What else is there not?

By Phil Plait | August 15, 2010 7:05 am

Mitchell and Webb just keep on giving (one NSFW word):

I love how well he does Dawkins’ voice; it sounds very much like him.

Maybe we need to think about getting M&W to TAM London. Those guys are clearly One (well, Two) Of Us. If you’re not familiar with them, they do a comedy sketch show in the UK called "That Mitchell and Webb Look" and it’s brilliant. I have links to them below.

I think that in many cases, being funny gets the message across better even than being passionate. And a whole lot better than being a jerk. And you can even kinda be a jerk if you’re funny about it. Satire somehow seems to smooth the rough edges around a hard message…


Related posts:

- That NASA Look
- That Mitchell Look
- UK comedians and pseudoscience


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Religion, Skepticism

Comments (51)

  1. Phil, everytime you tone troll in a post a commentor loses their wings! Or something like that…

  2. Phil, everytime you tone troll in a post a commentor loses their wings! Or something like that. Ug, Double post fail, please eradicate this one in fire

  3. Love ‘em.
    And I absolutely agree about humor being a good way (if not the best) to get a message across. The same applies to Tim Minchin – he often delivers quite harsh criticism (his pope song being just one extreme example), but he does it in such a fun and funny way, that not only do you find it hard to be angry with him, you also see the point really clearly.

  4. Horse: Don’t you mean “Every time you say there are no fairies a fairy falls down dead.”?

    Even heroes are fair game for comedy.

  5. I’ve got it!

    The next thing that there is not is….

    global climate change!

    Oh, wait a minute, somebody already did that one… ;-(

    Seriously, this is also a very bang-on satire of book publishing, where every decent idea must then become an endless franchise, hopefully including merchandising, home DVD, video game, etc. For example, the “YOU” franchise of health books.

  6. andy

    What else is there not? Well for starters, there is not enough music featuring Karin Dreijer Andersson…

    /offtopic

  7. I adore David Mitchell! Especially when he is on Qi. Brilliant show and a must see.

  8. oldebabe

    M& W skits are always full of laughs, sniggers, and hahs. And they cover a miriad of subjects, humorously and derisively. It’s good thatyou can see this, Phil…

  9. csrster

    “Flogging a dead god” brilliant!

  10. teacher

    Has any one ever heard of a split edit?

    Regardless,

    It’s still funny

  11. Stargazer

    Sound is too low. Same for anyone else?

  12. Dreamer

    The duo also has several BBC Radio 4 comedy series titled “That Mitchell and Webb Sound” that I personally find more consistently amusing. Dunno why, but I find that many more of their TV sketches fall flat.

    There is no doubting that David Mitchell is a funny guy, though. He’s also a new regular on the long running (as in almost 40 years!) Radio 4 comedy panel game “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” which can be downright hilarious. I wasn’t sure if the humor of that show would translate to the US, but I recently gave a copy of a couple of ISIHAC episodes to some American friends of mine to listen to while they drove cross-country, and they said they had to stop listening while driving because it was making them laugh too much!

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    And you can even kinda be a jerk if you’re funny about it.

    And of course it wouldn’t even be so funny if there wasn’t the frame out there that people like Dawkins are jerks because they are quietly (or not) outspoken about their message.

    Nor would there be such a thriving discussion. Jerks FTW! Well, that is the whole point of the resulting book sale statistics, contrary to the post.

  14. Shaun

    You don’t seem to have a problem with being a ‘jerk’ when it is a subject you are passionate about such as vaccination.

    The fact you are not passionate about the same things as someone else does not make them a jerk and you not, it merely makes you lack self analysis.

  15. Kris

    “I think that in many cases, being funny gets the message across better even than being passionate. ”

    You mean the message that Dawkins is a one-trick pony with an agenda? Yeah, that really comes through this sketch.

    The bit that he should now move to debunking climate change and moon landing is priceless.

  16. Steve in Dublin

    Sound is too low. Same for anyone else?

    Yoda says: you can turn it up, not?

  17. Steve in Dublin

    Kris #16:

    You mean the message that Dawkins is a one-trick pony with an agenda? Yeah, that really comes through this sketch.

    What’s your point? Dawkins is a biologist. Why shouldn’t he be a ‘one trick pony’ with an agenda (to prove that evolution is true)? A good portion of the USA denies reality. I sense that you are part of that problem.

  18. These guys are just too funny. Thanks. As for Mr. Dawkins, it’s puzzling how he’s labeled a kooky crank by some. I suspect they haven’t read his books. Nothing puzzling about his well thought out and well written tomes, which can also be quite funny at times. And Kris, who in the world doesn’t have an “agenda”? Anyone who has an intelligent point of view should be welcomed.

  19. Kris

    “Dawkins is a biologist. Why shouldn’t he be a ‘one trick pony’ with an agenda (to prove that evolution is true)?”

    Except he’s not out to prove that evolution is true; he’s out to prove that there is no God. Dawkins is a typical case of a respected specialist in one field (biology) who thinks that he is automatically competent in another field (philosophy). You see that all too often.

    “A good portion of the USA denies reality.”

    Indeed. However, more rational Christian denominations (like the catholics) do accept Darwinian evolution without rejecting their religion. So, in principle, it should be possible to convince these people of the facts.

    If you read the ramblings of the creationists you will see that they believe that evolutionary theory is a lie created to lure people away from God. Dawkins, by using evolutionary theory as a vehicle to promote his atheist world view just reinforces these views.

  20. ppnl

    What is with the NASA types speaking with a British accent? I thought we won that war. Maybe there is a conspiracy to hide the fact that we lost.

  21. Steve in Dublin

    Kris #20:

    If you read the ramblings of the creationists you will see that they believe that evolutionary theory is a lie created to lure people away from God. Dawkins, by using evolutionary theory as a vehicle to promote his atheist world view just reinforces these views.

    OK, so most of us who accept that there is a scientific basis for explaining how the universe works also eschew the whole ‘goddidit’ premise. Occam’s razor, and all that. So are you saying that being an accomodationist and ‘playing along’ with the idea that religion and science can co-exist is the way we are going to win over these brainwashed minds?

  22. Blizno

    I’ve seen and heard a few things by Richard Dawkins.
    Dawkins, in the few bits I’ve seen of him, appeared to be very calm and straightforward. I didn’t see him attacking anyone. He simply explained why religions and other superstitions are wrong.
    I think that many people still think that religions must be respected.
    The right of everyone to believe anything they want must be respected but no religion nor other fantasy deserves unquestioning respect. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. It doesn’t matter how many billions of people believe it.

    20. Kris Says:
    “…Dawkins is a typical case of a respected specialist in one field (biology) who thinks that he is automatically competent in another field (philosophy). You see that all too often.”

    The question of the existence or absence of gods is not one of philosophy. That question covers every aspect of the human endeavor to understand the universe.
    If there is a god(s), we should all be on our knees right now praying to it (them). If there are no gods, we should give up trying to find magical answers and seek real answers instead in our quest to understand.
    It’s a yes/no question. Gods exist/don’t exist. Everything else depends on the answer to that one question.

    I am neither competent nor interested in philosophy. That does not disqualify me from looking out at the world and trying to understand how it all came about.

  23. YO

    Peep show is funnier than their sketch shows, you should check that out too if you haven’t already!

  24. JT

    “Dawkins is a typical case of a respected specialist in one field (biology) who thinks that he is automatically competent in another field (philosophy). You see that all too often. ”

    The existence of God is not a philosophical question. Philosophy deals with complex questions for which there is no right or wrong answer. God either exists or does not, there really is no room for “interpretation” there. The only reason that people place God’s existence in the realm of philosophy is that they are attached to a fantasy for which no evidence of its actual existence is evident. If its existence were evident the question would become a simple matter of science and fact faster than a creationist can mine a quote. Which goes to show that that is where it belongs right here and right now.

  25. Richie

    “God” was a convenient fantasy to explain away what people don’t understand. Now that science is beginning to fill in the blanks, the ‘domain’ of God is retreating into a smaller and smaller corner. Some people don’t like that.

    Brilliant sketch though. Satire can often successfully deliver messages to otherwise hostile audiences.

  26. Paul H

    “Dawkins, in the few bits I’ve seen of him, appeared to be very calm and straightforward. I didn’t see him attacking anyone. He simply explained why religions and other superstitions are wrong.”

    Can’t agree more. I’m not sure what Phil’s point is with the post, but everytime I’ve heard RD speak, it has always been to attack the message and not the messenger. One notable example was at the Global Athiest Convention he quietened down a jeering crowd to allow a YEC to ask her question and then answered it politely and fully.

    So please provide some actual examples of Dawkins being a dick (if that was the point). Because I’ve read and watched alot of his material and I’ve never seen him behave like a jerk.

  27. Nigel Depledge

    Shaun (15) said:

    You don’t seem to have a problem with being a ‘jerk’ when it is a subject you are passionate about such as vaccination.

    Shaun, I’m gonna call you out on this one:

    Either retract your accusation or cite chapter and verse where Phil has been a jerk.

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Kris (20) said:

    Except [Dawkins is] not out to prove that evolution is true;

    Erm … he published a book not too long ago called “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”. About 15 or so years ago, he gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures about evolution. His agenda really is to bring about the public understanding that evolution is true, and why the evidence is overwhelming.

    he’s out to prove that there is no God.

    Actually, his stance is more along the lines of: let’s stop making positive discrimination in favour of religious views, because there is no evidence to support them. I don’t know how it is elsewhere, but in the UK, there are many examples of positive discrimination for religious views (to the extent that muslim women who usually wear a burka are allowed to have their burka on in their passport photo – so the photo then isn’t very useful for identifying that person).

    Dawkins is a typical case of a respected specialist in one field (biology) who thinks that he is automatically competent in another field (philosophy). You see that all too often.

    Now, I’ve not read much of Dawkins’s writing about religion, so I’d appreciate some exemplifying quotes. However, from what I have read of what he has written, he does seem to apply a consistent and logical analysis to religion and religious thinking. Don’t forget that the religious mindset is an aspect of human nature, and the study of human nature is a part of biology.

    Additionally, since the commonest objection to his area of expertise (he’s an evolutionary biologist) is religious in nature, I suspect he’s read sufficiently widely to actually know what he is talking about in addressing those objections.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Kris (20) said:

    If you read the ramblings of the creationists you will see that they believe that evolutionary theory is a lie created to lure people away from God. Dawkins, by using evolutionary theory as a vehicle to promote his atheist world view just reinforces these views.

    Where, when and how has Dawkins ever used evolutionary theory to promote atheism?

  30. Cameron

    Sorry, #20 but did you just describe Catholicism as a more rational form of Christianity? Because if so then that is a hideous reflection on Christianity. I’d really strongly suggest you go and read one or more book of Professor Dawkins. Something other than The God Delusion. His latest book The Greatest Show on Earth is an enjoyable read, interesting and often humourous. It deals with evolutionary theory, and the evidence for it. Unweaving the Rainbow was a great read as well. And then you have earlier books like The Selfish Gene or The Blind Watchmaker. Read them rather than trying to paint Dawkins as some drooling madman from a position of ignorance.

    I fail to see how challenging religion people to at least think about the inconsistencies and fallacies in their belief system is any different to challenging anti-vaxers or homeopath quacks about the fallacies of their belief systems. Challenging someones world view could always potentially be regarded as rude. I’ve been called rude before for challenging racists world view. Just because someone gets offended does not mean that it shouldn’t be done. Creationism is but one problem of (primarily monotheistic) religion, along with plenty others like sectarianism, bigotry, an anti-science/progress attitude.

    I was always brought up to question authority figures, and when appropriate, to challenge them, to think for and evaluate myself. Simply side-stepping religion to focus on creationists alone misses the point entirely. What about the homophobes, the sexists, those who blindly follow with no critical thinking (the flock, as the bible puts it)? Should we embrace them and tell them that we respect their right to their hateful beliefs? Because sorry, that’s not good enough for me.

    Consistency. Against all anti-rational groups or individuals, from the religious who’d rather see AIDS spread than allow condoms to be used to the anti-vaxxers who are responsible for increases in things like Measles.

  31. Kris — “Except he’s not out to prove that evolution is true…” And yet his most recent book is entitled “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution.”

  32. Itzac

    I think when it comes to ridicule, there are only certain conditions under which it works. You need to have a rapport with the audience, otherwise you’ll come off as a jerk. Comedy makes it easier because part of being a successful comedian is building that rapport. You also need to realize that your subject will not likely be convinced of anything unless you can persuade his or her peers in the audience. And if anyone identifies more with your subject than with you, they’ll likely be offended no matter what you do.

  33. dave

    20. Kris Says:
    August 15th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    “Dawkins is a biologist. Why shouldn’t he be a ‘one trick pony’ with an agenda (to prove that evolution is true)?”

    Except he’s not out to prove that evolution is true; he’s out to prove that there is no God. Dawkins is a typical case of a respected specialist in one field (biology) who thinks that he is automatically competent in another field (philosophy). You see that all too often.

    Dawkins does not address philosophy at all. “The God Delusion” is about the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of any gods. I don’t know of any specific competencies required to address that issue.

    “A good portion of the USA denies reality.”

    Indeed. However, more rational Christian denominations (like the catholics) do accept Darwinian evolution without rejecting their religion

    Yes, they accept evolution, but they still deny reality in plenty of other ways.

  34. «bønez_brigade»

    Mitchel+Webb = One/Two of my faves.

  35. Brian Too

    I say again, I really am upset that I have been missing out on this Mitchell & Webb goodness.

  36. kris:

    However, more rational Christian denominations (like the catholics)

    Ha. Ha-ha. Ha ha HA! BWUH HA HA HA HAWWWW!

  37. Mitchell & Webb’s Homeopathic A&E is hilarious too… also on Youtube.

  38. Ian

    @37, why the humour? – kris is right. In the words of GK Chesterton …

    It (the Catholic Church) knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science. It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up.

    The full article is available from http://chesterton.org/gkc/theologian/whycatholic.htm

  39. Ian

    @34 – You say “Yes, they (the Catholics) accept evolution, but they still deny reality in plenty of other ways.” without any evidence to support your claim.

    Perhaps you’d like to argue against the Catholic belief in an unconditional, absolutely simple, unique and unrestricted reality?

    Once you’re done with that, you may then wish to argue against a continuous creator of all else that is. Can you prove that past time is not infinite and does not require a creator, which is not conditioned by time and is therefore absolutely simple?

    I could go on, since other arguments for ‘God’ are available.

    Or perhaps you would like to read ‘Fides et Ratio’ (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html), read what the Church actually teaches – there is a lot, and then make comments.

  40. @ Ian:

    I will relate the term “rational” with the Catholic Church when the Catholic Church a) stops encouraging out of control human breeding, b) stops claiming that condoms don’t help prevent the spread of HIV, c) fesses up to a certain “issue” within the ranks of its priests, and by fess up I mean actually do something about it rather than pay hush money and send the perps to “counseling,” d) stops treating women as inferior beings, e) stops believing in magic crackers that turn into zombie god corpses and recognize symbolic ritual for what it is…symbolism, not an excuse for cannibalism.

    It (the Catholic Church) knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science.

    Not likely. Natural Selection has too much going for it. Will it continue to be modified? Yes, no doubt. That’s what makes it so powerful. New evidence tweaks it and refines it, but still it stands.

    BTW, Ian, silly kuhnigget was born and raised a good ol’ fashioned Catholic. I know a wee bit about “what the church actually teaches.” Can you say the same for natural selection?

  41. dave

    40. Ian Says:
    August 17th, 2010 at 2:55 am

    @34 – You say “Yes, they (the Catholics) accept evolution, but they still deny reality in plenty of other ways.” without any evidence to support your claim.

    Transubstantiation.

    Virgin birth.

    The existence of a god who intervenes in human affairs.

    Those are just three to start out with.

  42. Ian quotes:

    To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up.

    Which perfectly illustrates a complete lack of understanding of how science works. The Catholic wants Truth revealed once and for all time. The scientist knows this will never happen, but happily plugs away, gathering evidence, gaining insight, modifying and shaping his theories such that they are pushed a little bit closer to whatever the truth may be. To “shut up” would be to stop doing science. Which, I’m sure, the Catholic Church would appreciate.

  43. Nigel Depledge

    Ian (39), quoting G.K. Chesterton, said:

    It (the Catholic Church) knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science. It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded. To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up.

    This is mere semantics.

    Of course science has rejected aspects of Darwin’s original work. This is because there were so many things he did not know (and could not, for they had not been discovered). However, Darwin’s core concepts (that all life is related, that species change over time, that variation is heritable, and that natural selection is a phenomenon that acts on heritable variations to drive change) are still among the most important aspects of modern biology.

    In modern biology, the Darwinian theory is a major component of modern evoltionary theory. However, all competing theories have long since fallen by the wayside, because they do not account for what we observe.

    As to Chesterton’s comment about conclusions: he appears to have been unaware of the word “provisional”. All scientific conclusions are, at least in principle, open to revision in the light of new evidence. There are, however, many discoveries about which we can state the following: they are either completely true, or they are very good approximations to the truth. Evolutionary theory is one of these. If they were not at least very good approximations to the truth, we would have already discovered that.

    Consider gravitation. Newtonian theory is “wrong”, and General Relativity is a far more accurate and universal theory of gravity. However, in most instances, Newtonian theory is a perfectly good approximation.

  44. Nigel Depledge

    Ian (40) said:

    . . .

    Perhaps you’d like to argue against the Catholic belief in an unconditional, absolutely simple, unique and unrestricted reality?

    This is trivially easy to demolish.

    Reality ain’t simple. End of. (Just go to PubMed.org and search for “MAP kinase” if you want confirmation.)

    What the hell is an “unconditional” reality? I know what the words mean individually, but you have used them in a way that renders them meaningless to me.

    There is no evidence whatever that reality is unique. Therefore, we can only assume either that reality is unique (and we must therefore account for why it is so), or that reality is not unique (in the which case, we must account for why we have no evidence for multiple realities). Consider, for instance, the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum theory, or the “many big bangs” interpretation of inflationary cosmology.

    There is much evidence that reality is restricted. For instance, I have never won the lottery. Why should I not be able to win the lottery merely by wishing to once I have bought a ticket? As far as we can tell, there are only four fundamental forces in nature. Why not five, or six, or more? Reality is quite obviously restricted in some ways.

    Once you’re done with that, you may then wish to argue against a continuous creator of all else that is.

    If you refer to an entity such as the Judaeo-Christian god, this is an untestable proposition. However, you also violate the principle of parsimony. Why assume the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient – yet undetectable – being when there is no logical reason to do so?

    Can you prove that past time is not infinite

    Irrelevant. As far as we can tell, no information is able to reach our present from before the big bang. Until we have evidence or a solid theoretical foundation to suggest otherwise, you are merely engaging in idle speculation.

    and does not require a creator,

    Absolutely. There is no evidence for the existence of a creator; there is no evidence of teleology in nature. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that the universe was compelled into existence by anything other than one or more laws of nature.

    which is not conditioned by time and is therefore absolutely simple?

    What the hell does “conditioned by time” mean?

    Also, what do you mean by “absolutely simple”?

    Your word salad does not impress. I suspect you of obfuscation to conceal the absence of a real argument.

    I could go on,

    Please don’t.

    since other arguments for ‘God’ are available.

    And equally flawed, since there is no evidence to support them. In the absence of any physical evidence, how can you distinguish your experience of “god” from an hallucination?

  45. Another nice piece from David on his own (his weekly soapbox rant) on global warming: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKUPUznJZoE&feature=player_embedded

  46. Robert Carnegie

    I think Richard Dawkins goes out and picks fights, verbally anyway, and it’s unattractive. I was disappointed when a television series [The Genius of Charles Darwin] – I think it was that one – had quite a lot that was not about Charles Darwin or his work particularly at all, but about religion and creationism and it being wrong.

    I had assumed that Charles Darwin and not Richard Dawkins was the “Genius” referred to.

    He doesn’t have the “Public Understanding of Science” gig any more, there is a term limit, but I think he missed dealing with a lot of public misunderstanding of science that isn’t particularly religion-based.

    He has a new programme on Channel 4 (UK) tonight as it happens, [Faith School Menace?] I wonder how they got him to put a question mark at the end of that, or perhaps they did it after he’d gone. And more to come.

    Incidentally, there’s any number of degrees and local variations of “traditional” Muslim female costume, and it’s probably worth keeping track of which ones actually annoy you and which do not. I mean, my mother used to wear a headscarf and she was in the Church of Scotland – presbyterian, you know. I’ve probably told you before. And there’s innovation, such as a swimming costume with trousers, which I think has been banned in France.

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Robert Carnegie (47) said:

    I think Richard Dawkins goes out and picks fights, verbally anyway, and it’s unattractive.

    I don’t think “picking a fight” means what you think it means.

    Dawkins certainly confronts people who have viewpoints with which he disagrees. I recall one “Darwin” programme in last year’s BBC Darwinfest (my own term) in which Dawkins interviewed a variety of people about evolution, and why they consider it wrong. He was persistent but calm throughout, and the segment demonstrated that the people opposing evolution are both unable and unwilling to answer questions about it.

    In his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins included a transcript of part of an interview he did with another evolution-denier. She was insisting that there was no evidence for evolution. He asked the question “Have you been to a museum and seen seen Homo erectus fossils?” in different ways about 5 times and she simply ignored it.

  48. Nigel:

    When a scientist sticks to his guns and demands that non-scientists present evidence for their opinions, it’s considered rude.

    When a non-scientist sticks to his guns and demands that scientists accept his opinions without evidence, it’s considered respecting religion.

    Get with the program. :)

  49. Nigel Depledge

    @ kuhnigget (49) -

    Oh, I see!

  50. EdgyB

    A few things Mitchell and Webb taught me:

    -Neil Armstrong was the first Singer-Songwriter on the moon.
    -Remain Indoors.
    -Some numbers are Numberwang, others are not.

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