Richard Dawkins has a new collection of essays coming out next month in a book called Science in the Soul. Naturally, he’ll be visiting the U.S. on a book tour.One of the stops was going to be in Berkeley, California on August 9. It was sponsored by KPFA, a progressive radio station in the area, in a city known for being the hotbed of liberal activism.
By Hemant Mehta | Friendly Atheist
But that talk has now been canceled.
While that website doesn’t offer any reason for the cancellation, Jerry Coyne notes that people who had bought tickets received a more detailed email with this explanation:
We regret to inform you that KPFA has canceled our event with Richard Dawkins. We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt — in his tweets and other comments on Islam, so many people.
KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech. While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins views much earlier. We also apologize to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation. Your ticket purchases will automatically be refunded by Brown Paper Tickets.
The world’s most famous atheist criticized Islam and upset people… so he can’t give a talk about science? It’s a ridiculous reason that gets even more absurd when you consider the source.
Dawkins has no doubt put his foot in his mouth on Twitter many times before. There’s a whole generation of people who know him less for his science writing and more for his misguided tweets. We’ve criticized him many times on this site over those tweets, and he’s been “de-platformed” by atheists, too. This isn’t anything new.
I would also say there’s a difference between attempting to make a logical argument, off the cuff, on Twitter (where nuance dies) — and doing it completely ineffectively — and targeting individuals a la trolls who go out of their way to be controversial.
Dawkins isn’t someone who goes around targeting people with hateful or abusive speech. Dumb speech? Absolutely. Offensive speech? Yes, though that’s impossible to avoid when your topic of choice is religion. But hate is in the eye of the beholder, and most of his critics take single tweets more literally than he ever intended.
That’s not to excuse his words. He’s still responsible for what he says. But his entire career has been about persuading people to see things his way, whether or not he’s always succeeded, and he’s well aware that bigotry wouldn’t advance that goal. He’s a strong supporter of progressive Muslims who are trying to modernize the faith “from the inside.” (It’s also worth mentioning that all the “controversial” tweets we’re talking about were made years ago and he’s really mellowed out on Twitter ever since having a minor stroke in early 2016.)