Muslims peaked in the Dark Ages. But since then?': Richard Dawkins embroiled in Twitter row over controversial comments
The author of The God Delusion tweeted that the world's Muslims had won fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge
His comments sparked anger among high-profile Twitter users including Caitlin Moran and Faisal Islam
By JOHN STEVENS
Richard Dawkins has provoked anger after he claimed Muslims have contributed almost nothing to science since the Middle Ages.
The outspoken biologist and atheist wrote on Twitter that a single college at Cambridge University had won more Nobel Prizes than all the world’s Muslims.
His comments sparked fury on the social network where he was accused of disguising his ‘bigotry’ as atheism.
But last night the 72-year-old best-selling author of The God Delusion refused to apologise for his remarks.
The row broke out after he commented: ‘All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge.’ He responded to the barrage of ensuing criticism by telling his 782,000 followers: ‘A statement of simple fact is not bigotry. And science by Muslims was great in the distant past.’
In response to one Twitter user who pointed out that Muslims had been responsible for algebra and ‘alchemy’, Professor Dawkins replied: ‘Indeed, where would we be without alchemy? Dark Age achievements undoubted. But since then?’
He sought to justify his controversial observation by adding: ‘Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science.’
One angry Twitter user hit out at the remarks telling the author: ‘You absolutely disgust me.’
Writer Caitlin Moran added: ‘Think it’s time someone turned Richard Dawkins off and then on again’. Channel 4 News economics editor Faisal Islam questioned Dawkins’ ‘spurious use of data’.
Writer Owen Jones told the professor: ‘How dare you dress your bigotry up as atheism. You are now beyond an embarrassment.’
But some users noted that the criticism of Professor Dawkins was in marked contrast to that when he has made comments about Christianity.
One wrote: ‘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.’
An Emeritus Fellow at New College, Oxford, Professor Dawkins appeared to try and appease his critics by saying that Trinity College also has more Nobel Prizes than any country in the world except America, Britain, Germany and France
WHO TOPS THE NOBEL TABLE?
Trinity College has 32 Nobel laureates, whereas only ten Prize winners are thought to have been Muslims.
Awarded annually since 1901, the Nobel Prize recognises achievements in Physics, Medicine, Chemistry, Peace and Literature, as well as a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.
Winners from Trinity include Bertrand Russell who won the Nobel Prize in Literature for his 1946 work, ‘A History of Western Philosophy’.
Twelve of the college’s Nobel laureates were recognised for work in physics, eight in chemistry and seven in medicine.
Of the ten Muslim Nobel Laureates, only two are scientists: Pakistani Abdus Salam, who won the Prize for Physics, and the Egyptian-American Ahmed Zewail, who won in Chemistry.
Six were awarded the Peace Prize, including Yasser Arafat.
Half of the ten Muslim laureates were awarded the prize in the 21st century, during which Trinity College has only had one prize winner.
Dawkins didn't pick Trinity at random as the exemplar of the West. Trinity's list of former students is insanely distinguished, as I noted in 2006:
I'm reading a biography of Sir Francis Galton, who attended Trinity College at Cambridge University. I found amusing the biographer's cautious reference to Sir Isaac Newton as "one of Trinity College's most distinguished alumni." Wouldn't Newton rank as the most distinguished alumni? After all, what other Englishman is as distinguished as Newton (besides Shakespeare, and he didn't go to college). Newton was calculated to be the most eminent figure in the sciences in human history in Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment.
Still, when I looked up on Wikipedia the list of alumni of Trinity, I could see why the writer didn't want to commit himself. Here are some other Trinity alumni: Francis Bacon, Niels Bohr, John Dryden, Thomas Babington Macaulay, James Clerk Maxwell, Vladimir Nabokov, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Rutherford, and William Makepeace Thackeray! And that's leaving out worthies of the caliber of Arthur Balfour, G. H. Hardy, A. A. Milne, Jawaharlal Nehru, John Maynard Smith, Lytton Strachey, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
And that's just one college within Cambridge University.
One thing to keep in mind is that Cambridge and Oxford aren't really the Harvard and Yale of Britain, they're more like the Ivy League and the other Ivy League of Britain, who each happen to colocated in their own ancient small city. The Claremont colleges in Southern California are structured like this, with a half dozen small colleges side-by-side with assets in common, but Claremont is about seven centuries behind Oxford and Cambridge.
Dawkins himself studied at Balliol, Oxford, which has its own list of famous alumni. My vague impression is that Cambridge, with Trinity pre-eminent, tended to be more scientific / intellectual, while Oxford, with perhaps Balliol pre-eminent *, tended to be more political / literary / social / political.
Stereotyping wildly, Cambridge was slightly more progressive and Whig, Oxford slightly more conservative and Tory. Cambridge is northeast of London in flat, swampy country where Puritans once predominated, while Oxford is west of London amidst country estates ideal for foxhunting.
By the way, Dawkins fits my stereotype of evolutionary theorists as smart country boys. The sociology behind British predominance in evolution is that the affluent and the intellectual did not huddle in the cities (at least not year-round), but instead spread out across the countryside and took an interest in wildlife, farming, and scientific breeding.
Dawkins was born in Nairobi, Kenya. His father, Clinton John Dawkins (1915–2010), was an agricultural civil servant in the British colonial service in Nyasaland (now Malawi). ... He returned to England in 1949, when Dawkins was eight. His father had inherited a country estate, Over Norton Park, which he turned into a commercial farm. Both his parents were interested in natural sciences; they answered Dawkins's questions in scientific terms.
Over Norton Park, 22 miles from Oxford, is a mile north of Chipping Norton, a gorgeous town in the Cotswold Hills that has become the country home center of the new Tory elite, the Chipping Norton Set: Prime Minister David Cameron, an Oxford man (PPE at Brasenose College) represents Chipping Norton in the House of Commons.
* No, as a commenter points out, Christ Church outranks even Balliol at Oxford. From Wikipedia:
Like its sister college, Trinity College, Cambridge, it was traditionally considered the most aristocratic college of its university.
Christ Church has produced thirteen British prime ministers, which is equal to the number produced by all 45 other Oxford colleges put together and more than any Cambridge college (and two short of the total number for the University of Cambridge, fifteen).
For example, in real life, Evelyn Waugh was a scholarship lad at Hertford College, Oxford, but in his Brideshead Revisited, his alter ego Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte are students at Christ Church, Oxford. Christ Church traditionally had the highest rate of undergrads failing their finals, which was proudly seen as a mark of social distinction.