Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Whole Bill Maher Thing

I haven't been watching all that closely, but I think I'm pretty well on Orac's side. I do think Maher deserves some amount of kudos for the balls it takes to release an anti-religion movie in the US. The problem: Maher's an anti-scientific crank and deserves major anti-kudos for all the tripe he spouts out.

When I didn't know much about the award, I thought it was just something like a PR award, and not quite so much to fuss about. I pretty much agreed with PZ's first post about it: Yeah, throw him a bone for the movie, but do everything (within reason) to put him in the hot seat for his crazy medical beliefs and such.

Then I found out about the science standards that were originally in place, and decided that no, I don't think The Crank deserves the award, and that it should be revoked. Not long after, I found out that they changed the award criteria for his sake, removing science as a standard. At that point, I performed a facepalm.

Many woos accuse us of valuing atheism/disbelief more than the truth, saying we wouldn't believe a scientific demonstration of gods. I think this whole scenario is an enactment of that stereotype: It sends a message that religion bashing is more important to us than science.

It doesn't help that my brother mentioned some dishonest tactics employed in Religulous. I never watched it, since I already had plenty of reason not to support The Crank, but I'm sure it won't take long for me to find out additional reasons to negate the kudos given for that movie.


djfav said...

I haven't seen it either, and don't plan to. I can't stand Maher's persona.

I do remember reading that the producers of Rerligulous employed decepetion in order to obtain interviews. I'll see if I can dig that up.

Dweller in Darkness said...

There's a bit about it here:

Sorry, don't know how to make that into a link here.

They do bring up a good point in that while Expelled started with a false premise and then was deceptive, Religulous did so to a lesser degree. I'd argue that Religulous doesn't present a balanced representation of religious belief, but that's another discussion entirely.

Bronze Dog said...


I'd argue that Religulous doesn't present a balanced representation of religious belief, but that's another discussion entirely.

Pretty much a given, judging from what I remember of the trailers. There are plenty of moderate believers out there who are reasonable and if asked a hard question will more likely ask for time to think about it. I used to be one, after all.

And to help you with links, here's the appropriate HTML:

[a href=""]Linky Text[/a]

Just replace the brackets with greater/less than signs. Remember the http:// part in the URL.

Tom Foss said...

I think the whole thing has reflected really poorly on the AAI, but I can't say I've agreed with Orac either. It's one thing to be upset that people aren't doing enough about it--and I do think that the RDF and Dawkins made some serious missteps in their responses--but it's quite another to then rant that Dawkins and PZ care more about atheism than about science, and that medical woo is the red-headed stepchild of the skeptical/scientific community. Quite frankly, I've thought some of Orac's posts on the subject have come across as mildly unhinged, which is not a word I'd usually associate with him.

Especially when I can't see how the latter bit could be true. I can't see a single subject in skepticism that elicits more outrage and passion than the antivaxxers, the mercury militia, and the alt-med kooks. If Orac is seeing something else, then he's looking at a different skeptical movement than I am.

BD, Dj: The movie's worth one viewing, but I haven't found the stomach to purchase it. I'll mention that Expelled was worth one viewing as well, provided it was a free viewing.

There are good and bad parts to Religulous, but most of the time it's clear that Maher's asking leading questions to try to force funny things to happen, or that he's got a much lower opinion of Islam than Christianity. As Dweller said, there's not much balance, which is ironic for a guy who thinks that balance is the key component of health.

I reviewed it when it came out, and while my opinion has soured a bit over time (and after finally seeing Expelled), I think it addresses the various problems pretty well. At this point, about the only thing that could convince me to buy the flick is if it were really cheap ($5-7 range), or if Maher put out a Dawkinsian DVD set with the uncut interviews. I think that would be genuinely interesting to watch (and it's the question I would have asked at the AAI meeting), but I doubt it'll happen because it'll make Maher look like an even bigger tool.

djfav said...

I'll try renting it. And I agree that uncut interviews would be very interesting and quite possibly revealing.

Bronze Dog said...

Definitely would like to hear your take in greater detail, Tom. I haven't read all of Orac's posts, so I might have missed some of the problem pieces.

Anonymous said...

I saw that movie, well, it feels years ago but I assume its very new so it cant have been to long ago.

I did not like it, not because of the actual movie but because of this Maher character, something about him I just dont like.

I think Richie acted in a suitable way when he got the Dawkins price, praising the movie, even if I dont think its very good, and condemning his other whacko ideas. I thought he made it very clear it was the MOVIE that he got praised for, NOTHING ELSE.

Basically, I see little difference between Expelled and Religiously really, other then that I did not see any obvious lies in Religiously, just him walking around pointing out obvious facts to the religious people, no big deal.

Dark Jaguar said...

Never really liked his show myself.

I will note that on the interviews he does with Dawkins, the very first thing I notice is his main arguments are logical flaws themselves. For example I recall him saying something, in response to Dawkins making some argument against religion, along the lines of "and of course it's just so ridiculous!". Now sometimes a guffaw is a warrented response, but let's not forget that simple personal increduity is not actually a valid argument.

Further, the last interview I saw, he seemed to go on and on about this idea that terrorists do what they do because they hate loving America so much, the idea that they all do it because they are hypocrites. Now yes there's been a lot of scandels lately, but the more extreme fundamentalists I've talked to really do seem to live according to their own twisted virtues quite well. There's nothing all that hard about NOT hiring a prostitute after all. I'm doing it right now!

This isn't to say I don't find the guy funny. I'm perfectly capable of enjoying the work of people who's ideology I completely disagree with. For example, I like the comedy stylings of Dane Cook. Yeah I know, but I laugh at his jokes, what can I say? I think they're funny. Yeah his atheist joke was... kinda stupid as most atheists I know don't believe in reincarnation, and he kinda didn't even consider the possibility that "become a tree" was merely a poetic metaphor for decaying and turning to food, not literally becoming concious as a tree, but as I said, I can blow past that kind of stuff to enjoy the stuff I do find funny.

Valhar2000 said...

I liked Religulous, frankly. As a documentary it leaves much to be desired, but its comedic value is undeniable, and Maher does manage to get a few good points in by the end of the whole thing. His wooish tendencies are for the most part not in evidence throughout the whole movie, so you will not be annoyed by them while you watch it.

Valhar2000 said...

That said, if the AAI really did change the requirements of the prize just this once to fit Maher in: EPIC FAIL!!!!111!!1!!1

djfav said...

They changed their website mid-controversy. I'd expect nothing less from creationists.

James K said...

I believe that scepticism and reason imply atheism. However, the award to Maher indicates that atheism does not necessarily imply scepticism and reason.

Some atheists come to atheism through scepticism, but other come to it through raw contrarianism or an adversity to hierarchy (not that I object to either of these things necessarily). Others (like myself) were raised as atheists. The people in these groups might be sceptics, but they might not be.

Valhar2000 said...

I do object to contrarianism, frankly. Like any other dogmatisms it is conducive to errors of thinking (even though sometimes, through sheer dumb luck, it may come up with the right answer).

I agree (since I suspect this is what you meant) that it is good to have a few people who are contrarians, or, better yet, people whose first instinct is to be contrarian, and accept new claims when the evidence mounts up in favour of them.

James K said...

I agree (since I suspect this is what you meant) that it is good to have a few people who are contrarians, or, better yet, people whose first instinct is to be contrarian, and accept new claims when the evidence mounts up in favour of them.

Yes, I was referring to contrarianism as a general attitude rather than as a replacement for proper epistemology.

Dr Benway said...

"Quite frankly, I've thought some of Orac's posts on the subject have come across as mildly unhinged, which is not a word I'd usually associate with him."

I'm still unhinged, but in recovery. Perhaps I can find a support group.

People like Maher do convince parents that vaccines are dangerous and that "natural" supplements and weird diets can fix a range of problems. I work with autistic kids so this issue hits very close to home.

It would be nice to hear from the AAI committee how Maher's anti-science views were considered. Maybe the depth and breadth of his alt med stuff wasn't appreciated until too late. Maybe no one could think of a way to turn back. I dunno. At this point, they're probably too afraid to talk candidly about the process.

I've med a number of atheists who share Maher's views about medicine. That's been a revelation.

The "it's an atheism award not a science award" argument enrages me. Too much special pleading, as if faith vs. evolution were more important than faith vs. medicine.