Can I call it a ceremony? It wasn’t very ceremonious at all.
We sat down first to watch a live video stream of Bill Maher’s show, with special guest Richard Dawkins. It was good, it was funny, it was abrasive, and Maher didn’t say anything crazy at all. Dawkins did not get much of an opportunity to say much, again; that’s a problem with some of these shows, like Colbert, where the personality of the host leaves little room for the guests. Dawkins acquitted himself well, though.
After the Maher show, we got to listen to Mr Deity. This was pretty darned cool; not only did he show video clips, but the whole cast was there, and they recreated a couple of the episodes live. We learned that Lucy is, in real life, married to Mr Deity, which would seem to mean that Satan is actually Mrs Deity. The theological implications of this revelation were not discussed, but should have been. Mr Deity is also an ex-Mormon, yet another bit of theological dynamite that will no doubt shake all of organized religion to its core.
Maher and Dawkins arrived near the end of Mr Deity’s talk, and I know that’s what everyone wants to hear about. I was seated at the same table with Maher, but sadly, there was no opportunity to have a conversation with him. Dawkins introduced him, he gave a short speech, he got surrounded by a photograph-taking mob, he left.
The good news for all the critics of this choice is that Dawkins pulled no punches. In his introduction, he praised Religulous and thanked Maher for his contributions to freethought, but he also very clearly and unambiguously stated that some of his beliefs about medicine were simply crazy. He did a good job of walking a difficult tightrope; he made it clear that the award was granted for some specific worthy matters, his humorous approach to religion, while carefully dissociating the AAI from any endorsement of crackpot medicine. It won’t be enough, I know, but the effort was made, and talking to Dawkins afterwards there was no question but that Maher’s quackery was highly objectionable. I also got the impression that he felt the critics of the award were making good and reasonable points, and that he felt the awkwardness of the decision.
Maher’s talk was hilarious, too. He’s definitely one of us in his opposition to religion’s influence on the culture, if nothing else.
OK, and just to make you all jealous, I went out to dinner afterwards with Richard Dawkins and Dan Dennett. If it makes you feel better, Dan had some criticisms of my talk — I was arguing that it’s a mistake to talk about design in evolution, Dan wants to salvage the word from the hands of creationists and thinks we can talk about design without implying intent at all. I am not convinced, but he does make an interesting case.