Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Richard Dawkins Award Goes to Bill Maher

Atheist Alliance International is an organization that gives out The Richard Dawkins Award each year. The criteria, according to Wikipedia are ...
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 goes to Bill Maher. One assumes that he is the man who best exemplifies the criteria for the award.

Does Bill Maher advocate increased scientific knowledge and does his public posture resemble that of Richard Dawkins?

Not bloody likely. As Orac and others have pointed out, Maher believes in all sorts of kooky ideas including the idea that vaccinations don't work [Bill Maher gets the Richard Dawkins Award? That's like Jenny McCarthy getting an award for public health].

Bill Maher may be a good atheist but he sure ain't a good scientist.

So what does PZ Myers think of this? [Put Maher in the hot seat]
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.
Nope, sorry PZ but you seem to be wrong about that. Unless, of course, the criteria for the award as described in the Wikipedia article are wrong.

You need to be much more that a good little religion-bashing atheist to meet the criteria and it's as plain as the nose on your face that Bill Maher doesn't qualify.

BTW, like PZ, I was not a big fan of Religulous. Thus, I don't even agree that Bill Maher was in the same league as Richard Dawkins and his Root of all Evil series.


  1. ...and according to other quotes people have posted, it's not even clear that he's an atheist. What the hell were they thinking? It sounds to me like some folks at AAI are into a bit of uncritical flag-waving, rather than thinking carefully about what they're really advocating. This is one reason I'm not personally much interested in rallying to the anti-religion flag, per se. Rationalism, evidence-based skepticism, critical thinking, yes. Unbelief in religion is (I assert) one natural consequence of that -- but equally, so is unbelief in the claims of the alt-medicos and anti-vaxxers.

  2. Hmm...let's cut and paste:

    However, let's be clear about the obvious. Ben Stein is being given this honorary degree for his hilarious turns in Ferris Bueller and the Nixon White House, and that's all that is being endorsed.

    Ah, as I thought. A grammatical form that can justify anything...

  3. I agree with you and Orac, and I also wasn't a big fan of "Religulous" (though I liked the Catholic priest at the Vatican).

  4. Why criticize Maher for not being much of a scientist, if the guy whose name is in the award isn't much of a scientist either?

    Of course you could prove me wrong by pointing out any scientific contribution of Dawkins that was really his idea (i.e. selfish gene doesn't count), or any original paper in the past 30 years...

  5. Marc: You're kind of missing the point. What's important isn't necessarily *being* a scientist, but rather advocating and additionally popularizing science. Consider Neil DeGrasse Tyson, for example...

  6. Zee

    I get the point. But notice that there's very little science in Dawkins' latest books. The only think in common between Maher and Dawkins is this cheap faith-bashing and amateurish incursions into philosophy and epistemology.

    Moreover, I'm tired of people calling Dawkins a leading figure in evolutionary biology or a great scientist (to the point of coming up with an award named after him) while his publication record is mediocre.

    Not to mention things like the latest Animal Behavior Meeting, in which a symposium was devoted to Dawkins' supposed contributions to animal behavior, but the real scientists behind the idea of the selfish gene, etc. (Hamilton, Williams, Haldane) are rarely mentioned.

  7. I find it ironic that I saw Enemies of Reason (in which Dawkins fisks the anti-vaxxers, among other alt-med targets) in the same week that I hear of this award to a public anti-vaxxer.

    I agree with PZ: the AAIC attendees should roast Maher over this issue.

  8. deGrasse Tyson: "love talking to teachers". Hmm, "love talking" more accurately methinks.

  9. Marc says,

    Not to mention things like the latest Animal Behavior Meeting, in which a symposium was devoted to Dawkins' supposed contributions to animal behavior ...

    I can see why you would find that puzzling. Imagine, a bunch of ethologists getting together to honor the contributions of one of the most famous ethologists in the 20th century. (Dawkins was a student of Nobel Prize winner Nikolaas Tinbergen.)

    What could they have possibly been thinking? Why didn't they phone you to find out how wrong they are to think that they might understand their own field!

  10. The issue with award for Bill Maher seems to be quite simple. The AAIC focus is on atheism and not promotion of science and Maher fits that criteria. If the subject would be health Maher would certainly classify in ranks close to Jenny McCarthy. It is just different category of things. Atheism is not science, however it uses science to get to facts and form conclusions.

    Issac Newton would qualify for Nobel Prize in physics even if he hold strange ideas about alchemy and other such stuff. He certainly would not get Nobel in chemistry and he would meet fire of criticism today.

    While I agree that he [Maher] seems to be kook in health - this subject of his opinions and work is just not a subject of that particular prize.

    Like PZ Myers I think that all in AAIC should fry Maher regarding his BS in health issues. And that perhaps would be good for Maher too. He has thick skin because he is comedian and meets more critique than normal non-celebrity-people and this may cause deeper in his bias. I would be delighted to see that he retreated from some of his strange beliefs after AAIC in October this year.

  11. I gotta say the "advocates scientific knowledge" criteria is only one out of four. It is a called "Atheist Alliance International" after all, not the Science Alliance (though damn that alliteration does seem to work doesn't it?).

    My guess is this year they gave more weight to the other 3 criteria than that one, and deservedly so. There is much more to atheism than just lauding the scientific method.

    For the sake of science itself, it could probably use a little divorcing from atheism. I mean is anyone else tired of being pushed into the corner of "if you believe in evolution you gots to be a heathen atheist"?

    Science aside, Bill did a decent job from the other angles, if nothing more than showing how things can look through a skeptic's or an atheist's lens.

    And it sure beat anything else put out in america, which of course is the only country that matters :P

  12. There is much more to atheism than just lauding the scientific method.

    Really? I would say there's much *less* to atheism than that. In fact, I wouldn't say that was even a part of atheism. But then I prefer the minimal definition, viz: "denying the existence of god". Everything else gets filed under "humanism" or "skepticism" or some such. What definition are you using?

  13. Larry indicated that Dawkins is "one of the most famous ethologists in the 20th century". Well... look up his name on Web of Science and check out how many original papers Dawkins published since the 70's. You'll probably surprised to learn that he hasn't published zip.

    Could you name a single original contribution of Dawkins to the science of evolutionary biology that was published in a peer-reviewed journal?

  14. To Eamon: "More"/"less" you're basically saying the same thing as me. We're both annoyed at the unneeded mention of science in there. So why the hostility? Or am I mistaken?

    I will say though it is somewhat understandable, as most all atheists, like me, differ to the scientific method for explanations rather than the supernatural.

    Not for everything though... sometimes philosophical arguments will suffice.

    And of course technically, we're allowed some supernatural appeals, just not to gods or creators :P

  15. Hostility? Nah, just my usual online bluntness ;-).