Dawkins produces another furor over his tweets; forced to explain himself

If I were King of the World I’d simply abolish Twitter, for I see it as a waste of time, a substitute for real human interaction, and a poor substitute for real discussion. It also keeps people compulsively on the internet instead of doing more productive things. I’m proud to say that I’ve never issued a single tw–t except for the automatic ones that herald each post here.

But of course I’m in the tiny minority in this opinion, and will be seen as curmudgeonly. Yet If I could have a second wish, I’d ask that Richard Dawkins refrain from using Twitter.  Not only does he try to make complicated points in the too-small space of 140 characters, but many people are gunning for him anyway, hoping to make hay out of his missteps. That’s a recipe for internet meltdown.

And that’s just what happened this week when Richard weighed in on the lack of scientific achievement in Muslim countries, emitting a series of tweets (captions from The Atlantic Wire):

Picture 1

Within a day or so the media struck back, accusing Richard of everything from racism to blatant ignorance. Here’s a list of some of the pieces:

New Statesman,Why do so many Nobel laureates look like Richard Dawkins?” by Nelson Jones

The Independent, “Richard Dawkins Muslim jibe sparks Twitter backlash,” by Heather Saul

The Guardian, “Richard Dawkin’ tweets on Islam are as rational as the rants of an extremist Muslim cleric,” by Nesrene Malik

The Atlantic Wire: “A short history of Richard Dawkins vs. the internet” by Amy Ohlheiser

Finally, to calm the waters, Dawkins wrote an explanation and a response on his own website: “Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup.” It’s a much more reflective and less strident take on the situation, and, while I don’t agree with all of its points, the piece does show that Richard is best at books and short essays, and not so gud, aksually, at teh Twitterz.

Dawkins handily disposes of comments that he’s a racist (he agrees that human races do exist; Islam is just not one of them) and a bigot; that atheists don’t win Nobel Prizes (how could someone say something so ignorant?); and that Nobel prizes are worthless.

Like Richard, I do think that Islamic suppression of science and fear that modern science reflects materialistic Western values have been factors reducing the scientific output of Muslim countries.  But I also think that there may be other factors in play, including lack of education in those countries (granted, that may have at least a partial religious cause), and poverty.  His answer to this point is not completely satisfying:

Cambridge University, like other First World Institutions, has economic advantages denied to those countries where most Muslims live.

No doubt there is something in that. But . . . oil wealth? Might it be more equitably deployed amongst the populace of those countries that happen to sit on the accidental geological boon of oil. Is this an example of something that Muslims might consider to improve the education of their children?

Well, yes, there is something in that! First of all, not all Muslim countries have oil wealth, and, as Dawkins says, even those that do don’t spread the wealth around, leaving an undereducated and impoverished populace. Is that the fault of Islam or of greed? The income inequality in Muslim countries isn’t, I think, inherent in the faith. It’s inherent in humanity.

Too, it’s undeniable that there’s a connection between poverty, lack of education, and scientific accomplishment, independent of religion.  For example, sub-Saharan Africa is largely Christian—with some countries containing up to 90% Jesus acolytes—and Muslims are thin on the ground. (See Wikipedia for the stats; here’s a map):

Religion_distribution_Africa_cropSouthern Africa is populous, yet it, too, has produced very few Nobel Prizes, save in peace and, in the case of South Africa, in literature as well. (South Africa’s four Nobel Prizes in science, which are unique to sub-Saharan Africa, were all achieved by people who were born there but did their scientific work in England or the U.S.) So are we to blame Christianity on southern Africa’s lack of Nobel Prizes? And certainly evolution is just as anathema to southern African evangelical Christians as to northern African Muslims.

The relationship between poverty, education, scientific achievement, and religion is complicated, and I suppose one would have to do a multivariate analysis to pry these factors apart—if one could do it at all.  While I suspect that Islam does repress scientific achievement, especially in countries like Iraq or Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t say that with conviction without harder data to support it.


  1. Kevin Henderson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Tweeting is like religion. Great people will do great things, but when great people tweet they do fewer great things. On the whole, humanity loses.

  2. emdeeay
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    A lot of us discovered your blog through Twitter. Maybe you shouldn’t wish it didn’t exist.

    • The Syed Atheist
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink


  3. Gordon Hill
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Sometimes facts don’t make the point intended.

  4. Bruce S. Springsteen
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Dawkins needs to stay off the young kids’ social media. He is too intelligent to compact his thought into tweets, blurbs, blurts, or any other half-assed communication, and he stumbles too often when he tries. It’s like a marathoner trying to do parkour. Grownups don’t need Twitter, and can only injure themselves there.

  5. gbjames
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink


  6. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I actually enjoy twitter and use it as an easy way of getting tons of links to all sorts of different stories from around the globe. You decide who to follow and if you choose wisely twitter can be a fun and and exiting place.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Yes, I use it this way too and it can be a really easy way to find reliable answers to your questions because you have a bevy of smart people who are often very willing to point you to resources when you’ve exhausted your self directed searches and come up empty.

      • jesperbothpedersen1
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        Agreed. I use it as a sort of mini-facebook, but with all sorts of different people from all over the world instead of just friends and family.

      • Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        Ah, you’re a Whovian, too!


        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          😉 You couldn’t tell?

          • Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            It hadn’t registered…

            Jelly baby? 😀


            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              😀 Now you’re talking MY Doctor!

              • gbjames
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink


    • wildhog
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      I agree, I love twitter for the same reason. Following the right people basically turns Twitter into a custom news feed. I enjoy following a huge variety of “people of interest”, from @mmflint to @filthyrichmond.

  7. David Howarth
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Perhaps physical and life scientists aren’t the best qualified people to discuss sociological/anthropological questions?

    • gbjames
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

      No, that should be left to you, right?

      • David Howarth
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:09 am | Permalink

        No, feel free to take this one, since you’ve clearly decided you know more. With all due respect to Jerry, the entire post reads like it’s by someone who has never taken a social science course, switching between levels of analysis willy-nilly in discussing the issue, making incorrect underlying assumptions about the kinds of methodological approaches social scientists use, etc. It would kind of like me (a social scientist) going off about Boyle’s Law, when I know basically nothing about it other than that it has to do with gasses in a bottle.

        It shows a basic lack of respect for social science, and the attitude that any intelligent person can comment on social issues intelligently. Not so much.

        • David Howarth
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

          For the record, I’m an atheist who agrees with Dawkins, and who wouldn’t have walked back the comments. They might be ill-conceived, insulting, and based on incorrect premisses, but they are in fact “true” in some sense.

        • gbjames
          Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          Well, David Howarth, my graduate training was in Anthropology. My father was an anthropologist, my wife was, too. I know a great number of anthropologists. And I, as one person trained in social sciences, think you are flat out wrong.

          The idea that only social scientists can intelligently comment on social issues is preposterous.

  8. Mac
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    By the same flawed logic used in called Dawkins a racist, someone who criticizes Nazi ideology could be called racist against Germans.

    • muuh-gnu
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Why stop there?

      If Muslims are a race, and Nazis are a race, so are Scientologists, social democrats, surgeons, stock brokers, fortune-tellers and Batman comic book collectors.

      Anything you can name becomes a race and criticism of anything that has a name becomes racism.

      If I can stop you telling bad things about Batman, because Batman is great and you make me cry if you say he isnt, I have power over you. And if I can make you shut up about Batman, I can start doing all kinds of bad things in the name of Batman and you cant tell anybody, because talking bad about things done in the name of Batman is like talking bad about Batman himself, and you promised not to, right?

      This whole thing is about power. A vulgar display of power with a red herring dangling above it.

      It is that simple.

      Islam is merely exploiting all the exemptions we set up for “our” religions in the first place. Now we have a “foreign” and openly hostile religion swiftly moving in and we cant do a thing because we’d have to rewrite tons and tons of legislation. If it were anything else than a religion, for example aliens in space ships or men in uniforms, we could fight it and stop it, but since it says that its a “religion”, we somehow suddenly cant.

      It is a very serious and exploitable bug in western legal operating system, and now it is actively being exploited and we are being rooted.

    • teacupoftheapocalypse
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Quite so. I can’t change my country of birth or the colour of my skin or hair, but I can, if I so choose, change my ideology or religion. True, in certain cultures, it may be dangerous or downright fatal to change religion, but many people do and just keep it to themselves.

      Not all Nazis were German (Hitler, after all was Austrian) and not all Germans were Nazis between 1933 and 1945. My father-in-law was a Luftwaffe flight engineer, but he was most definitely not a Nazi. It would, however, have been dangerous for him to admit it until after WWII.

  9. Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    “If I were King of the World I’d simply abolish Twitter, for I see it as a waste of time, a substitute for real human interaction, and a poor substitute for real discussion.”

    Hail King Jerry I of Earth!

    But seriously, twitter is a disease. Especially, if politicians are using tweets to express their newest stupidities. Those who have something serious to say, can create a blog. And if I want to have a network for my friends and family, I will create a private blog instead.

    If christian wingnuts will succeed in their rampage against science, and science education in particular; the US will have a significant decrease of its scientific output. With all economical consequences.

  10. Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:56 am | Permalink


  11. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Twitter is a medium like any other, and needs to be adopted on its own terms. True, nuance is not its strong point, but that applies to responders as well. Should Dawkins abandon Twitter because it’s not good at nuance? Should everyone? That’s pretty unrealistic, I think.

    Dawkins is accused of Islamophobia by the knee-jerkers, but they could likewise be accused of atheophobia.

    • Bruce S. Springsteen
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      No media is a medium like any other. That’s the point. Each has it’s distinctive proclivities. Twitter has very little to offer the serious conversationalist, and a great deal to take away.

      • Bruce S. Springsteen
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

        Autocorrect exceeding “it’s” brief again.

  12. Kevin Alexander
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I don’t think suppression of education is an Islamic thing so much as a feature of conservative regimes in general. If knowledge is power then keeping people ignorant is politically necessary for such governments.
    Notice how the Republicans press for creationism in public schools while their elite send their own kids to good schools where reality is taught.

    • Goliath Field
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Mark it wrong. Islam IS inherently anti-education, especially for girls and women.
      Well, religious education is OK. Refer to books by Ibn Warraq or Ayaan Hirsi Ali or dozens of other reformist insiders.

      • mordacious1
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        Ayaan was educated, even as a young girl, in a non-muslim country (Kenya). Eventually, Saudi funded religious education had influence on education throughout most of the muslim world, but by then the horse was out of the barn, so to speak. She then finished her education at Leiden.
        What I’m saying is, she got educated in spite of islam, not because of it.

      • teacupoftheapocalypse
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        True. Look at the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. The name translates as “Western education is sinful”.

        The Taliban’s violent reactions to the education of females is well documented.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      Totalitarian type regimes certainly do have this in common. Typically they kill off all the teachers and burn all the books when they take over then start denying access to knowledge that is not approved by the regime. The only way to avoid this is to avoid totalitarian regimes and many Islamic countries sadly don’t.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I’m not so sure about that. Perhaps some do send their kids to good schools, many don’t. Many send them to places like Bob Jones U. And even many of the ones that are sent to good schools don’t pursue a “good” education there.

      Many of the wealthy and powerful are idiots and are only wealthy and powerful because they were born to it. Prime examples Bush Jr., Rick Perry, etc. There are exceptions I’m sure, but not enough to be considered the norm.

      It doesn’t take any more intelligence to make decisions that affect millions than it does to make decisions that affect only yourself. Intellegience is, however, of great benefit in making good decisions, regardless of scope. Of course there is the whole “what is the goal” issue and ethical values to consider as well. Smart and evil is worse than stupid and evil.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        Many of the wealthy and powerful are idiots and are only wealthy and powerful because they were born to it. Prime examples Bush Jr., Rick Perry, etc. There are exceptions I’m sure, but not enough to be considered the norm.

        A 2006 study of the IQs of U.S. Presidents by Dean Keith Simonton of UC Davis estimated the IQs of all the presidents as well above average. This includes George W. Bush. I strongly doubt you could provide any serious evidence for your claim that among “the wealthy and powerful,” non-idiots are “exceptions.”

        • darrelle
          Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          And I’m sure that study means a lot to you Gary. I have all the evidence I need to feel perfectly justified in my unscientific comment above. I do have some direct experience with this. I have no desire and feel zero resposibility to provide you with any evidence. And not just because I have never seen you accept evidence offered to you.

          If you believe that I am wrong, that’s great. I beieve you are fooling yourself. Have at it.

          • Gary W
            Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            And I’m sure that study means a lot to you Gary.

            It means a lot more than your unsupported assertions.

            I have all the evidence I need to feel perfectly justified in my unscientific comment above.

            You’ve offered no evidence whatsoever that your unscientific comment is justified. It’s like someone saying he has all the evidence he needs to feel justified in claiming Christianity is true.

            • darrelle
              Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

              Uh huh. Not paying attention are you? My “view” is not unsupported. I merely have no interest in sharing with you why I think so. If you were paying attention you would have noted that I already told you that.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                My “view” is not unsupported.

                As I said, you’ve offered no evidence for your view at all.

                “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” – Christopher Hitchens.

              • darrelle
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink


                Please! Do dismiss what I said Gary.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Notice how the Republicans press for creationism in public schools

      No, creationists (some of them, anyway) press for creationism in public schools. A large fraction of creationists are Democrats or Independents.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        What fraction are Democrats? What is your source?

        • Gary W
          Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          This Gallup poll last year found that 41% of Democrats and 39% of Independents are young-earth creationists. And an additional 32% of Democrats and 34% of Independents are theistic evolutionists.

          In fact, the numbers suggest not merely that a large fraction of creationists are Democrats or Independents, but that a majority of creationists are Democrats or Independents.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            This is also a true statement: a majority of creationists are Republicans or independents.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

            58% of Republicans, a majority, are young earth creationists, compared to 41% of Democrats and 39% of Independents.

            • Gary W
              Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

              Yes, but Republicans are only a minority of the electorate, which is split roughly equally between Republicans, Democrats and Independents. So applying the findings of the Gallup poll suggests that most creationists are not Republicans. Associating creationism with Republicanism misrepresents the political demographics of creationism.

              • Notagod
                Posted August 13, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

                If the republican wasn’t beholden to the christian god-idea it wouldn’t be the party that centers its political debates around doG issues. The democrats do give undue respect to christianity but, christianity isn’t the driving theme as is the case in the republican candidate.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted August 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            And only 5% of Republicans believe humans evolved without theistic guidance, while 19% of Democrats and 19% of Independents agree with non-theistic evolution.

            But you made a valiant attempt to conceal that Republicans are blinded by fundamentalism in greater numbers than are Democrats or independents. Nice spin attempt.

            • Gary W
              Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

              Then you’ve made a valiant attempt to conceal that creationists are more likely to be non-Republicans than Republicans.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Yes, which trivially follows from, as you pointed out, most of the population are not Republicans, so you are pointing out nothing significant. More Americans who drink water and breathe air are likely to be non-Republicans than Republicans. Wow.

                At least Democrats and Independents, at 19%, are above the nation as a whole (15%) in accepting evolution as true, while Republicans lag far behind at 5%, a truly embarrassing figure.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                I have absolutely no idea why you think it’s significant that most Republicans are creationists, but not significant that most creationists are Democrats or Independents.

                As I said, the latter means that associating creationism with Republicanism, as the original commenter did, is a misrepresentation of the political demographics of creationism.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                I have absolutely no idea why you think it’s significant that most Republicans are creationists, but not significant that most creationists are Democrats or Independents.

                It’s not so complicated, but for you, I’ll spell it out.

                One is a fact about the whole country, while the other is a fact about the even greater ignorance of a particular party, a sort of extra concentration of ignorance in a nation with plenty to go around.

              • Gary W
                Posted August 11, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                Then your claim about significance doesn’t make any sense. Creationism is supported more by non-Republicans than by Republicans.

                But I don’t think you’re really interested in the causes of creationism at all. You just want to use yet another thread as a political soapbox to attack Republicans.

              • Notagod
                Posted August 13, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                Jeff Johnson’s logic is perfectly sound.

    • Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Authoritarian regimes, or “conservative” in the general sense: the Soviet Union also supressed research (and hence also education) in biology and the social sciences.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Yes it is totalitarian type regimes. Islam is one of them that seems to do a very good job. Perhaps state religions are not as enduring as traditional religions as it does seem more effective and more far reaching.

  13. Thomas Lawson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Agreed. Tiny correction: Dubai is a city in the country of the United Arab Emirates.

  14. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Fact: Members of Trinity College, Cambridge have more Nobel Prizes than have members of the Discovery Institute, the John Templeton Foundation and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences combined.

  15. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    It’s actually a very interesting question why science in the Islamic world has failed. And I think we need to go back further in time than the 500 years that Dawkins writes about. Wasn’t it already in the 8th or 9th Century that the Hanbalites and the Mu’tazilites had their intellectual fights and the rationalist Mu’tazilites eventually became marginalized? Since then the traditionalist view has been the dominant in Islam. And that view, if you read some of the classic Muslim philosophers, is that “foreign” (i.e. Greek) sciences are suspect. Though there was still some good science done until the 14th C. maybe even later, the seeds for the destruction of Muslim achievements were sown much earlier.

    • MNb
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      The answer is not hard: the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258. The leader Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Dzhengis, was raised by a christian mother.
      The main reaction was that muslims had not been pious enough. Part of that reaction was condemning science. Islamic Spain remained relatively enlightened, but the conquest of Toledo in the 11th Century with its university (a model for the European universities raised afterwards) had made science impossible there too.

  16. Patrick Stinson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Don’t blame Twitter for this. As you said, Dawkins’ lengthy answer is not wholly satisfying or well-researched either. Lots of brilliant–brilliant!–people use Twitter effectively, certainly without indulging in what Dawkins did here, which is no more and no less than self-satisfied, ignorant trolling.

    Is Dawkins a genius? Yes. Is he flawed? Yes. Should he have a publicist who can rein him in? Absolutely. Does this absolve him of his misconduct? Not in the slightest. Twitter is a tool, and millions manage to not be assholes with it every day.

    • Siegfried Gust
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I agree. Anyone of reasonable intelligence could have foreseen that Dawkins’ tweet would be offensive to many without the benefit of context. For someone of Dawkins’ intellect, it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t trying to be offensive.

      • Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        And what if he was trying to be offensive?

        Why am I seeing an accomodationist streak here?

        Let’s get those uncomfortable, inconvenient truths out there in the open. Let’s make the faith-heads, whether they be Muslim, Xian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, whatever, feel like they’re doing something wrong. Because they are. How are things supposed to improve if we don’t?

      • gbjames
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Muslims taking offense? Who could have imagined such a thing?

      • darrelle
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Why should anyone give a shit about anybody else taking offense about this accurate statement? It says a lot more about such people than it does about Dawkins.

      • muuh-gnu
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        I like Dawkins. You calling Dawkins offensive is offensive to me, so please stop being intentionally offensive. Thanks.

        P.S. If you dont stop offending me, I’ll riot, and it will be solely your fault. Thanks.

    • Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      I don’t have a Twitter account. Are the screen-captures above indicative of the content in all tweets concerned?

      If so, I’m not sure I can agree that Dawkins has been an asshole. Religion is a problem, and nothing will get done to fix the problem if we don’t talk about it frankly, with the obvious attitude that it is a problem. That it stifles education and achievement is one way in which it is a problem.

      If he descended to ad-hom then shame on him. But pointing out that Islam is particularly stifling is not assholery, in my view.

    • mordacious1
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      What misconduct? Did he offend muslim’ sensitivities? Yes. Did he mean to? Yes. Should he care? No.
      We’re not in the business of playing nice with peoples’ religious sensitivities. Richard took the gloves off a long time ago and good for him for doing so. The religious and PC accommodationist crowd are going to attack Richard (and Jerry too) no matter how they sugar their criticisms. I say, be blunt and let the hurt fee-fees take care of themselves. We’re playing hardball here.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      His pointing to the dearth of Nobel prizes won by scientists in the Muslim world would seem to have been offered in support of Dawkins’ recurrent (and legitimate) larger point that modern Islam tends to retard intellectual progress.

      Pointing out that the number is lower than the figure won at Trinity College, Cambridge, on the other hand, smacks of a preening chauvinism.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        At least that is the likely interpretation among those not inclined to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt. I’m inclined to a more charitable interpretation, willing to chalk up Dawkins’ choice of Trinity College as a point of comparison to the so-called “familiarity heuristic” at work.

      • Filippo
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        If instead of Trinity College, Cambridge, Dawkins had referenced a greater population of humans – that portion of the world’s population following or identifying with Judaism? Would that have even more offended delicate Islamic sensibilities?

        As Dawkins is an Oxford man, would it have been even more smacking of preening chauvinism had he referenced Oxford instead of Cambridge?

        Regarding those two august institutions, I wonder if it galls one to give credit to the other, as it likely does, e.g., Harvard and Yale regarding one another? 😉

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Apologies ahead of time. I have had a migraine all weekend and it seems to affect cognition so this post could be somewhat incoherent.

    I agree that Twitter isn’t the format of choice if Dawkins’s intention is to illicit further discussion to help him understand things better for himself. I’ve seen others use Twitter to provoke discussion and it has soured my opinion of them as they sometimes just go too far. For the most part, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are provoking.

    I would be interested in hearing more about a lot of the themes he touches on in his longer, more thoughtful reply. What does seem clear is that you can’t really have intellectual success when your population is enslaved (by poverty – the poor have other priorities or by ideology – a country that oppresses half its population’s brain power (women) and focuses the rest on the wrong things (religion)). I’ve always wondered how many highly intelligent people are trapped by the circumstances of their birth.

    I am particularly interested in what has happened to Africa. It seems fairly complex. I worked with a guy from Nigeria who told me about the corruption there and the interference from other countries keen on getting some of its oil. It’s truly bleak! The encouraging part is that Neil Turok set up the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and I really hope there is an African nobel prize winner one day soon because it is just terrible to think of all that brain power going to waste because of being born in the wrong part of the world!

    • Klug
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      South Africa’s science Nobel laureates were trained in SA (at least their undergrad degrees) but needed to the infrastructure and networking of major institutions to make contributions to the developing science.

      The country has produced plenty of world-class scientists across many disciplines, but – especially during Apartheid – they tended to migrate to world centres of learning. These were mostly men and all white, but that says nothing about religion, culture, ethnicity etc. and everything about who has access to elite institutions.

      Becoming an influential jurist, writer or musician also takes institutional support, but the infrastructure demands are lighter.

    • steve oberski
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      I found “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa” by Dambisa Moyo to be very informative.

      Tracing the history of aid policies, the author simplifies, by decade, the aid policies delivering big industrial projects in the 1960s to poverty and food relief in the 1970s following the oil crisis. By the 1980s African debt was unsustainable, and the IMF had to loan money to prevent nations defaulting on their debts. All the aid policies did was lead to greater dependency on aid, shoring up weak and corrupt regimes, and often, in trying to tie aid to either economic or political reform, the net result was less growth, more stagnation, and greater poverty. The period since the 1980s has also seen the growth of what Ms Moyo calls “glamour aid”, where rock stars define aid policies, not African governments.

      She has also appeared on TVO talking about this subject.

  18. Richard Olson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

  19. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    If Chistianity in sub-Saharan Africa is as stifling and oppressive and anti-education as Islam is in the Middle East, then I would certainly lay part of the blame for the dearth of Prizes in S-SA at xianity’s feet.

  20. Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I follow many scientists on twitter, old and young. I also follow a diverse range of news feeds. My industry has plenty of input, so I follow feeds to their web sites, magazines. I also use it on the road as it’s often a better live feed of incidents causing hold ups – just hashtag the road you are on. I become aware of sources I would have missed, had not the likes of Dawkins and countless other not re-tweeted links they have read. I even catch WEIT posts that I might otherwise have missed. I’m moving more notifications of blog posts to my twitter feed, to avoid cluttering my email with notifications I pick up on only occasionally – many blogs are interesting, but not as consistently so as WEIT and a few other favourites.

    Yes, twitter is also good for publishing notifications of one’s own blog posts. And when microblogging you can use tweetlonger to provide more detail without having to write a full blog post – your text first 140 is your title, so make it good.

    It’s the most concise source of a diverse set of feeds I use. It’s really easy to skim, and is far more efficient than any other source, precisely because it’s tweets are short.

    I happen not to follow, and don’t get to see, all the inane social interaction that non-users seem to imagine fills twitter. Naturally someone like Dawkins attracts all sorts, but I see them only if I choose to inspect the detail of those conversations.

    The anti-twitter complaint based on all the dross published isn’t much different deciding to give up on email because you get spam.

    If you don’t find twitter useful personally, then fair enough. But like most tools, it’s all about making it work for you. I suspect many of those that don’t like it haven’t set it up to feed them with what they find useful.

  21. barlofontain
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Dawkins was being racist, or bigoted, but he was being a dick. It was an utterly pointless tweet, designed to get a reaction… which it duly did.

    Some of the replies to him, using his own language were hilarious, my personal favourite being, “Trinity College, Cambridge, has produced more traitors and Russian spies, than all the Muslim world”… but, much like his original tweet, so what?

    • Gary W
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      I seriously doubt that Trinity College has produced more traitors than all the Muslim world. I don’t know what relevance you think a comparison of traitors and Russian spies has to Dawkins’ tweet, anyway. Dawkins point is that Islamic societies have a poor record of scientific achievement (at least since the middle ages) and that this suggests the religion is not conducive to human progress.

      • mordacious1
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        The muslim world also has a boatload of Russian (Israeli, American too) spies. Syria has more than Trinity by itself.

      • barlofontain
        Posted August 12, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

        I suspect you are right with regard to traitors of all kinds, but being British I took it as a reference to the Cambridge Five, a very successful group of Russian spies, all recruited at Cambridge and being a traitor to the UK, specifically.

        The relevance of the replies isn’t so much the subjects they were addressing, as the language. Why make such an inflammatory remark, rather than just state what you mean? That’s why I liked the replies, ” has produced more than Trinity College”… they’re just saying, “So what? What’s your point?”

        This why Dawkins loses people in the middle ground, he likes scoring points as much as getting a message across

    • Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      How many traitors and Russian spies has Trinity produced? How many British Muslim traitors of Britain have there been?

      Oh look. The above is 117 characters. Shame I missed the opportunity to make that point during that exchange.

  22. Smith Powell
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    In his book, Islam and Science, Pakastani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy asserts, “About 700 years ago, Islamic civilization almost completely lost the will and ability to do science.” He continues, “Muslims–who comprise one-fifth of all humanity–will continue to suffer an undignified and degraded existence if science, and particularly a rational approach to human problems, is considered alien to Islamic culture.”

    Hoodbhoy continues his critique by noting that education in Muslim countries emphasizes acquiring knowledge [revealed] rather than discovering knowledge. Of course, religion is the main source of revelation. Hoodbhoy recounts the dispiriting case of a physics exam with 200 questions, each with three possible answers, that was given to 120 Pakastani students with advanced degrees. Students who achieved scores higher than 160 would be granted admission to MIT. The high score was 113 with the average score being 70–only three points higher than random marking would have given.

    Hoodbhoy thinks the root of the problem is that Islam has not been able to separate the spiritual and the temporal as has, largely, happened in the Christian, Jewish, and Hindu worlds. He quotes Ernest Renan (1883) to the effect that this inability to separate the two has imposed on Islamic dogma “the heaviest chain that humanity has ever borne.”

    Hoodbhoy suggests that learning to separate the two realms will be beneficial to Islamic societies as it will allow them to embrace modernity–including science. Unfortunately, the fact that Islam has no central structure will make that task all the more difficult.

    • Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Interesting thesis. Thanks.


    • MNb
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      “About 700 years ago”
      Hulagu Khan came along to burn Bagdad. See @15 above.

  23. Smith Powell
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    The Arab Human Development Report 2002 suggests that the problem is exacerbated by the isolationist character of the Arabic world (note, we are here speaking of the Arab world and not the Islamic world). As one piece of evidence for this isolationism, the report notes, “The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one-fifth of the number that Greece translates. The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa’moun’s time (the ninth century) is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year.”

    • gbjames
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      You racist bigot.

      (Lest someone misunderstand. I’m being sarcastic. My own brother has called me a bigot for saying such things.)

  24. Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Is it any surprise that making twits makes one a twit?

    Now, consider that opening sentence — presumably, short enough to be an actual twit. And, from what I’ve seen, it’s quite representative of the medium.

    It’s also nowhere near long enough to be properly explanatory. Is it a blanket condemnation of the entire medium, declaring all Twitter users to be twits? Is it claiming that using Twitter turns you into a Twit? Is it positing that Twitter is only capable of conveying twit-like content? Is it making sweeping generalizations with room for exceptions?

    Obviously, there are people who have accepted the challenge of limiting themselves to under a gross of characters per utterance, and who have managed to create some effective works in that minimalist medium.

    But it should come as no surprise that brilliance is in short supply and that it, instead, has been overwhelmed by an ocean of twits twittering inanities about their latest bowel movements.

    If I were tasked with creating a medium designed to maximize vulgar banalities, I honestly don’t think I could have succeeded better than with Twitter.

    (And, if I’m not mistraken, even that preceding sentence is excessively verbose for a twit. Oh, the ironing.)



    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      But it should come as no surprise that brilliance is in short supply and that it, instead, has been overwhelmed by an ocean of twits twittering inanities about their latest bowel movements.

      The same criticism could be made about all other social media.

      I get that twitter isn’t exactly the place to go for long detailed discussions, but if you’re looking for a fun and easy way to get all sorts of different links to news, blogs, opinion pieces etc etc.

      • jesperbothpedersen1
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        *twitter is the way to go.

      • Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        The difference with Twitter is that it takes true brilliance to distill anything meaningful into such a short space. Even the greatest of poets would be challenged. Hell, even Ogden Nash would be challenged.

        At least other forms of media give you the opportunity to expand upon that which needs expansion. With Twitter, you’re fucked.


        • jesperbothpedersen1
          Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          It depends on how you use it.

          Twitter is not the place for lengthy discussions and pulitzer price winning litterature, and I see it more as a sort of portal to the internet.

          • jesperbothpedersen1
            Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Sorry, I’m running on repeat today. I blame my hangover. 🙂

        • Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          The brilliance isn’t distilled there. The links to the distilled info, brilliant or otherwise, can be.

          The majority of tweets I get contain links that expand on what amounts to a headline in the tweet. Nearly all the sources I follow for work provide tweets with links.
          Even the tweets I receive that contain comment usually have link to the item they are commenting on.

          But yes, anyone using it for prose is going to be limited.

          When it is used as pure comment, by Dawkins, it seems clear that the purpose is to make a point, provoke a reaction. If it doesn’t then only 140 characters are wasted; if it does he can expand on his site. That he does get a response means it works quite well. At least some of is respondents will go and read his post, when they might not bother following his regular posts on his site.

          It’s just another medium, and one that is adaptable to many uses, including making snappy comments. I’d have thought it would have been right up your street Ben.

          “At least other forms of media give you the opportunity to expand upon that which needs expansion. With Twitter, you’re fucked.”

          126 characters. Well within the limit.

  25. Lianne Byram
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Hmm. Didn’t know you were Twitter averse. I guess that’s why you didn’t respond to my tweet requesting a restaurant recommendation at the South Point last month. I never did find a decent place to eat. I agree that Richard Dawkins should retire from Twitter. I have great respect for him, but decided to “unfollow” him on Twitter out of frustration.

  26. Nate
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Twitter is pointless if all you do is follow celebrities. However, if you follow the right news agencies it can be an information minefield (NYT, NatureNews, LiveScience, Space.com, BBC, NYT Science, SciencePorn, etc.)

    I like it for breaking news articles.

  27. DrDroid
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Regarding Twitter, agreed: twittering can make one seem like a twit. I acquired a Twitter account only a few months ago, and when I first saw Richard’s tweets I was somewhat taken aback. I’m a fan, but I can easily imagine that to many people some of his tweets are eccentric posts from another planet that provoke WTF reactions. It’s just not a medium well-suited to conveying anything of substance, especially if that substance runs counter to prevailing beliefs and prejudices. I find it very difficult to follow Twitter’s “conversations”; they’re frequently incomprehensible and incoherent, like overhearing snatches of only one side of a telephone conversation.

    That said, I do find Twitter a useful tool for following people who are engaged in debates/discussions that interest me. Instead of manually visiting 20 websites I can just let the Twitter feed keep me informed about things I might want to read.

    Regarding your post, I doubt that Richard would disagree with anything you said. To me your post amounts to saying “in case anyone is tempted to infer that Islam is solely responsible for the dismal state of science in predominantly Muslim countries, take a look at Christian sub-Saharan Africa.”

  28. Greg Esres
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Since Richard’s tweet got amplified by a factor of 100 due to the publicity, perhaps he got exactly what he wanted.

    As others have asked, though, to what end? I would suspect that the only group influenced by this particular point of view is the group already endorsing an anti-religion stance. Perhaps this is a way to stiffen the spine of the troops.

  29. Dave
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The Onion said it best about Twitter: “400 billion tweets and not a single useful piece of information transmitted.” 🙂

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    “Everybody suspects the Accommodationist Inquistion!” Or at least many of the linked critics are accommodationist.

    I can agree with much here, especially that the islamist “golden age” and its decline is noteworthy (IMO; and certainly you see it mentioned often enough) but iffy. But I have to disagree with some things:

    – As a media event, Dawkins’s tweet had outreach.

    – Tweets: substitutes for ” real human interaction”.

    Not according to research AFAIK (though I don’t know if it applies to tweets specifically), as I remember it internet works as “full value” human interaction. It has other disadvantages surely (say, internet is stressful), just not that.

    – “the fault of Islam or of greed”.

    Institutionalized greed, markets, is presumably an important factor in what is taking the world from poverty. (Eg Rosling’s statistics.)

    I would rather say “the fault of Islam or of non-democratic societies”. Democracies spread wealth more egalitarian.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      “Democracies spread wealth more egalitarian.”

      I agree. They also tend not to repress ideas and that leaves them open to other advantages like not oppressing members of your population.

  31. rose
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I don’t know I have 11 followers on twitter.Jeese I better go tweet something for them.

  32. Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    “It also keeps people compulsively on the internet instead of doing more productive things.”

    Blogs are a bigger waste of time.

    Good job this isn’t one.


  33. mordacious1
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    When this story about Dawkins was posted on HuffPost, most of the comments were supportive of Richard (even though the article was slanted against him and they have a habit of filtering pro-atheist viewpoints over there). So, I think this is more of a tempest in the minds of the PC crowd.

    Although, it appears as if more of the “anti-Dawkins” faction has showed up today.

  34. Gary W
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    So are we to blame Christianity on southern Africa’s lack of Nobel Prizes?

    Partly, yes, but Christianity is relatively new in Africa, so I don’t think the comparison is very meaningful. According to Wikipedia, in 1900 there were only 9 million Christians in Africa (about 10% of the population), growing to 380 million by 2000 (almost 50% of the population). Islam, in contrast, has been a pervasive influence on societies in northern Africa and the middle east for many centuries. I think a more persuasive explanation for the lack of progress in Africa is Jared Diamond’s biogeographical thesis followed by the political mess created by western colonialism and subsequent withdrawal.

  35. Jeff Johnson
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Regarding Arabic scientific productivity (and perhaps by extension to some degree Muslim scientific productivity), most Muslims having success in science are working in Western Universities.

    But in mentioning the paucity of Nobel Prizes among Muslims, Dawkins is only scratching the surface of a real problem.

    Here is a paper from Physics Today in 2007, written by a Muslim scientist, discussing the real failure of scientific output in Muslim countries. Based on publications, translations, and other measurable contributions, there is simply very very little significant science arising out of Muslim countries.

    Another interesting article I happend upon a few years back, that speculates on philosophical reasons relating to the dominant role Islam has played in the Arab intellectual world, which may explain why scientific research might be discouraged by Imams and the most fundamentalist forces of Islam.

  36. Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing about this recent controversy, Dr. Coyne. I was worried that you would maintain a studious silence asyou did with the heated debate regarding sexual harassment at secularist conventions. Richard Dawkins definitely could have made the point that Islam stifles scientific progress in a more defensible, less inflammatory way.

  37. MNb
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    While I agree completely with you on Twitter (I never even had an account) I don’t see anything wrong with Dawkins’ tweets. Facts are facts. And you know my opinion on islamophobia.
    Another fact btw is that males have more recipients of the Nobel Price than females.

  38. Skistimas
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    When I first saw the tweet I thought, so what, Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed this out years ago, and no one went off the rails. I find the backlash to RD difficult to understand.

  39. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Due to the confluence of various factors, Islam is now the religion most likely to foment violence (and, not at all coincidentally, to foment the oppression of women). Other religions and ideologies, including Christianity, have held that nefarious distinction in the past.

    The value of twitter is lost on me — though I understand (and, to a lesser extent, understand why) others come to a different conclusion. Only rarely can valuable ideas or information be reduced to 140 characters. I don’t find the reward commensurate to the effort in having to sort through a stack of needles to find the occasional succulent stem of straw.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Well, when women need oppressing, some ideologies just get ‘er done better.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        The Patriarchy works in mysterious ways.

  40. Dermot C
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    The real problem is that Dawkins has to deal with religion in the first place.

    When ‘The Selfish Gene’ was published in 1976, we were at the end of the 1945-73 Social Democratic consensus; and also still imbued with the idea that emerged in the nineteenth century that politics must follow, in some vague metaphorical way, natural laws as lately determined by science. Conservatives, liberals and socialists all sought authority for their world-view in nature as proved by science. We were wrong, but that was how we thought.

    Dawkins was particularly attacked by the left in the 70s for TSG because we thought it was reactionary: and loved by the right, as it was The Simile for emerging monetarism; even though the text was a simple popular biology book, and no more.

    Thirty or so years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that another evolutionary biologist would feel it necessary to pen a popular science book, arguing not against the inappropriate – and wrong – political annexation of his field of study, but contra something as backward, irrelevant and pre-Enlightenment as religion.

    It’s a measure of this reactionary era that Dawkins and Jerry appear to be on the left: had either said in the mid 70s what they say now, with regard to religionists, very few would have disagreed; and we’d have all wondered why they were bothering to say it in the first place.

    How quickly, and bewilderingly, the cultural agenda changes: the debate is stuck in terms determined by the stupid; how inexpressibly depressing is that?

    • Richard Olson
      Posted August 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      The kids I went to school with who hated learning anything never volunteered answers to questions. When the teacher called on them during class it was sometimes almost frightening to apprehend the comprehension, or I should say the lack thereof, of the poor learners. I remember being grateful that there was little chance any of them would rise to positions where they had an opportunity to determine political policy.

      Now I see Gohmert, Bachmann, Palin, Cruz, S. King, Issa, Perry, Brownback, Scott, Christie, Kasich, Walker … and there are a couple hundred more, easy, who make this list.

      Some of them are the kids who either could not learn or did not want to, because they already just know. Others went to Harvard, so they can achieve academically. They got elected by the kids who could not or would not learn things. They’ve been mad and not takin’ it any more for over 30 years, but they remain ignorant as mud.

  41. magster2
    Posted August 11, 2013 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    “I’m proud to say that I’ve never issued a single tw–t except for the automatic ones that herald each post here.”

    Jerry, you may decide to start spelling out “tweet” again if you ever stop and think about how there’s more than one way to fill in that blank (especially when you’re using only one dash instead of two) …

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I always read it the wrong way first, unfortunately.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      🙂 I initially thought that for 2 seconds then realized that Jerry usually doesn’t engage in such strong swearing here.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 12, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      I suspect, though, that JAC originally types two hyphens, which autocorrect unhelpfully transforms to a dash.

  42. Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    For any accommodationists who think Richard Dawkins is being a dick when he provokes the religious with his tweets, they might want to consider why it’s important he does it. Here’s Douglas Adams giving his opinion why the barrier of religious respect is one that needs tough measures to overcome:

    Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it, but on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘Fine, I respect that’. The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I just said that?’ but I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing or somebody who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But, the moment I say something that has something to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it’.

    It’s rather like, if you think back in terms of animal evolution, an animal that’s grown an incredible carapace around it, such as a tortoise – that’s a great survival strategy because nothing can get through it; or maybe like a poisonous fish that nothing will come close to, which therefore thrives by keeping away any challenges to what it is it is. In the case of an idea, if we think ‘Here is an idea that is protected by holiness or sanctity’, what does it mean? Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows, but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe, no, that’s holy? What does that mean? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than that we’ve just got used to doing so? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going it’s very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.

  43. Stafford Gordon
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Furor on say I!

    Richard Dawkins is an Evolutionary Biologist whose discipline is contantly attacked by religious believers, so no one should be surprised when he fights back.

    Instead of fellow scientists complaining about him defending his field they should back him up.

    No matter how passionate the religious belief, it should never be beyond challenge; argumentum ad ignorantiam must always be challenged.

  44. Stafford Gordon
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Where’s my Gravatar disappeared to?

  45. Stafford Gordon
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    Still no Gravatar!

  46. colnago80
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Actually one high school in New York City, the Bronx School of Science, has produced more Nobel Prize winners then the entire Muslim world (7).

  47. Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    It’s fairly obvious to anyone who actually follows Dawkin’s tweets that they are written by some eager but clueless social media intern. I’m surprised to find everyone assumes he actually writes them. Many busy public figures resort to this, unfortunately. The ones who actually tweet themselves are notable.

    They are different in tone, style and vocabulary to his writing, his talks or his interviews, lacking in his usual insight, maturity and inferior in every way. (So is the rather sad website, which doesn’t begin to realize its potential, but that’s another story).

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