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.