Richard Dawkins joins calls for apology for gay mathematician Alan Turing

Jessica Geen August 19, 2009
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Professor Richard Dawkins has joined the calls for the government to apologise to Alan Turing who committed suicide after being jailed for homosexuality.

A campaign is underway to recognise the achievements of the gay mathematician, who famously invented the Turing machine and cracked the German Enigma code during World War Two, but killed himself in 1954 after being convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man.

Prof Dawkins, the author of the The God Delusion, is to present a Channel 4 show on Turing soon. Writing on his website, he said an apology would “send a signal to the world which needs to be sent” and added that Turing could still be alive today were it not for religion-influenced laws on homosexuality.

In his 2008 work The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing, Dawkins paid tribute to the mathematician: “Turing arguably made a greater contribution to defeating the Nazis than Eisenhower or Churchill. Thanks to Turing and his ‘Ultra’ colleagues at Bletchley Park, Allied generals in the field were consistently, over long periods of the war, privy to detailed German plans before the German generals had time to implement them.

“After the war, when Turing’s role was no longer top-secret, he should have been knighted and fêted as a saviour of his nation. Instead, this gentle, stammering, eccentric genius was destroyed, for a ‘crime’, committed in private, which harmed nobody.”

Programmer John Graham-Cumming has set up an online petition to call for a government apology to Turing for his prosecution. It currently has over 3,000 signatures.

Speaking to at the beginning of this month, he said: “I think that Alan Turing hasn’t been recognised in Britain for his enormous contribution because he died in his forties and almost certainly because he was gay.

“It is atrocious that we don’t recognise this man and the only way to do so is to apologise to him. This man was a national treasure and we hounded him to his death.

“One of the things for people in the computing world is that he was part of the war effort but we don’t give him recognition in the same way as other heroes. To me, he was a hero in the second world war.”

Turing was awarded an OBE in 1945 for his wartime services to the Foreign Offices. He has received many posthumous awards. The computing world’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, given each year by the Association for Computing Machinery, has been called the Turing Award since 1966.

To sign the petition, click here.

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