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« Ultra-Secure Password Policies: Not Very Secure The RantsSkeptics' Circle #34 (and #33) »

Bill Maher is NOT Our Hero
2006.05.10 (Wed) 16:58

Ed Brayton has a quick post up linking to a WND article that reports:

A Christian author and TV host whose latest book, "Intelligent Design Versus Evolution: Letters to an Atheist," debunks Darwinism has challenged fellow television personality Bill Maher to a public debate on the origins of the Earth.

This Herculean "debunker of Darwinism" is none other than Ray Comfort. Ray who, you say? Good point. Comfort is the less dreamy half (alongside his co-host Kirk Cameron) of the Way of the Master series on the Chris— er, the religion channel. He's the guy who has steadfastly and earnestly claimed that the perfect fit of bananas to primate hands (wait, so he admits that humans are primates?) is proof of the Christian God's existence...until he subsequently decided to claim that he was just joking about that, when it became awkwardly clear he'd pulled that shit out of his ass.

The thread over on Ed's Dispatches post is full of some good folks who are quite eager to see funnyman Maher take on apologist Comfort, apparently anticipating a good old-fashioned verbal beat down on the born-again Christian. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but seriously: you want Maher to be the brave and noble defender of science? That's just silly.

Does anyone recall that this is the man who, essentially, claims that germ theory is bunk? From the November 4, 2005 episode of Real Time:

[Dr. Sanjay] GUPTA: Well, wait, the vaccine might still have some - some benefit. You know, Bill, it's like so many other things in life. You know, I think doctors and health care professionals are reticent to just throw up their hands and say, "We're screwed, there's nothing we can do." [laughter] The vaccine might help a little bit.

MAHER: But there is something we can do. We can accentuate more the theory that it's the terrain that the virus and the bacteria invade. It's like the mosquito in the swamp. That's what the virus is. It's a mosquito. But it wouldn't be dangerous unless it had a dirty, polluted swamp to breed in. In other words, our bodies. If we were healthier and we boosted our immune system more, then we wouldn't have to fear these viruses. Isn't that true, Doc? [applause]

GUPTA: Well, it's a good point, you know. And people have talked about sort of immune-boosting drugs for some time, so that we can ward off any sort of disease, everything from seasonal flu to avian flu.

MAHER: Not drugs! Lifestyle! The way we live! We eat shit! [laughter] [applause]


GUPTA: You know, but, Bill, I'll challenge you — I'll challenge you on this. I don't think that just by eating right and exercising is going to necessarily keep you safe from bird flu. I mean, that's just the way it is. You know, I'd like to believe you, Bill. I'd like to believe you, Bill. I'd like to believe that you can live a good life, live a healthy life and be impervious to all these attacks and all these viruses. But, Bill, we're talking about 50 million people died in 1918. And not all of them were eating shit every day. [laughter] You know, I mean, that's just the way it goes.

MAHER: All right! That's the last word from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

[our emphasis]

Of course, Maher doesn't concede that Gupta is correct — he simply declares the conversation ended. But let's look at some of the outlandish statements from Maher, and some sensible replies from Gupta (who, let's not forget, is the only one in the conversation who has attended medical school and might have actually learned something there).

Maher whines:

We can accentuate more the theory that it's the terrain that the virus and the bacteria invade. It's like the mosquito in the swamp. That's what the virus is. It's a mosquito. But it wouldn't be dangerous unless it had a dirty, polluted swamp to breed in. In other words, our bodies.

Excuse us, but exactly what the fuck is this supposed to mean? Maher is trying to compare our bodies to the swamp, and the germs that invade our bodies to the mosquitos that live in the swamp. He then claims that the mosquito "wouldn't be dangerous unless it had a dirty, polluted swamp to breed in."

Huh? Isn't the swamp supposed to be us, and the mosquito is a germ? Sorry, that doesn't fucking work, Bill. The germs are "dangerous" to us, which means that in a proper analogy, the mosquito must be dangerous to the swamp. You're mixing your references, mistakenly injecting the fact that the mosquito is dangerous to us into your analogy. Mosquitos are "dangerous" with or without the swamp, buddy. And what is it that makes them particularly dangerous? You guessed it, the germs that they might carry and deliver into our bodies when they feed. And those germs — bacterial, viral, whatever you've got — are dangerous to us no matter what our current state of health is. You think just because you've been scarfing down the Special K and Ensure that Joe Virus will give up and not try to fuck with you? Fat chance. A good immune system is one thing, but why bring a steak knife to a gunfight, when we've got a whole rack of fully automatic Kalishnakovs over the fireplace? (For those of you thrown for a loop by the change of metaphor, we're referring to medical science and pharmaceuticals.)

Maher seems to think that all sickness or disease is caused by poor diet and lack of exercise. What a fucking joke. As Gupta points out, serious epidemics will nail your ass to the wall no matter what you eat. It may be a factor, weakening your body and making it more difficult to fight off infection, or exacerbating an already dangerous medical condition; but it simply isn't the cause of most illnesses. Maher, in all his medical wisdom, can't seem to grasp what many scientists and physicians have been studying for over a century, and he's been looking into for a few years. Does that make him a bad person? No; but it does make him rather unqualified to offer a sound opinion on these subjects.

And this is the guy you want fighting the good fight against "intelligent design"?

Maher, like too many comedians and other performers (even perennial Two Percent favorite, Jon Stewart), has a distinct and (to us) distasteful anti-science bent. It isn't about "making fun" of science and scientists — hey, we'd be the first to say you can easily make fun of anything, good or bad — but rather a dismissive and disinterested attitude towards the one field of human knowledge that has contributed more to our quality of life than any other, period. What makes it even worse in Maher's case is that he has no trouble buying into the scientific body of knowledge when it caters to one of his pet causes — like when he waxes philosophical about the Democrats' inability to successfully support environmentalism. And why is it that you think the environment is in trouble, Bill? Because scientists have studied the phenomenon and related the data to the public. Just like the scientists who are futilely trying to explain to you that, yes, there are biochemical causes for many psychological and physiological illnesses (as we ourselves can attest to from experience).

Maher likes to listen to scientists who tell him what he wants to hear. He outright ignores scientists with equally valid credentials and data who don't appeal to his own particular brand of insanity. Hey, don't get us wrong; we like Bill Maher. As long as he's not talking about one of his pet insanities — like PETA, or anti-vaccination and his bogus germ theory — we tend to agree with him. But bottom line: this is not a guy we want arguing on the side of science in any debate. Thanks, but no thanks.

Raahr! I'm angry Bill Maher!
Bill sez: "Fuck you, scientists who don't agree with me!"

— • —
[  Filed under: % Media & Censorship  % Science & Technology  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/322

Comments (4)

Primate, 2006.05.10 (Wed) 21:56 [Link] »

This is the perfect tactic for IDers. Don't seek debate with qualified people who will soundly kick your ass, but choose "famous" people, who know jack shit about science. I f they did spend time becoming aquainted with the workings of the natural word, they'd be called scientists, not entertainers. As one myself, I shudder to think of how many people watching Joe Popular declare themselves as frontline defenders of reason and logic actually believe that these people know more about science than Average Joe. It's like debating ID with any random person leaving an evangelical church. Fish in a barrel. Except they don't respond to reason and logic.

ed, 2006.05.11 (Thu) 03:23 [Link] »

I think a lot of this is part of a popular trend toward cherry-picking data, arguments, studies, etc. Perhaps it's in some ways a product of the too-much-informaiton age, but it seems to me that, even when I agree with something, I don't hear potential arguments against it, valid or not. If I submitted a paper to a journal without potential counterevidence, it wouldn't be published. I can understand some writers not wanting to let counterindications get into the hands of the MSM, in that science reporters and the great unwashed are ignorant of scientific method, and assume an unexplained phenomenon is discrediting to a theory. But I don't like it. Have we killed Popper and falsifiability completely, and are now living in a brand new world beyond anything Kuhn could have imagined, where the paradigm changes daily? Scary.

Adam, 2006.05.11 (Thu) 04:18 [Link] »

Just posted on this Ray Comfort clown and his ridiculous banana argument myself recently.

I was disappointed to hear about Maher's stupidity regarding germ theory. I've been watching smatterings of his show over at onegoodmove and have been pretty impressed. I agree that he's not the best person to debate this twit, but seriously, this Comfort guy isn't much competition; he's not likely to baffle anyone in the same way as Dembski or Behe might. Check out his Atheist test for chrissake. It's pathetic.

I know it's not a great idea, and possibly dangerous (publicity wise), but I'd still love to see the 'debate', if only for entertainment and amusement.

Maher, like too many comedians and other performers (even perennial Two Percent favorite, Jon Stewart), has a distinct and (to us) distasteful anti-science bent.

I know exactly what you mean. I recall a segment on the Daily Show recently that gave me a bit of a sinking feeling in the stomach. But Jon, you're supposed to be one of the good guys, thought I (tearing up).

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2006.05.12 (Fri) 13:35 [Link] »

I know what you mean, ed. Too many people pick and choose when to apply reason and logic, and when not to. Maher is clearly guilty of this, as are Penn & Teller (with their well-known and patently absurd radical Libertarian slants). And when it comes to the general population's knowledge of science, too many people are completely clueless, and yet think that they understand science well enough to make decisions based on sheer nonsense. It's not a good situation.

Primate said:

Except they don't respond to reason and logic.

Exactly. That's the problem with way too many people that we've run across. Couple an abyssmal grasp of science with the ability to ignore reason and logic, and you end up staring at an impenetrable wall. Be it creationism, or psychics, or the Libertarian platform, some people just blindly believe and are totally immune to reason or logic. There's just no way to get through to someone like that — they are, for all intents and purposes, beyond help.

Adam — yeah, when Jon makes those dismissive statements about science, implying that it's just a bunch of nerds doing silly, useless things, it just hurts a little. Sure, we know that science isn't "cool," and that making fun of it makes for good jokes, but...well, it's just sad.

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