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Atheist Alliance International – Epic Fail

Atheist Alliance International will be giving this year’s Richard Dawkins award to Bill Maher…and some people, including me, are pretty annoyed.

PZ Myers has weighed in and this is one of the rare times when I find myself in disagreement with him.

According to AAI (emphasis mine):

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 stopped by the AAI convention page and used their contact form to send the following:

Setting aside his anti-science views on health and vaccination, I fail to see how Maher qualifies for the RDA. He’s repeatedly stated that he’s not an atheist, implicitly or explicitly asserting that atheism is as dogmatic and irrational as the organized religions he rejects – while stating clearly that he believes in a god, but not religion. His movie, while funny and popular, did not treat the subject fairly and did not promote atheism, rational thought or science, it was an amusing bit of ‘let’s poke fun at religious people’. While I enjoyed it, recommended it and would like to see more of it (and even see the film awarded), Maher does not deserve the RDA and it is an embarrassment for a major atheist organization to honor him with this award. It cheapens the award, sullies the AAI reputation and is a slight to every outspoken atheist who continually strives to promote reason and nontheism.

If the AAI had a number of different awards, I’d have no objection to Bill Maher receiving one for ‘Best Movie’ (mostly because there really wasn’t any competition), but to give out a prestigious award to an anti-science, anti-atheism, anti-vaccination wack-a-loon simply because he is also anti-religion is an embarrassment. This award puts Bill Maher in the same category as Richard Dawkins, James Randi or Ayaan Hirsi Ali…and AAI doesn’t see a problem with this?

What sort of message does Bill Maher send to the world about the “nontheist life stance”? He may well send the message that we’re unscholarly, unscientific buffoons who make fun of religious people in order to make fun of religion, with no substantive points. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and I enjoy ridiculing ideas that are deserving…but neither Maher’s movie, Religulous, nor his other media efforts have promoted science or advocated any sort of nontheist philosophy.

PZ is right, there is no atheist pope or dogmatic position and my opinion is my own. I like Bill Maher, despite disagreeing on a number of positions. I enjoy his shows, his stand-up and Religulous…but when it comes time to give out an award that amounts to ‘atheist of the year’, he wouldn’t make the list.

This isn’t just about disagreeing with him. I disagree with many of the recipients on many issues. Consider the following:

“”I’m not an atheist. There’s a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn’t believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don’t need. But I’m not an atheist, no.” I believe there’s some force. If you want to call it God… I don’t believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish. What they’re fighting about in the Middle East, it’s so childish. These myths, these silly little stories that they believe in fundamentally, that they take over this little space in Jerusalem where one guy flew up to heaven–no, no, this guy performed a sacrifice here a thousand million years ago. It’s like, “Who cares? What does that have to do with spirituality, where you’re really trying to get, as a human being and as a soul moving in the universe?” But I do believe in a God, yes.” – Bill Maher, 2002

(For those who think his position has changed, feel free to watch Bill’s September, 2008 interview on the Daily Show. While promoting Religulous, he stated that he is not an atheist because he sees it as the mirror image of theism – a dogmatic certainty.)

I fail to see how this, in any way, “mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.”

Epic Fail.

Comments

  1. says

    You know, Matt, I happen to like Bill Maher a lot, and I didn't even know he believes in some kind of God. Now I'm going to go watch that Daily Show clip you mentioned. I also have no clue what you're talking about with the health and vaccination comments, but I'd like to know more. It's weird how you can watch someone on tv so often yet know so little about them. And I agree about Religulous…it's a good, funny movie, but it never even pretended to be even-handed.

  2. says

    Well, if Bill Maher wanted to be consistent, he would decline the award. I'm not sure exactly how he reached the conclusion that atheism is dogmatic, but if he really perceives a problem there, this award would be the equivalent of receiving kudos from an imam or a party with the pope.Maybe he has it in his head that atheism is 100% rejection of the possibility of gods, and my 99.999% (perhaps higher I confess to not having the math to truly calculate) rejection makes me some kind of "agnostic." (I'm aware that the word is not used properly here but I have heard Bill say it this way)If it were my decision, I would nominate ThunderFoot for the award (No offense AXP guys and gals). While not devoid of humor by any means, Tfoot is obviously a natural teacher with an airtight case against creationism. Whereas Bill Maher is just a funny man who maybe deserves credit for being one of the first to speak against organized religion in the television age, but has hardly broken any new ground in the way of bringing rationalism to the masses.

  3. says

    I just got back from reading up on the AAI award history here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist_Alliance_Internationalhere's the list of past recipients: * 2003 — James Randi (inaugural award) * 2004 — Ann Druyan * 2005 — Penn and Teller * 2006 — Julia Sweeney * 2007 — Daniel Dennett * 2008 — Ayaan Hirsi Ali * 2009 — Bill MaherIs anyone else struck by the absence of George Carlin? heloooo! I take back my earlier nomination and now wish to enter Carlin for posthumous recognition.

  4. says

    I am very happy that at least some people realize that Bill Maher is decidedly not an atheist. I think most people only saw him in Religulous and assume his is an atheist. I feel it is bad this viewpoint seems to be passing to some atheist organizations as well.

  5. says

    To Matt – thanks for the link, I'll check it out.To ChaosSong – I was thinking the same thing, he should decline the award. Anyways, why the hell is an atheist organization giving an award to someone who's not an atheist? Were they just in the same camp as me and didn't realize it? They should at least do some research. Carlin, indeed. Duh.

  6. DavidCT says

    Given the list of the past recipients of the award, Bill Maher is decidedly out of place. He made a useful movie, but his general lack of critical thinking skills make it difficult to take him seriously. He is not someone a rational person would want to look up to.

  7. says

    I plan on going to the AAI conference (its practically in my backyard so like TAM, travel costs are rather minimum). I was also struck dumb when I saw on their frontpage the main two speakers. Dawkins and Maher, who seem like complete opposites. I happen to enjoy Real Time with Bill Maher, though when he starts going off on his wacky beliefs about medicine I Just groan. However, I agree he should not be the receiver of the AAI award this year. There are far better out there, and the fact that he has said multiple times that he does not label himself an atheist as he thinks its as dogmatic as theism. Seems a little odd to have him talking at an atheist conference then, but perhaps he will renounce that line of thinking as most of the things he has said puts him at deist or some variation of pantheism.

  8. says

    Well I have "Disgust at Anne Coulter as a being" as one of the qualifications of my Turing test, so Maher kind of goes in with one major strike against him.

  9. says

    Good post, ITA.Bill Maher doesn't even understand what atheism is. If he did, he wouldn't say idiotic things like 'dogmatic atheism'. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but I have to say it: Atheism is simply a lack of faith in any god or gods. That's all it is. It can't be dogmatic. >:-(Bad choice of recipient. I'm disappointed.

  10. Shane Doyle says

    Not to be a drag but I just find it a little weird for the AAI to say something like "whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins"? When I look at it and try to imagine I was a theist reading it, I can picture thinking that it is an admission that he is not willing to compromise on his nontheist views which I might then take as him being dogmatic. It seems to give ammunition to to someone looking to claim that Richard Dawkins is not open to new information on the subject, a sentiment that he as a scientist of course does not have. As we all know Richard Dawkins is always clear in stating that he does not claim absolute certainty that god does not exist, and is open to evidence. Such is the position of any good skeptic. But from a theist that would just look like hypocrisy considering this whole uncompromising bit in his very own award. I'll admit that their argument wouldn't be that strong considering he didn't write it himself necessarily, but he didn't object to it either. Of course this one line wouldn't be sufficient to mount a sound argument that atheists or at least Dawkins is opposed to believing in a god no matter what, as I think the intention of uncompromising in this sentence is something more like unapologetic. But then why not use unapologetic? The line just sounded off to me, I don't think it is a good choice of wording. The words uncompromising life stance just don't sound right when describing someone like Dawkins.

  11. Shane Doyle says

    Not to be a drag but I just find it a little weird for the AAI to say something like "whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins"? When I look at it and try to imagine I was a theist reading it, I can picture thinking that it is an admission that he is not willing to compromise on his nontheist views which I might then take as him being dogmatic. It seems to give ammunition to to someone looking to claim that Richard Dawkins is not open to new information on the subject, a sentiment that he as a scientist of course does not have. As we all know Richard Dawkins is always clear in stating that he does not claim absolute certainty that god does not exist, and is open to evidence. Such is the position of any good skeptic. But from a theist that would just look like hypocrisy considering this whole uncompromising bit in his very own award. I'll admit that their argument wouldn't be that strong considering he didn't write it himself necessarily, but he didn't object to it either. Of course this one line wouldn't be sufficient to mount a sound argument that atheists or at least Dawkins is opposed to believing in a god no matter what, as I think the intention of uncompromising in this sentence is something more like unapologetic. But then why not use unapologetic? The line just sounded off to me, I don't think it is a good choice of wording. The words uncompromising life stance just don't sound right when describing someone like Dawkins.

  12. Shane Doyle says

    Sorry about posting twice that was an accident I thought it hadn't gone through the first time.

  13. says

    My issue is more with the award itself. The phrasing "nontheist life stance" and "nontheist philosophy" is nonsensical. There is no nontheist stance other than not believing in a god.

  14. says

    Epic fail? The real epic fail here is the atheist community as a whole getting its collective panties in a knot about someone who's not atheist enough. Bill Maher may not be the most dogmatically pure (and yes, I'm using those words intentionally because they fit the context) atheist around, but he will bring much media attention to this ceremony and to the atheist community.

  15. Shane Doyle says

    Tony, there is nothing dogmatic about adhering to the definition of a word. The award is meant to go to an atheist. Bill Maher is not one, nor has anything he has done made him eligible for such an award. There is no such thing as being atheist enough, or being more atheist than someone else. You can be a strong atheist which means you say there is no god, but saying I don't know still makes you an atheist, just not a strong one. Neither of this has to do with Bill Maher. He is not an atheist at all. No one is saying he isn't enough of an atheist, they are just saying he isn't an atheist at all, and they are basing that on the definition of the word atheist. Tell Bill Maher he is an atheist and see what he tells you.

  16. says

    You know, I'm not so sure what he would say – I mean it looks to me like this is a done deal, and he has agreed to speak and everything.Who was it that was going to be there?(scrolls up)Gizmo! Any chance you'll confront him with this on our behalf, ask him if he has changed his mind on the question of the existence of gods?

  17. says

    I completely agree with your opinion Matt. While there are many things I like about Maher, he has publicly said again and again that he is not an atheist. Its foolish for an atheist organization to give such an award to a person who plainly states that they are not an atheist.

  18. says

    Yup Bill Maher is certainly the wrong person for this award. I wouldnt be surprised if Bill actually refuses the prize.A possible plus from this is that it may actually give someone the opportunity to educate Bill Maher on what atheism actually is, as he has seemed terribly ill informed up til now.

  19. says

    I know that Bill Maher does not consider himself an atheist, and I would qualify him as "agnostic deist", but is he really anti-science and anti-vaccination? That surprises me. He didn't strike me as so critical towards atheists when he interviewed Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. That said, yes, he should not get the award.

  20. says

    I agree with Matt D. here. I have nothing against him, in fact I love watching clips from his show and Religulous is a very entertaining film. I just think that someone who doesn't even seem to grasp the basics of what atheism is shouldn't get an award that is for…atheists. I mean, yeah, he's very critical of religion and he makes fun of the talking snake and he's very good, but I have on NUMEROUS occasions heard him speak about athiesm and commit the same fallacy that most theists commit: That atheism is a faith or a belief system. And this is recent, at least as recent as religulous.Bill is fine and he may or may not actually be an atheist, but he has a fallacious understanding of the concept, and his views on science and vaccinations are pretty depressing too. All in all…no, he does not deserve this award.And…@Tony: This isn't about Maher being "atheist enough". I mean…forgive me but I don't even see how that makes sense. How can someone be more atheist? My understanding of what it means to be an atheist is that if you answer anything other than "yes" to the question "Do you believe in any gods?" then you are …an atheist. How does this allow for degrees of atheism? Does being more vocal make you "more" of an atheist? No, our problem here isn't that Bill isn't atheist "enough", it's that he completely misses the point on what it even IS.

  21. says

    More on Bill's understanding of atheism, from an interview he did with the Onion AV Club. I know the Onion is a satirical paper, but this is a seperate site and as far as I know, the interview is indeed his words and he is being serious when he discusses this:I don't say in the movie that I'm an atheist. I don't like that term, because I think it mirrors the certitude of religion.And then there is a quote from this interview with the same site. I admit this one is 6 years before the one I just mentioned, but this one coupled with the latest one sort of show me that he hasn't really understood this stuff for quite a while and probably continues to do so:I said, "I'm not an atheist. There's a really big difference between an atheist and someone who just doesn't believe in religion. Religion to me is a bureaucracy between man and God that I don't need. But I'm not an atheist, no." I believe there's some force. If you want to call it God… I don't believe God is a single parent who writes books. I think that the people who think God wrote a book called The Bible are just childish. Religion is so childish.Just for clarification, the first part in quotes there is Bill paraphrasing himself in the interview from an earlier date. But the part afterwards, which is part of the actual interview, seems to echo the paraphrase.So, assuming he hasn't drastically changed his views, he seems like one of those touch-feely people who still think atheist and agnostic are mutually exclusive terms, and who hates church but still believes in a "force". In other words, it looks like Bill Maher is a deist.Please, correct me if I'm wrong.

  22. says

    @Chaos: I'm sorry, but Carlin isn't even deserving of the award either. He does not advocate increased scientific knowledge at all. In fact, he's pretty anti-civilization. Better education is a shit idea to him. Honesty in politics is a shit idea to him. Technological advancements is a shit idea to him. Everything was going down the tubes for him. Sure he was an outspoken atheist, but that's as far as he went. There's more criteria to the award than simply bashing Christianity every five seconds.

  23. says

    Sparrowhawk-I think there is a 50-50 chance that Maher is either an atheist or a deist, as he sometimes seems to doubt the existence of God enough to be qualified as an atheist . But if he is atheist, he is not conscious of it, or does not want to recognize it.But you are perfectly right, the problem with him receiving the award is his complete misunderstanding of the term. Then there is also his disregard of science, which surprises me.

  24. says

    I found the comments on Ann Coulter interesting (see posts by "Ing") because Bill Maher and Ann are actually friends. They did a few live appearances together this past spring.

  25. says

    @ AndrewYa, okay point taken that Carlin didn't do much to advance science. I'm not convinced that Penn & Teller have either; and I'm pretty darn certain that Bill Maher has not.I do believe that Carlin acted more the misanthrope than he really was – at the end of his Ten Commandments routine he had a very gentle message about being kind to others without all the crap.I will concede that there may be a better nominee than Carlin – someone more like Daniel Dennett than Penn and Teller, but you should admit that Carlin is a better choice than Maher.

  26. says

    @ DonnaYes I know…which is why I have a low opinion of both of them. As funny as Maher is honestly Coulter does bring him down A LOT by association. His odd science and all that views don't help. I honestly don't see how someone can publish a book, encouraging the rest of America to try you for TREASON and still be you're friend. Sorry when you accuse me of federal and/or war crimes for being the way I am I can't respect you.

  27. says

    Remember when some Fundies were protesting Gardasil because the vaccine would lead to teenagers having more sex, and it would be better for them to die of cancer? I was curious as to which side would the notorious anti-Christian and anti-vaxxer Maher would take. Apparently, his pro-sex tendencies won out because his proclamation was, "HPV shots don't cause promiscuity, tequila shots do ." Maybe not sufficient to win the RDA, but still funny.

  28. says

    @Chaos"I'm not convinced that Penn & Teller have either; and I'm pretty darn certain that Bill Maher has not."I agree with you. None of them have advanced science."I will concede that there may be a better nominee than Carlin – someone more like Daniel Dennett than Penn and Teller, but you should admit that Carlin is a better choice than Maher."No. I don't think Carlin is a better choice than Maher. They're pretty similar in every aspect except that Carlin defined himself as an atheist. That's about the only difference I see between the two.

  29. says

    However, he is an atheist, whether or not he wants to call himself such. Also, he would probably be one of the few people mentioned so far to be most deserving of this award.

  30. Shane Doyle says

    KaylaKazeThe point isn't that Bill Maher doesn't call himself an atheist. The point is that he is not one. Yes, Thunderf00t when asked what word he wants to use to describe himself says PEARList rather than atheist, but if you ask him if he believes in God, his answer will be no, which means he is an atheist. Bill Maher on the other hand says says he does beleive in god or some force he would describe as god, and so that makes him not an atheist. It has nothing to do with what you call yourself. I could call myself a deist who believes in a personal god, but since that doesn't make any sense one could just call me an idiot instead.

  31. says

    I agree with everyone on Thunderf00t. I sort of agree with him sometimes with regard to his feelings about the word atheist. Sometimes it feels like it's the ONLY time I have to define myself by something I DON'T espouse (belief in god).But, he is decidedly an atheist and he is a strong advocate for science and "nontheist life life stance".Speaking of which…I thought there was no such thing as an atheist life stance, philosophy or world view. So why does this award contain so much of that language? Is this even an award we should really care much about if it's full of stuff like this? Stuff that we're constantly arguing…against?

  32. says

    @ SparrowhawkIt's certainly true that atheism does not necessary imply rationalism (Rael anyone?). But IN ADDITION to being atheists, most folks here are ALSO rationalists. So I can see why there is interest in this kind of award.Maybe it's the humanism evoked by the words "nontheist life stance" that are pushing your buttons. Of course, atheism does not necessarily imply humanism either, but I'm not as confident that most folks here would classify themselves as humanists in addition to being atheists…I wondered about this myself, are they talking about a "nontheist life" stance or a nontheist "life stance"?

  33. Shane Doyle says

    Chaos song,What bothers me most isn't just the nontheist life stance statement but the fact that it says "uncompromising nontheist life stance". I get what they mean by nontheist life stance, I don't think they mean a nontheist lifestyle or are implying a set of beliefs inherent to nontheism, I think they just mean taking a firm stance that you are indeed a nontheist. And by uncompromising I don't think they mean dogmatic of course, I think they mean something like unapologetic, but the choice of words is still very poor because it could be seen to imply that Richard Dawkins is uncompromising on his stance as a nontheist, which would not be a good quality. We are constantly having to explain that we are open to new evidence and are open to the possibility that god exists if his existence were to be demonstrated. So to have an award for a uncompromising nontheist life stance is not a very good portrayal of atheists.

  34. says

    I actually might defend the Penn and Teller choice since I know personally their Bullshit! on the Bible was a big influence on dispelling my negative views of atheists.

  35. says

    I like Bill Maher. I get a douchy vibe from him, but he seems like a fun person to have a conversation with. I enjoyed his film, but I don't agree with the AAI decision, either.He's made it very clear – several times over – that to take a stance in either direction of the theological compass is somewhat arrogant. I wonder what his acceptance speech will say.

  36. says

    I'm late to this party, but the first thing I thought when I read the criteria–that the award goes to an "atheist"–was that I have heard Maher state publicly, repeatedly, he's not an atheist. Wouldn't that disqualify him?

  37. says

    @leo-rccTo be honest, I've only noticed this shift since it was announced he was getting the award. Even as recently as interviews about Religulous he's given impression that he thought atheists were just as arrogant as theists, something that demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of atheism.Granted, he may have corrected that now, and I commend him for it if so, but….given his history on the subject and some strange anti-scientific stances he holds on certain issues, I still don't think he was a good candidate for the award. I wish him well in everything and hope that he gets his crazy anti-medicine conspiracy bullshit under control but…beyond that, I dunno.

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