Richard Dawkins' Anti-Muslim Tweets Spark Furor, Even Among Atheist Supporters

Richard Dawkins responded to outrage over his controversial anti-Muslim tweets by calling the incident a "storm in a teacup."

The outspoken atheist started a Twitter furor by writing on August 8:

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

August 8, 2013 2:04 pm via web

The statement appeared to say, "Muslims as a group haven't achieved anything worthwhile since the Middle Ages." He's said before, "I think Islam is one of the great evils of the world," as he subscribes to the "New Humanism" brand of atheism which places little to no value in religion.

Dawkins played dumb after receiving a flurry of indignant tweets which accused him of bigotry; tweeting in response:

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

You can attack someone for his opinion. But for simply stating an intriguing fact? Who would guess that a single Cambridge College . . .

August 8, 2013 2:22 pm via web

He continued to defend himself by claiming that he was just sharing a fact, implying that all of his critics were irrational and biased.

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

Interesting concept: a simple statement of undeniable FACT can be offensive. Other examples where facts should be hidden because offensive?

August 8, 2013 5:55 pm via web

The reactions ranged from outraged to bemused, as many pointed out the dubious science behind the apparently irrelevant comparison, as Trinity College has won so many Nobel Prizes that many groups would fall short when compared to their record, including all countries except the U.S.A., Britain, Germany, and France. But what's the point of pointing that out?

The goal of his tweets was clearly to provoke, as some commenters responded to his defense with:

Sean Biggerstaff @Seanchuckle

@RichardDawkins This is disingenuous. It was a wilfully provocative statement.

August 8, 2013 5:58 pm via Twitter for iPhone

Harry Alffa @HarryAlffa

@RichardDawkins I appreciate your own contribution to extelligence, but you knew the implication making/inference taking would hit home.

August 8, 2013 2:25 pm via web

Zoe Mavroudi @zoemavroudi

.@richarddawkins Why was this fact important to state? Does it lead to a conclusion about something substantive and important?

August 8, 2013 2:25 pm via Mobile Web (M2)

Even some of his admirers were disgusted, as Tom Chivers published a blog on the Telegraph titled, "Please be quiet, Richard Dawkins, I'm begging as a fan." He makes the point that Dawkins has strayed from providing critiques of religious beliefs and practices grounded in logic to blindly attacking faiths as monolithic groups, manipulating facts to further an agenda.

The Atlantic published "A Short History of Richard Dawkins vs. The Internet" that thoroughly chronicles Dawkins' long history of anti-Islamic speaking and writing, as well as his admiration for Geert Wilders, the notoriously far-right and anti-Muslim Dutch politician.

He once appeared to compare Islam with nazism, tweeting:

Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins

Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism.

March 25, 2013 8:18 am via web

Dawkins published a blog post on his website a day after the incident, titled, "Calm reflections after a storm in a teacup." He pointed out that there are 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet and that many claim that Islamic science is worthy of respect, given their historical achievements particularly in the Dark Ages. He finally made the point that was implied by his tweet, blatantly saying:

Putting these two claims together, you almost can’t help wondering something like this: “If you are so numerous, and if your science is so great, shouldn’t you be able to point to some pretty spectacular achievements emanating from among those vast numbers? If you can’t today but once could, what has gone wrong for the past 500 years? Whatever it is, is there something to be done about it?”

He then admitted that he was thinking of posting an even more provocative tweet:

I thought about comparing the numbers of Nobel Prizes won by Jews (more than 120) and Muslims (ten if you count Peace Prizes, half that if you don’t). This astonishing discrepancy is rendered the more dramatic when you consider the small size of the world’s Jewish population.