Th Richard Dawkins award is given by the Atheist Alliance International based on the following criteria:

The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.

This year the award is going to Bill Maher. Seems like a good choice to me. Maher made the anti-religion film Religulous and has been a consistent and insightful critic of the role of religion in American politics on his HBO show Real Time.

My SciBling Orac does not agree. Maher holds some very outre ideas about health and medicine, as Orac amply documents. He argues that this ought to disqualify Maher from receiving the award.

I might agree with him if Maher were known primarily for discussing issues related to health and medicine, but he isn’t. Nearly all of his time on air is spent discussing politics and he does so with great wit, humor and insight. He is absolutely unflinching in his condemnation of religion, in much the same manner as Dawkins himself. When he decided to make a major motion picture about an important social issue, he chose religion, not alternative medicine.

That makes him someone who has done a lot of solid, honorable work who also holds some misinformed views on a few issues. His work fits the description of the award quite well.

While I’m at it, I’m really tired of people being described as “anti-science” when what is meant is that they do not accept the scientific consensus on some issue. Orac writes:

I know that some of this may seem a bit repetitive, but I want to emphasize just how anti-science Bill Maher is.

Oh please. Being wrong about a scientific question doesn’t make you anti-science. It might make you ignorant or misinformed or confused or various other bad things, but not anti-science. Maher isn’t running around saying that people need to think less and feel more, or that they shouldn’t worry about defending their beliefs with evidence, or that some ancient holy text trumps anything a scientist says.

Orac also tries to make hay out of the fact that Maher does not describe himself as an atheist. Again, oh please. The fact that he has some vague belief in a higher force in the universe hardly negates all of the good work that he is done in areas of relevance to the award. He has defintely raised awareness of the nontheist life stance through the media and the arts, and certainly helps teach acceptance of the nontheist lifestyle, just as the award describes.

I don’t like Maher’s views on health and medicine. I also don’t like many of his libertarian political views. I just don’t see how any of that is relevant to receiving this particular award.

In addition to his anti-religion work, Real Time is far better than just about any other chat show on television at promoting a free exchange of ideas on important subjects. Granted, that’s pretty faint praise considering most of the cable news competition.

Comments

  1. #1 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 23, 2009

    Okay, I have to take issue with your statement that Maher is not anti-science. It’s more of an issue than simply “being wrong”. He is irrational on the subject of medicine, and is vocal about it. He is prominent in PETA and the anti-vaccination movement, both based on irrational concepts and outright lies. He scoffs at the Germ Theory, and repeats bullshit such as “Pasteur recanted on his deathbed”, oddly similar to the crap said about Charles Darwin.
    Would you still feel the same if Maher were promoting intelligent design?

  2. #2 Wes
    July 23, 2009

    I agree with Bruce. Maher has done more than just make mistaken statements. He has repeated easily debunked nonsense more than once. Religulous itself contains some whoppers (such as the quote-mining of John Adams or the extremely specious claims about the similarities between Horus and Jesus). He has also expressed support for AIDS denialism, one of the most dangerous and despicable anti-scientific movements there is.

    On Orac’s blog I tried to put some perspective on the award, pointing out that previous recipients–such as Penn and Teller–have also espoused kooky ideas and anti-scientific nonsense. But let’s not gloss over Maher’s hypocritical irrationality on medical issues. He’s not just mistaken. He’s a straightforward kook when it comes to medicine.

    I’m all for criticizing religion. I do it all the time, and I wish people would do it more often. It needs to be done forcefully and loudly. But I don’t like the attitude that emerges in contentious issues, “So-and-so is on our side, so let’s downplay it when they spout some bullshit.” Maher might be right when it comes to religion being bullshit, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore all the areas where he spouts his own brand of bullshit.

  3. #3 RBH
    July 23, 2009

    I’ll be blunt. Anyone who has no problem with Maher as the recipient of an honor awarded in part for someone “… who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge;…” had damned well better not complain about Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller as spokesman for evolutionary theory and education.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 24, 2009

    RBH –

    I have no objection to Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller being spokespersons for evolution. With respect to Miller in particular I have had nothing but praise for his science advocacy. I can praise his fine work in the area of science education while criticizing his religious views. And if some science advocacy group wanted to give him an award I would not argue that he should be disqualified on the grounds that I don’t like his religious views.

    Which is basically what I’m arguing here. In nearly all of the areas emphasized by the award Maher has been excellent. The fact that he gets it wrong in a few areas tangentially related to the award does not change that fact.

  5. #5 Pseudonym
    July 24, 2009

    It’s official: Jason Rosenhouse is an accommodationist.

    Did Heck just freeze over and nobody told me?

  6. #6 Tyro
    July 24, 2009

    I’m with Jason on this and definitely do not think he or I are accomodationists.

    “anti-science” – no, I think he’s just not a scientist and not all that interested in the science, much like Penn & Teller in that regard.

    award – whatever else he’s done, Maher has raised public awareness of the nontheist life stance through writings, media, and film; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins. The only thing he arguably has not done is talk about science or raised scientific awareness, but then neither have Penn & Teller.

    I’ve watched many of his shows, interviews and now his movie and he frequently berates religion but I’ve never heard him talk about these other issues. I’m not disputing that he has, but I do think it’s an infrequent occurrence, unrelated to the main thrust of his work.

    He’s not like Dawkins in all regards, but I think he’s a good example of an outspoken atheist advocate and so a good recipient of the award.

  7. #7 JohnV
    July 24, 2009

    “While I’m at it, I’m really tired of people being described as “anti-science” when what is meant is that they do not accept the scientific consensus on some issue”

    Ah yes, that fickle consensus regarding the germ theory of disease. Bill Mahr, fighting the battles of the 1860s to protect us all!

    If people honestly don’t think that that is anti-science, then we have bigger problems than creationism in our science classes.

  8. #8 JohnV
    July 24, 2009

    Blah I misspelled his name because I’m a jerk :(

  9. #9 Skeptico
    July 24, 2009

    I agree with others here – Maher is anti-science. Sorry, but saying that germ theory is invalid, is more than just not accepting scientific consensus. He is an anti-science loon wrt anything related to medicine.

    But the piece I want to comment on is this:

    Orac also tries to make hay out of the fact that Maher does not describe himself as an atheist. Again, oh please. The fact that he has some vague belief in a higher force in the universe hardly negates all of the good work that he is done in areas of relevance to the award.

    I think you are missing the point here Jason. Maher has repeatedly misrepresented what atheism is, probably because he doesn’t understand it. He has repeatedly criticized atheists for being as dogmatic as theists – saying that atheists don’t know either (if god exists) so they are just as bad as theists who claim god does exist. Maher doesn’t know (or chooses to ignore) the difference between the so called “hard” and “soft” atheism. It’s bad enough when theists continually get this wrong and misrepresent our position on what we actually do and do not believe, but the Atheist Alliance International shouldn’t award someone for repeatedly publicizing the same mistake. It seems to me that anyone receiving the award for the “outstanding atheist” of the year should at least know what the term means.

  10. #10 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 24, 2009

    I do not believe that Maher rejects the germ theory of disease. Yes, I’ve seen the quotes, but I think there are more charitable interpretations. There have been other places where he has said things that seem to accept the germ thoery.

    But let’s suppose he does. That’s “anti-science” (as opposed to ignorant or misinformed or whatnot) only if you think science is primarily a list of facts to which you must give your assent. If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.

  11. #11 llewelly
    July 24, 2009

    Jason Rosenhouse | July 24, 2009 12:18 AM:

    I have no objection to Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller being spokespersons for evolution. With respect to Miller in particular I have had nothing but praise for his science advocacy.

    Pseudonym | July 24, 2009 12:38 AM:

    It’s official: Jason Rosenhouse is an accommodationist.

    Did Heck just freeze over and nobody told me?

    PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have also said they admire the science advocacy and defense of evolution of Kenneth Miller (and to a lesser extent Francis Collins). The objection of Myers, et. al., as I understand it, is that (a) scientists who do not believe in a personal god (as Miller and Collins clearly do) are in the majority, especially in the upper echelons (97% of NAS scientists do not believe in a personal god), yet (b) such scientists are under-represented in public discourse, and by organizations such as the NCSE, and often told to ‘shut up’ by ‘accommodationists’ . The ‘anti-accommodationists’ act out of a desire to be heard, not out of a desire to silence others.

    P.S. Please, please, please do whatever you can to get preview fixed. Ever since the upgrade, clicking ‘post’ after previewing has resulted in a page not found error.

  12. #12 Siamang
    July 24, 2009

    “….then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science. ”

    When that “consensus view” is the result of hundreds of years of diligent use of that method, and one throws it out *using a different method*, yes… I think it is anti-science.

    If you or I or President Bush did something like this, Maher’s criticism would be witty and withering. He can dish it out just fine. I say we don’t blunt our criticism.

    To complain in a Maheresque tone:

    Bill Maher holds views on medicine one step removed from the days when all a doctor could do for you is give you leather to bite on while he reached for the hacksaw. And the worst part is, he thinks he’s the smart one. Well, Mr Maher, perhaps the canibis has addled your brain, or perhaps it’s the muzak at the Whole Foods, but as many have said “alternative medicine” is by definition medicine that has not been shown to work, or has been shown *not* to work. Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been shown to work? *Medicine!*

  13. #13 JohnV
    July 24, 2009

    “If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.”

    I suppose I’m not getting the appropriate message here, but referring to the germ theory of disease as “some consensus view” is making me laugh quite loudly.

  14. #14 Mitch
    July 24, 2009

    Read the criteria for the award:
    “The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.”

    Now read the following clip while you remained focused on the phrase “an outstanding atheist”. See a problem?

    http://scienceblogs.com/evolutionblog/2009/07/bill_maher_is_a_fine_choice_fo.php

    “I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no.” I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they’re fighting about in the Middle East, it’s so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven—no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It’s like, “Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you’re really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?” But I do believe in a God, yes.”

  15. #15 T. Bruce McNeely
    July 24, 2009

    I take the point that the award is in recognition of Maher’s work on behalf of atheism, however, I do believe that this decision is going to blow up in the faces of the
    AAI. To me, it looks like the AAI is so celebrity-struck that they have lost common sense. Atheism is supposed to be rational. This award spits in the face of rationality.
    Germ theory is a “consensus view”? By that logic, the theory of evolution is also a “consensus view”.

  16. #16 Skeptico
    July 24, 2009

    I do not believe that Maher rejects the germ theory of disease.

    He said, vaccines don’t prevent disease. He said that we didn’t get rid of polio due to the vaccine, but that we got rid of polio “because we got toilets.” His reasoning ws that Pasteur recanted on his deathbed. Maher has never renounced this view.

    But let’s suppose he does. That’s “anti-science” (as opposed to ignorant or misinformed or whatnot) only if you think science is primarily a list of facts to which you must give your assent. If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.

    Oh give me a break. Rejecting germ theory is not just rejecting the “concensus view”, it is wilfully ignoring science (denialism, in reality) while believing wacko nut job anti-vaccine websites. He says he doesn’t support “western medicine.” Pure woo, worthy of the wooist comments from the wooist woo supportinmg woo. And I’ve seen plenty, so I know what I’m talking about here. Science is a process, but if you ignore the process (the evidence) in favor of denialist idiocy, you are anti-science.

    Regardless, an even bigger problem with Maher getting this award, is (as I wrote) that he has criticized atheists for being just as irrational and dognmatic as theists. I heard him say this recently – this year IIRC, when discussing Religulous on a late night talkshow. I don’t understand how the Atheist Alliance International can give him their atheist of the year award when he parrots this misinformed straw men definition of atheist. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the award to the “outstanding atheist” of the year should be to someone who understands what an atheist actually is.

  17. #17 Skeptico
    July 24, 2009

    btw, I agree with llewelly – “preview” is seriously messed up.

  18. #18 Jr
    July 24, 2009

    Isn’t Dawkin’s fight supposed to be about promoting reason in general? Replacing religion with superstition or quackery is no improvement.

  19. #19 Jason Rosenhouse
    July 24, 2009

    Tyro –

    Looks like it’s you and me against the world, bro.

  20. #20 Pseudonym
    July 24, 2009

    llewely:

    I don’t intend to harp on this issue. But just to clarify something:

    PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins have also said they admire the science advocacy and defense of evolution of Kenneth Miller (and to a lesser extent Francis Collins). The objection of Myers, et. al., as I understand it, is that (a) scientists who do not believe in a personal god (as Miller and Collins clearly do) are in the majority, especially in the upper echelons (97% of NAS scientists do not believe in a personal god), yet (b) such scientists are under-represented in public discourse, and by organizations such as the NCSE, and often told to ‘shut up’ by ‘accommodationists’ . The ‘anti-accommodationists’ act out of a desire to be heard, not out of a desire to silence others.

    That’s one side of the argument.

    The other side of the argument is that polls consistently show that roughly 50% of scientists believe in some sort of personal deity, and even more believe in a more impersonal version.

    The NAS is a biassed, self-selecting sample, as Richard Feynman famously pointed out. Nonetheless, the NAS’ official position is that acceptance of evolution can be compatible with religious faith. If the 97% of NAS members feel they are under-represented in their own publications, that’s not my problem.

    Personally, I’m in favour of Bill Maher receiving this award. It’s proof that atheism is often not based on science or reason, but rather is happy to accommodate anti-science and anti-reason. Ingersoll would be proud.

  21. #21 anonymous
    July 25, 2009

    It seems that atheists maintain two principles: 1) Religion is an incorrect and supersticious means of understanding physical phenomena AND 2) The scientific method, when applicable, is the most accurate means to understand physical phenomena.

    Bill Maher seems to subscribe to the first principle, yet I have never heard him endorse the second. He rejects religion, yet seems to have replaced it with an amalgam of instinct, superstition, paranoia and, occasionally, scientific findings. I have not heard him articulate any general approach to how to accept or reject information. Yet he adheres passionately to his hunches about the evils of vaccines and the chicanery of scientists. He has sinoly replaced a superstitious belief in prophets to one no less superstitious, if more ego-syntonic: absolute faith in his own visions and delusions.

  22. #22 sikiş izle
    July 25, 2009

    The other side of the argument is that polls consistently show that roughly 50% of scientists believe in some sort of personal deity, and even more believe in a more impersonal version

  23. #23 Robert S.
    July 25, 2009

    But let’s suppose he does. That’s “anti-science” (as opposed to ignorant or misinformed or whatnot) only if you think science is primarily a list of facts to which you must give your assent. If we’re serious about science being an investigative method as opposed to a list of facts, then rejecting some consensus view does not make you anti-science.

    I agree, the more likely explanation is that he is batshit insane. Rejecting germ theory is like stating things fall because angels push on them, or that the old lady down the lane has the evil eye. Bill Maher is not an atheist. In his own words, “I’m not an atheist, though, because the belief that there is no God only mirrors the certitude of religion.” This is the exact same post modern equivocation that leads to his other wackiness. The underlying idea that he expressed, (“Belief” in not X is the same as “Belief” in X) allows him to state Z is a fact because he feels it in his water.

    Does the term Atheist really cover the people who just don’t like organized religion and think at least certain theists are crazy/stupid? He arguably “through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy”. But he isn’t an atheist and to say he “advocates increased scientific knowledge” is laughable. And to state his “public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins” requires twisting meanings beyond recognition. In short he doesn’t even seem to qualify to be in the running for the award, much less exhibit the qualities of a “Fine Choice”.

  24. #24 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 25, 2009

    ‘Religulous’ is Maher’s ticket into the circle of organized Atheists, arguably an extremely heterogeneous group in its own right–no central dogma, yeah, yeah, but look who the leading lights are: Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Coyne, Myers, Scott, etc. Not ‘just’ atheists, but advocates of reason, science, and naturalism. Doesn’t it matter to them, or to any of the other pro-reality attendants that they are building a fellowship with folks with fairly nutty beliefs on everything OTHER than gods? Is it just to be able to say ‘look how many people are rejecting organized religion’? Maybe I’m missing the point of the convention–admittedly I’ve never been, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly productive strategy to me.

    Moreover: the film itself, the subject and success of which has seemingly eclipsed all the irrational tendencies Maher has repeatedly displayed, was made using similar deceptive tactics to those that were used by the makers of ‘Expelled!’–tactics which Richard, PZ and supporters justifiably railed against. So yes, I’m sure its very entertaining to watch some ambushed apologists flounder and flap during their ‘Religulous’ interviews, just as I’m sure it was very entertaining for the hundred or so viewers in church basements to see Dawkins getting his pancake #5 applied in ‘Expelled’. How are these situations different? How can so many atheists (or other advocates of reason) send a veritable blizzard of objection letters to the University of Vermont protesting Ben Stein’s invitation to speak and yet be this tolerant of Maher receiving the Richard Freakin’ Dawkins award at the AAI convention? Isn’t this lauding of Maher, solely for his (dodgily crafted) ridicule of religion, basically playing right into the ‘New Atheist’ caricature that Mooney & Kirschbaum have sketched?

  25. #25 SLC
    July 25, 2009

    Re Pseudonym

    Would Mr. Pseudonym care to provide a source for the information that 50% of scientists believe in some sort of personal deity. The only poll that I am aware of says that 43% of scientists believe in some sort of deity. This could include Deists.

    As for Richard Feynmans’ problem with the NAS, I would point out that the late Dr. Feynman, as great a scientist as he undoubtedly was (by the way, Feynman was also every bit the atheist that Richard Dawkins is), was somewhat of an iconoclast who had a number of quirks. One example was his avocation of playing bongo drums at topless bars. This is not an urban legend. I personally knew a physicist who accompanied him on one of these excursions.

  26. #26 dış cephe
    July 25, 2009

    Moreover: the film itself, the subject and success of which has seemingly eclipsed all the irrational tendencies Maher has repeatedly displayed, was made using similar deceptive tactics to those that were used by the makers of ‘Expelled!’–tactics which Richard, PZ and supporters justifiably railed against.

  27. #27 Blake Stacey
    July 25, 2009

    I have suggested elsewhere that the AAI might have done better all around by giving Religulous itself a “movie of the year” award, separating the work from the man.

  28. #28 J. J. Ramsey
    July 25, 2009

    RBH:

    I’ll be blunt. Anyone who has no problem with Maher as the recipient of an honor awarded in part for someone “… who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge;…” had damned well better not complain about Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller as spokesman for evolutionary theory and education.

    The beliefs of Collins and Miller are mostly harmless and are likely to appeal to those who would otherwise have beliefs even more at odds with the facts. The beliefs of Bill Maher are a threat to public health.

  29. #29 Pseudonym
    July 25, 2009

    SLC:

    Would Mr. Pseudonym care to provide a source for the information that 50% of scientists believe in some sort of personal deity.

    You’re right, I meant to say 40%. My mistake.

    The only poll that I am aware of says that 43% of scientists believe in some sort of deity. This could include Deists.

    The question is whether or not you believe in a personal, prayer-answering deity. This would exclude Deists and non-theistic Christians like Spong.

    I have to second what Jennifer Phillips and J.J. Ramsey said. I thought this was dumb, but I have to now concede that this is actually dangerous. If the AAI is publically endorsing someone like Maher, then the AAI is not a credible organisation.

  30. #30 imissbubby
    July 26, 2009

    Darwinian Evolution needs to be wiped off the face of the planet. It is the root of all evil in the world. It espouses that mankind will be degraded unless the weak are murdered. It has no problem with one people warring against another for superiority — in fact, per Darwinian Evolution, this is a necessity. Evolutionary Atheists believe, in principal, that Death is the creator. Simply aweful.

  31. #31 Pseudonym
    July 26, 2009

    I know it’s not done to feed the trolls, but still…

    imissbubbly, you might want to read some Lynn Margulis. As much as I respect Richard Dawkins for his excellent expositions on evolution, reading only Dawkins gives you an unbalanced diet. In evolution, cooperation is just as important as competition.

  32. #32 olle
    July 27, 2009

    Whose Mooney & Kirschbaum? And whose this “scott” of the New Atheist? I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.

  33. #33 James Sweet
    July 27, 2009

    I think the “anti-science” allegations against Maher come from his innate distrust of Western medicine… maybe “anti-science” is too strong a word, but his views on Western medicine are certainly a delusion on the caliber of religion, i.e. it is a viewpoint that judges based on doctrine rather than on evidence.

    For me, I think Maher was a mediocre choice for the award. I don’t think he exemplifies the secular humanist ideals particularly well, but at the same time one cannot ignore the importance of his movie. For whatever that’s worth…

  34. #34 James Sweet
    July 27, 2009

    Moreover: the film itself, the subject and success of which has seemingly eclipsed all the irrational tendencies Maher has repeatedly displayed, was made using similar deceptive tactics to those that were used by the makers of ‘Expelled!’–tactics which Richard, PZ and supporters justifiably railed against.

    I’ve been thinking about this lately… When I saw the movie, my impression was that (up until the final monologue, which was incredibly inspiring and in some ways changed my life) the movie was “unfair but funny”, sort of an irreligious Borat if you will. Absolutely he was being a dick, absolutely some of his arguments didn’t hold up to logical scrutiny, but that wasn’t the intention of the movie, and if the intention was to be very funny to a nontheist audience, my feeling was mission accomplished.

    But then the parallels to Expelled! were pointed out to me and I am more troubled. On one hand, I could just dismiss them by saying, Well, Ben Stein is a Creationist Borat so to speak, and the fact that he made an unfair-but-funny movie is not the problem, the problem is that he’s a Creationist. But that would be a bit disingenuous, because I admit being quite incensed at Stein’s deceptive tactics.

    I still might almost argue that it’s one thing to use deceptive tactics to take authority figures down a peg (like Sacha Baron Cohen), but it’s another thing entirely to use deceptive tactics to try and distort the views of a scientist. But that still feels a bit disingenuous…

  35. #35 Deen
    July 27, 2009

    Pseudonym wrote:

    In evolution, cooperation is just as important as competition.

    Which Dawkins has actually explained many times as well.

  36. #36 Epinephrine
    July 27, 2009

    Whose Mooney & Kirschbaum? And whose this “scott” of the New Atheist? I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.

    Scott is Eugenie Scott, executive deirector of the National Center for Science Education.

  37. #37 Jennifer B. Phillips
    July 27, 2009

    Whose Mooney & Kirschbaum? And whose this “scott” of the New Atheist? I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.
    Scott is Eugenie Scott, executive deirector of the National Center for Science Education.

    And, since Eugenie Scott is on the record repeatedly going for compatibility between religion and science, one could hardly classify her as a “New Atheist” (where ‘New’ = ‘uppity’, ‘strident’, ‘militant’, etc.)

    James Sweet @34:
    Yeah, I had a similar dilemma with the movie tactics–maybe the larger lesson here is that ‘documentary’ is not synonymous with ‘unbiased reality’, at least in modern films, and their entertainment value should not be conflated with their value to inform on an issue in a truly meaningful way. And maybe that lets Borat off the hook a little bit, because he’s going exclusively for ‘punk’d'-type comedy and not selling it as a documentary. I still don’t enjoy that particular style of ‘entertainment’, but at least he’s not slopping faux-gravitas all over it to try and make it into something more.

    I may be more sensitive to the response to Maher’s award because of my extremely negative, visceral reaction to Mooney & Kirschbaum’s book, and my subsequent desire to debunk their stupid conclusions therein. Nothing would make them look like bigger assholes than being outclassed–not to mention out-reasoned–by the ‘New Atheists’, but this whole AAI thing seems like a step in the wrong direction. I guess the comparison to ‘herding cats’ is not for naught :)

  38. #38 jre
    July 27, 2009

    Just to pile on here: Maher says he is not an atheist, and there is every reason to take him at his word. As anyone who has observed him for a while can attest, Maher does not have anything like a consistent, well thought-out view on religion or any other topic. His understanding of the world is instead a kind of ever-shifting cloud of cynicism. This fluidity is part of his skill — he delivers rapier-quick putdowns of people and institutions with an endearing snark that has made him hugely popular, and a darling of those who see his act as a principled Sticking it to The Man. I often like that act myself, but I don’t fool myself that principle has anything to do with it.

    It is no accident that Maher has appeared with Ann Coulter in a WWF-style parody of debate, and has expressed admiration for Coulter’s willingness to say any fool thing that comes into her head. Both are performance artists, without any real convictions. It may be great entertainment, but it’s a lousy qualification for this award.

  39. #39 söve
    July 27, 2009

    I agree jre.

  40. #40 Pseudonym
    July 27, 2009

    Deen:

    Which Dawkins has actually explained many times as well.

    Indeed, after some persuasion. Dawkins’ early books tend not to mention it because the discussion between neo-Darwinism and the theory of endosymbiosis wasn’t completely settled at the time.

    Incidentally, I don’t mean to knock Dawkins here. I consider it a great strength in a scientist if you are able to push your position wholeheartedly and then instantly back down when you’ve been shown to be incorrect.

  41. #41 Soren
    July 28, 2009

    To Jason:
    So it wouldn’t be a bad idea if Kenneth Miller received this award?

    Like Maher he is not an atheist, but unlike Maher Miller is very knowledgeable about sience, and an excellent communicator of science?

    It would seem he is a better fit for the award than Maher?

  42. #42 jre
    July 28, 2009

    I was basking in söve’s approval until I found that he/she/it is a Swedish spambot. That first date kind of ended with a rude shock.

  43. #43 Wes
    July 28, 2009

    I was basking in söve’s approval until I found that he/she/it is a Swedish spambot. That first date kind of ended with a rude shock.

    Posted by: jre | July 28, 2009 2:31 PM

    When the spambots pass the Turing test, we’re all fucked.

  44. #44 jre
    July 28, 2009

    When the spambots pass the Turing test, we’re all fucked.

    True enough. In fairness though, when “I agree” is all the information content I need to recognize a kindred spirit, maybe I’m meeting the spambots more than halfway.

    Hey — here’s how you could help. Just say “That’s true. You’re absolutely right.”

  45. #45 thomas
    July 30, 2009

    Pseudonym,

    I wasn’t aware of Dawkins having written a book earlier than “The Selfish Gene” and that makes repeated references to co-operation.

    In short, what are you talking about?

  46. #46 Pseudonym
    July 31, 2009

    thomas, I’m not going into detail on what is a largely technical dispute, but a good example of the sort of thing can be found by asking Google about “group selection”.

  47. #47 Robert Edwards
    July 31, 2009

    Hi, I’m new to this blog and fascinated by all the comments. I think of myself as an Atheist, but as Bertrand Russell always said ‘question authority’ – my philosophy is never say never and nothing is final. Tell me, does an Atheist have no beliefs in any possible existence of a supernatural power? or the existence of a superior sentient being on perhaps another planet in another galaxy? If we (on this blog) all believe in evolution, that humans evolved from the sea, is there the slightest possibility that during this time and perhaps the time before (other existences like Earth or another class M planet), that the mind evolved to such a level that thought was able to exist beyond the life of the body? With regard to Bill Maher, well, I agree, perhaps he shouldn’t have received this award but do you think that through the movie he was able to provide people with more questions as Buddha said: ‘Believe nothing merely because you have been told it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be kind, conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings – that doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide. If I had a religion it would be Kindness – I think the Dalai Lama said this. Lastly, you all talk about scientists as if they are all from the same cloth so, how do we distinguish between scientists and whose opinions really matter? And what collection of scientists are we referring too when we quote figures like 43% who believe in some kind of deity.

  48. #48 Frank
    August 4, 2009

    Sure. Next recipients are Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

  49. #49 Linda Rosa
    September 3, 2009

    For anyone concerned about quackery and the immense threat posed by the anti-vax movment, Bill Maher’s constant comments to the American public against modern medicine stand out plenty. This celebrity is clearly a public health menace.

    I suggest a simple test:

    Do you think it is more important HOW Maher thinks or WHAT Maher thinks?

    Good thinkers can make mistakes. It is quite a different thing when a poor thinker happens on a good idea now and then.

    Penn & Teller’s Bullshit show has indeed made errors, but the one’s I’ve seen appear to have resulted because of insufficient evidence or because they relied on an authoritative source that was in error (e.g. ACSH on second-hand smoke) — not because Penn & Teller can’t reason well or think scientifically.

    Maher, on the other hand, is basically not rational. My enjoyment of *Religulous* was diminished because I think the guy might just as easily have been a proponent of religion, just as he adheres religiously to the belief that eating pure foods will make a fellow invulnerable to disease.

    Giving an award to Bill Maher parallels the Center for Inquiry’s feting of Rep. Patricia Schroeder this year at several events. CFI was unimpressed on learning that Schroeder has been the unrepentant celebrity proponent of a sadistic form of quackery known as “Rage Reduction” which has been responsible for ghastly child abuse and deaths.

    Some skeptics/atheists indulge in celebrity worship too much for my tastes.

  50. #50 Ray
    August 17, 2011

    Jason wrote: > This year the award is going to Bill Maher. Seems like a good choice to me.

    Congratulations, Jason. In two short sentences, you managed to discredit yourself entirely, much as the Richard Dawkins lackeys have discredited themselves entirely in giving Bill Maher this meaningless award.

    I, unlike Bill Maher, am an unequivocal atheist, but leaving that aside: are you quite aware of Bill Maher’s stance on Western medicine and so-called spirituality?