Richard Dawkins is Right

English: Richard Dawkins giving a lecture base...
Right for once (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never thought I would write that sentence. Well, I imagine that he is right about many things in his field of expertise, evolutionary biology. It is when he abandons his field to become a spokesman for atheism that I think he is often very wrong. Still, I have to give him credit for courage for his infamous tweet about Muslim scientific accomplishments, and of course, I think he is right. It is easy enough to bash Christians. Bashing Muslims could get you killed. Here is the story as told by the Guardian.

The outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins was involved in an online Twitter row on Thursday after tweeting: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

As users piled in to criticise him, the scientist continued: “Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.”

His other posts included: “You can attack someone for his opinion. But for simply stating an intriguing fact? Who would guess that a single Cambridge College” and “Muslims aren’t a race. What they have in common is a religion. Rather than Trinity, would you prefer the comparison with Jews? Google it.”

With the debate escalating, Dawkins, who has more than 777,000 followers, said: “Many are asking how many Nobels have been won by atheists. Needs research. I’d love to know. I suspect the proportion is v high, and growing.”

Owen Jones, the left-leaning commentator and author of Chavs, told Dawkins: “How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment.” Legal blogger Jack of Kent added: “Following @RichardDawkins tweet, Trinity Cambridge has presumably also produced more Soviet-supporting traitors to the UK than Islam.”

The row also drew in historian Tom Holland and Channel 4’s economics editor Faisal Islam who commented: “I thought scientists were meant to upbraid journalists for use of spurious data points to ‘prove’ existing prejudgements”.

@jptoc chipped in: “A similar (and infuriating for Dawkins) ‘fact’ is that Islam has more recipients of Nobel Prizes than Dawkins. It’s bad scientific method.”

But some users appeared more forgiving. @Chriss_m, said: “Dawkins spent the best part of 10 years attacking Christianity and not raising an eyebrow. He now turns that same eye on Islam and uproar.”

Trinity College, Cambridge, has 32 Nobel laureates, as against 10 Muslims listed in Wikipedia. When the Guardian contacted Dawkins by email to ask whether he was surprised by the uproar, he replied: “Prompted by exasperation at hearing boasts of (a) how numerous Muslims are in the world and (b) how great is their science.

“This prompted the thought that if they are all THAT numerous, shouldn’t they have more to show for it in terms of achievement? The comparison with Trinity Cambridge I judged less offensive to Muslims than the even more dramatic comparison with Jews (who have garnered an ASTOUNDINGLY large number of Nobel Prizes).”

He continued: “Am I surprised? Only at the number of people who seem to think Islam is a race, rather than a religion. I regard that view as racist. Anything you can convert to, or convert from, is NOT a race.

Dawkins has previously been involved in acrimonious Twitter exchanges over Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan, prompting Owen Jones to comment “If atheism means being bigoted about Muslims or wanting to drive people of faith from public life, then I am not an atheist.”

Dawkins is obviously thinking more clearly than his detractors. Of course Muslims do not constitute a race. These people are panicking and throwing whatever they can at Dawkins and hoping it sticks.

Actually, I am not sure whether I would give the Muslims, as such, much credit for any scientific accomplishments during the middle ages. When the armies of Islam burst forth from the Arabian peninsula, their first waves of conquest included most of what we now call the Middle East. This region includes Egypt and Mesopotamia, the sites of two of the oldest civilizations in the world and both prosperous and advanced regions. It should be no surprise that the momentum continued for several centuries. Also, many of the scholars and scientists of the Arab Empire were Christians, Jews, or heterodox Muslims, including the sect of the Mutazilites. As the people ruled by the Arabs converted more and more to Islam and the societies became more Islamized, scientific progress slowed and then stopped. These days, the Middle East is one of the poorest and most backward regions in the world. This is a testimony of the influence of 1300 years of Islamic rule.

The thing that bothers me about people like Dawkins, though, is that they are determined to erase the influence of Christianity in the West. You can’t fight something with nothing and thoroughly secularized societies, like Western Europe seem to be increasingly unable to defend themselves against their enemies. They don’t even seem to want to reproduce. If Dawkins is concerned about the growing influence of Islam in Britain and the West, perhaps he ought to encourage belief in Christianity, or something. As it is, I fear he is unwittingly helping the enemies of civilization.


11 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins is Right”

  1. Dawkins’ tweet was fact. I’m a bit disturbed though that no one’s pointing out the absurdity of the comparison. Scientific achievements can come from genetic makeup, good education, access to technology and/or state/social patronage. All of those relate to national / geographic facilities. I can’t imagine the name I call my God influencing my understanding of wormholes. The Muslim commenters aren’t too clever/articulate. But then, they aren’t replying to a particularly bright tweet.


    1. If Dawkins’s tweet was factually true, and it happens to be true. How is it not a bright tweet? Or do you deny that there has been something seriously wrong with the House of Islam for the last several centuries?


      1. Hey David …if you read the first four words of my comment – you’ll see I’ve said the tweet’s a fact. Why, then, ask if I deny it?

        While true, I didn’t find the tweet particularly brilliant – firstly because it points out something quite obvious. Secondly, it tacitly implies causation – when its really correlation. I.e. the tweet relates that Nobel statistic to an external variable (Muslim-ness). Even in my original comment, my contention was that a nation, its policy, government, infrastructure / economies / education have real bearing on the outcome – unlike the dominant religion among its people. If the tweet’s sole intention was inflammation (which I don’t think it was) – then I may reconsider it as ‘brilliant’.

        Hope I explained myself clearly this time 🙂 Peace out.

        P.S. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘house of Islam’.


      2. Sorry I misunderstood. Back in the old days Muslim cartographers divided the world between Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam referring to areas controlled by Muslims, and Dar al-Harb, the House of War, referring to areas ruled by infidels.
        I think that culture makes the difference in how a nation fares, and a big part of culture is the predominant religion of the people of a nation. If an extraterrestrial had visited the Earth from AD 800-1000, he would likely have concluded that the Arab/Muslim civilization was most likely to develop an advanced civilization. He would have noted that Western Europe had always been a backwater and likely always would be. That is not what happened. Something went wrong in the Islamic world and right in Western Europe. My guess is that what went wrong was the rejection by Muslim philosophers and theologians of Greek philosophy and its emphasis on reason as a result of some excesses of the Mutazilites. Individuals could continue to make discoveries but it became increasingly difficult to maintain a continuing scientific tradition. In Christian Europe, although many viewed Greek philosophy, introduced to the West in part by Arabic translations ironically, with suspicion, most philosophers sought to reconcile pagan philosophy with Christian beliefs. The closing of ijtihad (independent legal reasoning) in the tenth century in the Sunni tradition perhaps made Islam less flexible and less able to adjust to new challenges.
        Today, predominantly Muslim countries seem to be having the most trouble adjusting to the modern world. The people know and want to modernize, but it seems to be difficult to adopt the patterns of thought necessary. I think that the rise of the more militant, intolerant, and violent strains of Islam in the last few decades is the result of the frustration of the Islamic world’s seeming inability to advance. There is going to have to be some sort of reform movement (perhaps neo-mutazilism?) to try to make it easier for Islamic thought to embrace the modern world or they will continue to fall behind, to the detriment of everyone.


  2. Current backwardness. But likewise, I could also argue that endless Western colonization, exploitation, wars, bombing, drone-attacks, coups and not-coups are the biggest reason for this setback.

    I’m following the discussion and enjoying the clean arguments-for lack of a better descriptive word.

    I thought your reference to drone attacks interesting but because of their short use, it seems improbable that they can effect culture; did you mean to imply behavior?

    As for colonization itself, “exploitation, wars, bombing” were implemented in Ireland (land seizures began in the 1600s) and religion absolutely influenced culture, concretely spilling into it’s nation’s performance.

    Europeans began using the Middle East as their play-box late in the 1910s, and yet the differences are remarkable.


    1. Hehe ..nah, I was pointing out that the latitude allowed by qualitative arguments is much better suited to cross-cultural exchanges and approximations of cultures. Juxtaposing a statistic with an external variable conveys the impression of direct causation (esp. in a 140-word statement). That’s why I didn’t think Dawkins’ tweet brilliant.

      We have indeed digressed from discussing the merit of the tweet. But while we’re on the topic, I’m quite sure drone-attacks aren’t shaping cultures – but they’re impediments to growth and education. I don’t know if the country you live in has been bombed by drones / planes recently – but they can disrupt public and private spheres. But ‘drones’ were the least of my argument.

      I don’t know why you say ‘religion absolutely influenced culture’ in bold. No one is denying that. But taking that and theorizing a substantial correlation between culture and national performance – and then linking all three – makes a weak argument. Trying to quantify that relationship with Nobel Prizes as a proxy indicator – is just unscientific. Dawkins’ typical work is much more sound and meaningful.

      European colonial era in the subcontinent started in the 1500s and lasted till 1947. Western wars on Eastern lands continue till today. I expressed hope that perhaps if these end – we can all do better and the need for such hollow, inflammatory tweets and inane backlashes will end altogether.

      P.S. my third comment (the one your referenced) seems to have vanished.


      1. I read that comment earlier but I don’t know what happened to it. I didn’t delete it, at least not knowingly. My comments were directed primarily at the Arab/Persian core of the medieval Islamic civilization. The history and development of the Indian subcontinent was different; later wave of Islamic contact and conquest, longer history of Western colonialism, etc. Unfortunately I am not as familiar with Indian history as I am with European and Middle Eastern history.
        I realize that I have been oversimplifying considerably. The question of why some societies advance while others do not is one that has fascinated me for a long time. Why did Britain colonize India and not India colonize Britain? India had more people and was wealthier in 1500. They had a long, long history of progress in mathematics and philosophy. The Muslim traders became expert navigators who discovered the monsoon wind patterns. Why didn’t the industrial revolution happen in China? They invented things like gunpowder and the printing press. Why didn’t they take that extra step?
        For that matter, did you know that the first steam engine was invented in Alexandria around 100 BC. It wasn’t used for anything but a toy. Why wasn’t there an industrial revolution during the Roman Empire? Slavery? Roman emphasis on tradition?


      2. That’s a fascinating way of looking at history. And steam engine in Alexandria! Had no clue. I was reading Gladwell’s The Tipping Point the other day and it left me wondering if all major historic developments spread like viruses 🙂

        Lastly, thanks a lot for indulging in this little conversation. Instead of civilized, reasoned debate – too many bloggers are hostile or indifferent towards dissent 😀 Now, I’ll go and study medieval Arab-Islamic history a little more. Peace out.


  3. I care not if Dawkins’ tweet is judge “inflammatory” -it is either true or false. Its 140 character nature is to comment, and perhaps influence a broader discussion; I would deem this to be a success but for the unfocussing due to one’s own prejudices.

    If Dawkins’ tweeted “All the world’s women have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the ____, though.”, whilst factually true, arguments as to the cause/history would ensue without the tin god implications of faith.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion but I don’t want to abuse my commenting



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