So it’s come to this

It’s taken quite some time, but the camel’s back is officially broken. I fucking can’t stand Bill Maher.

I don’t know where to begin, really. I liked “Politically Incorrect” back in the day, but Religulous was a mixed bag. And now, between the AAI debacle and his renewed rampaging against basic medicine, as well as the frothing and infighting he’s inspired in the skeptic and atheist communities, I’m finally done with the asshole.

I guess the place to begin is AAI. I don’t know, I think there’s some tackiness involved already with their Richard Dawkins Award, and the criteria don’t help assuage my concerns. Here’s what the award was supposed to honor (according to the Wikipedia page):

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.

Wikipedia cites the Atheist Alliance website as their source for that quote, but the site is poorly designed, and neither the search function there nor Google can find anything about the Dawkins Award anywhere on either that site or the convention site. I’ve heard charges that the criteria were changed after the Maher controversy started, but I can’t confirm that. What I can tentatively confirm is that there’s no apparent mention of the criteria on their site. There is this telling bit:

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.

Here are the problems: first, Maher is avowedly not an atheist. While all the direct quotes addressing his agnosticism, disavowal of the term “atheist,” and vague spirituality come from years back, I seem to recall even in “Religulous” he claimed that atheists were just as dogmatic, or something along those lines. It wasn’t until just before the convention, when he had Dawkins on his show, that he claimed that title for himself.

Second, there is no way that anyone can claim Maher “further[s] the values of science and reason.” There wasn’t any science in “Religulous,” and even the reason was a bit light. I don’t watch “Real Time,” but I’ve seen enough clips of his antivaccination, antimedicine views to know what an antiscience kook he is. I’m convinced that the only reason Maher buys into global warming and evolution is because his political opponents are against them, not because he understands or trusts the science. His views on medicine have been and continue to be insane and dangerous–and probably spurred again by his anti-corporate political beliefs. He thinks that vaccines are a less settled science than global warming, overestimates the role of nutrition in disease prevention, subscribes to various flavors of detox woo, and generally distrusts “western medicine.” All this should rather disqualify him for any award based around the promotion and advancement of science.

And I’m sure that there were others in 2008 who would better deserve this kind of award. What about the people who organized the London bus signs? How about Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who made serious waves with the Washington Christmas sign, have expanded their billboard campaign, and have continued their radio show and other ways of promoting both atheism and reason. What about Simon Singh, who has taken on the British Chiropractic Association in an ongoing campaign against pseudomedicine? These are just a few, off the top of my head, and there are others who have done more–and consistently–for science and reason than Maher.

Which has skeptics in an uproar, and rightly so. And no one has been roaring louder than Orac, one of my favorite bloggers, who has discussed Maher’s woopidity in the past. Unfortunately, I think Orac got a little overheated in one of his last posts on the subject. For context, Orac’s discussing a post by PZ at the AAI convention. PZ talked about Dawkins’s introduction of Maher, and how Dawkins had to walk a tightrope in the speech between acknowledging Maher’s contributions to the atheist movement and dissociating himself and the AAI from Maher’s stupid views on science and medicine.

I don’t envy the position that Dawkins was put in, there. AAI fucked up in their choice of Maher, and it’s not as though Dawkins was in on the decision. He’s also on a book tour, and apparently wasn’t familiar with either Maher or his views (outside of “Religulous”) until fairly recently. He could have disavowed Maher and refused to present the award, in which case I imagine AAI would have replaced him with someone who would give a glowing boilerplate introduction. By staying involved, Dawkins was able to throw a few punches in as well as acknowledging Maher’s contributions.

Anyway here’s what Orac had to say about it:

As for the “tightrope,” well, suffice it to say that I’m still less than impressed. PZ is right about one thing; it wasn’t enough. To me, this whole fiasco is pretty strong evidence that, if atheism and science come into conflict (unless, of course, that science happens to be the science of evolution, in which case I highly doubt that this controversy would have been so flippantly dismissed), for Richard Dawkins atheism wins hands down, and science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community. Atheism is clearly what’s more important to Dawkins now. As long as he bashes religion, Maher’s a-OK with him and only gets a brief remonstration for his promotion of quackery and anti-vaccine views.

Orac’s posts on the matter, especially some of the later ones, came across to me as mildly unhinged (such as where he criticized PZ for not complaining about Maher in a post that was clearly just a list of speakers–no one was commented on), and this quote is really the apex of that. Richard Dawkins cares more about atheism than science? Yes, I’m sure that’s why he just wrote a science book about science and is touring the country to read scientific excerpts from that science book. That claim, I think, is ludicrous.

Furthermore, it’s not “atheism and science” coming into conflict, as Orac suggests. It’s an atheist group and science coming into conflict. It seems that by the time anyone knew about Maher’s receiving the award, the choice had already been made. So what to do, have all the prominent speakers pull out of the conference? Or use the moment to remind people that atheism isn’t a dogma, and that we can vociferously disagree with one another–and with the organizations that supposedly speak for us? Perhaps there wasn’t enough of that, but it’s not reasonable to claim that this was a conflict between “atheism and science.”

And then there’s this bit: “science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community” Quoi? I’m sorry, Orac, but I’m not entirely clear on this: which reality-based community are you talking about? Certainly not the skeptical community, which gets more vitriolic about antivaccinationists and the dangers of alternative medicine than any other subject. Certainly not the skeptical community who rallied behind Simon Singh in his legal battles. Certainly not the skeptical community who take every quack’s attempt to silence a skeptic and spread it like wildfire around the Internet. Certainly not the skeptical community who has tirelessly fought against the Mercury Militia and the Jenny McCarthy and Oprah followers. Certainly not the skeptical community who typically cut their teeth on debunking homeopathy. Certainly not the skeptical community who trumpets every child’s death due to faith healing and quackery. Certainly not the skeptical community whose top luminaries include a neurologist, a psychiatrist, and a cancer surgeon. No, it must be some other reality-based community that Orac is talking about, because the one I’m a part of makes medicine a primary focus.

So, overall, I don’t think anyone comes out of this looking good. Maher is a contrarian idiot, and has reaffirmed that since the conference ended. The AAI made a boneheaded mistake and apparently is more concerned with covering it up than addressing it, which certainly doesn’t give me any desire to be associated with them. Dawkins comes across as someone who doesn’t pay enough attention to what’s done with his name and assumed endorsement (see also: the Brights). I think PZ makes it out relatively unscathed, though I’m willing to reconsider that. And Orac comes across as someone who wrote one too many insolent posts on this subject.

But while my opinion of the latter three isn’t enough to tarnish my opinions of them more than a little, Maher’s continued use of creationist-style arguments to promote his antiscience views has led me to the conclusion that he’s a world-class asshat, and I’m as done with him as I am with Ben Stein. At this point, I’m glad I haven’t bought “Religulous”: I don’t think I could stand to watch Maher for that long anymore. Fuck ‘im.

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8 Responses to So it’s come to this

  1. Bronze Dog says:

    Well, now I agree that those quotes you provided from Orac make him look unhinged. I either skipped the posts they were in or missed them when reading.The vibe I've been getting from my part of the skeptical blogosphere has certainly been contempt for quackery in general as well as overall dislike for Maher specifically.

  2. SergioFX says:

    You know what I like about atheists? It's their need to show everyone what they believe in, (or don't believe in, in this case), and to talk about it all the time. I'm a man of faith, but I don't see myself writing blogs about it, joining groups, oh and, trying to defect everyone into my belief system…. like you're guy here, Bill Maher, or anyone else claiming to be atheist… It's like, you really dedicate more time into making fun of everyone else, that you don't even think about yourselves and how ridiculous you sound. We all know that when someone is an atheist, you're only that to either: 1. get back at your parents2. get back at your catholic school3. look cool in public4. show that you 'think outside the box'and so on…. So some reason, you fail to notice that by you claiming there is no God on a daily/minute basis, you are thinking of him more than a believer does…. You are giving the one thing you don't believe in a looot more time than you should, don't you think? Why do you spend so much time on something you DONT believe in? Why not just put it on the side, and live your life? For example, me, I don't like baseball. I find it boring, slow, yada yada…. I don't go around making blogs and joining groups and discussions boards to talk about the fact that I don't like it! I don't even waste my time on it, because it's something that I don't want in my life, so, I put it on the side, and live my life…. Perhaps join other sites that actually are worthy of my time.Makes sense no? :)

  3. Jacqueline says:

    SergioFX waffled:"You know what I like about atheists? It's their need to show everyone what they believe in, (or don't believe in, in this case), and to talk about it all the time. So Sergio, do you realize that atheism isn't about belief. Its about lack of it. "I'm a man of faith, but "You know what I hate about believers? Its their need to show how gullible they are by having faith in ridiculous myths."I'm a man of faith, but I don't see myself writing blogs about it.."Sergio you just have written to a blog about it, you halfwit."like you're guy here, Bill Maher.."Do you mean "your guy"? Maher isn't owned by any atheists, unless you know otherwise. What Maher does in his private life, well, that should stay private! "..or anyone else claiming to be atheist… It's like, you really dedicate more time into making fun of everyone else, that you don't even think about yourselves and how ridiculous you sound."I'm sure that Kara Neumann's parents sounded more ridiculous than a gaggle of atheists, when they were in court, trying to explain why they let their daughter die of a preventable condition.What the world needs is LESS faith and more critical thinking. Faith kills innocent people. I don't see critical thinking doing that."We all know that when someone is an atheist, you're only that to either: 1. get back at your parents2. get back at your catholic school3. look cool in public4. show that you 'think outside the box'"I became an atheist because I realized that the priest that came to our class was telling lies. Plus he had zero evidence for his bullshittery. Looking cool had nothing to do with it, though atheists are far sexier than gullible pious buffoons."So some reason, you fail to notice that by you claiming there is no God on a daily/minute basis, you are thinking of him more than a believer does…. You are giving the one thing you don't believe in a looot more time than you should, don't you think?"Sorry to piss on your straw man bonfire their Sergio, but I don't bother thinking about the kind of religious crap that fills the sorry excuse of a brain that you have. I have far more interesting thoughts to engage and entertain me."Why do you spend so much time on something you DONT believe in? Why not just put it on the side, and live your life?"Why do you object to anyone airing their opinions? Are you scared that your religious fantasy will be eroded by rational opinions?"For example, me, I don't like baseball. I find it boring, slow, yada yada…."I find you and your sad opinion boring, Sergio."I don't go around making blogs and joining groups and discussions boards to talk about the fact that I don't like it! I don't even waste my time on it, because it's something that I don't want in my life.."Well shut the fuck up about it and let less gullible folk go about their business."… I put it on the side, and live my life…. Perhaps join other sites that actually are worthy of my time."Atheism and rationality are two worthy subjects. If you don't like them then there are a host of gullible faithheaded credophilic buffoons out their on the net. can I suggest that you stop whining at us atheists and piss off to go pray to your almighty imagination."Makes sense no? :)"No, you don't make much sense at all. But then I don't expect much sense from a "man of faith".JS;)I hope that I'm not responding to a Poe. Telling the difference between mockery of religious folk and authentic credofools is getting difficult nowadays.

  4. Doubting Tom says:

    You know what I like about atheists? It's their need to show everyone what they believe in, (or don't believe in, in this case), and to talk about it all the time.Is that smug arrogance or arrogant smugness? Wait…"You know what I like about gays? It's their need to show everyone who they're attracted to, (or aren't attracted to, in this case), and to talk about it all the time.""You know what I like about abolitionists? It's their need to show everyone what they believe in, (or don't believe in, in this case), and to talk about it all the time.""You know what I like about Christians? It's their need to show everyone what they believe in and to talk about it all the time."Oh, that's what it is: completely content-free ranting. I'm a man of faith, but I don't see myself writing blogs about it, joining groups, oh and, trying to defect everyone into my belief system….No, I just see you proclaiming it on an atheist blog and complaining that they want to…what's the word?…evangelize. But bully for you! You're a theist who doesn't join groups about it or try to convert others to your point of view. You're a vast minority. Theists of various stripes, you see, really like to make clubs for theists–they even have buildings where they hold regular meetings for these clubs, perhaps you've seen them. Some theists even go so far as to go on television and preach, to go to college campuses and try to convert people, or even to go door-to-door trying to convert people! Some write books and even blogs dedicated to proclaiming their theism and trying to convert others. Tell me, Sergio–are you complaining at those blogs too?Personally, while I think it would be really nice if everyone deconverted to atheism through assessment of the reasons and evidence (or in this case, the lack thereof) underpinning theism, I'm not going to go out of my way to convert anyone. I'll post arguments here because I like to argue and I like thinking about this sort of thing, and I'll bring up counterarguments if people come to me, but I'm not going door-to-door with pamphlets and copies of The God Delusion. like you're guy here, Bill Maher, or anyone else claiming to be atheist… It's like, you really dedicate more time into making fun of everyone else, that you don't even think about yourselves and how ridiculous you sound.Yes, "making fun." That's all I'm doing. And it sounds so ridiculous. To make fun of religions. You know, religions like the one which claims that we're all doomed to eternal torment because two people who never existed ate a magic apple because a talking snake told them to. Or the one which says that a polygamous prophet rode up to heaven on a flying donkey. Or the one which says that a science fiction author discovered that everyone is plagued by the souls of dead aliens who were imprisoned in a volcano by alien psychologists who flew airplanes in space to Earth before science says that time began. Yes, I can see how making fun of those things would make me look ridiculous. Ignoring, you know, the whole point of ridicule: to knock religion out of its privileged position. Since the end of the Enlightenment, there's been this general sense that religious beliefs were beyond criticism, and we're living in a time when that lack of criticism causes actual problems.

  5. Doubting Tom says:

    We all know that when someone is an atheist, you're only that to either:1. get back at your parents2. get back at your catholic school3. look cool in public4. show that you 'think outside the box'and so on….Oh Sergio, that's the problem about things you "all know": all of you are often wrong. This is as ridiculous as saying:"We all know that when someone is a theist, you're only that to either:1. get into Heaven2. get some of that fat collection plate dough3. wear those cool gold necklaces4. fit in with the crowdand so on…."I don't spread such obviously false stereotypes about theists, because they're obviously false. Why, then, would you believe similar obviously false stereotypes about atheists? If you'd like to know the actual reasons that people deconvert, I can tell you my story, or you could go to any of a number of websites and blogs dedicated to deconversion stories and the deconversion process. Or you could remain arrogantly ignorant.So some reason, you fail to notice that by you claiming there is no God on a daily/minute basis, you are thinking of him more than a believer does…. You are giving the one thing you don't believe in a looot more time than you should, don't you think?Actually, I don't think that. What I think is that you have an inflated view of how an atheist spends his or her day. I actually don't think about God most of the time. I don't talk about God most of the time, I don't even talk about atheism most of the time. Even when I'm out with atheists–hell, even when I went to the local atheist/skeptic grouo recently, the topic of God occupied a minority of time. I think about Batman more often than God, and I don't believe in him either. And for that matter, it's not the "one thing I don't believe in". There are an infinite number of things I don't believe in (and I'll bet I'd share most of those disbeliefs with you), I only spend time and mental energy on the ones that amuse me, the ones that affect me, and the ones which cause harm.

  6. Doubting Tom says:

    Why do you spend so much time on something you DONT believe in? Why not just put it on the side, and live your life?I'd really like that, Sergio. I'd like to live in a world where the Bible was just another amusing book of mythology, worthy of interest for its snapshot of what people believed in pre-scientific ages and for its stories, but not much more than a curiosity. Unfortunately, remember those believers who like to make clubs and elaborate clubhouses? They also like to make laws. They like to tell people who aren't in the clubhouse what they can and can't teach in school, who they can and can't marry, what kinds of research they can and can't do, what kinds of medical procedures they can and can't freely perform, and so forth. They like to parade their beliefs around in public, writing it on money, putting it in secular pledges, inserting it into political speeches and before sports events and graduations, and they get really upset when others suggest that they should keep those beliefs to themselves, or that if they're going to make a public spectacle then their beliefs should be up to public scrutiny. And then there are the occasional ones who fly airplanes into buildings, who shoot doctors, who choose prayer over medicine for their sick children, or who entice a whole lot of people to poison themselves. I'd be perfectly happy to just put it on the side and live my life–it's what I do with belief in Thor or Zeus or Osiris–but believers in Jehovah and Allah and Xenu don't do the same. Maybe you're not doing that, Sergio–though your "sit down and shut up" attitude suggests otherwise–but the only way you'd be unaware of it is if you're living under a rock, or if you're so steeped in majority privilege that you can't imagine what it's like to be on another side.I don't go around making blogs and joining groups and discussions boards to talk about the fact that I don't like it! I don't even waste my time on it, because it's something that I don't want in my life, so, I put it on the side, and live my life…. Perhaps join other sites that actually are worthy of my time.Makes sense no? :)Yes, it makes perfect sense…for baseball. I've never had Cardinals fans come knocking on my door on a Saturday morning to tell me the good news about Albert Pujols. Young Red Sox fans aren't required to say "One nation under Yankees" at the start of the school day. No one is actively lobbying that schools teach how baseball started in 1903 at the first World Series, with rules, uniforms, and equipment basically the same as in the modern day. As far as I know, no Dodgers fan has ever shot a shopkeeper for selling Giants merchandise. And if that ever started happening, I'd hope people would speak out, that people would say "I don't really care about baseball" on blogs and in books and on TV. I'd hope that other people who don't really care about baseball would see those proclamations and say "you know what? I don't care about baseball either, but I thought I was the only one," and would feel better about expressing their abaseballism. So, Sergio, I'd recommend that instead of believing whatever pops into your head or whatever other people tell you about atheists, you go and ask atheists. I can't speak for everyone, but I do have reasons for what I believe, disbelieve, and talk about.Just as an aside: I hate this 4096 character limit on comments. It's my damn blog, why can't I turn that off?

  7. Doubting Tom says:

    I hope that I'm not responding to a Poe. Telling the difference between mockery of religious folk and authentic credofools is getting difficult nowadays.Well, that is the definition of a Poe.

  8. Jimmy Blue says:

    Tom – without trying to sound like a desperately sad sycophantic fan boy can I just say, without fear of hyperbole or massive over exaggeration, that those were the best responses in the history of the world ever to those types of oft repeated arguments. Now all I have to do is link people back here whenever I see them use any of that kind of offal again. Ah the internet, bringing you new ways to be lazy…And good post on Maher too, I've been avoiding commenting on that whole thing because no-one really comes out of it smelling of roses.

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