Comments on O’Reilly

If you’re curious, in an interview lasting just over four and a half minutes, Bill O’Reilly uttered 609 words, while Dawkins uttered a mere 342. Considering the way O’Reilly usually treats his guests, that’s a pretty good ratio.

At the start of every show, O’Reilly gives the headlines of the major stories he will be discussing. But there was no teaser for his interview with Dawkins. Likewise, when he goes to a commercial break he tells you what is coming up later in the show. But there was no mention of Dawkins until the commercial break right before that segment (which came roughly half way through the show). It sure seems to me that O’Reilly was downplaying the interview, perhaps knowing that he pretty much rolled over for Dawkins. Usually the guests offering viewpoints different from O’Reilly’s get browbeaten and yelled out and basically deluged with irrefutable stupidity. But there was none of that tonight.

If you don’t believe me, consider the following exchange which took place the last time O’Reilly discussed evolution. The guest was biologist Michael Grant:

O’REILLY: OK. But science is incomplete in this area of creationism, is it not?

GRANT: Science is always incomplete in all areas.

O’REILLY: Well, I don’t agree with that. Science is not always incomplete and I’ll give you an example. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Alright. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science. So you can state things with certainty in biology or any other science you want. However, if I’m a student in your class and you’re telling me, well, there might have been a meteor or big bang or there might have been this or there might have been that, I’m going to raise my hand like the wise guy I am and say “Professor, might there be a higher power that contributed to the fact that we’re all here?” And you say – what?

GRANT: I say that’s something you need to discuss with other people. You need to do that in the proper class. In the biology class we deal with science, with the natural world and what fits our conventional concepts of science.

O’REILLY: But, what if it turns out there is a God and He did create the universe and you die and then you figure that out? Aren’t you going to feel bad that you didn’t address that in your biology class?

GRANT: Well, to quote a famous quote…

O’REILLY: Because then it would be science, wouldn’t it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would be science, wouldn’t it, sir?

See what I mean? O’Reilly said some dopey things during his interview with Dawkins, but nothing to rival the heights he attained in that excerpt.

I was surprised that O’Reilly would describe his Catholicism as true for him but not necessarily true for anybody else. That’s precisely the sort of relativistic nonsense conservatives are usually keen to avoid. (Yes, yes, I know O’Reilly says he’s an independent.) I was also surprised that his main argument in favor of religion was not that it’s claims are true, but rather that society is better off when everyone believes in God. He also had no answer to Dawkins’ point that not being able to prove something false is not much of a reason to believe that it is true. O’Reilly’s crack about Apollo not looking too good was a rather weak attempt at humor.

For Dawkins’ part I thought he acquitted himself rather well. I was worried that Dawkins’ civility would get washed away in a torrent of O’Reillian stupidity, but as already noted O’Reilly was on his best behavior tonight. I thought Dawkins was at his best when he was talking about the absurdity of saying something was true for one person but not true for someone else, and when he emphasized the importance of the separation of church and state. The only time I was a little disappointed was when he emphasized the importance of humility in discussing what science has figured out. I agree with the basic point of course, but he dwelled a bit too much upon it. Sounded weak.

The discussion about whether it is religion or atheism that is a bane on civilization was not very helpful. It seems to me that in discussion of this topic the focus is always on the big things. Stalin and Mao on the one hand versus Crusades and Inquisitiions on the other. What seems far more relevant to me are the more petty cruelties that people perpetrate against one another in day to day life. I don’t know if religion has a moderating influence on people’s behavior (it seems to me for some people it has that effect and for other it does not), but it is definitely one of the main engines of xenophobia and hatred for those that are different for you. Small towns with a heavily dominant religion are not known for their tolerance of diversity. After all, in our highly religious country polls show that 63% of people feel no shame in admitting to being unwilling to vote for an atheist for public office. A non-Christian who steadfastly refused to vorte for a Christian would quite rightly be regarded as a bigot.

These are the sorts of things that need to be considered in deciding whether it is religion or atheism (or both or neither) that is a bane on society. The aberrations where fanatics attain great power and provide nonsensical reasons for perpetrating great evil are not very informative. But the fact remains that there are rather large regions of this country where you face the rankest bigorty and prejudice if you admit to being an atheist. By contrast there is no place in this country where you face anything comparable for admitting you are a Christian.

Comments

  1. #1 Kevin
    April 23, 2007

    Hitler said it again at a Nazi Christmas celebration in 1926: “Christ was the greatest early fighter in the battle against the world enemy, the Jews … The work that Christ started but could not finish, I — Adolf Hitler — will conclude.”

    In a Reichstag speech in 1938, Hitler again echoed the religious origins of his crusade. “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews, I am fighting for the Lord’s work.”

    Hitler regarded himself as a Catholic until he died. “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so,” he told Gerhard Engel, one of his generals, in 1941.”

    O’Reilly really called Hitler an aetheist?

  2. #2 Thony C.
    April 24, 2007

    “There are twenty-four hours in a day. Alright. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science.”

    I had to clean the tea stains off my iMac when I stop laughing!

  3. #3 Ick of the East
    April 24, 2007

    “And there are four seasons. That’s science.”

    Well, there were four seasons. Until I moved to where it’s always summer.

    That was a good move.

  4. #4 matthew
    April 24, 2007

    “I’m an pompus windbag. Alright. That’s science.”

  5. #5 Alex Matheson
    April 24, 2007

    Speaking from personal experience, Christian’s are amongst the meanest abuser’s of those who admit to atheism. I have been called many things from an “ignorant heathen” to a “f***ing stupid b****rd” by people claiming to be Christian. When I respond that such actions are hardly very Christian it only seems to invoke greater outrage.

    I’m throwing in with the you civilised atheist guys!

  6. #6 David D.G.
    April 24, 2007

    “Small towns with a heavily dominant religion are known for their tolerance of diversity.”

    Jason, please tell me that you just inadvertently left the word “NOT” out of that sentence.

    ~David D.G.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 24, 2007

    David-

    Oops! Thanks for pointing out the errot.

  8. #8 quork
    April 24, 2007

    The discussion about whether it is religion or atheism that is a bane on civilization was not very helpful. It seems to me that in discussion of this topic the focus is always on the big things. Stalin and Mao on the one hand versus Crusades and Inquisitiions on the other.

    It was good to see Dawkins call O’Reilly in on the “Hitler was an atheist” lie. Not enough people know that Hitler, Stalin and Mao are all Mormon.

  9. #9 ZacharySmith
    April 24, 2007

    Jason –

    I agree with you that it is more telling to look at the effects of religion on everyday people than to see who wins the numbers game when it comes to great atrocities.

    But I will say that Hitler was not an atheist and the Nazi movement was quasi-religious in nature, with the aim of returning the German people to a romanticized (and fictional) age of “glory” and “racial purity.”

    I’m not as familiar with the history of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, but I’d bet their major concern was in crushing opposition and eliminating people and institutions that would compete for the Party’s priveledged position of power or be a source of anti-government rhetoric. Religion is one such source of competition.

    While Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot are perhaps the most recent big time criminals, I’m sure the religious conflicts of the past have racked up some pretty impressive body counts as well. How many died during anti-Jewish pogroms during the plague? How many pagans died as Christianity was sweeping Europe or as Islam was sweeping the Arabian penninsula?

    But the real point of this comment is to say that, in ordinary lives, I think religion does more harm than good. Families and communities rejecting and harassing their homosexual sons and daughters and also their neighbors with non-mainstream beliefs. Communities polarized over such ridiculous questions as, “should women be ordained?” or “should homosexuals be ordained?” Rejection and willful ignorance of scientific fact.

    There may not be bodies piled up on the battlefield or in the gulag, but the psycological damage is done all the same.

  10. #10 Gerard Harbison
    April 24, 2007

    There are twenty-four hours in a day. Alright. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science.

    BWAHAHAHAHA!

    What a moron!

  11. #11 MJ Memphis
    April 24, 2007

    I hope no one tells BO about leap years and leap seconds, or about those parts of the world that do not have 4 seasons. That could really burst his bubble.

  12. #12 Pat K
    April 24, 2007

    Oddly, I wouldn’t say that religion is the catalyst for conservatism and xenophobia – our ape origins are to blame. We avoid and shun the oddly-behaving or grotesque because they might be sick, and in a societal ape, we are better off avoiding potential illness. It is acceptance or seeking out the novel and overcoming revulsion that are unusual. Like sickle-cell anemia, it is best when there is a balance: enough to keep one safe, but not so much you are killed by what is supposed to keep you safe, nor so open you are defenseless.

    Religion is also in our genes: we learn societal behavior through punishment, and failure to do so is aberrant. So, when something bad happens (a punishment in a primitive sense) we need to know the lesson, and this also implies a superior who punishes. It is odd to see bad events as not caused by a punisher.

  13. #13 windy
    April 24, 2007

    Seasons, tides, 24 hours to a day? That’s perfectly good science – in first grade.

  14. #14 Sastra
    April 24, 2007

    O’REILLY: Because then it would be science, wouldn’t it? You know, if tomorrow the deity came down and proved himself, then it would be science, wouldn’t it, sir?

    Oddly enough, this is very similar to the main point in Dawkins’ God Delusion, that the existence of God and the truths of religion are not “outside of science” in their own separate little magisteria, but are specific kinds of claims which can be examined through the lens of scientific method, and judged consistent or inconsistent with the empirical evidence of the natural world.

    Perhaps that is why O’Reilly showed some rather unexpected respect to his opponent the other night. He agrees with Dawkins, this NOMA stuff is nonsense. If Jesus comes down from the clouds shooting lightning bolts out of his fingertips, the truth of religion is not going to remain properly relegated to the areas of personal taste, faith, morals, and meaning. There the sucker is. Positive evidence.

  15. #15 David
    April 24, 2007

    Thanks for taking a word count, I was wondering about that and hoped someone would do it, sounds about like what I’d expected. I’ve never seen O’Reilly look more like an idiot. It really looked like a joke, it definitely rivaled the Colbert-Dawkins interview for comedic effect. It’s sobering though to think that a great many viewers probably take O’Reilly’s view.

  16. #16 Kevin
    April 25, 2007

    this NOMA stuff is nonsense

    that’s how it always seemed to me.

  17. #17 windy
    April 25, 2007

    If Jesus comes down from the clouds shooting lightning bolts out of his fingertips, the truth of religion is not going to remain properly relegated to the areas of personal taste, faith, morals, and meaning.

    Yep. And scientists would not stay on their side of the bed either. Can you imagine all of them saying “There’s a guy who shoots lightning bolts out of his fingertips? That might have religious significance, I’d better not look into that.”

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