Why is this thing not like the others?: Bill Maher schools Charlie Rose on the perfidies of Islam

September 18, 2014 • 10:33 am

Like Sam Harris, Bill Maher is one of those people who inspires a lot of rancor among atheists because their view aren’t perfectly consonant with the thoughtful, secular “line”. Harris favors gun ownership and profiling for terrorists, while Maher was an anti-vaxer. (I’m not sure whether he still adheres to that position.) My view has always been that even if you disagree with someone about something, you should still promote their arguments that you consider good.  Hitchens was in favor of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but how does that invalidate his arguments against religion? And do you know anyone who doesn’t have at least one opinion that seems bizarre?

Here’s a 6-minute video of Bill Maher’s September 11 (!) appearance on the Charlie Rose show in which he just steamrollers over Rose (who appears to be religious), over Rose’s claims that Islam is no worse than any other faith, and over Rose’s stupid assertion that ISIS isn’t really Islamic.

At 45 seconds in, you can see Rose tacitly admitting he’s a believer, saying that he “covers all the bases” (but hastens to add that he’s “a devotee of science, too”). Rose also agrees with Howard Dean’s claim that he (Dean) “is about as Islamic as ISIS”.

Here Maher shows that he can be absolutely serious and eloquent on the topic of religion. There’s none of the persiflage that people objected to in “Religulous.”

Rose, sadly, seems to be a pretty lame apologist for Islam. I have to say that I think less of him after his performance here. He, like other apologists, should look at the polls on Muslim beliefs throughout the world.

I’ll add here a cartoon from reader Pliny the in Between, taken from his/her website Pictoral Theology:

Toon Background.014

h/t: Aneris

52 thoughts on “Why is this thing not like the others?: Bill Maher schools Charlie Rose on the perfidies of Islam

  1. Rose was a horrible interviewer. He constantly interrupted. Isnt the point of having a guest on the show to hear what he has to say? I got the feeling he wanted to make sure he didnt get on any Islamic hit lists.

    1. Indeed, Rose looked nervous about letting Maher talk. I almost expected him to reach across the table and put his hand over Maher’s mouth.

    2. I agree. I usually like Charlie Rose – he did an excellent job in hosting a discussion between Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Ian McEwan after Christopher Hitchens passed away.

      But on this, he seems to be deeply uncomfortable about the things that Maher is saying, and so keeps interrupting to add qualifying statements like “christians too” or “”…not all muslims” or “moderate muslims wouldn’t…”

      I get the impression that he’s part of that crowd of liberals who just don’t like to hear the relationship between Islam and violence and oppression expressed clearly and without ambiguity.

    1. I think his anti-vax crap comes from the “Hollywood circle” he lives in. The belief, that almost all illnesses can be treated with natural remedies and the general mistrust against “big pharma”.

      But Maher came around on lots of issues.

      E.g. he used to not call himself an atheist but agnostic.

      He also doesn`t like the 9-11 conspiracists.

      But I don`t want to see him debate any muslims as I think he will get his ass kicked.

      He is good, when he talks about issues but in direct confrontation with people who are “trained” in that area (like global warming deniers, muslims,…) he sometimes comes off bad.

      1. The same foolish nonsense that killed Steve Jobs. You’d think the unnecessary death of someone as famous as Jobs would make them realise which side their bread is buttered. But no.

  2. Maher’s take-away phrase: “…the soft bigotry of low expectations…”.

    Great stuff by Maher…Rose looked like an idiot.

    1. As you may know, that phrase was repurposed. It originates with ‘Dubya’ Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. Bush used the phrase in a 2000 speech to the NAACP:

      “I will confront another form of bias: the soft bigotry of low expectations…Equality in our country will remain a distant dream until every child, of every background, learns so that he or she may strive and rise in this world. No child in America should be segregated by low expectations, imprisoned by illiteracy, abandoned to frustration and the darkness of self-doubt.”

      It is an object lesson in being cautious when it comes to being seduced by rhetoric. More than for president in the last century, Bush’s acolytes held him to low expectations.

  3. I agree with the above comments.

    The Bill Maher show is the only reason I subscribe to HBO…well that and The Game of Thrones.

    The Pliny of the in Between strip is spot on as well. Nice tie-in Jerry!

  4. I dont care I still love Charlie Rose. He interviews a lot of thoughtful people (a lot of scientists) who would otherwise go unheard.

    Imagine for a minute, an America with no Fox news, and a channel of Charlie Rose….

    Love Mahr too. seem like the last person to be ant-vax. This is such a deathly meme. My daughter is on chemo (therefore neutropenic a week or two per month) and I want to wring the neck of people who are so proud to spout that they don’t vaccinate their kids. argh.

    1. Maher is a bit of a sucker for the naturalistic fallacy. Vaccinations aren’t “natural” so he is predisposed to reject them, even in the face of an enormous amount of historical evidence of their effectiveness.

      1. Yes, he is a bit phobic of modernity. I think he was talking about the flu vaccine when he was labelled anti-vax. He didn’t say anything about all the other vaccines you should get and certainly never advocated kids not being vaccinated.

          1. Maher has claimed that flu shots increase your chances of getting Alzheimer’s and that polio was wiped out by better sanitation, not the vaccine. Orac has covered him in the past, not to Maher’s credit.

          2. I think it started around the H1N1 virus (which I like the call the hiney virus) – here is his response.

            One thing I will say about Bill Maher is he tends to be a little light on the science knowledge. He is a pretty good critical thinker but he needs to crack a few science books. I think his lack of understanding of science probably influences some of his less informed opinions.

            1. He does a lot of backtracking in that piece, trying to paper over some of the wilder statements he’s made in the past. When it comes to modern medicine, Maher is a total science-denialist, going far beyond vaccines. He’s advocated “natural” treatments for cancer, (laetrile, for instance), claimed disease isn’t caused by microbes but by “aggregate toxicity,” and much more. His wide audience makes him dangerous, just as dangerous as someone like Jenny McCarthy. Here’s a piece by Orac detailing some of Maher’s denialism.

              I get that Maher is strong on religion, but I have a hard time overlooking his anti-science bias as just part of his quirky nature. Like Orac, I was disappointed when he was given the Richard Dawkins Award by the Atheist Alliance, given that among the criteria is, “advocates increased scientific knowledge.”

              1. Honestly, I don’t see him as a Jenny McCarthy. He isn’t out there shouting that vaccines are evil. I got the impression that his science knowledge is flawed. I think if someone offered counter points he wouldn’t staunchly hold to his position.

                I don’t want to be a Bill Maher apologist – he has the big fancy show – he can defend himself.

              2. Maher certainly disappoints in the medical area. And there really is no excuse. He must have some strong science advocates as friends. He has got to have been told. I think he must just refuse to admit positions he once took are stupid.

            2. There is absolutely nothing in that piece that would qualify him as an anti-vaxer.
              I think he’s 100% right flue vaccines should only be given to those at higher risk, the elderly, pregnant women, etc.

              Anti-vaxers still contend that the MMR vaccine causes autism, which was solidly debunked decades ago. Now that really is anti-science.
              Based on this piece (he doesn’t mention Alzheimers at all) it appears nearly slanderous to call him an anti-vaxer.

              I think it is rather obvious that the ‘modern’ diet, with it’s high incidence of metabolic syndrome and auto-immune disease, is far from ideal and that antibiotics are not harmless and are over-used (the research into diet, microbiota and antibiotics is still in its infancy), I find no flaw in his stance there either.

              1. Yes, I wouldn’t call him an anti-vaxxer either. The H1N1 vaccine was thrown together hastily because of the fear of an epidemic and many QA steps were skipped that are normally carried out with other vaccines. I didn’t get the H1N1 vaccine. I’ll probably get the flu vaccine. I had a bad reaction in the past because of my ridiculous immune system but I think things may have settled down. I usually have to convince the nurse at my doctor’s office to give me the vaccines that I want. I have no idea why she resists me but I managed to convince her that I should have the MMR vaccine because I highly doubt I was immunized as a child as the vaccine didn’t exist and I already had rubella.

  5. I’ve always liked Maher when it comes to religion, and he got it right again here.

    Some of this clip was played on Fox, naturally preceded with comments about how a terrible atheist actually had it right for once. They’re having to resort to atheist commemters a lot lately because of their crusade against Islam, and religious people tend to be apologists for all religions.

  6. My view has always been that even if you disagree with someone about something, you should still promote their arguments that you consider good.


    (And you should also call them out when they go off the rails, of course — but not in a way that diminishes them when they stay true.)

    And do you know anyone who doesn’t have at least one opinion that seems bizarre?

    You mean, aside from me? And Baihu?


  7. Great post – so glad you pointed out this interview!

    “My view has always been that even if you disagree with someone about something, you should still promote their arguments that you consider good.”

    I think that depends on the how badly their other arguments go astray, and whether you can promote the argument without the person.

    Christian apologists are eager to promote Thomas Aquinas when he makes the cosmological argument for God (Summa Theologica Question 2), but will quickly distance themselves when Aquinas argues for the killing of heretics in the very same treatise (Summa Theologica Question 11).

  8. Bill Maher is a pretty articulate person & I think he doensn’t always get the credit he deserves because he’s a comedian which people think is someone who just makes smart ass remarks all day.

  9. Rose commits the common error of poor interviewing. It is suppose to be an interview not a debate. Apparently Rose is not qualified for either. He did the same thing with Christopher Hitchens and it was bad.

  10. It is one thing for the president, keen on persuading Moslem countries to help us fight against ISIS to say ISIS doesn’t practice true Islam lest we be seen as entering a war against Islam rather than ISIS. It is quite another for a journalist to argue that ISIS is not Islamic when it does practice a form of Islam.

    1. I went to the Huffington Post link hoping to find that Mahar doesn’t have a ridiculous point of view regarding vaccines after all, but I was disappointed. He truly seems like an idiot to me. An atheist idiot who isn’t afraid to tell the truth about Islam, but an idiot all the same. To think that because the incidence of polio dropped 50% over the 30 years before the vaccine means that there are good arguments to be made on the side of never introducing the vaccine is absurd. I think he probably means that we would have eventually would have wiped out the vaccine naturally and that would be better and more permanent. So you or I could have gotten polio in the interest of not screwing with nature? Insane and insensitive. At best there is a purely academic argument perfect for those who enjoy debating exactly where to split the hairs. He also thinks being in good physical shape thus having a strong immune system is a better way to combat getting the flu. When was the last time he had the flu? It can be devastating even for a healthy person and you can get it even if your immune system is in the best condition it can possibly be. And some people die from the flu.
      He also tries to get out of being held accountable for his words by using the “just a comedian” argument. Every night he comments in a rather serious way about very serious issues. He is not “just a comedian”. If he is, he’s a bad one because he’s rarely funny. And writing that he wasn’t aware that what he says on Twitter would be taken seriously? Please. He is treating his readers like they are dopes.
      I understand the idea of backing up somebody with a good argument even though you disagree with him on other issues, but I think it’s dangerous to stand behind Bill Mahar on anything because he may do a terrible job of presenting your argument. You do a wonderful job of presenting your point of view yourself, Dr. Coyne. I only wish you had an audience the size of Bill Mahar’s.

      1. “To think that because the incidence of polio dropped 50% over the 30 years before the vaccine means…”

        Maher has repeated this falsehood several times. In fact, in 1943, ten thousand Americans suffered polio; in 1948, twenty-seven thousand; and in 1952, three years before Salk’s vaccine, about fifty-nine thousand. By 1960 the number of reported cases had dropped to about 3,000, and by 1979 there were about 10.

        I wish Maher would apply the same logic to medicine that he does to religion. In the HuffPo piece Maher argues that if most French citizens didn’t believe that a swine flu vaccine was necessary, then it must not be necessary. In Religulous, it was a different story. “So, even if a billion people believe something,” he said, “it can still be ridiculous.”

      2. *”Does the polio vaccine have the power to prevent children from getting polio, and did it indeed do just that in the 1950s? I believe it does, and it did. But polio had diminished by over 50 percent in the thirty years before the vaccine — that’s a pretty big fact in the polio story that you don’t often hear and which merits debate. It may be the case that the vaccine should have been used anyway to finish polio off, but there are some interesting facts on the other side.”*
        Why is that idiotic? He acknowledges the polio vaccine virtually wiped out polio (one could mention that the oral Sabin vaccine is more effective there than the injected Salk vaccine, since preventing transmission). He also correctly notes that polio was on the decline (probably due to better sanitation). He says it is something one can debate, he doesn’t even state that polio would have been wiped out by better sanitation. Personally I think it would not have, and that the polio vaccines saved thousands of lives and prevented tens of thousands of cases of disability, but calling someone who asks the question if polio would eventually have declined into disappearance anyway (again, I do not think so) an idiot is inappropriate.

        1. “He also correctly notes that polio was on the decline (probably due to better sanitation).”

          This “fact” is commonly repeated from anti-vax sites, and it’s just as accurate as the rest of their information. The most serious epidemics in America occurred in the 1940s and 1950s, peaking in 1952, the worst year in US history, with about 58,000 cases, over 3,000 deaths, and 21,000 paralyzed. Three years later the vaccine appeared and polio was virtually wiped out in 20 years.

          For Maher to keep repeating this falsehood is unconscionable. It’s akin to a creationist being shown transition fossils, then denying there are any transition fossils.

  11. “And do you know anyone who doesn’t have at least one opinion that seems bizarre?”

    Well maybe not bizarre but certainly there is no one with whom I agree on absolutely everything, and it’s foolish to think that you have to agree with someone on all points for them to be worth listening to.

    You have to consider what reasons are given for their incorrect beliefs. Christopher Hitchens believed that the Iraq invasion would herald a new era of glorious democracy in Iraq because he had many Iraqi friends who convinced him of this. He was guilty of wishful thinking and believing his friends, mistaken but not evil. Similarly Sam Harris’ opinions on gun control are misguided, but he is simply so steeped in the American paranoia that he can’t comprehend a world in which everyone isn’t a crook or carrying a gun. It’s sad but not evidence of anything evil either.

  12. Why is San Harris’ opinion about profiling bizarre?
    And the Hitch and Iraq? The invasion of Iraq did actually bring some kind of democracy and (temporary) peace to the Iraq part of Kurdistan, so the Hitch was not wholly & completely wrong.
    At any rate, where IS is concerned, I think we can all agree Maher just wipes the floor with Rose, who hasn’t even decided whether he wants to interview or debate.

  13. Rose ‘covers the bases’? Does he mean that? This is a childish remark considering what the present subject matter of the conversation is.

    Charlie’s position is a prototypical stance taken by so many in the press who wish to not offend their audience base.

  14. Yes, but you can understand his position. Rose is a very lucrative institution, not just an individual with his own opinions. Disappointing, but its just human nature.

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