Most of us have experienced the equivalent of a college dormatory bull session on religion. Usually this happens when we’re around 18 years old and away from the influence of our families for perhaps the first time.
Last night on the Bill O’Reilly show, something very much like that took place. O’Reilly’s guest was a preacher named Robert Jeffress, from the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. As the video of the event reveals, Jeffress is very much a scriptural literalist — Adam & Eve, all of it — although he allows that the world may be older than 6,000 years because scripture doesn’t literally say otherwise. That puts him in the tradition of old-Earth creationists like William Jennings Bryan.
But what are O’Reilly’s views? They seem to be wildly fluctuating. Last week we posted Is Bill O’Reilly’s Creationism Evolving?, describing his apparently major departure from what we wrote about a couple of years earlier (see Bill O’Reilly — Flaming, Full-Blown Creationist). As the video of last night’s interview indicates — it’s only five and a half minutes long — his view of things is now shown to be that of a theistic evolutionist. He asked his guest:
Let’s begin at the beginning, Adam and Eve: Did they literally live in the garden of Eden and usurp the evolutionary process?
The rev said that yes indeed, that’s all literally true. Then O’Reilly said:
If you believe in Adam and Eve, there are a number of other things that you have to believe. Incest is one of them because the race had to procreate off the children that Adam and Eve had. Then you have to reject the science of evolution and carbon dating and all of those things. So it’s kind of incompatible with science. Or am I wrong?
As we said, this is typical college dorm stuff. The rev responded:
The Bible does not contradict true science. It may contradict the passing fads of scientific theory that are always evolving. For example, it used to be thought that the cosmos always existed. But then we had Sir [Fred] Hoyle, who named the Big Bang Theory, that said, “Guess what, the universe had a beginning 13.7 billion years ago.”
Actually, Hoyle rejected the Big Bang theory — to which he gave that name as a term of derision. Anyway, O’Reilly then said:
I subscribe and my belief system is that there is a Higher Power, and that the evolution was the way He created the world. Now I was taught in my Catholic school that a lot of the stories in the Bible are allegorical.
To which the rev replied:
Here’s the problem with that. If you start labeling these stories as fictitious or fable, where do you stop?
And so it went. There’s nothing really new in any of this, except for the venue, which gave their little debate a lot of exposure — especially to many of the Fox News audience who may never have heard such a conversation before. They’re probably still in shock.
So what does O’Reilly’s debate mean? Nothing, really. Most of us who experienced such conversations long ago usually came to one of two conclusions. Either: (1) “This is all a bunch of unresolvable hooey, and I’m going to head for the coffee shop to look for that blonde with the big bazooms;” or (2) “This is really important stuff, and I’m going to be obsessed with it all the rest of my life.”
Where does O’Reilly fit in? We’re not sure. Because his position seems to be changing, it’s possible that he’s coming to this topic somewhat late in life. That’s unusual, but better late than never. Or it’s possible that as he approaches his dotage, he’s wildly groping around, changing his views from day to day.
Maybe we’ll never know what O’Reilly thinks — if anything — because he’s just a showman who realizes that — like some starlet’s “wardrobe malfunction” — such episodes are good for his ratings.
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