You Pinheads

By Sean Carroll | January 31, 2011 11:39 am

Update: darn it, Phil beat me by minutes. Always check your RSS reader before posting something from elsewhere on the internets.

Found this video yesterday morning via Swans On Tea. It was so good I had to include it in the talk I gave yesterday afternoon at the Skeptics Society.

Backstory: Bill O’Reilly is very fond of using the tides as evidence that science doesn’t understand everything. Apparently some pinheads tried to point out that we actually do understand that.

At a slightly deeper level: this is a good example of a worldview that can only imagine ultimate explanations taking the form of reference to some person — a being, a kind of conscious agent, who does things for reasons. If you try to give explanations that simply refer to the laws of physics, they will never be satisfied.

In the real world, things happen, not always for (those kind of) reasons. The laws of physics might not have any deeper explanation.

  • Christian Ready

    But all you’d have to do is “come on the Factor” and explain it to O’Reilly. Of course, that might be good for his ratings, but not yours.

  • Rhys

    If I didn’t already know who this guy was, that would have seemed like a very clever parody.

  • corey

    watching things like this is awful for my blood pressure – which isn’t bad at all to begin with!

  • Matt

    What the WHAT!? I agree with him on some political things, but this is just nonsense. Does he think that we are totally clueless as to where the moon came from? I can’t help but burst into laughter each time I watch this. I’m a geologist and we covered “where the moon came from” in one of my earliest undergrad classes. AAAAAHAHAHAH

  • Beau

    What Bill fails to see is that his explanation is more absurd than the chance processes he derides. His explanation is that an invisible, magical, all-powerful “person” invented the entire universe in order to bring humans to life on one infinitesimally small chunk of it. You might as well substitute the word “fairies” for God. It makes as much sense.

    How did the moon get there? Fairies did it. Who made it? Fairies. What are the chances that we could be here entirely by accident? Fairies must exist!

  • NegativeK

    O’Reilly’s badly articulated point isn’t necessarily that “tides are confusing” or “God made the moons”, but that all of this order had to come from something. Therefore, there must have been a creator at some point in the past.

    Of course, he doesn’t address where the creator came from.

  • John

    Okay somebody: autotune/mash this with “Ooh Yeah” from Moby…

  • Richard Allen

    Seriously?! Somebody who is suppose to have “faith” shouldn’t even have an argument for the existance of God because there is nothing to argue; they are suppose to have faith that it is true. I can’t help but laugh at how ignorant he sounds! Even if we didn’t know how such natural phenomenon occured it doesn’t prove God exists! And knowing the physics doesn’t disprove the existence of a god! It just shows how little faith he actually has. Someone who truly has faith shouldn’t be so adamant about aruing about “proof.”

  • Rien

    Fuckin’ magnets…

  • Shecky R.

    Ditto what Rhys said….

    And Bill O’ where did your deity come from?… who put him there?… what came before him?… how did he come into being?… huh, huhh, huhhhh?

  • Oliver

    It’s like Feynman’s explanation of magnetism (google it if you haven’t seen it). You either can accept an answer of “because that’s the universe we live in”, or you can’t. It doesn’t mean we can’t push the question further out, but at some level that is what the answers lead to…

    (I’m assuming Rien’s succinct comment is related to this…)

  • Clara

    If there were a just and loving god, she wouldn’t allow such belligerent idiocy to run rampant.

  • PSP

    It saddens me to know that O’Reilly’s show is one of the top-rated of its type – indicative of how many people choose the ugly simplicity of ignorance over the complex beauty of real knowledge. How his arrogant style appeals to so many shows we, here, have a lot of work ahead of us to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

  • Rory ‘Oh-so-desperate’ Kent

    I never realised how desperate I truly am. Thank you, Bill, for showing me the error of my ways.

  • CaliFury

    Bill–it is “Luck” plus “Time” plus “Annihilation of failure” that answers your question. Even the one about the moon. There are, after all, billions of planets with moons. Presumably also with water and… Ah, what’s the use.

    Perhaps we should ask what put Bill O’Reilly into orbit. Was it luck or the Creator, Bill? If the creator picked Bill as his spokesman, then it is in the fine tradition of Father Coughlin and other lowbrow individuals–so I’ll just figure it was Bill’s luck and not mine.

  • psmith

    It is easy enough to find some ridiculous public figure making foolish statements and then to lampoon him with unrestrained glee. But to what end? Is this the modern equivalent of pelting some unfortunate in the stocks with rotten tomatoes? Atheism would seem to be a thin veneer over primitive instincts entirely unredeemed by any moral pretenses.

  • Mike

    “It is easy enough to find some ridiculous public figure making foolish statements and then to lampoon him with unrestrained glee.”

    Well, yes psmith, it is — even on science blogs :)

  • SieveMaria

    Well, I had this very same argument couched to me by a delightful Amish man (who was trimming some donkeys hoofs)though in a much more elegant way and I was quite taken in by this determination to have or not have faith in the unknown.

    He was delighted with himself and I was as well –

  • Mark P

    This is a typical argument from ignorance: I don’t know how it happened, so god must have done it.

  • AnotherSean

    It may be, probably is, the case that the “laws of physics” themselves have no further causal explanation. But this will not stop us from wondering about them, and trying to build mental frameworks for understanding their nature . One thing we know is that the laws are as real as anything we know. Otherwise science is merely description.

  • JPS

    I think the thing I find most aggravating is the rhetorical technique that O’Reilly and other creationists use to argue the teleological argument: ask a question that has an answer that can be given by any number of competent scientists and then, when posing this question to the clueless or the empty room (as in O’Reilly’s case) declare that you’ve won the argument through the inability of your (non)opponent to answer the question. Take any of Bill’s questions and find the academic who can answer it. Discuss the implications, measurements, theories, ideas, and history of that question. It’s a worthwhile endeavor: not one that should be dismissed through misguided flourish as O’Reilly seems content to do.

    These rhetorical theists seem happiest when they are isolated and able to make their arguments while being unencumbered by the experts. “Someone needs to stand up to these experts!” If an actual expert does appear, they ask a question that is superficially related but not within the scope of the discussion. “Sean, you explained the evidence and observations for the Big Bang really well, but you can’t explain to me the Cambrian Explosion! How can you still be an atheist?”

    It’s that sort of lazy argumentation that is a hallmark of argumentative theists and talk radio bloviators alike. And while their echo-chambers may make them feel self-satisfied, they’re really emperors that aren’t wearing any clothes and only their fans are taken in by the illusion.

    Just point out the obvious inconsistencies and self-delusions and move on. There’s nothing more to be seen or said about this. Sooner or later, we’ll all forget this little bit of anti-science. Just in time for the next round.

  • joulesm

    Second Clara’s comment…”If there were a just and loving god, she wouldn’t allow such belligerent idiocy to run rampant.”

  • michael

    People who watch this man’s show like Matt and many others like him need to see his logic for how it really is. This man worships a deity that has not only been made up but who’s life story has been taken from many many other traditions predating judaism. What gets me is that you believe ANYTHING that comes out of this man’s mouth about ANYTHING. politics??? are you kidding. and the thought that you would fall into the snag of believing that it’s all republicorps good dems bad. Seriously, it’s much much more complex then that. Officials behind the scenes who were put there when Republicorps were in exec office caused many of the troubles we have today yet people believe this crap thats spewing from this guys mouth, glenn becks mouth, and megyn fox’s mouth just because they sound compelling and are on tv. Cmon people you’re smarter then this.

  • ChuckWhite

    New Rule: If you are negotiating an appearance on O’Reilly’s show, you insist on the following understanding about O’Reilly tactics:

    1) When O’Reilly interrupts your response to a question, you are allowed to issue a warning: “Bill, you asked the question, I’ll reply. You just be quiet while I do that.”
    2) Should O’Reilly continue to insist on interruption, you quietly state: “Bill, if I’m not allowed to answer your questions, there is no point to my presence here.”
    3) At the very next interruption, the guest will quietly remove his/her microphone and walk away.

  • spyder
  • Baris

    Science: A ⇐ B ⇐ C ⇐ D ⇐ E ⇐ ….
    Religion: (A,B,C,…) ⇐ GOD

    If you are religious and understand little bit of science you can as well go with A ⇐ B ⇐ C ⇐ GOD. Bill O’Reilly seems to have difficulties going beyond A.

  • Harold

    I think Sean and our faithful readers would get a kick out of this (skip to around 4:45):

  • Tim

    psmith uses “atheist” blog replies derisive to an intentionally controversial and ultraconservative public figure as proof that ALL atheists are primative and amoral and Matt says that while he thinks O’Reilly is a scientific ignoramus …he agrees with that same idiot’s political views. Has the intellectual quality if readers on this blog declined or does O’Reilly just bring out the nut cases everywhere he raises his ugly head? 😉


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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