The Gospel Of O’Reilly

I was originally going to write a long post refuting Bill O’Reilly’s claim that it requires more faith to be an atheist than not, but I decided not to. I’ve made that argument so many time that the thought of doing it again gives me the same feeling as the thought of doing my taxes. And whereas I’m required to do my taxes by law, I’m allowed to pass on knocking down dumb repetitions of ancient fallacies.

I will say this, though: I don’t get the attitude that compels people like O’Reilly to insist over and over again that they have less faith than the average atheist. Isn’t faith supposed to be an awesome, transformative thing? I’m not one of the faithful myself, but I still appreciate the concept. Obedience to the tenets of the Bible without it — or with a cheapened, diluted version of it — sounds like kind of a hollow experience to me.

But of course, true faith is difficult. The people I know who have true faith and are honest with themselves about it haven’t defeated doubt: they’ve committed themselves to an endless struggle with it. I suppose that’s where grace comes from. If that were O’Reilly’s position — if he wrestled with his belief and approached the subject with thoughtfulness and humility — I would admire him. But evidently he’s decided that faith is too hard and uncertainty too scary to look straight in the eyes. Better to just be ignorant.

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15 Responses

  1. We have no real evidence to say whether on not O’Reilly has entertained doubt. I think you assume so because he constantly stands firm on his position. Just because he stands firm doesn’t mean he hasn’t doubted.

  2. O’Reilly does not articulate well, and actually misstates, the argument he’s trying to make. But it’s true that atheism as a worldview takes more faith than a theistic worldview. A purely naturalistic worldview, leaving us without any way to account for universal rules and order, causation, induction, and so on, forces us to abandon hope of having any knowledge about the world whatsoever. Thus—and much the opposite of Pollock’s claim in her critique of O’Reilly—science, working all by its lonesome, cannot answer the important questions she claims it can. In fact, it can’t answer anything without a presuppositional framework. Presuppositional frameworks or worldviews are often derisively referred to as “faith,” and disregarded as non-factual. But there is really not reason for this, unless we’ve been mugged by an over-inflated scientific view of human knowledge that suggests all facts in human experience must be proved in the same way. As I explained here,, such a view either misunderstands the types of factual questions in the world, or misunderstands the limits of science.

    • It’s assuming quite a lot to say that all atheists have purely naturalistic worldviews.

      Similarly, I can acknowledge my presuppositional framework as a necessity of human consciousness without calling the relevant presuppositions “knowledge,” “factual,” or their opposites. Using those labels simply doesn’t make sense in that context.

      • “It’s assuming quite a lot to say that all atheists have purely naturalistic worldviews.”

        Does that mean you are willing to provide an alternative supernatural theory of the origin of the universe? If not, what’s the point in saying you accept that things can exist outside of the material world?

      • There’s a difference between metaphysical and supernatural. Most atheists I know are moral realists, though I’m not one of them. I wrote a bit about how I view metaphysical claims here.

  3. “There’s a difference between metaphysical and supernatural.”

    So, if I understand you correctly, metaphysical explanations aren’t facts, but metaphors or myths. And, you proclaim them useful only to better describe self, but not useful to describe how we came into being.

    • Yes, essentially. In order to use metaphysical explanations to describe how we came into being, you’d need to be able to describe a causal relationship between a metaphysical force and a physical reaction.

      • Is theorizing a cause of the physical universe inherently wrong? Or are you saying the causal relationship is impossible to describe?

      • Seems to me that theories about the birth of the universe belong to theoretical physics.

  4. Isn’t that circular reasoning? It’s like using the stuff inside the box to explain the box when we can’t even fully explain the origins of the stuff inside the box. We like to think “outside the box”, but what we are really doing is thinking about thinking outside the box. None of the theories are independently verifiable since we are all inside the “box”. We may better understand the “stuff” through observation but that has no bearing on its origin. The foundation of the theoretical claim cannot be accepted as absolutely true, because the very foundation is in dispute.

    (Sorry about the gratuitous use of the word box.)

    Now, maybe you weren’t thinking in that direction. I don’t know a whole lot about theoretical physics. Could you give me an example of a metanarrative that theoretical physics has provided that can fully replace the creation narrative? The beauty of the God-explanation is that it gives meaning to all events in history and not just the beginning. Is there a theory that can do the same thing?

    • The problem is, neither of us are theoretical physicists. But I do know this: the “God of the gaps” is a fallacy. The fact that I don’t have a simple answer besides “God did it” to the question, “What created the universe?” doesn’t imply the existence of God. The only thing that could imply the existence of anything is actual evidence.

      • We will never have direct, observable, testable, and independently verifiable evidence for things that exist outside of the natural universe. To require that kind of evidence is to assume that non-material things can be found in the material itself which is a logical inconsistency. If no non-material things or no non-material causes of material things exist, then we are left with circular inside-the-box explanations of material origins, the very foundations of which are in dispute. Why is it in dispute? Because the materialistic philosophy of “all I see is all there is” is not rooted in science. It’s rooted in faith.

        Atheists have effectively left an intellectual hole while having nothing to fill the hole with. Yet, we are encouraged to believe this is somehow not a problem.

        On a different subject entirely, I have no desire to be at odds with you personally. I’m just here for a good conversation containing opposite viewpoints. I think you’re a very intellectual man, and I’ve enjoyed the discussion so far. Thanks.

      • Yeah, I’m enjoying the conversation too. But I there’s some serious language confusion going on here. What does it mean for something to be “outside the universe?” The universe is a concept that encompasses everything we can perceive, observe, etc. Our language is designed to express concepts that exist in the world. You’re asking me to acknowledge and talk about concepts that are necessarily muddled and nebulous because talking about them in anything like meaningful, specific terms would reveal just how inconsistent and bizarre they are.

        Anyway, who said that the mysteries of the universe aren’t a problem? I consider them a problem, and it’s one I’m very interested in unraveling. But the idea that just because there is no readily available explanation, we should immediately leap to assuming that all unanswered questions should be answered by a divine, anthropocentric sentience makes no sense. Why your God? Why not just blame everything on Zeus?

        Anyway, the fact that atheism doesn’t answer every question ever isn’t a problem, because atheism doesn’t claim to answer anything. It’s a skeptical, negative claim. At heart, it’s a modest one, too: all it’s saying is that there is insufficient evidence to support the thesis, “God exists.”

  5. “What does it mean for something to be ‘outside the universe’?”

    I doubt we could come to a consensus on that. Mainly because we don’t have a common ground from which to describe those things. If we did, we’d be in the same religion. And I don’t think that talking about them with you would reveal just how inconsistent and bizarre they are, it would just reveal how inconsistent and bizarre our understanding of them is. That’s why even Christians can’t agree on a definitive description of God, though there are some things all of them agree on. The infinite defies description anyway, and doesn’t fit into our little boxes of understanding.

    So why not Zeus? Zeus is still subject to certain limitations. One is left to answer the question of who put those limitations on him until we are brought to a greater being who is all powerful and created those limitations. The more authentic God, so to speak, is necessarily without limitations, and I don’t see the advantage of believing in a lesser God if a greater one exists. You might say this is just the workings of the imagination, and I would agree with you to a point. Religion is a product of man’s attempt to explain an immaterial transcendent cause of the universe by imagining past our limitations and the limitations of the universe. “Who created those limitations” or “what created those limitations” are both valid questions; ones that science cannot engage in answering due its own limitations. If you want to say that Zeus has no limitations, then you and I would be talking about the same God, just by a different name.

    • Look, if we don’t have language to describe it, then there’s no way to know what we’re talking about. I don’t know how can have a debate about the existence of something amorphous and indescribable. But if I were you, I’d check out Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, specifically his portions on the relationship between language and the real.

      The more authentic God, so to speak, is necessarily without limitations, and I don’t see the advantage of believing in a lesser God if a greater one exists. You might say this is just the workings of the imagination, and I would agree with you to a point. Religion is a product of man’s attempt to explain an immaterial transcendent cause of the universe by imagining past our limitations and the limitations of the universe.

      But again, that’s a completely unsatisfying answer when it comes to actual evidence. “Imagining past our limitations” doesn’t tell us anything about anything except our own capacity to imagine. If you want to convince me of the existence of something, you need to show me more than your ability to imagine it.

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