This isn’t the first time Bill Maher has pissed me off with his support of pseudoscience. I know he doesn’t give a damn about my opinion, but I’m posting my frustration anyways. It’s often the people who I agree with the most who I am most curious about, and sometimes the most skeptical of. I wonder what their inspiration is, deciding it is less important what people believe, but rather why they believe it. For Bill Maher, I believe he holds a wild double standard. With respect to God, the man says the burden of proof is on the believer. He displaces himself, rightly so, from having to make any statements about his lack of theory. He said it perfectly: “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”
The burden of proof can be easily realized using Bertrand Russell’s teapot analogy. I could in no way prove to you that there is not a teapot in space orbiting the Sun.
The body of space is too large to filter through, even with the most advanced of technology. Even if I could find map all the satellites, I couldn’t say that one of those asteroids didn’t have a teapot hidden within it. The arguments against the presence of a teapot can always be refuted. But the statement that there is a teapot and the evidence for it could easily be convincing. A picture of the teapot, a video of the teapot, a tracking device placed on the teapot, a collection of these would help convince me that there is a teapot.
Likewise, as Maher agrees with me, it is really, truly impossibly difficult to prove there is no god. We can state contradictions such as the double standard of saying we need a creator but the creator needs no creator. Or I can state deductions made from empirical evidence on the origin of species and planets and galaxies. But none of these would ever come close to disproving the existence of God. Instead, many of us choose, not so much based on the support against, but more on the lack of support for God, to not believe in the existence of such a being. Maher has used this logic before and no doubt believes it wholeheartedly.
So why the hell then does he think the burden of proof lies on proving the safety of GMOs? The burden of proof lies in proving that GMOs are unsafe. There is no possible way to prove that GMOs are perfectly healthy to eat, just as there is no possible way to prove that corn or broccoli are okay either. Instead, we look for ways in which GMOs (or corn or broccoli) could potentially be harmful. This is the basic scientific method, without which, we would know nearly nothing. The scientist doesn’t spend all day trying to justify their hypothesis. They instead invest their time in trying to disprove their hypothesis. If they find one way that the hypothesis is invalid, they throw that hypothesis out the door or adapt it to the new knowledge. The hypothesis to be made about GMOs is that they are safe and we will look for ways in which this is false. If we find none that are observed or observable, we consider it safe by current knowledge. We don’t remove it from the market because of its potential to be unsafe. Everything has potential to be unsafe. Just take one look at the risks of dihydrogen monoxide. But if we ever do find that there is something sketchy, we should definitely look again, no question about it. So why does Maher believe that the support of God is unjustified until He shows his face, but also believes that hatred of GMOs is justified despite a similar lack of evidence? “But there may be a health risk,” he claims as his primary reasoning for labeling, regulating, or even banning GMOs. To me there is no difference in logic between this statement and the statement “but there may be a god.” There is no doubt of the potential. But this is just plain hypocritical. I don’t even need to get into the biological or political arguments against Maher’s stance on GMOs to demonstrate its naivete.
Maher refuses to allow Nick Gillespie to establish the argument for voluntary labeling of non-GMOs and instead raises his voice and interrupts him. He employs the same tactics as his victim of incessant nagging, Bill O’Reilly. When I see such blatant rejection of evidence and logic in favor of conspiracy theory, it enlightens me to the human potential for self-deception. Despite Maher’s seemingly flawless defense against the illogic of religion, he completely and utterly abandons it in favor of an unfounded claim. Carl Sagan said so brilliantly, “it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.” With Maher’s shouting, interrupting, and obvious rebellion against Gillespie, I see he is less a scientist with claims of reason and established logic, and instead more a politician, arrogant, hypocritical and immovable.