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Richard Dawkins’ problem: Bill Maher

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on September 29, 2009

Richard Dawkins is in hot water! The Atheist Alliance International has an award named after him which they award during their annual conference, and its description reads like this (according to Wikipedia, I can’t find a description of the award at the AAI website at all):

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.

I was able to find this short post on the AAI website about the upcoming 2009 convention though, and from there I get this quote which seems to validate the Wikipedia entry (emphasis mine):

We are also pleased to announce that Bill Maher, effervescent host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and host and co-producer of the 2008 documentary movie Religulous, will be in attendance Friday evening to receive the 2009 AAI Richard Dawkins Award for his efforts to further the values science and reason in the world.

The case against this nomination has been made brilliantly by Orac, and I don’t need to repeat what he said except for the main point. One of the criteria for awarding the RDA is “advocates increased scientific knowledge”. Bill Maher does the exact opposite, and not only when medical issues are involved. To this day I remember listening in horror to the podcast version of the show when he and Ashton Kutcher, I think if my memory serves me correctly, were talking crap about the NASA orbiters sent to Mars!

Newsflash AAI: Bill Maher makes no effort to “further the values of science” in the world. He does make a great effort to further atheism, but he is as anti science as!

The AAI is whoring itself for the spotlight a celebrity like Bill Maher can shine on them, and I for one, and it appears Orac also, do not support this sort of behavior.

So why is this Richard Dawkins’ problem?  Well for one, even though he did not have anything to do with the selection process, the award bares his name. Secondly, he will be there at the convention, thus lending credence to the idea that he approves of Maher as a receipient. Thirdly one only needs to look at the convention website to see Maher’s and Dawkins’ pics front and center, and the Richard Dawkins Foundation Emblema right on the website banner, almost as big as the AAI portion of the banner.

For all intents and purposes it seems clear to me that RD is not an innocent bystander, whose name was “hijacked” by the AAI. If he did not support Maher as a recipient of an award bearing his name, he would say so openly not hide behind the “I did not choose him” excuse, because that is what in reality it is. It is clear that Richard Dawkins has no problem at all with this, even if Maher most clearly makes no effort whatsoever to advance the values of science; even though Maher takes every chance to trash science and push ridiculous “holistic” treatments whenever he cans; even when Maher ridicules the Mars probes as a waste of money. I guess having a celebrity on your side is more important than being intellectually honest. Here is a telling quote from an entry on the website:

Whilst Richard was not involved in the decision, he is nevertheless happy to go along with it. Just as he worked with Bishop Harries to protest against creationist schools in the UK, and just as he regularly recommends Kenneth Miller’s books on evolution to religious people, he understands that it is not a prerequisite to agree with a person on all issues in order to unite in support of a common objective. Richard and Christopher Hitchens don’t see eye to eye on all political matters, but that doesn’t stop them from working together against the dangers of religion. Honoring the creation of ‘Religulous’ does not imply endorsement of all of Bill Maher’s other views, and does not preclude Richard’s arguing against them on future occasions. It is simply showing proper appreciation of his brilliant film.

This is a load of crap, and I call bullshit. I am disgusted to see this sort of straw man arguing on this reputable website. No one is implying that Dawkins has to agree with Maher on everything. Our argument is simple, Maher does not fulfill the criteria that the AAI itself has set up for its award recipients. Dawkins needs to acknowledge this, and not pretend he does not understand our point, or pretend that he was not aware of Maher’s anti scientific views, and, at this point when it has all been pointed out to him, ignore it completely. That is not what a man of reason does!

Also, the point about disagreeing with Hitchens on political issues is a false analogy that does not apply. We’re not saying that Dawkins needs to agree with Maher on political issues, or social issues. We’re saying that it is dishonest to endorse Maher as the recipient of an award which in part is meant to honor him for his advancement and support for science, which he most certainly lacks to the highest degree, and at the same time try to hide behind the “I did not know/ I didn’t have anything to do with this” excuse. If you knew or not, were involved or not,  is irrelevant so long as you think they did the right thing and you ignore the evidence to the contrary. If you endorse this recipient, you cannot put up this sort of defense. It is dishonest and pathetic, and we expect more from one of the most prominent public figures of our movement.

Bill Maher may be a great atheist, and may have done more than anyone alive today to advance the cause of atheism. However, either the AAI needs to change the criteria for the RD Award, or they need to retract the award from Maher. Somehow, knowing human nature, I suspect neither of these will happen. They will proudly use Maher’s name and face until they can squeeze no more publicity out of it, and keep the word “science” in their award description, because everybody knows that word is prestigious. In the mean time a dangerously misguided woo woo lover will keep on spouting anti scientific nonsense as much as he can, because hey he got an award for advancing scientific knowledge. How’s that for irony?

Put Maher in the hot seat

Posted in Pharyngula by Skepdude on July 23, 2009


Some people are quite rightly appalled that Bill Maher won the Richard Dawkins Award from AAI, and is at the top of the list of speakers at the AAI conference. I sympathize; Maher certainly has some wacky ideas, and I even gave him a mixed review on his movie, Religulous. (I also must repeat a clarification: the Richard Dawkins Award is not given by Richard Dawkins or the Richard Dawkins Foundation: it is an award by Atheist Alliance International, named after Richard Dawkins.)

However, let’s be clear about the obvious. He is being given this award for making a movie this year that clearly promotes atheism and mocks religion, and that’s all that is being endorsed. Not many people have done that, and it’s especially unusual in that it was a movie entirely about ridiculing religion, and it was a mainstream movie with wide circulation. That’s it. It would be difficult to ignore, and it’s something AAI would like to promote.

Let’s be clear about something else. This is atheism: we have no dogma, we have no infallible leaders, everyone is naturally flawed, and we recognize that within our ranks there is a huge diversity of opinion. Our strategy for dealing with these ideas is the same as the scientific approach — constant, relentless criticism. There is no Atheist Supreme Leader. There is no Atheist Pope. There is no Godless Ruling Council, no Atheist Inquisition, no Freethought Dogma.


Bill Maher gets the Richard Dawkins Award? That’s like Jenny McCarthy getting an award for public health

Posted in Respectful Insolence by Skepdude on July 23, 2009


Although I often don’t agree with him and have cooled on him lately, I still rather like–even admire–Richard Dawkins. While it’s true I’ve taken him to task for having a tin ear for bioethics, lamented his walking blindly right into charges of anti-Semitism(no, I don’t think he’s an anti-Semite), and half-defended/half-criticized him for seeming to endorsing eugenics. What’s really irritated me about him in the past, though, is his use of the “Neville Chamber atheist” gambit that I so detest, so much so that I once featured Dawkins in a Hitler Zombie episode (albeit not as the victim). On the other hand, I loved Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason, particularly Dawkins’ demolition of Deepak Chopra and other woo-meisters. Indeed, his explanation of the ridiculousness of the pseudoscience that is homeopathy was about as clear and visually compelling as any I’ve ever seen, and I loved how he and P.Z. Myers totally pwned the producers of Expelled! last year.

Through it all, even though I don’t always agree with Richard Dawkins mostly on matters of religion versus atheism and how to advocate for reason, I have never doubted that he is a force for reason to be reckoned with. I’ve even briefly met him, although I highly doubt that he’d remember me, my being one of dozens of people who shook his hand that day nearly two years ago in New York. There’s even an award named after him, the Richard Dawkins Award, which the Atheist Alliance awards to one person every year based on these 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.

Past recipients have included James Randi, Ann Druyan, Penn and Teller, Julia Sweeney, Daniel Dennett, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, all worthy recipients. 

So the other day I was rather shocked to see who the 2009 recipient of the Richard Dawkins Award will be. If you read Pharyngula, you knew the answer a couple of days ago.

 Bill Maher.

 When I found this out, all I could think was: WTF?

 Let’s backtrack a minute. Longtime readers of this blog know that I do not think much of Bill Maher. Oh, sure, I find him occasionally somewhat amusing. For example, his New Rules segment is sometimes pretty funny. However I can’t really watch Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO, mainly because Maher’s smugness irritates the crap out of me. But none of that has anything to do with why I find his receiving the Richard Dawkins Award to be about as inappropriate as giving Jenny McCarthy a public health award–and for much the same reasons. After all, Bill Maher is a woo-meister supreme and, like Jenny McCarthy, an anti-vaccine crank, as I’ve documented time and time again on this very blog. He’s also a big time PETA supporter and a germ theory denialist.