Well that was ugly! A recent tweet from Prof. Richard Dawkins, probably the most famous atheist in the world, seriously upset people. His tweet consisted of neatly cherry-picked figures relating to the distribution of Nobel Prizes between Trinity College, Cambridge, and Islam. The point made, albeit incredibly droll and unenlightening, was that Islam had not produced as many Nobel Prizes as even just one very well regarded university college. His tweet:

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

Well that really stirred the pot, and the general complaint was that he was being a bigot, or as one writer eloquently put it “dressing up bigotry as non-belief”. It is hard not to see it this way.  I’m certainly not keen to get carried away on the ‘offensive’ argument, tending to agree with Stephen Fry on the value of claiming to be offended, but it was grossly provocative and quite lame, argumentatively.

Prof. Dawkins has responded in a longer blog post, and now we get to see what he really meant. His point is more subtle than the tweet and contains some interesting ideas (whilst also continuing on the theme of boring facts about Nobel Prizes though). To me, his longer post reminds me of what is great about Dawkins, and it is a crying shame that he has allowed his Twitter account to become a pariah.

Richard Dawkins has written what are in my opinion, some of the greatest ever works of popular science writing. His ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’, ‘The Ancestors Tale’ and ‘The Selfish Gene’ are truly wonderful peices of writing, as well as brilliant conveyers of evolutionary theory and science generally. I’ve read all his books, and I recommend them all. ‘The God Delusion’, perhaps the book that made him most famous, inspired me to greater reading and inquiry into the nature of my own atheism, and for all its critics, remains one of the best polemics out there on atheism and ‘anti-religion’ (alongside his fellow ‘horsemen of the anti-apocalypse’ – Daniel C Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens).

I would love to see him ditch this clown-act of his Twitter account, and stick to long-form. He is so much more eloquent, and the Twitter account stands to damage irrecoverably his reputation, and besmirch his long and wonderful bibliography. As one commenter (“Aliking”) on his long post said:

A largish part of RD’s user of twitter is to craft a tweet that is factually correct, but designed to provoke an outraged response. This was one such and I would say it worked as designed. So yes, all very interesting points, but let’s not claim this is anything other than sophisticated trolling.

Agreed. Stay true to your truly sophisticated work, Professor Dawkins, please.