about how O'Reilly would have replied to the scientific answer for oceanic tides, however, there were good reasons for Silverman to take a different approach. Instead of being sidetracked by O'Reilly's tidal argument, Silverman took the opportunity to address a common religious fallacy by explaining that not having an answer for something is not evidence of god's existence.

Update:I was behind on my Colbert and just watched his response to Bill O'Reilly's Tidal Truth. In it, Stephen shows several more clips of O'Reilly espousing his truth AND Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom I adore!) shows up to explain oceanic tides to us all. Watch for yourself:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill O'Reilly Proves God's Existence - Neil deGrasse Tyson
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*As of Jan 7, 2010 at 10 a.m., the "rush transcript" on the O'Reilly factor website changes this statement from,"If people get offended because we're saying what we believe, that's not us insulting them." to, "Because we're saying what we believe."


  1. I always thought the tides were magic controlled by Poseidon.

  2. Because you need to spend more time with Neil deGrasse Tyson. ;-)