Church officials defend sending 'prayers' tweet to author Richard Dawkins


The Church of England has defended sending "prayers" on Twitter to The God Delusion author Richard Dawkins following his stroke.

The outspoken academic, 74, fell ill on February 5, forcing him to cancel a tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Now recovering at home following four days in hospital, Professor Dawkins has described feeling that the stroke had taken him "back to childhood" because his "biggest challenge is buttons".

The Church was among well-wishers who sent messages of support when the news emerged on Friday, saying: "Prayers for Prof Dawkins and his family".

But the post sparked a Twitter row, with some users accusing the organisation of "trolling" the biologist in light of his secularist views.

Reverend Arun Arora, the director of communications for the Archbishops' Council, said the Church's Twitter feed was a "regular diet of prayer" and the tweet to Prof Dawkins was "genuine".

In a blog post, he wrote: "Many recognised the tweet for what it was, a genuine tweet offering prayer for a public person who was unwell.

"Others attacked the church for 'trolling' Dawkins suggesting the prayer was somehow intended as an attack or sarcastic comment.

"What is clear in some of the responses is a misunderstanding of what prayer is, who does it and who it is for.

"I wish Professor Dawkins well. I hope he makes swift and full recovery, and wish him the best of health. I will pray for him too. It is the very least I can do."

Meanwhile, in an audio message posted on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website, Prof Dawkins said he had been at home when he felt his left arm was "not behaving properly".

He describes struggling and falling before calling his wife, Lalla, who phoned a neighbour and an ambulance.

He was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, where doctors found he had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, affecting movement on the left side of his body.

"They kept me in hospital for four days. I had no food or water for 48 hours, which was fine, I did not mind that," he said.

"I gather if you've got to have a stroke this is a pretty good one to have. The biggest challenge is buttons. Altogether you forget what a fantastically precise instrument the human hand is.

"That's how I feel now - a bit back to childhood, unable to cope with buttons. I haven't even tried shoelaces."

He even joked he had thought about joining the Amish, a devout group of Christians, because "they are not allowed buttons by their religion".

He said he had been "upset" in the lead-up to the stroke because he had been told he was no longer invited to a conference in the US, although he had been re-invited on the morning of February 5.

Prof Dawkins added he was "improving" and thanked well-wishers for their support.