It’s funny to watch Bill O’Reilly flail around in his attempt to prove the existence of God by reference to the tides, or the existence of the Sun and the Moon. But, what he’s really doing is playing sloppily at an old philosophical game. Perhaps the biggest question in philosophy is “why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?” Science can’t answer that question. We can trace everything in the universe back to a big bang, and we can even give a solid estimate for how long ago that big explosion took place. But we can’t say why there was a Big Bang, or what happened before it, or why the universe operates with the physical laws that it does, rather than different laws.

If you want to assert that we had a Big Bang because God decided to light the fuse, no one can really argue with you. If you want to explain our particular laws of physics as just what God ordered off the menu, no one can prove you wrong. If you want to say that there is life on Earth because God set the universe in motion in such a way that life of Earth would develop, that is certainly your right. The thing is, I don’t know what is really gained by insisting on these explanations.

Believing God to be responsible for not only the Universe but the particular form of the Universe doesn’t seem to answer any of the important moral questions. Does this mean that we have free-will? Or not? Should we be able to have two, three, four, or more spouses? Can we marry our brother or sister? Can we marry someone of the same sex? Can we get some Man-on-Dog action going? Why, or why not? Is it wrong to lie and steal? When is it okay to kill and eat something? You know, it just seems like insisting on the existence of God as the creative force of the universe doesn’t do much work. It has no real explanatory power.

Now, it’s true that we have Holy Books that purport to tell us the answers to many moral questions. Some of those answers are wholly and roundly rejected in all modern societies, but others are still taken very seriously. Still others, like monogamy, are the subject of great dispute. Appealing to these Holy Books on an a la carte basis is throughly unconvincing, which is why we have fundamentalist movements in all these Abrahamic religions. If you take the book(s) completely literally, then you can avoid the problem with being inconsistent about which moral lessons you want to adopt for yourself and your children.

The important thing to remember is that we can explain how the universe works and how it was created (from the Big Bang on) without relying on any god. So, no, neither the regularity of the tides, nor the complexity of life, nor the existence of the Moon offer any evidence for or against the existence of God. But that doesn’t matter. You can believe that God put things in motion. You can believe that God has a plan. You can believe that God loves you. Just realize that you can not believe any of that with a completely equal level of justification.

Our Founding Fathers understood that people would never agree about religion. All they wanted was to create a system where people would stop killing each other over their differences. The problem with Bill O’Reilly isn’t that he doesn’t understand the nature of faith vs. science; it’s that he keeps wanting to inject his interpretation of religion into the nation’s political debates. That’s exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to fix.

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