Alan Turing: Gay Man who Saved the World yet Died in Disgrace

By Craig A. James | 19 November 2010
The Religion Virus

What do you do to a homosexual mathematician whose code-breaking genius saved the world during World War II? Not figuratively, but actually saved the world from Nazi domination? You put him on trial, of course! You convict him of gross indecency. You force him to choose prison or chemical castration. You strip him of all dignity and hound him until in shame and despair he swallows a cyanide pill and dies.

The story of Alan Turing is one of the most disgraceful episodes of modern civilization. A man who should have been a hero of the free world and idolized next to Einstein and Newton in the history books was instead hounded to death because of religion-inspired homophobia.

In World War II, Alan Turing’s genius at breaking Nazi secret codes was so successful that the Allies could have sunk almost every single U-boat and convoy that left Germany. Turing’s work was so good it was like cheating at cards: if you win every hand, the other players will quickly figure out that the game is rigged. The Allies had to employ all sorts of tricks to hide their success; if you want a fascinating account, I highly recommend Neal Stephenson’s semi-fictional Cryptonomicon, the story of the rise of modern cryptography.

Alan Turing literally saved the world from Nazi domination. Without his work, WWII would have ended very differently. The Nazi regime might have remained undefeated, still in control of Northern Europe and western Asia. The Japanese might have retained control of East Asia. Our world maps would look vastly different today. And even if we’d won the war, without Turing’s work it’s likely that millions more soldiers and civilians would have died in the fight.

And Turing’s work didn’t end with cryptography. Today he’s best known as the inventor of the modern digital computer, the one who laid down the mathematical foundation for all computer science. His name is even enshrined in two of the most important computer-science concepts, the Turing machine and the Turing test.

If Alan Turing hadn’t been homosexual, his name might be a household word like Einstein, Newton and Galileo. What home doesn’t have a computer? If you count the laptops, cell phones, digital TVs, iPods, digital cameras and microwave ovens in your home, I’ll bet you own more than a dozen computing devices. Every one of them works on the principles laid down by Alan Turing during WWII when he was trying to develop a computing machine to break the enemy’s codes even faster.

Turing’s fall from grace came at the hands of the religious commi-bashing right, the British equivalent of America’s McCarthyism. In 1952 a gay lover helped an accomplice rob Turing’s house. During the police investigation, it came out that Turing was a homosexual. He was arrested and convicted of gross indecency, and given a choice of prison or chemical castration. Turing choose castration.

On June 7, 1954, at just forty two years of age, Alan Mathison Turing killed himself by swallowing cyanide. One of the greatest minds in the history of humankind was lost forever, and one of the greatest heroes of World War II died in shame and disgrace.

But the real shame is on the rest of us, not Alan Turing. In spite of his sexual orientation and consequent hardships he must have experienced, he remained a true patriot and mathematician. He put his mind to work to save the very society that persecuted him. It is possible that he changed history and saved more lives than any other single person in the twentieth century.

On September 10, 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally issued a public apology to Turing’s memory:

Thousands of people have come together to demand justice for Alan Turing and recognition of the appalling way he was treated. While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can’t put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him … So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan’s work I am very proud to say: we’re sorry, you deserved so much better.

It is stories like Turing’s that keep me writing. It’s easy to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the immoral “morality” of the Bible. It sounds nice to advocate tolerance and respect. But Alan Turing is dead, and the Bible is where it all started.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Craig A. James is a writer, computer scientist, evolutionist, and movie producer. He lives in Southern California.

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126 COMMENTS

  1. He died by accident, he use to eat a apple before he went to bed and he was still working on his machine….it is thought by people working now at bletchley park that he didnt wash his hands and a slow build up of toxic chemicals killed him.

    • Don't waste your time–apparently facts don't matter for this lot. This in spite of the fact that facts mattered a great deal to Mr. Turing.

  2. It was our great grandparents that killed him not us. We don’t have to oppologise for anything we wasn’t even born then. Rule number one -never oppologise for what your fore father’s did. Learn from it but never oppologise.

    • That’s the kind of bullheaded thinking that has allowed the United States to be led by the racist failed businessman with the orange spray tan and dead rat toupee. If all the barriers were removed for blacks in the US it would take over two centuries for them to reach a level of income comparable to the dwindling percentage of fair skinned people. The bank JP Morgan Chase has loan documents in its archives that describe taking human beings in the form of chattel slaves for collateral on a loan. The South got the free labor for raw materials and the North had industry to create finished products and so unpaid forced labor made up 2/3 of the GDP. Wealthy families who profited off of the slaves are still living off the investments and trust funds to this day while the government failed to even come through on 40 acres and a goat. Britain was no better, with its imperialist regime bent on conquering and ruling everything it could to have world dominance. All of us should at least have humility. And, like the Catholic church granting an indulgence to Galileo in 1996 after excommunication from the church for saying the earth went around the sun, it is proper for an entity to publicly state that it acted improperly so as to set public policy and work towards enlightenment. The aforementioned blacks in the US are probably owed a lot when adjusted for inflation but most would settle for a lack of constant discrimination and institutional racism that leads to our incarceration nation.

    • We weren’t born yet. We had yet to be born. We weren’t thought of yet. And yes apologize SMH. Dude was smart and helped. He knew the risks of the times. I do not personally understand how a man can be attracted to another man but to each his own. Give him his props!!! Be thankful. I do not believe he died in disgrace. The idiots making that a law and carrying out punishment were the disgraceful ones. Hopefully he knew his worth. As I’m typing this realizing we should probably all be thankful for his contributions screw what ignorant assholes think type or say. Speaking of Idk whole true story…. Yet js

    • As history is important, I believe people grow from yesteryear to today. Today its unthinkable as a Christian to force prison or chemical castration, in any adult discrete sexuality. One sin is better than another, or if that is any of our business. Slavery was a sin too, and yet they did it. Times were cruel we come from a cruel past. This man put his knowlege toward enlightenment and that is love and Patriotism. Using the Bible to hurt people is of a dark nature. I never would believe our creator would have been pleased with mankind to use his word to destroy anyone. Peoples concepts change not to use in sin, but rather understand human nature. Never will there be the time we see eye to eye on everything but I agree we owe our gratitude. But its funny, I grew up knowing his contribution to society, and not his sexuality til now, which as a Christian it’s still irrelevant to me. We arent to judge with exception of law. This shouldn’t had been the law worse than the thieves. And it was his claim they were lovers. Whose to say he wasn’ t lying. I agree it would nor should had even been in there speculation as law. I’m greatful times change. People Quakers burned women,& children, to stakes then later men as witches is that Biblical No! People always darken the word it’s not the Bible, the issue its moreover insanity of mob mentality.

      • The problem isn’t the Bible. It’s people’s lack of love or not believing that every person is created in the image of God. Sure, none of us is perfect. The image has been marred, but there is still God-given value.

  3. It wasn’t just Mr. Turing who was discriminated against by Christian influencers in British society. Women also experienced workplace harassment (sexual and otherwise) and were shut out of mathematical andscientific careers. Look them up. If you have access to PBS programs online, I highly recommend the Bletchley Circle, a true accounting of a group of code-breakers during and just after World War 2. While Turing developed the machine and its encoding algorithms, these women were secretly responsible for breaking its language apart, saving the UK millions of lives (while risking theirs), and their government, while conducting their traditional everyday lives outwardly to their families, friends and the public.

    • Love this series!! Watching it from Canada!! Had No idea that these Amazing Women were doing this during the war!! Just like the Women that worked at NASA in the 50’s and 60’s that Launched the first rocket into space!! Yes, right around the World, Women were and still are discriminated against!!
      Thank You for sharing!!

  4. A beleife in god is a insult to intelligence. A following of religion is a rejection of responsibility and consceince. . But many misguided people are admirable in every way while others are the utterly of evil.

    • Hitler was an atheist lmfao. He masqueraded as a Christian to gain political support. Martin Luther King was a reverend. See? Religion or the lack thereof has nothing to do with your moral compass as a human being, are you 5 years old

  5. It is tragic that such a brilliant man suffered what he went through. Religion gives Christianity a decided stink. It is not my place or anyone else’s to judge him. Too many so-called christians feel duty-bound to take GOD’s place in judgement when a person’s life issues become public knowledge. People trash the bible due to a feeling of superiority and/or a lack of understanding it’s underlying purpose. You don’t believe GOD’s inspired word? Fine… I’m not your judge. My words or logic offend you? Why? Your viewpoints and logic don’t offend me. I am a devout christian, not a religous bigot or zealot. I sin on a daily basis, same as you. Do I have a superiority complex? Not for all the riches on earth! The only real confidence I have is I know GOD is real… my very existence is unrefutable proof. The CHRIST died for my sins. Only GOD can judge me. Only GOD can judge you. I freely accepted the gift of salvation prepared for me. Only you can choose to do likewise. To reference the Bible, it says ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ All I need do is share the good news (gospel) that Christ died for all of our sins… debt paid. Funny how often JESUS healed people who were far less than perfect- you know- like me n you. He told people to go and sin no more. He didn’t curse people out, stone them, or shame them. He showed love n compassion. That’s what He does for me. That’s what He does for you. Love the sinner (us) hate the sin. That’s the good news I want to share. For terrible things like rape, murder and the like which really do need some earthly authority for punishing, that has to be. Me, better than you? Never! GOD’s love better than what we deserve? Absolutely! Please never take religion for christianity. They aren’t even in the same universe. GOD bless you on your walk.

    • The fundamental premise of Christianity is that a god exists who created the universe and who judges all people to be sinners who must be saved from their sins but who cannot save themselves and therefore must be saved by a dying-rising savior-god and Jesus Christ is the one-and-only dying-rising god/godman/god ghost.

      This premise is absurd and insulting to a reasonable man’s intelligence.

      Universe = Space + Time + Matter-Energy.

      Space is the one-and-only volume of radii of infinite length – radii that have startpoints but no endpoints: the infinite size of space eliminates any possibility of the existence of anything beyond or outside or in addition to space itself – which means anything that exists including gods if they exist must exist within space. Space ensures over time. Space was never created nor caused.

      Time is the use by mankind and machines of a chosen duration for the measurement of other durations. The continuum of time is infinite. Anything that exists exists in space and endures over time.

      Matter-energy (m-e) consists of the elementary and subatomic particles, atoms and molecules and their forces that comprise all things that exist in space and endure over time including people, objects and events including gods, if they exist.

      Experiments in chemistry by Antoine and Marie Lavoisier circa 1777 and In thermodynamics by Sadi Carnot circa 1826 have provided physical evidence that is conclusive proof that m-e cannot be created nor destroyed and thus m-e is infinite in duration over time.

      Einstein’s e = mc2 and m = e/c2 and experiments confirming these equations circa 1905 to the present have revealed that matter (m) and energy (e) are two forms of the same physical phenomenon – matter-energy – and confirmed that m can be converted into e (atomic bombs) and e can be converted into m (hydrogen bombs) and neither m nor e can be created nor destroyed.

      Thus, m-e has always existed – m-e is infinite in duration and was never created nor caused.

      Thus, with the infinite duration of space, time and m-e, the universe is infinite in duration and was never created nor caused.

      Therefore the creator-/causer-gods never existed in the past, do not exist now in the present and will never exist in the future.

      Lesser-gods might exist as beings who/which have greater knowledge than mankind of causality and coincidentiality and who/which have greater capabilities than mankind for causing effects mankind currently cannot cause but until one of these gods either reveals himself/herself/itself and causes effects that prove he/she/it has greater knowledge and capabilities than mankind or mankind observes/measures one causing effects or captures one and forces him/her/it to cause effects that prove he/she/it has greater knowledge and capabilities than mankind and therefore is a god then mankind has no justification for belief in the existence of gods and therefore has no justification for believing that all people are sinners who must be saved but who cannot save themselves and therefore can only be saved by a dying-rising savior-god.

  6. "But the real shame is on the rest of us, not Alan Turing." I have no shame over what happened to Alan Turing. He died years before I was born. Who tries to blame the unborn for something that already happened? What is your agenda? I have none. I treat people with dignity and respect up until the point they demonstrate they don't deserve either.

    • While acknowledging that we personally did t commit any crimes against Mr.Turing, why is it so bothersome to publicly acknowledge that he was treated unfairly? I can say I am heartily sorry for what we did to native Americans…not I personally, but for what my forefathers did. I’m not too proud to simply acknowledge that fact, and hope that the effort calls to mind that we should always deal fairly and non judgmentally with all people. There is so sin on calling these gross injustices to light, in hopes that we become more enlightened as our life journey progresses. It’s a slow moving….help it along whenever possible.

    • The shame is that we can see the mistakes of the past and yet still discriminate and stigmatize and follow shallow ignorant men into another round of racist bullshit.

  7. The last sentence of this piece blames the Bible. I know of nothing in the Bible that countenances laws requiring castration, etc. The Bible forbids sex outside of a heterosexual marriage. It does not provide worldly punishments.

  8. Don’t EVER blame the Bible for something that poorly informed people do. Who gave people the right to judge, when, God is the only true judge. Those folks that judged Turing
    Were NOT real Christians period!!

  9. As you pointed out it’s God’s job to judge. So as to help us make informed intelligence decisions he gave us his inspired word called the Bible. He didn’t use any special code in it, just plain talk. No matter how tou try to twist his words or try to miss interpret his words, it clear homosexuality is an abomination to him. Jesus pointed out to love the sinner but not the sin. Homosexuality is a sin per God’s word. No if ands or butts. Go ahead and hate me if you must. Doesn’t change his word.

    • But to remind you – the bible was written by humans. Anything could have been written and said to be the "word of god", and you would believe it? How are you sure it is His words? How can you believe blindly?

  10. It's hideous how he did this great thing for England, possibly the world, by producing a computer that could help defeat Nazi Germany during the war, but was disgraced because of his apparent homosexuality. It's probably just as well that he killed himself. It would've been better than castration.

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