Is Richard Dawkins Charming Enough?

I know we’ve seen more than enough interviews with Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins about their movie The Unbelievers, but this segment on Ontario’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin is worth a listen if for no other reason than Paikin (a gracious host who isn’t trying to pick a fight) questions Dawkins’ “charm” in the film (around the 4:50 mark):

Paikin: At the risk of incurring your wrath here, [to Krauss] you are the funny and charming one. [To Dawkins] And you are not!

Dawkins: [Grins] I’m serious and charming.

Paikin: Uhh… don’t overdo the charming! You’re serious and sometimes very angry and upset with people.

Dawkins: No, I’m not. You’ve been… you’ve believed all the nonsense that’s been written about me.

Paikin: I watched the documentary, that’s all.

Dawkins: What, last night [at the premiere]? I mean, the documentary The Unbelievers?

Paikin: Yeah! The Unbelievers! I’ve seen it!

I’m pretty sure that’s the most damning thing you could say about Dawkins. Call him angry and militant and it won’t bother him one bit. Tell the guy with the British accent and mannerisms that he’s not charming? Ooh, that had to hurt.

In all seriousness, this is one of the better television interviews I’ve seen. The host asks a variety of questions and gives Krauss and Dawkins plenty of time to respond. There’s no fighting, only clarifying.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Beth

    Dawkins American accent! “Gee!”
    haha about 20-21 min,

  • Dangerous Talk

    I have to say that I pretty much agree with him that Dawkins isn’t really that charming. Maybe he was at one point, but within recent years not so much. I don’t really like to see him on Fox News because he comes off so poorly there. Krauss is much better with adding in the humor and still laying down the smack-down.

  • Mark Jorgensen

    On a different related note, the easiest way to differentiate an intelligent atheist from an ignorant one is to ask what they think about Drawkins´ writings. The smart atheists here know what the answer to that question should be.

  • Sue Blue

    Dawkins can be “charming” and humorous when illustrating some point about evolution; he’s also witty in an understated way. I think he comes off as contemptuous to people who are intimidated by his intelligence and insistence on reason, and those who think everyone with a British accent is a snob. He also doesn’t seem to appreciate questions that get off the subject at hand and delve into his personal life, and that’s his right. I think Krauss is more naturally talkative, and appeals to American audiences more than the cerebral Dawkins, but I find many things about Dawkins “charming”. It’s an “eye of the beholder” thing.

  • Gus Snarp

    It’s not like Krauss is exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his opinion.

  • Gus Snarp

    I love the Canadian inferiority complex. Dawkins says he had a debate with Stephen Pinker and the host interjects: a Canadian. Like Canadians have to trumpet every accomplished Canadian because everyone ignores them. Can you imagine an American interview, if Dawkins mentioned debating Krauss, interjecting with: an American!

  • Joe Goodrich

    I agree! And I agree with what Krauss said afterwords. Dawkins can be a little off-putting, but I think that’s only a cultural thing. And anyway, who cares if he’s NOT charming? Sounds to me like the interviewer was “offended”–probably a Jesoid. (That’s pronounced: “jeez-oid”. You get it, right?) :)

  • sunburned

    I think the lack of *charm* and why the host thought it he was less than charming came into play during the interview. The host attempted to play the wishy washy word game of spiritualism and was taken to task for being dishonest.

    Which brings us to another point that they had touched on, precision. Speaking and/or writing while maintaining focus on clarity and a precise conveyance of a concept generally isn’t meant to be charming. It’s meant to be precise.

  • Gus Snarp

    Really? I’ve only read the Selfish Gene, which is simply a tour de force, a spectacular piece of science writing that can lead to a much deeper and more meaningful understanding of evolution.

    Why don’t you come out and say what you want to say?

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Dawkins is very charming when reading his hate e-mail. NSFW language.

  • Pepe

    We need more of this!

  • Laurence A. Moran

    I happened to see Dawkins the next morning at a brunch hosted by CFI Canada and he was full of praise for TV Ontario and Steve Paikin. He thought it was one of the best interviews they had.

  • Laurence A. Moran

    Here’s my take on Richard Dawkins: :Dawkins Is a Scholar and a Gentleman

  • latraviata

    That was the first thing I thought!!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The smart atheists here know what the answer to that question should be.

    The really smart ones know that they can formulate their own answer, not dig up the stock answer the questioner may have been looking for.

  • Tobias2772

    For so many people, being rational and militant eliminates the adjective charming. You can only be charming if you never question their bullshit.

  • RobMcCune

    You can always tell a rational theist by whether or not they troll on the subject of Richard Dawkins.

    What is it about the man that engenders such irrational hate?

  • rick_povero

    ** the Epicureans and Stoics laughed Paul out of Athens…it’s tradition

    Mr Mehta…you, the ‘friendly atheist’ are no doubt charming.

    But Pat Robertson and Rep Broun (R GA) each fail the sniff test. Every lie from the pit of xian anti-intellectualism deserves a blistering but honest response — A retort fair to the facts, but unaccepting of lying god-proxies who seek secular power by riding “God’s” coattails.

    They deserve no better than Paul preaching a recycled, disgusting doctrine of bodily resurrection. Greek philosophers found a zombie god, as Paul writes, offensive.

    And ‘saint’ Paul never forgot or forgave his drubbing in Athens (Acts17:18 NIV). However, Paul’s message of inverted snobbery he saved for a xian cell in Corinth:

26-Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.27-But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28-He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are . . . . 1Cor1:26-28 NIV

    Nietzsche found here the original “skunkworks” of xian nihilism: “[God]…chose the things that are not to nullify the things that are….”

  • Nate Frein

    I love the way it sounds like he has to force out the F-bombs. Like it takes an effort to get the word out.

  • Rich Wilson

    what they think about

    the answer to that question should be

    Some people think there’s a correct answer to an opinion question.

  • Rich Wilson

    That was my second thought. My first was

  • latraviata


  • Mackinz


    I think.

  • Ibis3

    That’s what happens when you live next door to the American monolith. We want to be sure that our own homegrown talents are recognised as such.

  • Richard Wade

    I’ve listened to Dawkins speaking for many years, and I’ve yet to hear the “anger” and “rudeness” that people complain about. I think they’re hearing their own anger, and they’re projecting it onto him. Their long standing position of hands-off privilege has left them extremely thin-skinned and unable to differentiate their own emotions from those of Dawkins.

    Dawkins: “I am not convinced of the claims of Christianity, and here are my reasons.”
    Christian: “How dare you!? You are so angry and rude! You’ll burn in hell.”
    Dawkins: “I am not convinced of the claims of Judaism, and here are my reasons.”
    Jew: “How dare you!? You are anti-Semitic! You’re useless to humanity.”
    Dawkins: “I am not convinced of the claims of Islam, and here are my reasons.”
    Muslim: I’ll kill you!

  • Rich Wilson

    It’s why although Canadian kids will absorb a vast amount of American culture and not even realize it, they will always insist on colour cheques.

    (I’m a US citizen but having grown up in Canada, I identify internally more as a Canadian. Go Ryder!!!)

    p.s. If anything, it’s a superiority complex.

  • Sue Blue

    One of my favorites! I love how he reads the idiotic misspellings and grammatical errors verbatim.

  • Laurence A. Moran

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is advocating the tactic that’s led to no changes at all in the number of Americans who believe in superstitious nonsense. He’s been taking that approach for decades.

    Dawkins and the other vocal advocates of atheism have changed the game in less than eight years. All of a sudden, religion has to defend itself and atheism is on the table.

    I think it’s time we gave the confrontation tactic a little more credit.

  • Mario Strada

    There was a time when I would have agreed. But given how Dawkings is vilified in certain circles and the way Fox News conducts their interviews, I don’t blame him for being a bit exasperated at times. I don’t know I would have had the patience he has had in dealing with idiots for this long.

    plus, when you know that a large majority of people will object to even the most carefully constructed criticism, what’s the point in trying to be tactful?

  • AxeGrrl

    ‘The Agenda’ is a FAB show in general, and I recommend it to everyone. You could almost pick any night/episode and see something interesting/literate/intelligent.

    I’ve seen Paikin do a few shows on the subject (belief vs atheism) and although there have been a couple of moments where I thought I saw a bit of his theistic bias showing, overall, he’s a great host/moderator.

  • kaydenpat

    Wouldn’t being proud of one’s “Canadianness” be a superiority complex? Canadians feel dwarfed by their southern neighbor and probably feel the need to point out that “we are not them” from time to time.

  • Matt Smith

    I would agree, to a point, about projecting. We all do that to a degree. If you’ve ever tried to post on a Christian website I’m sure you’ve experienced it. I know I have by posting on sites like these. It’s not necessarily done out of ugliness, but it certainly can get ugly.

    As far as Dawkins goes, what I don’t like is the seeming arrogance in his arguments and rebuttals. You are sure of your views and I’m sure you’ve thought long and hard about them. It’s no different for me. Believe it or not, I have thought long and hard about what I believe. It’s annoying to listen to someone who seem bent on making me feel foolish. He doesn’t make me feel that way, but I get the sense that it is what he’s trying to do. I’ve listened to many debates between atheists and theists. I never had a problem with Hitchens. He could be somewhat hostile, but he had a way of saying things that didn’t provoke any anger. I enjoyed listening to him speak and reading his articles, about anything.

    There is another atheist who does some debating, Massimo Pigliucci. I listened to a debate he had with William Lane Craig, who is probably the best ,though extremely boring, debater on “our” side. Pigliucci clearly won the debate. I guess I say this to quantify my earlier statements

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Matt.
    I have to disagree with you about “we all project to a degree.” I think some people don’t. I’m crystal clear that the emotions I’m feeling are mine alone, and I’m clear that any emotions I think someone else might have are only my guess, based on nonverbal cues and my empathy. But I don’t assume I’m right about that person; if it’s appropriate in the situation, I ask.
    Similarly, I stay clear that whatever motives, noble or base, I think another person has are also only my guess, and I don’t assume that I’m right. If it’s appropriate in the situation, I ask. If my own emotions become too strong for me to remain clear on these things and to remain focused on the actual topic, then I discontinue the interaction. As you said, neither person is necessarily actually ugly in their hearts, but it can get ugly.

    I’m curious about your experience watching the debate between Pigliucci and Craig. I didn’t see it. If you think that Pigliucci, the atheist clearly won the debate, did your opinion or belief change about the question that the debate addressed? If not, then I wonder what was the point of listening to the debate?

    This is the frustrating thing that has caused me to eschew religious debates in general. Most often everyone in the audience comes away thinking their “side” won. When I ask people about their reaction, even in the rare cases when they acknowledge that the opposition won, none of them seem to have had a single neuron of their original view altered. Their own answer to the question that the debate addressed remained exactly the same as it was when they walked in.

  • Matt Smith

    Why didn’t Pigliucci change my mind? Because I believe in God. Things have happened in my life that led me to that belief. What Pigliucci did, in my mind, was argue his side better than Craig. He did make me think, a lot. For a while I didn’t even want to think about the arguments he made because it made me uncomfortable. Eventually, I began to run down his arguments and think about them and was able to reconcile them with my own beliefs. Some of the debates I’ve listened to have forced me to rethink my belief system. I discovered many, many things that were cultural rather than truly religious. So, I wouldn’t say that not a “single neuron” was changed of my belief system. That’s why I’m on this site. I’m not trying to have my views changed, but I would like to learn from those who don’t believe the way I do. I’m also not here to drop “fundie bombs” and make converts. It makes me a better Christian because it makes me review my motivations and approaches to those who don’t believe like I do. I don’t think debates are useless. If the other side doesn’t change views, but we’re open minded and empathetic we can all be better people for it, even in the midst of disagreement.

  • DisThoughts

    Which writings? Dawkins has written a lot on many different subjects in many different formats. If you’re talking about books, The Greatest Show on Earth is pure brilliance, Unweaving the Rainbow is cute and informative, and The God Delusion I found boring, but I recognise I might have found it less so if I’d read it sooner in my life. The man is really great at explaining complex idea in simple terms (befitting of his profession as a science populariser) but some times he forgets to add the complexity back in. At times this is justified; painting stripes on a cat does not a tiger make and insisting on dealing with it as a cat is well in order. On the other hand, some times it really is a tiger and ought to be dealt with appropriately.

  • Hermes Atheist Nation

    Dr. Dawkins has a great sense of being intense but not hostile when confrontational. Many in the Atheist community have really nor idea of what engaging in complete superstition and ignorrance is all about. i find it interesting also that many people became critical of Dawkins after “discovering” his out spoken views on feminism.

  • Jonathan Figdor

    Really? You found The God Delusion boring? I’m kind of surprised. I read it when I was 22 and loved it.

  • Christopher Carr

    Odd. Dr. Dawkins seems a very mannered, pleasant fellow to me.