Monday, October 5, 2009

Bill Maher--Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

Allow me to begin by saying I love "Real Time with Bill Maher". I think it is the exact kind of show that's needed to balance the insane screaming Glenn Beck provides.

But if you are a skeptic--as I am--you know there are two sides to Bill Maher: Hero Bill, and Bizarro Bill. Confused? Not for long.

Hero Bill is the Bill I watch the show to see. He confronts disruptive audience members, he is not afraid to have a panel of conservative foes and debate them three-on-one, he does not tolerate celebrities that are still spreading 9/11 conspiracy garbage, he voices a liberal yet well-reasoned view of what he thinks America is all about. You may not agree with him, but if you watch the show it is clear that he loves his country but disagrees with what we've become.

Bizarro Bill is the Bill that claims modern medicine is what makes Americans so unhealthy. Bizarro Bill claims drug companies run the country, that complementary and alternative medicine is better-equipped to treat disease than most medications. For all the good Hero Bill does, he is a shill for the alternative medicine and anti-vaccination crowd (which I hate to say is very strongly concentrated among liberals) and encourages that ignorance to be spread. His rejection of medicine is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's Scientology-backed rants.

So who cares, right? Big deal! Well, usually I agree. I kind of give Bill a pass because of his political toughness and willingness to go toe-to-toe with the much more aggressive and hateful conservatives.

But recently Bill Maher was awarded the Richard Dawkins Award. From its website:

"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."

The issue I have with Maher receiving this award is that the award's criteria requires the recipient to advocate INCREASED SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage.

Bill Maher is anything but a beacon of scientific knowledge.

It seems that the award is being given to Maher because of his high-profile as a celebrity, as opposed to his true skeptical and scientific credentials. How can anyone who rejects modern medicine in favor of antiquated bologna (that's been shown to have no effect whatsoever in treatment) be considered for such an award? It's simple: a celebrity with a certain level of visibility was chosen over a no-name "true blood" candidate.

I will not argue that Bill Maher is totally unqualified for the award: part of the criteria regards promoting a nontheist lifestyle, which Maher certainly does. But should skeptics be willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater just to be more visible? Does selling out now not compromise the backbone of the movement in the future?

I love Bill Maher's show. I think his stand-up routines are usually hilarious. But I draw the line at making him a role model for skepticism.