PZ Myers has weighed in and this is one of the rare times when I find myself in disagreement with him.
According to AAI (emphasis mine):
The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.
I stopped by the AAI convention page and used their contact form to send the following:
Setting aside his anti-science views on health and vaccination, I fail to see how Maher qualifies for the RDA. He's repeatedly stated that he's not an atheist, implicitly or explicitly asserting that atheism is as dogmatic and irrational as the organized religions he rejects - while stating clearly that he believes in a god, but not religion. His movie, while funny and popular, did not treat the subject fairly and did not promote atheism, rational thought or science, it was an amusing bit of 'let's poke fun at religious people'. While I enjoyed it, recommended it and would like to see more of it (and even see the film awarded), Maher does not deserve the RDA and it is an embarrassment for a major atheist organization to honor him with this award. It cheapens the award, sullies the AAI reputation and is a slight to every outspoken atheist who continually strives to promote reason and nontheism.
If the AAI had a number of different awards, I'd have no objection to Bill Maher receiving one for 'Best Movie' (mostly because there really wasn't any competition), but to give out a prestigious award to an anti-science, anti-atheism, anti-vaccination wack-a-loon simply because he is also anti-religion is an embarrassment. This award puts Bill Maher in the same category as Richard Dawkins, James Randi or Ayaan Hirsi Ali…and AAI doesn't see a problem with this?
What sort of message does Bill Maher send to the world about the "nontheist life stance"? He may well send the message that we're unscholarly, unscientific buffoons who make fun of religious people in order to make fun of religion, with no substantive points. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie and I enjoy ridiculing ideas that are deserving...but neither Maher's movie, Religulous, nor his other media efforts have promoted science or advocated any sort of nontheist philosophy.
PZ is right, there is no atheist pope or dogmatic position and my opinion is my own. I like Bill Maher, despite disagreeing on a number of positions. I enjoy his shows, his stand-up and Religulous...but when it comes time to give out an award that amounts to 'atheist of the year', he wouldn't make the list.
This isn't just about disagreeing with him. I disagree with many of the recipients on many issues. Consider the following:
""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." - Bill Maher, 2002
(For those who think his position has changed, feel free to watch Bill's September, 2008 interview on the Daily Show. While promoting Religulous, he stated that he is not an atheist because he sees it as the mirror image of theism - a dogmatic certainty.)
I fail to see how this, in any way, "mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins."