They gave Bill Maher the Richard Dawkins Award?

Here's an excerpt from my latest Examiner article: "I wanted to believe that Maher was only a little wacky when it comes to modern medicine but I really had no idea how much of that Kool-Aid he drank. But Orac has opened my eyes to Maher’s beliefs when arguing why Maher should not receive the Richard Dawkins Award, an award that is intended to not only celebrate one’s promotion of atheism but one’s commitment to science and reason..." To read more, click here.

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Comment by SabreNation on July 24, 2009 at 4:46pm
People bash Bill Maher a little bit too much, IMO.

I agree that his opinions on germ theory and vaccination are a bit... out there. However, I feel he's 100% correct about his beliefs that America poisons itself with the food we eat and our health care system would be in MUCH better shape if Americans would stop stuffing themselves with this god-awful garbage dished out at McDonald's, Taco Bell, and other fast food restaurants. He takes it a bit far in his assertion that any and all processed food is terrible but the baseline belief that America's biggest health problem is our diet is completely correct in my view.

This resistance to his being awarded the Richard Dawkins Award is nearly comical to me. All these people saying Maher shouldn't get it for this reason or that reason, you know one person who has yet to voice any complaint over Maher getting the award? RICHARD DAWKINS. Who will be at the conference to present the award to Maher. If Dawkins is OK with it, I'm OK with it.

I'm glad I didn't have to search far for this quote I saw yesterday, it was right there in the comment section of the article you linked:

Stuart Bechman, president of AAI, when explaining why Maher was chosen to receive this award says, "We and the RDF recognize that Bill Maher has not been the best representative or advocate for science. However, we are recognizing him at our event for his ongoing contribution to exposing religious hucksterism and quackery, not for his contributions to science."

Also, he adds, "Frankly, if we withheld recognition until we found the perfect single pro-science, pro-rationalist, pro-compassion, pro-humanity atheist, we would not be recognizing anybody ever."
Comment by Michael Rosch on July 24, 2009 at 5:47pm
I think Bechman is making a false continuum argument to justify a poor decision. I don’t think anyone expects them to choose “the perfect single pro-science, pro-rationalist, pro-compassion, pro-humanity atheist.” Maybe I’m optimistic here but I think we can do at least a little better than someone who thinks germ theory and vaccines are just bogus treatments made up by doctors to scam people out of money. To borrow from one of Lewis Black’s bits, I never thought I’d see someone get a prestigious atheist award who didn’t believe in medical science or, you know, thought that it at least has SOME MERIT!! I for one don’t feel comfortable honoring him while knowing that it’s entirely plausible that tomorrow he might decide to make another Religulous-type movie that attacks modern medicine.

Now I understand the argument that his wacky beliefs on other things don’t necessarily make him a bad atheist. But I think his positions on other issues should have been factored in before they made this decision. If he was a Holocaust denier claiming Primo Levi admitted the Holocaust was all a Jewish conspiracy on his death bed, I have a hard time picturing people still justifying his receiving the award because that doesn’t have anything to do with his atheism.
Comment by SabreNation on July 24, 2009 at 6:23pm
The problem is, you(and others arguing against the decision) are COMPLETELY ignoring what the award is for. Let's take the AAI description of the Richard Dawkins 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.

It mentions nothing of science, nothing of medicine. It is to honor someone "whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance." Are you seriously going to doubt that Religulous did just that? The people arguing against this award have about as much ground to stand on as young earth creationists. If the award had ANYTHING to do with science or medicine, you might have something but it doesn't. It's an award for atheists who help spread the message of atheism to the general public. That is a description that Bill Maher fits perfectly, regardless of his beliefs about modern medicine.
Comment by Dave G on July 24, 2009 at 7:54pm
Sabre, "advocates increased scientific knowledge" is not mentioning nothing of science.

The award specifically and deliberately mentions the advancement of science. While it is true that Bill Maher has raised public awareness of atheism, it is dishonest to state that the award has nothing to do with science when the description specifically states that it does.
Comment by SabreNation on July 24, 2009 at 8:07pm
I stand corrected. I missed that somehow. I guess it goes back to what we were discussing earlier, huh? The human tendency to ignore things that don't fit their agenda, sometimes without even noticing that they are? :p (I seriously did read it twice without noticing that part)

I still stand by my statement that Maher is deserving of the award, however. Here is an article that explains my opinion on Maher winning the award:

If you're too lazy to read the whole thing, this sums it up about right:

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.
Comment by Dave G on July 24, 2009 at 8:22pm
I thought you might have missed that bit.

*reads whole article*

As to the actual topic, that of Bill Maher receiving the award, I think that there could have been better choices for the award, but I do not think that Bill Maher is undeserving of it. He's certainly done a lot towards drawing attention to the negative aspects of religion on society, and towards promoting a non-theist lifestyle.

The fact that his scientific views are at best misinformed, and at the worst dangerous, does not detract from what he has accomplished. I just wish that he would subject medical views to the same rigor as religious ones.
Comment by SabreNation on July 24, 2009 at 8:44pm
I don't disagree with that at all. There were better options.

Christopher Hitchens SHOULD have won the award. For that matter he SHOULD have won the award LAST year when God Is Not Great was still hot off the presses. I'm certainly not going to say that Maher was the MOST deserving option but to say he is undeserving of it is going too far. He was a good choice, if not the best available.
Comment by Dave G on July 24, 2009 at 8:56pm
No disagreement there, Hitchens definitely deserves it.
Comment by D'Holbach on July 24, 2009 at 11:35pm
I really like Bill Maher as a comedian and as a satirist of religious extremism, but the problem with giving him the Richard Dawkins Award is that it suggests that all Dawkins stands for is atheism, when presumably he stands for rationalism and science as well. That Dawkins did not publicly object to the committee's decision may show that Dawkins is capable of being more gracious than sincere.

The Maher issue brings me to another problem: the inadequacy of the term "atheism." I would like to be part of a community of rationalists, not just a community of atheists. Yesterday on Atheist Nexus, a couple of 9/11 "Truthers" took over the Chat; they were atheists, and I certainly have no love for George Bush, but their world view is irrational--they simply refused to weigh compelling evidence against their views.

"Rationalism" is not an ideal term, as it evokes images of unfeeling vulcans. "Secular humanism" is, I suppose, more apposite, but it's a bit vague. "Brights" is okay, but it smacks of arrogance. I should probably start another discussion thread for this question, and perhaps I will shortly, but what term best captures the rational, humanistic outlook that many of us share?
Comment by Dave G on July 24, 2009 at 11:52pm
Rational humanists?

And I agree, D'Holbach, 'atheist' is far too vague of a term, as all if means is an absence of a belief in gods. It may be an accurate description of what I am, but it is by no means a complete one. Rational, skeptical, and scientific also apply, and do more to define me than the simple absence of a belief.

It is a common misconception that atheists are uniformly rational or skeptical. Maybe the majority are, but not all.


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