Letter from Brazil, Part 2- “Got in a fight with a creationist?”

May 29, 2015

by Richard Dawkins 28th May, 2015

I should be well on my way to Los Angeles by now. I’m actually still in São Paulo. Tripped on my way down the walkway to my plane, fell on my head, broke my glasses and noticed blood all over the floor. My glasses must have cut me.

Unfortunately (as I thought at the time), the passenger ahead of me was a doctor. He took one look, said I needed stitches, and from then on my fate was sealed. Nothing would persuade the officials to let me on the plane. “A doctor” had pronounced. Paramedics were summoned. They were very kind, kept saying they’d take care of me. I kept saying I don’t want to be taken care of, I want to get on the plane. To no avail. They bandaged my head like Basil Fawlty in the “Don’t mention the war” episode, put me in a wheel chair (although I was perfectly capable of walking), and took me off to some kind of office, where I did a bit of waiting around.

Meanwhile, my plane took off.

Bright spot: They managed to get my suitcase off the plane, and they brought it to me.

Less bright spot: They refused to let me take it with me in the ambulance.

Bright spot: I finally persuaded them to let me take it.

Blurred spot: My glasses broken, I couldn’t see.

Very bright spot: I remembered that I had, at the last moment before leaving home, shoved in my case an obsolete (only just) pair of glasses. So I can now see.


In the hospital I was impressed by how little waiting around there was. British experience had prepared me for long hours in Accident and Emergency, and it was already nearly midnight. But no, they saw to me almost immediately. None of the nurses, or the paramedics still with me, spoke a word of English and I regret that I don’t speak a word of Portuguese, so I felt rather adrift in an alien world. Then the doctor came, and he spoke good English. He gave me five stitches in two cuts: two stitches above the right eyebrow, three in the forehead. The anaesthetic injections hurt, but they did their job because the stitches didn’t hurt at all. I shall have scars.

So it looks as though I maligned the kind doctor on the walkway ahead of me. Looks as though I really did need stitches, and the paramedics were right to bar my efforts to push past them onto the plane. Sorry doctor. Sorry paramedics. You were right.

American Airlines gave me vouchers for an airport hotel, which is where I now am. And where I shall be all tomorrow, kicking my heels waiting to catch tomorrow’s equivalent of tonight’s plane, the one I should be on, now presumably somewhere over the Amazon jungle.

Fortunately, the man I was supposed to have lunch with in Los Angeles tomorrow had to cancel to go abroad, so I won’t be missing lunch with him. Yes I will. I will be missing lunch with him but I would have done anyway. But it’s still kind of fortunate in a silly, illogical way. Very illogical, but you know what I mean.

Obviously time to (try to) sleep.


* * * *

29th May 2015

Woke up to find I have a prominent black eye, as in shiner. Never really understood why that is such a sensitive litmus test of almost any kind of blow in the region. I don’t know whether it’s related but on both the last two times I was stung by a bee, once on the thumb and once on the foot, the main response was that one eye swelled shut.

The doctor must have done a good job yesterday, though, because the stitches don’t hurt at all: less than my hand which I didn’t even notice was bleeding when I was in the hospital.

Now to get on with some reading. There’s notning else to do. See you tomorrow, Los Angeles. Apologies for any dates I’ve missed, and hope the jetlag won’t show too badly in my on stage conversation with Michael Shermer.

84 comments on “Letter from Brazil, Part 2- “Got in a fight with a creationist?”

  • What a shock to see Richard Dawkins with bandages and a black eye. I somehow thought he was above all that. I fell down a flight of steps once myself even without being famous and remember the humiliation more than the pain. But the damage appeared later, and I DID need medical attention. So in this case, I’m glad to see that there were people on hand who, in a practical sense, were smarter than Richard.

    I sincerely hope you’re feeling better and have a quick recovery. And next time, hold on to the bannister, please.

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  • So it looks as though I maligned the kind doctor on the walkway ahead of me. Looks as though I really did need stitches, and the paramedics were right to bar my efforts to push past them onto the plane. Sorry doctor. Sorry paramedics. You were right.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery. Most of us have experienced this kind of accident and injury. Not surprisingly we guys tend to deny the need for medical treatment or , worse, think we can shake it off without seeing a doctor at all. (Often the insistent judgement of our wives saves us from masculine stubbornness). You were fortunate to be attended to from the start by so many professionals who saw how serious the cuts were. Better to miss a flight and appointments than to walk around with open wounds susceptible to infection, complications and disfigurement far worse than a fading scar. In hindsight the gracious gentleman of reason prevailed over his irrational impulses. Cheers.

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  • A heavy fall is a big shock to the system. After a deep anaesthetic my balance became impaired, and I have had several falls despite resolving never to do that any more. Please be ultra careful, we can’t have you out of action! Best wishes for a full recovery!

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  • All the best for the rest of the trip. Sorry to see you being hurt, very glad that it isn’t serious.
    No doubt all the “mentalfundalists” will be claiming it is divine retribution or something, probably Our Lady of Fatima as our Lady of Lourdes , Our Lady of Guadaloupe and all the other members of the catholic pantheon were having the day off 🙂

    i am looking forward to see reports and hopefully videos of your talks in America.

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  • I was shocked to see the injury. I’m really glad a doctor saw you straight away – falls on the head can be very nasty (I know from experience). Best wishes Richard, and a speedy recovery.

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  • I shall have scars.

    Chicks dig scars. Trust me on this. 😉

    Glad you weren’t more seriously injured. Even the slightest whack can result in a concussion. Please take care.

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  • Best wishes for a quick recovery!

    ( Are we to infer from all this that the professor is traveling alone and that he is liable to be left without a translator in the event of an emergency situation? I am quite surprised! )

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  • 16
    Stephen says:

    It is wonderful you took it all with a since of humor. That doesn’t fit the stereo type of an atheist. Your reference to Basil Faulty was priceless! Old school at it’s finest.

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  • 17
    vern.muir.5 says:

    Were you were in Brazil for any book signings? If yes, I will be sad, as I didn’t see anything about it on events. And can’t make it to the USA for the June programs.

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  • 18
    John Fentress says:

    OUCH! I guess the gods are against both us us. My computer froze just as I was about to wish you swift recovery. Its rather like getting bitten by a handheld rattlesnake at some of the south USA religious adventures. Do take care. It will be great to see you in Portland. At least this gives you a good story.
    Best wishes,
    John Fentress

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  • Wishing you a speedy recovery from a nasty bump and cut Richard. There goes your acting career though, or at least severely limits it. Can’t have you looking like Scarface, unless you play some “strident atheist”. 😉

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  • 20
    Steve DeHaven says:

    As Basil Fawlty’s doctor said in the episode you mentioned, “You should get as much rest as you can, as much rest as you can.” I want you in top form a week from now when I meet you in Portland.

    Speedy Recovery, Richard!

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  • So sorry to hear this. But, at least it was not a creationist punch in the eye. Get well soon Richard and know you have an audience in Croatia as well. The ultra catholics are gaining ground here and I guess they would be outraged if you came here to hold a lecture. Come to Croatia, you can have a nice holiday too – the Adriatic is indeed lovely and why not shake the Catholic agenda a bit? Get well soon and a personal thank you for clearing up the confusion I had about the phases of evolution and that the neanderthal is not our ancestor but rather a cousin. There is a neanderthal museum in Croatia near the site where the fossils were found in 1899. http://www.mkn.mhz.hr/en/

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  • No doubt all the “mentalfundalists” will be claiming it is divine retribution ..

    Actually. It is circumstantial evidence that RD is not sponsored by the devil. RD would have been floating down the gangway, in a protective zone of malevolent evil. The fact that gravity can effect RD, suggests he is just a mere mortal.

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  • Glad to hear the injury was not that serious professor Dawkins and get better soon.

    I would have stuck to the ” fight with a creationist ‘ story and said ” you shoulda seen the other guy. ” Of course you would have used proper English diction there!

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  • I would have argued about needing to go to the hospital too! Glad you had the spare glasses! I never remember such things while travelling.

    I hope you heal quickly but at least your shiner looks badass and you can say it happened in a heated debate with a creationist.

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  • 28
    Everaldo says:

    Richard , as a Brazilian , I wish that your health improves. The text shows the British humor and the Brazilian reality . But things change , for example : Because of offensive remarks against atheists made ​​by José Luiz Datena in “Brazil Urgent” program, the network Band TV made ​​an agreement with the Government and will have to display campaign on religious freedom in the country , which reaffirms the secular nature of the Brazilian state . ( Learn more http://www.revistaforum.com.br/blog/2015/05/band-e-condenada-por-ofender-ateus/ ) Although the money is written ” God be praised ” : Things of Brazil.

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  • 29
    Lorenzo says:

    Honestly, when I saw the picture and before I could read any more of the new I thought that some sort of nutter attacked Dawkins. Very glad to have been wrong…
    Best wishes of a speedy recovery!
    And I’m pleased to read about the efficiency of Brasilian’s first aid system, which actually performed better than most of Europeans would expect any public(?) first aid structure to perform…


    P.S.: speaking of the bee sting: aren’t the effect of the venom supposed to stay localized around the sting itself? The fact that there’s a reaction at a distance is not particularly good: it may indicate a sensitivity to the substance and, most importantly, it can get worse… be careful!

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  • Sorry for the accident.
    Soft tissues around the eye are very lax and so a small cut may become a big black eye (or lower lid, as is the case) easily. After reaching the ripe age of “above 50” even minor trauma may produce consequences later on, so if you get a headache or any other funny feeling in your head, get checked right away. At any rate, get well soon!
    Regarding the bee stings, if you get any swelling at a distance it means you are indeed allergically sensitive to the venom, so be very careful if bees are around.

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  • And here I was, all ready to comment “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”, when all it was was “Mysterious Wayz ™”!

    Srsly, glad to see, on reading past the initially shocking truth, that your injuries were no worse. Let the epithelial migration commence!


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  • Wish you a very fast recovery.

    I live here in Brazil, and I got very surprised when suddenly saw your picture with the wounded eye on the newspaper Folha de São Paulo.
    I spread you message all aoround here wherevwe i go . , helping to get more people to get involved with reason, cience and atheism. I wish you come more times to Brazil. preferaply in a more accesssive way. Since to enter the conference was too expensive for the average brazilian. I am you fan.
    Thank you for coming.

    Best wishes

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  • 36
    Ricardo says:

    Richard, you imagined everything right, you just were in the wrong place imagined. You were in a airport witch is “a good” place. But if were where I live or we all common people in Brazil live, well, you would live exactly how you was imagining.

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  • 37
    bruna mary says:

    First of all , sorry for my horrible English . I live in Brazil , in a small town with 25,000 inhabitants. Here we have only one public hospital and the service is not good , but it’s fast. Many Brazilians complain about the Brazilian hospital care , but we are lucky to have a care and medicine for free, access to free surgeries and many other advantages. We have to improve a lot compared to many things, but we are a loving people. I love Brazil , even with all the problems we have . Despite difficulties we are always with a smile and ready to receive any kind of person. I am your fan and I am a biologist too, but here in Brazil biologist are not recognize, then I work in another thing. Please come to Brazil more time, despite being a catholic country, there are “thinking” people in this country. Big hug!

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  • I think I must be having a sense of humour failure but I don’t find the thread heading very funny. There’s more than enough brutality and physical violence in the world without pretending that it has happened when it hasn’t. This was an accidental fall; the sort of thing that commonly happens to us when we age and get a bit frail. I don’t think it warrants the suggestion that it was the result of an assault by a religious opponent, even as a joke. There are too many real victims of physical assault around for that.

    “Attempted rape by a Catholic priest?” Would that have been equally funny?

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  • Now I remember how mercilessly former President Ford was made fun of for stumbling on some airline stairs. Well, if it can happen to a genius like Richard Dawkins, then there is no humiliation in taking a stumble. My flight leaves in August. I will have to start practicing my “stumble” to make it convincing…

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  • Umbrage taken is duly noted . Keep in mind this is merely an “inside” joke. Context is everything.

    In a somewhat twisted way, it reminds me of Harry Reid’s recent facial injury . Stating it as a cold medical fact is not enough, humans apply qualifications for ease of communication, and water-cooler fodder.

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  • Disappointment more than umbrage.

    Last night I watched a TV programme, It Was Alright In The 1970s, which looked at prevailing attitudes in popular British TV shows in the 70s. The clips they used were deeply depressing.

    “I want to be raped!” cried a bored housewife in a sitcom (written by a man, of course).

    A wrinkled grandfather spoke leeringly of his young grandaughter’s sexual attributes in another sitcom.

    An Anglo-Saxon woman in an advert prepared for the coming of a handsome Viking and her expected ravishing by using a special type of shampoo.

    Bodie (or Doyle) from The Professionals “rescued” a woman by punching her across the face to stun her, tearing off her outer garments, throwing away the hand grenade trapped in her clothes (?), lying full-length on top of her to protect her from the blast and then tidying her up by brushing dirt off the bare parts of her breasts. How grateful she was…

    What was shocking, with the hindsight of the child abuse cases which have come to light since then, was the casualness of the desperate sexism being shown.

    I wonder if we don’t show an equal casualness these days in our attitudes towards violence.

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  • 50
    Temujain says:

    I am relieved it was not an act of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu performed by some fanatic lunatic. Get well soon Richard, and may God give you the strength to speak painlessly 🙂

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  • 51
    Manoel Jairo says:

    It was a great shock to see your state. We appreciate you so much that I decided to hide the newspaper from the rest of my family.

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  • A big risk to provide proof of faulty human design against the creationists. You were fortunate that you did not fall near a christian science reading store as there would have been no need to help you. It is good that you were attended to and the injuries immediately treatable.

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  • “Got in a fight with a creationist?”

    A fall like that can be very jarring. It sounds like things went quite well, however. In other words, it could have been a lot worse. I enjoyed your description of the event (although would have preferred if this mishap had never occurred and did not have to be described in the first place). Your writing style reminds me — and I’ve said this before – of Asimov. That is a great compliment. He was a great writer. (But you have your own unique voice as well.)
    The title of your little article is very funny. I was almost hoping you had gotten into a fight with a creationist, and kicked his . . . Well, violence rarely solves anything, does it?
    I thought perhaps that you had had a run-in with Wendy Wright!

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  • 57
    Fábio de says:

    Many Brazilian thank you so much sincerity and kindness, because we are facing a parliamentary majority that intends to destroy the public health system (SUS) in Brazil. Your accident may have been providential, your words surely will. You do not know what good it did to the poorest Brazilians who need the SUS. Thank you. I hope your health improves. Also I hope you come back to Brazil, but without falling a second time of course.

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  • You’re right, Lancshoop, thanks for the correction. I think it’s a desperate line to put in the mouth of an actor; and in a sitcom too!

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  • I am so glad you are ok Richard,- reading your story above made me laugh out loud though!! I would love to know why we get a swollen eye when stung on the foot, if you ever find out about that. please let the rest of us know. All the best for the future, and do try to be careful in your travels. ( By the way, I think your gorgeous looking!)

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  • Wishing you a speedy recovery Richard! Strange, ‘wishing you well’ feels a little like prayer to me. It feels good (to me) to ‘wish’ you well, but practically it shouldn’t make you actually heal any faster at all, although the kindness of strangers might perform some kind of placebo effect, I suppose. I like to wish people that I respect or care about to be well, to have no harm come to them, or to assist them if I could, so what is it with words? I am not where you are, and even if I was and wished you well in person it most likely just makes me feel better! After all, you may not even read this, let alone having it present some magical healing power for you. It must be why people pray; an attempt to send out some kind of ‘power’ that may change things. How ridiculous! The human desire to connect with others is no doubt a motivating factor for prayer and I do wish you well, knowing that the actual process of healing cannot possibly change in your favor because of it. It’s not prayer though, there is no supernatural entity between me and this message to you, just a direct…typed…bunch of words. Therefore a wish is not a prayer, but the results are the same.

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  • 62
    Robert says:

    Professor D., happy that you are recovering. Continue your good works, and thank you. I am an avid reader of your books, and just finished “Greatest Show….”

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  • Therefore a wish is not a prayer, but the results are the same.

    What do you consider the results of your good wishes to be, PY?

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  • It’s interesting how affected we can be by kindness and good wishes from others, even from strangers whom we might never see again.

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  • 66
    Jeremy says:

    Were you in a hurry to get to the all you can eat baby buffet? You should stay home for a few days and watch Spanktra-Vision Richard.

    P.S. The new tie is spectacular.

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  • Think this is a ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ thing. Think the thought and be a bit more careful, at some later moment, to do something unrelated that spares someone else the same outcome somewhere else.

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  • Dear Professor,
    Was saddened to read of your accident / incident. But these things occassionally happen to the best of us. Keep up the good fight. Best regards.

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  • Furthermore, I was speaking with my mother earlier about this. She is 87, and she told me that in old Chinese culture that thinking men were carried. 😉

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  • She is 87, and she told me that in old Chinese culture that thinking men were carried. ?

    It has been known in Western academic circles for the young to do the work and the old to take the glory.

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  • And the the women being “rescued/mollested” by Bodie was Pamela Stevens, psychologist now married to Billy Connolly. She did the infamous American Express spoof in Not the Nine O’Clock news so she has a bit of a history of being cast in bra related puns.

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  • Ewan
    Jun 6, 2015 at 2:05 am

    It has been known in Western academic circles for the young to do the work and the old to take the glory.

    True, – but less frequently than for scientists, rescue teams, engineers, or doctors, to do the work and religions to claim the credit for their gods!

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  • 79
    Branson says:

    have you (or will you) ever make an appearance in Canada? I’d really enjoy watching a live debate other than on the tiny screen of my phone. I am 16 and have been quite confused by the whole Creationism VS Evolution debate and i have also read your book ‘The God Delusion’. You’re a large inspiration to my beliefs on the topic and i just wanted to thank you for helping me clarify it all.

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  • 80
    Prem Kumar says:

    Dear Mr Dawkins,

    At the first look of it, I thought it was an ‘Act of God’, then I realized it was a freak accident. Please get well soon.
    BTW, I gifted your masterpiece ‘God’s Delusion’ (Translated in Tamil) to my mother this morning.

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  • So, Dr. Dawkins, it all finished well for you. But for us, here, it’s a long way till things get better. And now the government paid media is using your incident to show how the medical public assistance in Brazil is great, better them UK or US (obviously) and that how we have the greatest governarem government in the world… Sorry to tell you that you’re being used for politics around here.

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