Richard Dawkins’s response to his de-platforming in Berkeley

July 21, 2017 • 1:51 pm

As I posted this morning, radio station KPFA had lined up Richard Dawkins for a public appearance in Berkeley, California, in which Richard was slated to talk about his latest book of essays, Science in the Soul. KPFA then cancelled the talk without informing Richard in advance, saying that they discovered belatedly that Richard’s tweets about Islam constituted “abusive speech.”

Richard decided to write to the station this morning, but didn’t want his response to appear until KPFA had a chance to answer his email. He waited five hours after sending the letter and, having gotten no response, has given permission to have his email be made public as an “open letter.” Here it is:


July 21st 2017
I used to love your station when I lived in Berkeley for two years, shortly after that beloved place had become the iconic home of free speech. I listened to KPFA almost every day during those years, and I regularly contributed to your fundraising drives, grateful for your objective reporting and humane commentary while I participated in the People’s Park and Vietnam war demonstrations. It was therefore a matter of personal sorrow to me to receive this morning your truly astonishing “justification” for de-platforming me.

Subject: Notification for Richard Dawkins: Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist

Dear Richard Dawkins event ticket buyers,
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.
KPFA Radio 94.1 FM 

My memory of KPFA is that you were unusually scrupulous about fact-checking. I especially admired your habit of always quoting sources. You conspicuously did not quote a source when accusing me of “abusive speech”. Why didn’t you check your facts – or at least have the common courtesy to alert me – before summarily cancelling my event? If you had consulted me, or if you had done even rudimentary fact-checking, you would have concluded that I have never used abusive speech against Islam. I have called IslamISM “vile” but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam. I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists (“the sun sets in a marsh” etc), and the opposition of Islamic “scholars” to evolution and other scientific truths. I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.

I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?

You say I use “abusive speech” about Islam. I would seriously – I mean it – like to hear what examples of my “abusive speech” you had in mind. When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology, which I will of course accept in a spirit of gratitude for what KPFA once was. And could become again.

Yours sincerely

Richard Dawkins

91 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins’s response to his de-platforming in Berkeley

  1. This should also be printed in the San Francisco news paper and Berkeley’s if they have one. When the media, radio, TV or whatever, blacklists you, the public has a right to know. It is also known as freedom of speech.

    1. I’m pretty sure it will get wide distribution. My worry is it will encounter deaf ears at the radio station due to a few managers who are thoughtfully steeped in postmodernism. So it goes.

    1. I imagine some of them are afraid of being out-grouped by the far left authoritarians at Berkeley. They’re part of the community (such as it as) and don’t want to lose their job, friends, revenue/donations for the station, etc.

      1. I’m afraid that you’re right. But now we have presented to us perhaps the most important opportunity so far to have this debate out in the open. Who in the Bay Area will provide the platform for the exchange between Dawkins (or someone else who will defend democracy and science) and the apologists of Islamism?

        1. They can’t. We all know the playbook: the people who try this will immediately be called racist, Islamophobic, “providing a platform for hate speech” – all the usual nonsense. Then they’ll go after their jobs.

          1. This should be obvious by now: far left authoritarians are not interested in dialogue, whether friendly or otherwise. The last time someone tried to have a prominent dialogue with one of their enemies, she wound up in the hospital with a wrenched neck and a concussion.

  2. Clearly, KPFA was told to do this under threat of being branded reactionary and losing the support of their community. So, no, there will be no explanation.

  3. I am deeply disappointed with the decision to cancel the event, not least because I live in Berkeley and would love to have witnessed the discussion. I have read many of Richard’s books and he offers some incredible and lucid insights into evolutionary biology, natural selection and other scientific pursuits. To lose out on hearing such a clear and rational thinker is a pity. It is a shame that we seem not to be able to openly discuss and engage on difficult questions and ideas.

    1. Perhaps we can derive some comfort from the fact that knee-jerk, know-nothing responses are found all across the political spectrum.
      But why? Is the blame for such mindless, lockstep criticism (“he’s abusive toward Islam! We’re offended!”) to be found in the excessive use of social media, leaving little time for any serious thinking? (Or reading? I have frequently seen popular interviews of scholars and intellectuals like Dawkins to be “hosted” by individuals who clearly know nothing of the book under consideration)

      1. I’ve lost count of how many times someone has cited The Selfish Gene as “arguing that there is a gene for selfishness.” I’m pretty sure just the blurb on the back would be enough to correct that error, but people keep making it.

  4. Can anyone familiar with KPFA inform me whether the station has ever uttered anything that could be considered “abusive speech” about Donald Trump or about Trump supporters?

    1. I don’t know about KPFA itself but I think it wouldn’t be hard to find very negative things said on Pacifica Radio – a series of shows produced by KPFA and their affiliates (two other Pacifica stations). A Seattle station, KEXP, often airs Pacifica Radio shows and I heard some that were very critical of Trump and his supporters in the run-up to the election.

  5. The bit about how he will accept their apology was awesome, haha. I hope he was holding a microphone when he typed that, and dropped it as he walked away from the keyboard.

    I’m not holding my breath for KPFA to do the right thing here, sadly.

  6. I’m afraid that Richard Dawkins has become a metonym amongst people who like to regard themselves as of the Left; a symbol standing for western supremacism, scientism, and more generally white male middle-class privilege – just generally a guy who’s not on the right side, the details don’t really matter but he’s the enemy. No matter how reasonable his letter – and it is entirely reasonable – KPFA won’t respond to it, because he is Richard Dawkins.

    1. Dawkins has been branded with unreasonableness throughout his career, and the caricature has never even come close to resembling his actual person. They’re describing some sort of hateful, angry, godless Rush Limbaugh. And less than ten seconds of actually listening to him speak pops that silly idea like a balloon.

      Even during the Bush years when theist-bashing was fairly popular, people on the left were castigating Dawkins as being too strident. When he was often being far more courteous than any of them.

  7. I think Dawkins made a strategic error in insisting that the target of his criticism has been Islamism, not Islam, as if the latter would somehow be equivalent to abusing Muslims. He can believe (and I think he actually does) that the doctrines of Islam are generally odious, without accusing the victims of this delusion of being odious themselves. I think a fair interpretation of his treatment of all Abrahamic religions is that he has been relentless in ridiculing the beliefs of even the most mainstream versions. For some reason (fear perhaps?) the only criticisms guaranteed to bring charges of as abuse are the ones directed Islam.

    1. I agree. It makes absolutely no difference to his position if he were criticizing Islam, without resorting to the differentiation. It’s also confusing since a few sentences later, he goes back to using “Islam” when giving examples of his specific criticisms.

  8. I think there’s a cynical calculus going on here:

    “What’s going to get us (KPFA) more attention and/or donations: being fair and honest and letting Dawkins speak OR creating a _big_ stir by de-platforming him and virtue signaling to all those “marginalized groups” (and their supporters) that have suddenly popped up like mushrooms the last few years.”

    I think the former works better for them. There’s no cost (the people who know the game that’s being played are a tiny minority), they’re just de-platforming some awful, old white guy* (“And he’s famous!”).

    * their characterization of course, not mine

    1. Oh yes. KPFA, the station that cancelled Richard Dawkins. Wow.

      Next maybe they can invite – then cancel – Donald Trump.

      Reminds me of Dawkins’ response to William Lane Craig: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine”.


  9. Wow, what a letter!! The parallel between this fiasco and what Brett Weinstein has had to endure is uncanny. The letters written by both professors provide more than enough evidence of their class and integrity! Richard Dawkins must be heard so do what Brett did and take your show to the nearest park and have yourselves the night you rightfully deserve.

  10. Just the sort of classy reply you’d expect from him.

    I wonder how many tickets had been sold, and if we’ll hear from any of the ticket holders.

    And speaking of tickets, I hope that either his plane ticket was refundable, or that KPFA is on the hook for it.

  11. Because Richard Dawkins has been (inaccurately) labeled as a racist Islamophobe, many authoritarian leftists do not want him speaking in public even about scientific matters. It is disconcerting to think that one can be silenced in Berkeley due to not passing a political litmus test.

  12. I am dumbfounded by how ‘free speech has been degraded in our time. In an age when science is under assault on so many fronts, the action of the radio station is a disgrace.

    1. I don’t think it’s specifically anti-Dawkins sentiment. Berkeley’s just become a very censorious place. Even if the school there isn’t directly involved I’ve got a very strong hunch the students who live there were the ones agitating to have him pulled.

      Deplatforming needs to out of style like bell bottoms.

      1. I’m sure you’re right that it’s not specifically anti-Dawkins, but there has been a campaign to cast certain sceptics as more right-wing and reactionary than they actually are, because they dare to attack religion in general and Islam in particular, and so of course they want to stifle the views of the original new atheist.

        I notice that KPFA recently tweeted:

        “KPFA exercises its free speech right not to participate with anyone who uses hateful language against a community already under attack.” (

        Ignoring the curious syntax – is ‘participate with’ commonly used in the States? – Dawkins’s language can’t really be classed as ‘hateful’ and in fact he defends the community that is under attack; from the hateful doctrines of Islam!

        1. It is an awkward phrase, sounding a bit like a PR hack or a lawyer. And yes, it’s outright slander to claim that Dawkins’ language is hateful, unless they finally do offer an example of such. Which I highly doubt they will ever produce.

      2. …makes me ask, who complained about Dawkins? Was it an on campus student organization? If so, which one? I can certainly guess it was a Muslim group or individual, but exactly what did they say and who was involved? Obviously the station managers must have had input from somewhere. But where? And what evidence of Dawkins’s depravity did they present to management?

          1. I was wondering when that was going to come up. I am actually more surprised that it has taken this long for him to get deplatformed. Dawkins has been persona non grata in certain circles ever since he published that letter.

      3. “Deplatforming needs to out of style like bell bottoms.”

        And also as I hope one day low-slung pants revealing the wearer’s drawers will be.

  13. The reply is good and it warms me to know, they will find nothing and as an advocate of free speech and reason…except when it pisses me off and I’m extremely biased (as in this case)
    i hope they choke on it by way of an apology.
    That’s a distant hope…

  14. We seem to have reached peak insanity when it comes to “Islamophobia.” Merely quoting the Quran is “Islamophobic.” The idea that it’s necessary to “protect” students from a speaker as brilliant as Dawkins is beyond lunacy. One despairs at the thought of belonging to the same species as these people.

  15. Bravo, Richard (as always.) Now…how to get this published in the media? We do NOT want these people to get away with innuendo and bias.

  16. You say I use “abusive speech” about Islam. I would seriously – I mean it – like to hear what examples of my “abusive speech” you had in mind. When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology

    I like Richard Dawkins a lot, but he does have a habit of denying that he said things, and then having them read back to him word-for-word.

    He’s said a lot of things that Muslims are likely to find abusive. Here are some of his Tweets regarding Islam:

    Suggest always put Islamic “scholar” in quotes, to avoid insulting true scholars. True scholars have read more than one book.

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

    Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur’an. You don’t have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism.

    It’s been suggested that, if Muhammad were alive today, he would be a member of ISIS. Interesting to hear Islamic scholars’ take on this.

    Now, I find these Tweets funny and they contain a lot of truth, but I don’t delude myself that a believer would find them inoffensive.

      1. In *your opinion*, it’s not abusive. And mine, too, but it’s disingenuous for Dawkins to be surprised that others might regard it as abusive.

        1. I don’t think so. Besides disingenuous being synonymous with lying, which I’m not sure you intended to claim, the issue is precisely what is reasonably considered abusive, or hateful, or equivalent to violence. Yes of course some Muslims and Ctrl Leftists will find some of Dawkins comments about Islam abusive, hateful and worthy of a violent response. Yes of course Dawkins is well aware of that. That is exactly the problem. The point is their view is bullshit and pressure needs to be applied to de-legitimize their viewpoint.

          That’s what Dawkins (and many other reasonable people) is saying, that their viewpoint is unreasonable.

    1. I don’t know if Richard Dawkins has a habit of denying things he said, but he does set himself up for the wrong debate here, which can only result in a pointless discussion whether something should be considered abusive. Also, because abusive speech is subjective, it will never end in KPFA issuing a public apology.

      It’s irrelevant if what he said was abusive or hurtful. Everyone is allowed to say abusive and hurtful things about everything and everyone. But if your tagline is “serious free speech” then you should accept that abusiveness or hurtfulness are of the table as reasons for uninviting someone. If anything, they should be reasons for inviting someone. Popular opinions aren’t in need of a station that’s serious about free speech.

      1. You may disagree, but many countries (including the US) draw a line between “criticism” and “hate speech.” Richard is claiming that he is guilty of only the former, whereas accusing him of “abusive speech” seems to imply that he has engaged in the latter. This, I think, is why he wrote the letter. And I agree that it’s subjective where the line is, and pointless to try and win an argument with someone who’s already made up their mind.

        Richard’s problem as a diplomat is that he is too quick to fire off reactions without considering all that he will reap, especially on Twitter. And those who love him (myself included) wish he’d get out of the social media cesspool and stick to more respectable discourse befitting someone of his reputation.

        1. But why not just say ‘hate speech’ instead of ‘abusive speech’?
          ‘abusive’ used like this is a weasel word that sort of implies hate, but the KPFA already knew that nothing Richard said qualifies as such.
          It gives KPFA a free pass to disinvite Richard on no solid grounds whatsoever, while giving a constitutional hate speech ring to it.

    2. I think Dawkins likes to be provocative. Being provocative is one way to start a conversation. The whole new atheist movement is basically provoking discussion. Religion should NOT be given a pass. It should be held to account for the harm it does in the world. Without such provocation, we would not be where we are to day in terms of the level of discussion of the relevance of religion in society. Provoking that discussion is a worthy cause and I don’t think Dawkins is actually surprised at the reactions he provokes. I’m sure he’s proud of it, as am I.

  17. As far as I know, the station has not responded. And they took down the page announcing the cancelation, whose comment section was entirely critical. It looks like they’re going to stonewall.

    1. Yeah, I responded when you put up the link. I wrote a rant and they never posted it. Later, the page was taken down. Lame.

  18. Can’t he go on Joe Rogan instead? Like that Weinstein guy did. That’s where all the victims of the authoritarian left escape to these days, as if it is some bunker… with weed.

  19. There is a vast difference between hurtful speech and hate speech.

    If Richard Dawkins, or anybody else for that matter, criticizes someone’s belief system, this could be hurtful, even if it is true…

    That’s just too bad!

    The fundamental difference is whether Richard Dawkins has been engaging in hate speech…

    Here is how Wikipedia defines hate speech:

    ” Hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender.[1][2] In the law of some countries, hate speech is described as speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it incites violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected group, or individual on the basis of their membership of the group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected group, or individual on the basis of their membership of the group. The law may identify a protected group by certain characteristics.[3][4][5] In some countries, hate speech is not a legal term[6] and is constitutionally protected.[7] In some countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under civil law, criminal law, or both. A website which uses hate speech may be called a hate site. Many of these sites contain Internet forums and news briefs that emphasize a particular viewpoint.”

    You’d be the judge

    1. Scientologist aboriginals gain power. All criticism of Scientology deemed as racism against aboriginals. They use this excuse to deflect all criticism of their ideas, while brutally oppressing everyone under their power. Really not that hard to understand… Right? Alt-right?! Oh dear.. Here we go again. Let me start over. Scientologist abo…

  20. I’d say there is about a 99% chance the radio station will simply not respond in any form to criticism. If they issue an apology (even an apology for not notifying Richard before deplatforming him) they look weak. If they actually explain their position and try to defend their position, they get into an endless argument with all of us, which has no benefit for them.

    They’ll simply go silent and hope this all goes away.

    1. Oh gawd, he’s gone completely bananas.

      It kind of fudges the point that nobody (to a first approximation) is going to invite PZ to speak anyway.


    2. Ugh. Right to speak? I don’t think Dawkins ever suggested he has a right to speak. He was invited to speak and they canceled at the behest of bullies. It’s simply rude and egregious treatment. The worry is that organizers of otherwise valuable fora for healthy intellectual discourse are being turned into frightened cowards by politically aggressive people. It’s not against the law but it is a shame.

  21. Berkeley did the same thing to speaker
    Milo Younopolis.
    After scheduling him they then waited 24 hrs before he was to speak and were seeking approx $20k to cover the “unexpected additional security costs”.
    A bullshit way to basically prevent him from taking the stage and stifling free speech.

  22. Berkeley students, for their part, should reconsider the morality of dis-inviting Richard Dawkins — because free speech is a moral right for us all, as a prerequisite for us to reason with each other.

    Meanwhile, Dawkins, for his part, should reconsider the morality of his invective and insults, such as wearing a T-shirt with the message, “Religion: Together We Can Find the Cure” — because free speech can still be immoral, for seeking to irrationally persuade others via emotive coercion rather than reason.

    As plurationalists, we have a message to both Berkeley and Dawkins, as well as to all who presume the right to shut down our communication of diverse worldviews, whether by physical or by emotive coercion:

    Reason is not a worldview. It is a practice.

    1. How is “seeking to irrationally persuade others via emotive coercion rather than reason” immoral?

      As Jonathon Swift wrote:

      Reasoning will never make a Man correct an ill Opinion, which by Reasoning he never acquired

      (Perhaps better known in a modern idiom as:

      You cannot reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.

      — Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks)

      Surely the moral thing to do is to disabuse people about wrong beliefs that are potentially harmful to human wellbeing — and with any and all of the tools available to you, from critical thinking or incisive mockery.


      1. Hi Ant —

        Re: “How is ‘seeking to irrationally persuade others via emotive coercion rather than reason’ immoral?”

        Because all forms of coercion (whether physical or emotive) are immoral — even when the coercion is in defense of a “rational” worldview. Because we are a species that survives by using our minds, the only moral way to persuade others to change their minds is through our engaging them in reasoning dialogue: Reason isn’t a speech; it is the air that must carry all speech.

        In spite of Gulliver’s Travels’ (or Dante’s Inferno’s) popularity as political satire, Swift is incorrect to assert that some are impervious to reasoning. We are Rationalists who nevertheless thunder, and Irrationalists who nevertheless come in out of the rain: All of us engage in both reasoning and unreasoning thoughts and acts; we just all need to commit to practicing the former more consistently — and, to act morally — permitting one another to do so.

        Also, it’s incorrect to assert that ad hominem insults disabuse others from believing in their incorrect worldviews. Rather, studies show that being ridiculed hardens one’s opinions. Only reasoning, in the form of encouraging others to question the assumptions underlying their dogmatic worldviews, can change their minds. To choose incisive mockery may seem fun, but that does not make such a coercive tactic a rational practice.

        Hence the need for us all to practice plurationalism (or, if one is a Trekker, “IDIC + logic”) to choose a more moral path: The path of encouraging — and permitting — everyone to reason, regardless of their diverse theist, atheist, liberal, conservative, and cultural worldviews.

        Frank Burton
        Exec. Director, The Circle of Reason

        1. Thanks for the advert, Frank. (And for heaven’s sake get help from a proficient website designer!)

          I see a lot of question begging in your response, but in any case I was wrong to accept your characterisation of Dawkins’s t-shirt as “emotive coercion”. How is satire and ridicule “coercive” (“relating to or using force or threats” – NOAD)? Where is the “force” or “threat” here? Moreover, you make an unsubstantiated leap when you equate satirising or ridiculing ideas and beliefs as ad hominem insults.

          I’m not sure what research you have in mind when you talk about being ridiculed hardening one’s opinions. But the “backfire effect” – that being presented with facts hardens entrenched opinions – is well documented. Which seems to leave us at an impasse. However, there is also research that suggests that both approaches can be effective (e.g., “Changing Conspiracy Beliefs through Rationality and Ridiculing”, Gábor Orosz et al. (2016)).

          SO, by all means, let’s encourage people to reason, to be sceptical, to think critically. But I think it’s still to be demonstrated that reason alone can always dispel doctrinaire beliefs.


  23. I wonder if a presentation on Mario Savio is included in freshmen orientation at Berkeley.

    (Do first-year Berkeley students require “freshpersons” instead of “freshmen”?)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *