Archive for January, 2014

Name-Calling Dawkins

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2014 by sometimesafoggynotion

At a book club meeting, I said that Richard Dawkins is unfairly labelled as a name-caller and that, in his books, he never calls anyone names. A lot of people there disagreed with me and claimed he frequently calls people names in his books, so I didn’t press the point (even though I still disagreed).

But it gave me an idea for something to do: use the search function in Kindle to search Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion – supposedly his book that people think is the most insulting – for any instances of actual name-calling in it.

And by “name-calling”, I specifically mean the definition of the term as the use of offensive names to insult actual people. So calling an actual person or group of people by an offensive name (ex. “John Smith is stupid” or “Those Lilliputians are so stupid”) is name-calling, but calling an idea or a quote by the exact same name is not (so saying “that’s a stupid idea” or that’s a stupid thing to say” is not name-calling because it’s merely criticizing an idea and not an individual or group).

Also I do not consider calling a fictional character by a name as “name-calling” because a fictional character cannot be offended by being called a name.  So Dawkins’ (rather accurate) description of the fictional YHWH (aka Yahweh or Jehovah or Jealous) of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) to open Chapter 2 of his book does not count as name-calling.  (And anyone who believes this character is not fictional really needs to read Dawkins’ book from cover to cover.)

Given that it’ll be easier to search for common terms used in name-calling, I selected the following common words used for name-calling as my main search:

dumb / dummy

I also added a few terms that may be considered “name-calling” by some people (although it is a bit of a stretch):

ignorant / ignorance

Starting with the word “Stupid” – the search found the following:


This has one instance of Dawkins calling an idea stupid (so it’s an idea, not a person or group of people, which mean it is not actual name-calling), and the rest is a quote from Nicholas Humphrey calling some priests of the ancient Incans as “stupid” for sacrificing young girls to their religion.  This is not Dawkins’ own quote (he even says using the word “stupid” is a bit too much), so not name-calling by him either.

Next word is “dumb” and the variant “dummy”


Ignoring the word “dumbfounded” (Kindle search is not very advanced) and the term “dumbing down”, the only uses of the word “dumb” are in reference to its other meaning of the inability to talk, not a lack of intelligence.  Now onto the variant “dummy”


His only use of the word “dummy” is not in reference to human beings, so not name-calling either.  The next word is “moron”


No name-calling here.  The next word is “idiot”


Not a single reference found at all of “idiot”.  The next word is “Asshole”


No references either.  The next word is “Dick”


Just the flawed Kindle search here, but no uses of this term.  The next word is “jerk”


No references to this either.  The next word is “ignoramus”


No references.  On to the next word: “twit” (a word more common in Britain than here in the U.S.)


Another flaw of the Kindle search engine, just finding the letters T, W, I, T together within the word “notwithstanding” but not a single instead of the word “twit” being used.  The next word is “fool”


The first use of the word “fool” is in his section on the “Ontological Argument” in which he gives a hypothetical example of the argument concluding with the hypothetical person making the argument saying “all atheists are fools”.  Some may see these as a bit of a Straw Man argument, but it does seem to just be illustrating how the argument is typically used and ends with a paraphrasing of Psalm 14:1 from the Bible which outright called atheists fools (specifically: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.”), and given that it is directed at atheists, I wouldn’t consider this name-calling.  However, he does call the hypothetical person in this section a “childish wiseacre”, although given that it is just a hypothetical person and not a real person, it may be a stretch to consider this name-calling.  Dawkins then says “The very idea that grand conclusions could follow from such logomachist trickery offends me aesthetically, so I must take care to refrain from bandying words like ‘fool’.” so even he doesn’t like the idea of using the word “fool” carelessly.

The remaining references to the word “fool” are usually just quoting someone else, so not Dawkins using the term but whoever he is quoting, so not name-calling by Dawkins either.  And the final reference is in discussing Moses getting the 10 Commandments (either the 1st 10 or the 2nd 10), and uses the term “fool around” to describe the story of the ancient Israelites making a golden calf while Moses was away.  So not name-calling either.

The next word is one of the stretch terms: “silly”


All of these are in reference to ideas being silly, so no name-calling of people with the word.  The next stretch word is “ignorant” and its variant “ignorance”


He does use this to call someone people “ignorant” but the reason I consider this a stretch term is because this can be just a description of someone lacking knowledge instead of an insult.  Looking at Dawkins’ own use of the term, this is how he uses it with the one instance of it being used in a more insulting way just one of the accurate quotes Dawkins uses of someone else.

Next is the variant “ignorance”


The only times Dawkins uses the word “ignorance” is in its definition as a “lack of knowledge” which is not an insult.

The last word I searched for is “liar”


Which unfortunately is another word that the Kindle search engine found embedded as a letter combination many, many times in the words “familiar, familiarity, unfamiliar, and peculiar“.  However, four references are found to the word “liar”.  The first is quoting name-calling done for Thomas Paine, so not a Dawkins quote.  The next two are Dawkins talking about the well-known C.S. Lewis quote saying that Jesus was either right or else insane or a liar, so not name-calling by Dawkins.  And the final reference to the word “liar” is when talking about Hitler possibly being an opportunistic liar, so this is finally an example of Dawkins using name-calling against a real person and that person is Adolf Hitler.  Given who the individual is, I think letting it slide would be okay.

So that’s it for my search.  Excepting the Hitler one, I found no real instances of Richard Dawkins doing name-calling in The God Delusion.  But if anyone find any examples of actual name-calling by Richard Dawkins in this book that I missed, please email me and I will follow-up this posting with that example.