‘Atheism is Religion Like Abstinence is a Sex Position’

On Real Time last night, Bill Maher responded to Alain de Botton‘s claim that atheists ought to create temples (without actually saying his name or the temple idea) by ranting about how atheism is nothing like a religion:

“We’re not two sides of the same coin, and you don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf with my reason. Your stuff has to go over there, on the shelf with Zeus and Thor and the Kraken, with the stuff that is not evidence-based, stuff that religious people never change their mind about, no matter what happens.”

Side note: I have to be up at 5:00a tomorrow… it’s nearly 1:00a now… WHY AM I STILL AWAKE?!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Hiroshige

    I liked the video.

    But on the subject of critical thinking, correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Maher one of those anti-vaccination fellows?

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Well, he acknowledges that atheists aren’t perfect thinkers, and that everybody has their blind spots. I guess maybe his anti-vax ideas are his blind spot. I can forgive him for one brain fart.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        It doesn’t make him the worst person ever, and he doesn’t preach anti-vax AFAIK, but if I ever get a QA with him, I will ask him why the scientific consensus on vaccines is less convincing to him than the scientific consensus on AGW.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

        You know Dick,

        You slag me routinely, yet you just made one of the most glaringly ignorant mistakes you could have. Maher is vehemently AGAINST anti-vacciners.

        If you make a mistake on something this benign, how can you maintain credibility?

        • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

          I give you props for irony.

          For the sake of those who don’t see your reply here as a brilliant troll:  The entire idea about Maher is that nobody is perfect. A mistake in one area doesn’t intrinsically disqualify you from other discussions.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Bill Maher against anti-vacciners?

          Hm… 

          http://letmegooglethat.com/?q=bill+maher+vaccine

          Got any other evidence?

  • Jason

    I didn’t get the impression this was in response to de Botton, I think it was in response to a guest from last week (some woman named “Kennedy”) who started in with the “atheism is a religion” nonsense at the end of the show just before “new rules” and because he didn’t really get a chance to respond he made it part of his closing monologue tonight.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I’m sure there are atheists who think ponytails look good on a man

    Ahem.  Penn Gillette?

    • Decon57

       Agnosticism answers a completely different question entirely. There are agnostic atheists and agnostic theists. All agnosticism tells us is that there is no way of knowing if there is or isn’t a god. Being a theist/atheist tells us whether or not you BELIEVE there is or isn’t a God.

    • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

       Speaking as a man who happens to look fantastic with a ponytail, I’ll have to join the shiny, manageable ranks on that one.

      • Tinker

        I am losing my hair up front, so I am hanging on to what I can. My wife loves it and that is all that matters to me. Bill Maher doesn’t have to sleep with me;)

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

          no man looks good with a ponytail. you may like them, but is is not a good look.

          • Sideshow Bill

             Opinions are like assholes. Just because you have the former doesn’t mean you have to act the latter.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RZ5VEXJ3IYNGQBHI5APT4DETJI FSq

              Yes, how pithy…tell me, how long did the memory recall take for you to bring that old and nostalgic gem back to the frontal lobe?

    • Anonymous

       I can’t help but think it really is a wisecrack aimed at Penn.

      • Drew M.

        Yep, that’s how I saw it.

    • BinaryStar

      I think Maher used to shy away from labeling himself an atheist, Rich, but that was years ago now. He’s been quite militantly atheist for as long as I’ve been watching “Real Time,” which has been since ’04 or ’05. I think that maybe the terrorist attacks  had the opposite effect on him that it did on the numerous “9/11 Republicans” (Dennis Miller, the late Ron Silver, et al.).

      • Inferno

        He said he found atheists as sure and dogmatic as religious fundamentalists (or something to that effect) as recently as 09 when he was on The Daily Show promoting Religulous.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          Maybe the most accurate would be ‘apatheist’.  He has described Dawkins’s 7 point scale, so I think he understands what atheist and agnostic mean, but he has made some almost deistic comments in the past.

          I think it is safe to say that he certainly doesn’t believe in the Abrahamic god (or as he puts it, “single parent who writes books”)

          His wiki article also clarifies his vaccine position:

          What I’ve read about what they think I’m saying is not what I’ve said. I’m not a germ theory denier. I believe vaccinations can work. Polio is a good example. Do I think in certain situations that inoculating Third World children against malaria or diphtheria, or whatever, is right? Of course. In a situation like that, the benefits outweigh costs. But to me living in Los Angeles? To get a flu shot? No.

          And http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tB5DLf1Qt78 with Bill Frist, he doesn’t address the autism silliness.  So at the very least, Bill’s anti-vax position doesn’t seem anything like Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax position. 

          • Anonymous

            I don’t mean to belabor the point, but I’ve been watching Bill for years (from “Real Time” to his comedy specials to “Religulous” to his appearances on other shows here and there), and in that time he’s never given me the impression that he’s anything other than a pretty hardline atheist. His loathing for religion is palpable.

            Inferno, can you provide a link to that particular “Daily Show” appearance? Because that seems like a rather disingenuous thing for him to say, all things considered. As for his Deistic comments, Rich, do you have any examples? I’m not trying to be argumentative with y’all, but I just can’t imagine Bill saying anything along those lines, other than in the vaguest of terms, and maybe for a laugh.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              I think Bill is confusing, because based on (most of us anyway) our definition of atheist, he is one.  My only question is what he chooses to label himself. 

              There are an number of references here http://www.celebatheists.com/wiki/Bill_Maher

              That one has the quote that made me think ‘Deist’

              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.”

              (from 2006)

              Here’s Bill getting the definition of ‘atheism’ wrong (at least in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of most of us) on The Daily Show in 2008 http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-september-30-2008/bill-maher-pt–2

              I don’t say there’s no god.  I’m not an atheist ’cause I find atheism to be a mirror of the certainty of religion

              Maybe he’s concerned with the popular misconception of atheist (7.0 on the Dawkins scale) and wants to make sure people know he isn’t.

              • Brian Macker

                He says inconsistent statements all the time. Maybe he changes his mind,or maybe it’s partially for show. Controversy sells. Next week he’ll be telling us he never believed the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. Well, by 2035 he will.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      He did; he finally switched over to full-on atheism after Religulous came out.

  • http://twitter.com/Wolfie_Rankin Wolfie Rankin

    Agnostics are swingers, They’re not quite prepared to understand that no matter what, a man cannot build a boat in a week or so which holds… roughly four million animals at least, That a woman cannot spontaneously turn into a huge salt lick, a bush cannot speak to a man… especially when it’s on fire (I’d forgive it for screaming though), and a man cannot wave a stick and part a sea. 

    • Heather

      Uh, Agnostics aren’t skeptical christians, nor are they Atheist Lite. Agnostics simply answer the question of “Do you believe there is a God/Gods?” with an honest “I don’t know.” Because, well, nobody really knows. There probably isn’t, but nobody knows if life exists on other planets yet either. I’m sure there are some exceptions but you’d be hard pressed to find any self-identifying agnostics that think the more ludicrous bible stories might have really happened.

      • JohnF

         That’s fine except that there are generally very few pure epistemological agnostics. Rather, when people identify as agnostic, they mean they are specifically agnostic about the question of god, and not ideologically skeptical about the possibility of human knowledge in general.

        People aren’t usually agnostic about santa claus, nor is agnosticism a common response to ghosts, ufos, psychic powers, conspiracy theories, or the flying spaghetti monster. So, why does god get a special pass? There’s more evidence supporting ESP than there is any religion, yet people who have no trouble dismissing it as the bunk it is still nonetheless claim to honestly not know whether there is a “higher power.”

        The main driving force behind agnosticism is the unwarranted place of intellectual privilege our society ascribes to religious belief.

      • heisenberg

        Penn has a good part in his latest book, God, No!, about the difference between agnosticism and atheism. He claims, rightly so IMO, that if someone asks you whether or not you believe in god, answering with ‘I don’t know’ is ludicrous. If you were being asked whether god exists or not, you’re logically allowed to take the agnosticism route because you do not truly know. However, when you say you don’t know whether or not you believe in God, you’re skirting the issue entirely. Our existence is one of the most important thoughts to ponder and by saying you don’t know whether or not you believe in a god or gods is a hideous answer because essentially you’re saying that you haven’t put enough thought or effort into making a decision.

        • Anonymous

          I’m sure people really enjoy being backed into making a decision like that without being allowed to make it on their own time.

          • Brian Macker

            So your position is that people who self identify as agnostics just haven’t had much time to think, and make a decision? I might by that from a kid on his first day of sunday school, or a aborigine in first contact with a missionary. I’m not buying it from an adult who knows what the word agnostic means. “I don’t know” is not responsive to the question, “do you believe”. “I don’t believe”, “I believe” are, as would be “I don’t know what I believe”. The last one is perhaps understandable from an alzheimer’s patient. Even with someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to process such new information, like the aborigine, one would expect an “I don’t believe”.

            • Anonymous

              Is the question whether or not a particular religion true, or if some religion, somewhere might be true?

              If the question is whether or not a particular religion is true, I get that. But I don’t think agnosticism is about that.

      • Brian Macker

        “Because, well, nobody really knows. ”

        Nobody really knows what? I know I don’t believe in any traditional god. Non-traditional ones like believing god is the universe, are easy to say, “Well I believe the universe exists but I see no reason to call it god. Let’s call it the universe. “. Definitional references like “He who created us” are easily answered the same way with, “You mean natural selection?”. Every traditional god is refuted by self contradiction, or contradiction with science.

        So what is this thing nobody knows about, and if they don’t know about it then why call it god?

        I’ve got an idea. Let’s call this ill defined concept “Idonno”. Then we can ask agnostics if they believe in “Idonno” and the can reply with an honest “I don’t know”. Because that is exactly what I think they have in mind when they are asked about god. Nothing specific.

    • Anonymous

      Not that they’re right, but the passages suggests it took 100 years to build the ark.

      I don’t think it’s fair to say agnostics are swingers.

      • Sharon Hypatia

         I would think the first timbers laid would be rotten before the last plank was nailed if it took 100 years to build the ark…..

      • Brian Macker

        I don’t think the claim is that they are wafflers in generalist, just on the question at hand.

        • Brian Macker

          That was supposed to be “in general”.

  • http://kaleenamenke.blogspot.com/ Kaleena

    Feeling the same in the “why am I still awake” department… I hope you finally made it to bed!

  • http://www.last.fm/user/runawayuniverse runawayuniverse

    I love pineapple on my pizza Bill

    • http://aboutkitty.blogspot.com/ Cat’s Staff

      As an Orthodox Pizza Aficionado, I find pineapple on pizza to be heretical and blasphemous.  There is still time for you to repent and correct your ways.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

       Pineapple is good on everything.

  • Christi99100

    Seal Team 666!  OMFSM!!!!

  • Greg

    The posthumous de-posthumous-baptism at the end was fantastic. Had me laughing out loud.

    • Ubi Dubium

      He forgot the hair dryer of reason, though.

  • http://twitter.com/TychaBrahe TychaBrahe

    When I think of an atheist temple, I think of the modern Library at Alexandria.  It would be nice to have something like the Jewish Community Center where atheists could gather any time of the day or night to watch science documentaries, discuss things with other atheists, or play a game of pickup basketball with other people who know that no one really cares about the outcome, especially not some invisible being in the sky.

    Yes, I know there are many of these things online, being in a chat room is entirely different from being face-to-face with someone over a cup of tea.  The Center for Inquiry Chicago used to sponsor lectures once a month on a variety of topics in science and political atheism, but they stopped, and I miss them badly.

    Everyone understands how much fun an atheism conference is.  Why wouldn’t smaller, local versions of that be as beneficial.  My mother is very active in her synagogue, and I really envy that part of her experience.  The only comparable thing I have is my knitting circles, but the conversation there seems to be about Dr. Who and do you know X-Files and Serenity are on streaming at Netflix?  I’d love to have a group of people who would be discussing ViHart videos, the whole Jessica Ahlquist thing, the rash of recent prayer/ID in school legislation and what can be done about it, and so forth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Decided to watch this week’s episode out in the living room, and my fundi Christian mother was none too pleased with this ending lol. Oddly enough, it was only a week ago she told me she thinks atheism is a religion. She said that right after stating that Christianity isn’t a religion.

    • Michael Martin

      You might try this the next time a Christian tells you their religion is NOT a religion: “We have freedom of religion in this country, so if Christianity is NOT a religion then you don’t have the freedom to practice it.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

         well that has some pretty clear holes. Freedom of religious expression isn’t the only freedom we have. We can believe and practice whatever we want within reasonable guidelines (isn’t disruptive or harmful to others), whether it’s religious or not.

  • digitalatheist

    “Side note: I have to be up at 5:00a tomorrow… it’s nearly 1:00a now… WHY AM I STILL AWAKE?!”

    It is a phenomenon caused by knowing you have to be awake at 5 and worrying about over sleeping. Alternatively it can be because you’ve been partying too hard, or staying up late to watch the World Series. Since there are no scheduled WS games at the moment, it is one of the other two. ;-)

  • Annie

    When I saw the beginning of this new rules segment last night, I paused the TV and called my 12 year old into the room to watch.  She was giddy with excitement, and couldn’t even sit down to watch.  It occurred to me that even though she has identified as an atheist since she understood what that meant, this was the first time she watched a person announce they are an atheist so proudly on television.  It made me consider how many times she’s heard politicians blurt, “God Bless America!” or others on TV call for prayer or reference their beliefs.  At the end of the segment, she exclaimed, “That was the most awesome thing ever!”  Twelve year-old hyperbole aside, it was pretty darn cool.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    “su su sudio” lol. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    I’m pretty sure Bill is reponding to Lisa Kennedy from last week, not specifically Alain de Botton.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CusScRkK0JA

  • Anonymous

    If atheism is just another religion, then (A) health is just another disease and (B) why do I have to pay taxes?

  • pepe

    I LOL’ed like crazy!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Awesome. I have previously addressed the issue of Mormons baptizing DEAD people by my response which was me baptizing Mormon founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young into the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Ramen.

  • Jstewart57

    I sympathize with Maher, however, atheism is a belief about the idea of God — namely, that a God is impossible.  Since it would seem very difficult to prove anything that, indeed, doesn’t exist, then I don’t see how we can claim that atheism is evidenced-based.  I suppose you could say that it is reasonable to be an atheist, but that doesn’t prove anything.  Agnosticism is the fact-based position for a non-believer.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X