Shermer To Maher: Being Anti-Vaccination Is Tantamount To Being Anti-Evolution

Bill Maher’s mistrust of western medicine has been earning him a lot of flak from the scientific and skeptic communities.  Here is the latest, an open letter from Michael Shermer:

I believe that when it comes to alternative medicine in general and vaccinations in particular you have fallen prey to the same cognitive biases and conspiratorial thinking that you have so astutely identified in others. In fact, the very principle of how vaccinations work is additional proof (as if we needed more) against the creationists that evolution happened and that natural selection is real: vaccinations work by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given. Our immune system “adapts” to the invading pathogens and “evolves” to fight them, such that when it encounters a biologically similar pathogen (which itself may have evolved) it has in its armory the weapons needed to fight it. This is why many of us born in the 1950s and before may already have some immunity against the H1N1 flu because of its genetic similarity to earlier influenza viruses, and why many of those born after really should get vaccinated.

Vaccinations are not 100% effective, nor are they risk free. But the benefits far outweigh the risks, and when communities in the U.S. and the U.K. in recent years have foregone vaccinations in large numbers, herd immunity is lost and communicable diseases have come roaring back. This is yet another example of evolution at work, but in this case it is working against us. (See www.sciencebasedmedicine.org for numerous articles answering every one of the objections to vaccinations.)

Vaccination is one of science’s greatest discoveries. It is with considerable irony, then, that as a full-throated opponent of the nonsense that calls itself Intelligent Design, your anti-vaccination stance makes you something of an anti-evolutionist. Since you have been so vocal in your defense of the theory of evolution, I implore you to be consistent in your support of the theory across all domains and to please reconsider your position on vaccinations. It was not unreasonable to be a vaccination skeptic in the 1880s, which the co-discovered of natural selection—Alfred Russel Wallace—was, but we’ve learned a lot over the past century. Evolution explains why vaccinations work. Please stop denying evolution in this special case.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    I don’t think that Bill Maher said that vaccinations are always a bad idea. He said something about how vaccinations against the flu isn’t always effective because it mutates. Also, Maher mentions how healthy people with the right habits tend to avoid getting sick. He might be right that such a person might not need the vaccine for a flu virus.

    Maher, I would hope, would admit that sometimes a vaccination is appropriate, especially given the fact that people tend not to have healthy habits.

  • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com sendaianonymous

    @ James
    Um, I think what Maher’s been saying for years is actually much much worse than “not always a good idea”:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/08/bill_maher_antivaccination_wingnut.php

    But! First Wired, now Shermer (how is he so awesome? YAY): this is a great week for science :D

    (Personally, I’d say that anti-vaccine conspiracy theories are much worse than creationism: believing in creationism at least won’t kill you)

  • Daniel Fincke

    believing in creationism…won’t kill you[!]

    if we take you carefully out of context, it sounds like someone’s gone soft on creationism!

    • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com sendaianonymous

      ZOMG QUOTE-MINING!

      Well, at least you know the enemy’s tactics all right “cackles”

  • http://ethicalrealism.wordpress.com James Gray

    I’ve watched Maher quite a bit and he might say some stupid things, but his recent comments on the flu shot are not as crazy as what you just pointed out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHwDlRDz-ps

    • http://sendaianonymous.wordpress.com sendaianonymous

      It’s a good thing he’s improving :D Maybe Shermer will beat some sense into him, yay!


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