Functional Atheist vs. Intellectual Atheist: O’Reilly vs. Maher

The functional atheist says with his mind “there is a God” while the intellectual atheist says with his mind “there is no God”.  However, both agree with their hearts that the God of the Bible does not exist.  Experientially both create a god with their mind, theoretically each god exists infinitely, but practically neither god actually exists. Take a look at the following video and you’ll see what I mean.

Here are a few noteworthy statements from the video:

1:16 O’Reilly says he doesn’t know anyone that believes Noah’s Ark is a true story

1:39 Maher says the Bible was written by God

1:43 O’Reilly states the Bible is allegorical

1:56 O’Reilly states the Bible is not to be a literal interpretation

2:05 Maher brings up a classic atheist argument, i.e. questioning certain “difficult” passages out of context.  Here he makes reference to Deuteronomy.  He must be referring to a commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, but the actual passage based on his description is from Numbers 15:32-36 and points back to the command of God to “put to death” those who profane the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-17).  In Numbers, a man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath and was brought before Moses for his violation of the newly established law.  Moses, in being obedient to God, had the man stoned to death.  The Sabbath-breaker was acting in clear defiance of God’s law, i.e. the typical “God doesn’t really mean it” mentality.  His punishment was to set precedence that yes God really does mean to have His law kept, even to the smallest letter.  God was perfectly just, perfectly righteous in punishing the blatant sin of the man who violated His law.  Maher’s misunderstanding of this passage stems from the fact that he has not recognized sin in himself and does not realize that God will punish his sin in the exact same way, namely through death.  The natural mind cannot discern the things of God.

2:49 O’Reilly again states the Bible is allegorical and asserts the “New Testament is what he believes” to which Maher replies you can’t pick and choose, both the Old and New Testaments were written by God.  Just a note, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is allegorical.  The Bible on the other hand is the Word of God, big difference.

3:22 O’Reilly makes reference to the “love half” of the Bible.  This is actually a pretty typical view of the Bible within the Church today.  Many see the “God of the Old Testament” as being harsh, mean, wrathful, and vengeful while the “God of the New Testament” is meek, gentle, pacifist, and loving.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  First God does not change, we say He is immutable.  So there are not two “gods” of the Bible, there is one, unchanging God. Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  Secondly the depiction of God in the Old Testament IS a picture of love.  It shows how much God loved His people, Israel, and how He wanted them to love Him back but they refused over and over again despite God’s longsuffering patience with them.  Finally, Jesus was anything but the peaceful pacifist that He’s so often depicted as.  He came full of grace and truth, however in Matthew 10:34 He states, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  No one anywhere in Scripture spoke more of Hell and punishment than did Jesus.  Throughout His ministry on earth he rebuked the religious Pharisees calling them vipers, wolves, whitewashed tombs filled with dead men’s bones and called King Herod a “old fox.”  Fast forward to Revelation and the description given of Jesus is quite different than this pop culture meek Jesus that has become popular.  Did He teach us to love, absolutely, but Jesus likewise rebuked, chastised, and condemned when necessary.  (See Matthew 16:23, John 6:52-61, John 3:18)

4:17 Maher makes an excellent point that Islamic terrorists take their holy book seriously but Christians do not take the Bible seriously.  Perhaps that is because most, like O’Reilly, consider it allegory.

It might be difficult to discern from the video which one was the actual atheist and which one wasn’t.  By the way, this is exactly how NOT to have a conversation with an intellectual atheist.  First of all, if you’re going to have this kind of exchange, at least know your Bible and know what you believe.  The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 to always be ready to give a defense for what you believe.  It actually sounded like Bill Maher had a better knowledge of the Bible than did professing Christian Bill O’Reilly.

Bill Moyer is an intellectual atheist believing with his mind that there is no God.  His heart would be in accord with what his mind believes and subsequently we would say he lacks faith in God.  On the other hand Bill O’Reilly is a functional atheist, believing with his mind that there is a God.  However, his heart does not know the God of the Bible, so he too lacks faith in God relying instead upon faith in his own factual knowledge functioning as though the god he knows, or has created with his mind, is the One True God.  J.I. Packer makes a distinction in his classic book Knowing God as he states there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  Biblically we read of such knowledge in Mark 1:24 as an “unclean spirit” cries out to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”  What’s amazing in this passage is that even a demon, a worker of Satan, knows who Jesus is, while today so many men run around claiming there is no God, mired in intellectual atheism.  Still others, just like this unclean spirit, have a functional knowledge of God even to the point of belief, but it more closely resembles that which James 2:19 refers to as demon faith, “even the demons believe, and shudder.” In the end, we can know all the facts about God, but if we don’t truly know who God is, as a Father, and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then we are just as lost as an atheist.  Perhaps the more important question to ask then is not, “Do you know God?” but “Does God know you?” Galatians 4:9 “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?”

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.


  1. John,
    I think this is a great illustration of these terms. What is sad is that Maher who acknowledges his atheism has a more consistent point of view and more logical conclusions about his conviction than does O’reilly. O’reilly seems to equate belief in Christ to that of following a good moral teacher, which is extremely inconsistent with the way the Bible is written. Either Christ is who He said He is, or He is lying, or crazy. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God(Matthew 16:15-17), He raised people from the dead by commanding them to live(John 11:40-44), He condemned the actions/beliefs of others and claimed to be sinless Himself(perfect) (John (8:42-47), He died on a cross for the forgiveness of those who would repent and believe(Mark 1:15, Romans 10:8-11, Colossians 2:13-14), and He rose again on the third day(Matthew 16:21, Matthew 28:1-6) thereby finishing the work He came to do. This is not allegory, it is fact, and unless you repent and believe on Jesus who was sent acknowledging Him as the Son of God our Lord, He will have an answer to people who express only an intellectual faith and not one that comes from the heart: Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (22) On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (23) And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

    So what are we left with as Christians? Would you feel comfortable talking to someone like Maher or would you respond as a functional atheist, only speaking of Christ as moral teacher? Could you as a believer in Christ tell someone else about the Gospel and its message that it is necessary to believe in Jesus to be saved (John 14:6)? Is the fruit of true conversion evident in your life (2 Peter 1:3-11)? We must all ask ourselves these questions and as John stated above be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks. This ought to drive us to know everything we can about the one true testament of our God and our faith, that being the Bible.

    John, I agree with your commentary on the “difficult” passages being taken out of context. I would also add it is important for us to realize who was under the Law, what the purpose of the Law was, and what claim it has on believers today. The Law was given specifically to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Exodus 24:17, Exodus 34). It was a covenant God made with His people that if they would follow the Law He would bless them. According to the New Testament (NT), the Law was meant to be a teacher pointing Israel to the coming Messiah Jesus (Galatians 3:11-29). In the Old Testament (OT) people were placed under the Law in order to show what sin was (Romans 7:7). It was meant to illustrate a need for sinful humanity to trust in a coming Messiah who would satisfy the wrath of God by paying the penalty for their sins (I John 4:10). We see that the Law was not bad, for it was given by God and as God, He has the right and is perfectly just in deeming certain actions sin, no matter our own feelings on them being moral or fair. Being the omnipotent Creator trumps human suppositions of morality and fairness (Romans 9:18-24). With that said we see that the Law in the OT, or the Old Covenant as it was called, has been fulfilled by Christ (Matthew 5:17-18) and He has brought forth a New Covenant (Hebrews 8:1-13). In fulfilling the Old Covenant and establishing the New Covenant, the wrath of God has been satisfied for those who would believe. We are no longer under the Old Covenant working for righteousness, but have received imputed righteousness if we are in Christ (Galatians 3:25-27), the requirement of the Law being fulfilled on our behalf by Jesus, (Romans 8:1-4). This is the good news of the Gospel: we no longer have to fulfill the righteous requirement. We need only to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus, trusting in Him for the forgiveness of sin.

    PS- The above comments on the relationship of the OT Law and NT is very brief and deserves more attention than is probably appropriate to give here.

    In Christ,

  2. Excellent points Justin! Thanks for commenting and shedding additional light on an all to common problem within the Church today.

    In Christ,


  3. I was interested, and then you wrote this:

    His punishment was to set precedence that yes God really does mean to have His law kept, even to the smallest letter. God was perfectly just, perfectly righteous in punishing the blatant sin of the man who violated His law.

    One shouldn’t kill another for working on his day off, not even god. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people think the religious are crazy.

  4. Hi Jon. I believe you miss the point. He is God and He is Holy. He is perfectly just in executing His judgment in any manner He sees fit. All of us are born sinners, as Ephesians 2:3 says, “by nature children of wrath.” Sin is by definition a violation of God’s moral law, anything from what we perceive to be insignificant (such as the Sabbath observance in the OT) to what we view at as more significant (murder, adultery, etc.). In this particular OT example, it was not a “day off”, but a command to set aside a day to worship the Lord and give Him the glory He deserves. Regardless of our opinion, any violation of the law is sin in God’s eyes. Additionally, it is impossible for anyone to keep the law. Because of this, every single person EVER born, after Adam and apart from Christ Himself (see Romans 5) stands under God’s wrath awaiting judgment because of sin.

    However, thanks be to God that He gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all who would believe in Him. Jesus, by His own perfect obedience to the law, imputes His righteousness to all who repent of their sin and trust in Him as Lord and Savior of their life. By grace, through faith in Christ believers are saved and the wrath and judgment that was due the believer was poured out on Jesus at the cross, allowing God the Father to be both just and the Justifier. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is the only hope in a hopeless world dominated by sin.

    I have no doubt that the world views Christianity as “crazy”. It is crazy to think that the God of the universe, put His glory on display by sending His Son to die for the sins of His people, the Creator for the creation, so that they might be justified before Him and worship Him for His great love, mercy, and grace. Perhaps amazing is a more accurate word.

    In actuality, it’s crazy that anyone outside of Christianity would not immediately recognize their sin, no matter how small they think it is, repent of it, and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of those sins accepting Him as Lord and Savior. Without doing this, judgment awaits, just as it did for the man in the OT that violated the Sabbath.

    I would be more than happy to discuss the necessity to have Christ as Savior anytime.


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