Richard Dawkins had a stroke. Should believers pray for the famous atheist?


(RNS) The renowned atheist Richard Dawkins has suffered a "minor stroke" and canceled an overseas book tour, generating concern among his legion of fans about his welfare and the future of his redoubtable campaign against religion and faith.

But the 74-year-old Briton's sudden illness also prompted a debate about whether believers should pray for the health of the trenchant nonbeliever.

For example, Huffington Post blogger Kashif N Chaudhry tweeted:

And others joined Chaudhry in those supplications.

But some fans of the author of "The God Delusion," among his other bestselling works, were having none of those calls for divine aid:

Yet some refused to back down:

A statement from the Sydney Opera House in Australia where Dawkins was to appear later this month announced that the famed scientist suffered a "minor stroke" last Saturday (Feb. 6).

"(H)owever he is expected in time to make a full or near full recovery," the statement continued. "He is already at home recuperating ... He is very disappointed that he is unable to do so but looks forward to renewing his plans in the not too distant future."

RELATED STORY: Richard Dawkins stands by remarks on sexism, pedophilia, Down syndrome

Dawkins himself was back to tweeting by Thursday -- he has 1.36 million followers and frequently mixes it up on Twitter with his usual flair, endearing him to fans and infuriating foes.

But by late Friday he had made no mention of his illness.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS.)



  1. Dr Richard Dawkins has dedicated his life – first to his scientific endeavors, and then to bringing the light of reason into the dark world of religion and superstition.

    But he, as will we all when we pass, be re-constituted as Carl Sagan has noted, into Starstuff.

    “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
    ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

    Prayer for Dawkin’s recovery will be as effective as were the prayers uttered by the Jews during the Holocaust, those uttered by the Muslims during the Christian Crusades and those uttered by Christian Europe during the Black Plague in the 14th century. And let us not forget the 1918 worldwide flu pandemic which killed 50-100,000,000 people.

    “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Mark 11:24

    I wish Dr Dawkins a…

  2. (continued)

    I wish Dr Dawkins a speedy and complete recovery.

  3. Religious people might consider that they would not like prayers to Zeus for their health even though they don’t believe Zeus exists. They might appreciate the thought behind the prayer to Zeus but not the prayer to Zeus.

    Another facet of this is that atheists recognize deeds more than thoughts. Thoughts are nice but deeds speak a good deal louder than prayers. To an atheist when you say, “I am praying for you.” it would be like an atheist saying to you, “I am going to sit here and close my eyes and visualize you for a few seconds.” You would probably say, “So what? What is that supposed to do?”

    There is a gulf between believers and nones but it is only a gulf of ideas. In the real world we look a lot alike.

  4. God – Our Heavenly Father and Creator of all things – will decide if Professor Richard Dawkins deserves His help – regardless of how many prayers He receives. Read His Word on the subject in the bible – Ezekiel 18 : 4 – 9.
    Richard Dawkins does not quite tick all the boxes – particularly verse 9. However he is still alive – and there is still time (verses 21 – 22). Richard Dawkins is not wicked – but just seriously, spiritually misinformed – as are many of us. So yes – do pray for him – but include, in your prayers, your request that he will repent of his sinful teachings – publically retract them – (which should be of great help to his followers) – and gain the salvation – which is freely available to us all.

  5. @ CRC

    “ God made it known that He/God/Jesus is real through the miracle of creation because the earth didn’t just create itself….”

    Since, according to you – “….the earth didn’t just create itself….”

    What created God ?

  6. @ CRC
    “ That’s where faith comes in. God told Moses I Am! “

    There are many non-Abrahamic “faiths” and many non-Abrahamic prophets, relatively similar to Moses. Doesn’t that mean that there are many “Gods” who also said to their prophets “I Am!” ?

  7. It would be a blessing to this atheist if Mr. Dawkins reassessed “his redoubtable campaign against religion and faith”, and recognized that people’s personally chosen beliefs are their personal properties, and are off-limits to trespassers (emphasis).

    It’s all about how we treat each other, and the Golden Rule applies.

  8. I did pray for him. But only for his physical welfare. God has given us Free Will and I will not ask Him to take that away from Professor Dawkins as the price of his physical wellbeing.
    I respect the good Professor too much for that.
    So, yes, Professor I DID ask “My Invisible Friend” to help you.
    Hope you’re not TOO angry at me.

  9. The religious fundamentalists better start praying for Dawkins to recover. If he should go, they will be left arguing with vocal atheists who have verbal self control and awareness of their remarks on social media.

    Where will be the fun in that?

  10. Er, what utter tosh. Medical science, luck and genetics decides. It’s nothing to do with your imaginary friend.

  11. How can this even be a question?

    32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

  12. Deserves? Is the biblical message really about deserves? If so, then God help us all.

  13. It breaks my heart that as Christians we are being asked this question. Should we pray for him? Yes, of course we should pray for him. I was an atheist just over 3 years ago. Today, I praise The Lord that there were people who didn’t give up praying for me, despite how selfish and arrogant I was. Since when as Christians are we to decide who to pray for and who not to pray for?!? The Holy Spirit teaches and guides us in our prayers. I’m sorry, but I read through some of these comments and understand why I used to have a hard time with Christianity. It wasn’t the idea of it. It was some of the people who represent it. As Christians, we should be praying the *most* for people like him.

  14. @LLL
    If it’s in the Bible we have it.
    If it’s not in the Bible – we don’t need it.
    Ultimate religious justification for a wholesale book-burning….

  15. Please don’t waste your prayers on Dawkins, or anyone else. Prayers do less than nothing.

  16. I’m roasting a goat as a sacrifice for
    “God loves the aroma of burning ram flesh”(Exodus 29:18)

    Actually it is only a lamb stew but it is delicious.

    My great thanks to Richard Dawkins for his incredible books and contribution to honesty and science. I hope we all have many more healthy years with him – but at some point we must say goodbye.

    Death is inevitable. But the good news is none of us will have to look back on it! 🙂
    Always rooting for you Richard! Cheers!

  17. Of course we should pray for him. It matters not what he would prefer.

  18. So beautifully said, Yoh — you made me laugh and made my day!

  19. If prayer is a genuine expression of good will – why not? It is superstitious of atheists to think it can do any harm, and try to stop it.

    I imagine Dawkins himself is amused by the paradox.

  20. “…atheists recognize deeds more than thoughts. Thoughts are nice but deeds speak a good deal louder…”

    I bet people said that to Newton, contemplating why apples fall to earth.
    “Why doesn’t he make cider, or an apple pie, instead of ‘closing his eyes and visualising’?”

    My point is… thoughts have power. Who knows what inspiration and/or deeds follow from a few seconds of well intentioned thought?

  21. Before people decide whether or not to pray for Dawkins, they should first consider the ramifications of the proposal.

    For instance, maybe he’s destined to die, and their prayers won’t matter ’cause God has made up his mind. Or maybe he’s destined to get better, so their prayers won’t make that happen, either. In either case, their prayers will have no effect. They’d be wasting their time and effort.

    Or … is God sitting there waiting to be prayed to … willing to help Dawkins, maybe, but only if he’s prayed for? If so, how many prayers will be enough? A few hundred? Thousands? Millions? What are the criteria … and more to the point, WHY are there criteria? Why should God refuse to act unless a certain number of people pray to him? Do people really think their God is that petulant?

    I’m not sure I’d want to worship a being who holds back his assistance until he’s been prayed to “enough” … however much that might be.

  22. You say “the dark world of religion and superstition.” and I would agree that both superstition and religion can be very dark. I can tie people in knots.

    However I just want to suggest one thought: The one I call Jesus Christ actually taught that religion and being religious (observing laws, ceremonies and rituals) is not by itself of great value. Jesus taught that it is possible to know God. That is what actually counts today. You many now scoff, as is your right. But you WILL stand before your Creator one day, when you do not expect it. I pray that you would take this seriously, and ignore the wickedness of false faiths, false and evil practices, and the greed and selfishness that some have pretended that God does not see or care about. He does, and He sees all. Jesus warned of this. This is a concerning and motivating thought for me, and millions of others who have heard the voice and the upward call of God in Christ Jesus the saviour of the world.
    Blessings, SM

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