Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is no stranger to controversy. For years, the famed atheist has regularly gone after the faithful, sometimes uttering offensive statements about their beliefs and practices. On Thursday, the activist and scientist took to Twitter, taking particular aim at the Muslim faith.
"All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though," he wrote.
This message instantaneously sparked fierce debate, as it essentially noted that a college has garnered more Nobel Prizes than the estimated 1.6 billion Islamic adherents across the globe (as the Guardian notes, a cursory Wikipedia search shows 32 Nobel laureates for Trinity and 10 among Muslims). Though it was re-tweeted (shared) more than 1,000 times, critics quickly responded to the quip.
From issuing messages dubbing him a "an old white racist" to claiming the atheist leader is unfairly targeting the Muslim faith, many excoriated Dawkins.
"Is that a thing we can do as white people? Take trophies we invented then use others lack of them as proof of superiority?," asked one clearly discontented Twitter user.
Some, though, also noted that calling him a racist -- which was one of the more popular responses -- isn't accurate, since Islam is a faith and not a race. Dawkins, too, wasted no time in responding. He noted that he was merely stating a fact about Muslim prize winners versus those at Trinity College. And he also pushed back against the merits of the critiques.
"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," he said following the furor.
He then added, "Trinity College Cambridge has more Nobel Prizes than any country in the world except USA, Britain, Germany & France. Remarkable fact." Clearly, this was an effort to drive home his charge that the initial tweet was sent in an effort to simply share an intriguing fact.
Continuing to explain himself, he tweeted another message explaining why he brought Muslims up in the first place. The reason? Because "we so often hear boasts about ... their total numbers and ... their science."
In the slew of tweets that Dawkins sent after that, he, again, stated that Muslims' scientific accomplishments unfolded long ago.
There's no indication of what sparked his decision to drop the subject, but at some point on Thursday, Dawkins finally gave up. He transition into a series of tweets about alien life, describing their DNA (or lack thereof), potential means of communicating with them and a number of other intriguing messages.
When the Guardian reached Dawkins for comment, the atheist repeated some of the themes in his tweets, noting that his initial message was spawned over his "exasperation" at hearing the number of Muslims in the world and "how great is their science." He essentially argued that if they are so numerous, then they should have more to show in achievements.
"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 wrote in an e-mail to the Guardian. "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."
This wasn't Dawkins' first Twitter spat over religion and it most certainly won't be his last.
(H/T: The Guardian)