Words With Dawkins: Synonymy Released

Words, words, words.

Here’s a thing: if you can, I think you should play Synonymy on a pocket telephone rather than your PC. I have enjoyed playing the word puzzle game for a bit, bending the meaning of synonyms to connect words, but it’s clearly designed for touchy-pressy mobile things and doesn’t come off too well on PC. Handily, a $1.99 (£1.25) purchase on Itch.io gets you Windows, iOS, and Robot versions. It’s still enjoyable on PC, mind, but the rough edges are a bit frustrating.

The game: Synonymy will pluck a starting word from its dictionary at random and another to reach through synonyms – from “dislocate” to “accurate”, for example. It’ll list synonyms for your current word, and you need to play with their fuzzy edges to reach your goal. I went: dislocate; reposition; alter; tweak; refine; hone; polish; perfect; accurate. (Tip: it doesn’t differentiate between verb and adjective and so on as long as it’s the same collection of letters. Signifier not sign, yeh?)

As someone wot likes words, I’m enjoying puzzling and planning. It gets quite tricky when you realise you took a wrong turn a few steps ago and need to find a way back.

The technical side: it runs in a window that’s the same resolution as your desktop, but window borders mean it’s too large and you need to maximise the window every time you load it. Some actions require you to hold down a mouse button, because it’s clearly designed for fingers. The menus are controlled by WASD, because they were made for swiping. For some reason, it doesn’t have a mode that throws puzzle after puzzle at you, making you specifically start a new game each time. The leaderboards seem to lack a useful way to compare anything.

These aren’t massive issues by themselves, but all together they bug me.

Anyway, here’s a trailer/the tutorial. Yes, that is Richard Dawkins narrating. No, I’m not sure why the Richard Dawkins Foundation is involved either. Don’t worry: he doesn’t talk while you’re playing.


  1. Fiyenyaa says:

    Dawkins seems like a weirdly polarising figure to put into a game that isn’t explicitly about “Hey, God is a bit stupid eh?” Not really sure what he brings to the table here apart from putting a large amount of people off.

    • evilsooty999 says:

      He has a nice manner of speaking though. I could listen to him for hours!

    • drygear says:

      He’s been famous for his writings about evolution long before he became the internet atheist pope. It’s my understanding that he also applied evolutionary theory to linguistics and was very influential there.
      His earlier books like The Selfish Gene are supposed to be quite good. I haven’t read them myself though. It’s kind of unfortunate that his other accomplishments have been overshadowed by his polemical writings.

  2. Asami says:

    If I had to guess, I’d say Dawkins is involved because you could call this game a literary explanation of evolution.

    Lots of people argue that it’s silly to say that a fish could evolve into a human, but in a sense, this game shows that you can take two amazingly different things, and through enough permutations of similar things, connect them in a meaningful way.

    • Fiyenyaa says:

      I suppose when I think of Dawkins I think of pushing a certain religious agenda long before I think of the stuff he’s involved with regarding science.
      Not that your explanation doesn’t make sense; he is an evolutionary biologist after all.

      • Gap Gen says:

        The religious agenda is actually not so bad once you’re partway exposed to Dawkins’s Twitter feed.

        There’s the grumpy old man “they took my honey” and “dogs 69ing” stuff, but also this kind of dark stuff: link to vice.com

        Thankfully link to twitter.com

        • evilsooty999 says:

          I can’t see what was dark about anything he said on Twitter – it was just the Outrage and Offence Brigade not understanding his point.

          Here’s an article from his site that explains what he was trying to get across.

          link to richarddawkins.net

          • Gap Gen says:

            “Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face?” Turns out yes.

            Longer answer: much of what he says is logically true, but really effing stupid to actually say in a public forum. Twitter isn’t a sanitised environment where philosophy professors (note: Dawkins is not one of them) can discuss weighty ethical questions without fear of being misinterpreted, it’s a soapbox for shouting into the ether with a character limit that can obfuscate ill-thought-out messages. So when Dawkins says “date rape is better than X”, obviously people are going to jump down his throat because while logically correct, he’s being a prick because the tone of what he’s saying is terrible and if he doesn’t understand that then maybe he should stop tweeting for his own sake.

            Text doesn’t just have a flat, logical nature. When I look at Dawkins’ tweets I don’t see someone reasonably discussing difficult issues, I see the face of xenophobia and white male privilege saying technically true things like “flaying gamers alive in a huge stadium is a lot better than some things we could be doing as a species” so that they can dodge criticism on technicalities.

          • wu wei says:

            Dawkins’ advice for women pregnant with a child with Down-Syndrome; “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

            He then clarified with: “If your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down’s baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.”

            I don’t think people outraged with those statements misunderstood his point at all.

          • evilsooty999 says:

            I agree Twitter isn’t the best place to debate such questions due to its absurdly small character limit, but what on earth are you on about talking about ‘white male privilege’ and ‘xenophobia’? The latter I see no evidence of in anything Dawkins has said and the former doesn’t make sense.

          • Gap Gen says:

            [TRIGGER WARNING]

            The male privilege is the ability to never worry about being raped (link to rapecrisis.org.uk).
            It takes someone in a position of privilege to offhandedly post that there are worse things than being raped and then defend that position.

            For xenophobia I probably should have said Islamophobia specifically, but as I’ve said (plus link to refuge.org.uk) the acceptance of violence against women in the West is pretty grim, and “honour” killings of women by their spouses or families are by no means limited to Islamic cultures. For example, a number of women wrote in public about how Bill Cosby drugged and raped them, and yet he’s only recently been condemned. Granted, the Abrahamic religious texts have a lot that seems barbaric to modern eyes (coming from civilisations hundreds or thousands of years old), but there’s an uncomfortable point of agreement between secularists and actual racists that can be overstepped by secularists if they’re not very careful.

            I mean, personally I’m not religious, but I dislike Dawkins’s approach immensely. They come across as a grumpy old person who has received one too many crazy emails from angry creationists, and made it their life’s mission to share that grumpy with the world. No doubt the evolutionary biology outreach is solid, and I kinda feel like they should have stuck with that.

          • evilsooty999 says:

            Only he didn’t dismiss rape, he only mentioned that there are degrees of sexual assault some of which are worse than others.

            As for Islamophobia what a load of nonsense. A phobia is an irrational fear of something whereas being afraid of the spread of a Medieval ideology such as Islam is completely rational – once Islam gets established in a country you can kiss any semblance of freedom and minority rights goodbye. The rest of your post is cultural relativism: sorry, but women in the west have an objectively better standard of life than those who live under Islamic theologies or are you trying to say that the average experiences of a woman in Stockholm is the same as one in Riyadh?

            Islam is a religion, not a race by the way so I’m not sure how you can be a racist for showing Islam up as the nasty women-hating nonsense that it is. Christianity is bad, but at least it has been tamed in the West. Islam has not.

            I hate to break it to you, but some cultures are simply better than others. They aren’t all equal.

          • RobF says:

            “once Islam gets established in a country you can kiss any semblance of freedom and minority rights goodbye”

            You appear to have got confused with capitalism, man.

          • evilsooty999 says:

            “You appear to have got confused with capitalism, man.”


          • Distec says:


            “You appear to have got confused with capitalism, man.”

            I don’t have a hard-on for capitalism and I’m pretty displeased by how some people in the USA worship it. I’m aware of its flaws and the people it benefits (and doesn’t benefit). But I would really like to know what you mean by this.

          • mouton says:


            Islam is a religion, not a race by the way so I’m not sure how you can be a racist for showing Islam up as the nasty women-hating nonsense that it is.

            Well, in the West Islam is associated with The Brown People, so racism and islamophobia often go hand in hand and thus anyone critical of Islam can be often accused of racism and, depending on the issue, it won’t be always untrue.

            Of course, Dawkins is neither a racist nor an islamophobe. Ironically, he was once criticized for focusing on Christianity too much. Welpz.

            Oh, and no one should use twitter anymore for any kind of discussion.

          • drygear says:

            You see, actually it’s about ethics in rape coverage

        • Distec says:

          Dawkins disagrees about the prevalence and definition of “rape culture” (which is common), so he must be sexist.

          Dawkins is critical of Islam (which is common). He must be a conservative xenophobe and an Islamophobe.

          I disagree with Dawkins – Wait no, I am OFFENDED by Dawkins – so we need atheists to disown him; because as we all know, he is the president of The Atheist Club.

          Also, Dawkins should shut up about things not related to science and biology, because he is not an expert in anything else. I say this as a person who is paid to write words for an online publication. Please follow me on Twitter instead.

          ….Meh. I like him. And I think his voice is sexy. Thanks for the warning, Alice. I guess.

          • mouton says:

            Everyone sane should stop using twitter now.

          • Distec says:

            Holy shit do I ever agree.

            I am regularly disappointed that so many seem to recognize it is a poor medium for any kind of meaningful conversation… and then go right ahead and engage in its most obnoxious rituals.

            That goes for everybody, regardless of your political affiliations or whatever cause you’re championing.

          • ThornEel says:

            To be fair, Twitter can be nice for non-personal stuff. Things like “here’s interesting science articles I found today”, or even “Here’s our last product” for things you are interested in (like, say, a videogame studio or an artist whose drawings you like).
            Unfortunately, it is also one of the easiest media to screw up indeed.

          • Distec says:

            That’s fair. It’s a good way to be kept up to speed on things you’re interested in. It’s a shame it’s been wildly misappropriated for soapboxing and arguing. You would have a more productive talk over MSN Messenger than Twitter.

            …Does anybody even still use MSN Messenger?

          • mouton says:

            Yeah, good for service updates, technical stuff, perhaaaps some funny comments.

            But God forbid any controversial topic…

      • mouton says:


        I suppose when I think of Dawkins I think of pushing a certain religious agenda long before I think of the stuff he’s involved with regarding science.

        Huh? Religious agenda? He is not even a “hard” atheist – he doesn’t completely exclude the possibility of existence of god, he just puts it along with invisible unicorns, aliens probing Americans, lizards running the world and stuff. Possible, but extreeemely unlikely.

        Even his most known atheist book, “The God Delusion” – which ,btw, was published decades after his most famous work, “The Selfish Gene” – was simply a series of arguments dismantling justifications for the existence of god.

        • ThornEel says:

          Oh yes, a book called “the God Delusion”, whose introduction explains to you that you will either be convinced or that you are already so brainwashed that all hope is lost for you is in no way a hardline antitheist book.

          Amusingly, when you add that with the less than accurate, to put it mildly, content and arguments of said book, the title takes another meaning : this is exactly what the ramblings of a delusional paranoid looks like. Things like using Albert “God doesn’t play dice” Einstein for a pro-A(nti)theist campaign is but the icing on the cake.

          Fortunately, while competent in fields independent of said delusion, he is far from a genius, and even a quick read from anyone careful with decent knowledge of history, philosophy, psychology or, you know, religion will easily dismiss it. There are few things more terrifying that a delusional paranoid genius – those people can change the world, and rarely for the best.
          Unfortunately, the “careful” part is pretty rare, actually. People want to be either seduced and believe in what an (otherwise) intelligent person write, or easily fall for something justifying a polarisation, either for or against, whichever is closer to their current views.

          I’ve seen this book drive people to irrational antitheist hate. I’ve also seen it drive people to anti-atheist hate. Most people I know who read this book only got a vague sense of wasting time on garbage. What I’ve never seen is anyone reading this book and evolving in any direction other than the nearest extremism.
          Personally, I only felt sadness that this is the guy that most vocal Atheists take as a flag-bearer. As an Agnostic, I’d like to find actual, sane, moderate Atheists to read about their faith – I found some nice wisdom from other faiths this way. But those tend to be quiet, letting insane old men play hate dealers often without (and that’s the saddest part) being even aware of it.

          • mouton says:

            Seriously, I don’t get how you get extremism from this book. It is far from flawed, yes, but you paint a picture of some crazy ramblings and that’s just isn’t so. This would require a much longer discussion that these comments allow and a re-reading of the book on my part, really. Can you throw some off-hand examples about him being “delusional” and “paranoid”? Don’t blame you if you can’t remember right now, but If you can, please do so that I will be able to check.

            It is also irrelevant how people react to this book – a topic as contentious as this is bound to evoke radical reactions regardless of the tone. Existential issues are a powerful trigger, especially if they reshuffle (or aspire to reshuffle) a worldview.

            As to
            Oh yes, a book called “the God Delusion”, whose introduction explains to you that you will either be convinced or that you are already so brainwashed that all hope is lost for you is in no way a hardline antitheist book.

            You seem to be cherry picking quotes, here. Just checked the preface. The preface is much longer than you seem to imply and talks about religion at length. He also writes:
            “At very least, I hope that nobody who reads this book will be able to say, ‘I didn’t know I could.’ [leave the religion]”

            That a fanatical/delusional/paranoid stance? He also doesn’t use Einstein as an icon for atheism, he provides him as an example of pantheism and says that he can agree with such a view.

          • ThornEel says:

            Sorry for the delayed answer, I couldn’t find my copy of the book – I probably lent to someone and forgot to ask it back. Given that it’s been years, I won’t try to get into the details by memory. Instead, here is why, in all seriousness, I consider it the product of a delusional paranoia.

            Delusional paranoia is a funny thing. You have someone, who can be otherwise perfectly normal, believing something as True. As in, it is physically impossible for them to change their mind about it.
            I’ve once found about an otherwise normal, socially functioning woman who thought that during a night she had spent in a hotel for professional reasons, I kid you not, the government had secretly implanted foetuses under her skin while she was asleep. Surprisingly, she was more furious against the government for doing thing like that (without even asking!) on people, than horrified by the sheer horror the idea would be for someone else.
            AFAICT, she tended to have this kind of things on a semi-regular basis, but forgot about each over time. Other people can be permanently fixed on one thing. And it is not always as outlandish than this extreme case.
            A case I heard about was a man who Knows that his wife is cheating on him (she most probably isn’t AFAICT). So he is always searching for a proof of her infidelity. The tragic part is that he doesn’t really want to find one, because it would mean that he would have to Act (and you can guess why he doesn’t want to).

            Then, problems arise with the fact that it is paranoia. You can’t simply tell them that they are wrong. They Know it is true, so if you say that, it’s that you are one of Them. The “if you aren’t With Us, you are Against Us” is pretty much exactly how paranoia works around the object of said paranoia.
            So you can’t argue with them, you can’t prove them wrong. Even when faced with overwhelming evidence, they will have no choice than either denying it or, if they can’t, having their mind literally blown. That’s a very fundamental truth at the core of their being, that is destroyed.
            And as they know they are Right, they can be downright driven in their attempt to spread the word (and act on it). Like everyone, they range from ineffective to geniuses at it.
            When it is something like the revelation that Man descend from Frog, they are pretty harmless, and may even be mistakenly praised by the Surrealists (true example – at some point I’ll have to trace this book as well). Sometimes, it even makes sense outside of their delusion. Jean Jacques Rousseau was a genius and a stark paranoid (which ended badly for his sanity, in his old days). He is one of the most influential philosophers of his time – whether you agree with him or not, he helped shape the modern philosophical, psychological and sociological landscape. And he invented modern autobiography.
            But when it is a harmful one, then it can be the end of the world. To not move far from Rousseau, one of the best (or rather, worst) examples is Maximilien de Robespierre. He was a brilliant orator, incredibly charismatic and gifted politician. He believed in the Republic at all cost, and invented totalitarianism (to be more precise, he kind of prototyped Soviet communism). Which included mass trials, mass executions, exterminations against uprisers and even ordering a full-blown genocide.
            Somehow, it was what caused his downfall : when Fouché managed to turn the Parliament against him, Saint-Just (who controlled the army) told him that he could simply use the Guard and take military control of the Parliament – to which Robespierre refused and chose suicide. Going against the elected Parliament would have been against his very being. (He missed but broke his jaw, couldn’t use his oratory gifts to turn them back and was guillotined, so it still counts as a suicide IMHO)

            Now, I’ll have to nuance things a bit. Most of the above are extreme examples, not all delusional paranoiacs have such outlandish or harmful delusions, or such strong ones that they are driven to change the world because of it. And while paranoia is a mode of operation for the human mind, not all paranoias are that extreme, and you can find paranoid behaviour, to a lesser extent, among other people (the “Us or Them” is pretty popular).
            I’ll also note that those are a simplified summary. Going further would require more complexities, a book’s length and would be beyond my skills anyway.

            So, to the original point.
            Why do I call Richard Dawkins a delusional paranoid?
            His book simply fits too well into it. This “you will either be convinced or are already too conditioned”, that surprised you I picked up, is a tell-tale. He is Right. So, once exposed to the Truth, of course we can only agree or hopelessly be one of Them.
            (One can also be too stupid to understand the Truth, which doesn’t make one of Them. Which is why asking them ‘innocent’ questions until their latest constructions crumbles upon itself sometimes works, if temporarily until they build a new construction. But this case rarely spontaneously comes to mind, and insulting your readers by saying that some of them are too stupid to get it would be a bad start anyway…)
            The many errors, simplifications and selected half-truths also didn’t strike me as a consistent attempt to deceive, but as someone who Know is right, and as such won’t naturally think about checking facts. You know, when you are so sure about something that you are talking about it without checking, sometimes finding later that you got something mixed up? That was what it looked like to me.
            A minor point, there is also the title, which is too perfect, too fitting for that.
            This is also comforted by what I could get about him outside of the book. For what I’ve heard, people arguing with him agree that he can not even think about being wrong or changing his mind. And even when one let the maximum of concessions for the sake of debate, his reaction is pretty much “… and then they couldn’t even take that last step! How locked their mind is!”.

            Now, I have to say that I don’t hate him. I don’t really resent him, although religious extremism is one of my worst pet peeves, and I classify antitheism as a religious extremism.
            That’s not simply because I consider hate as entirely negative and as one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs to scourge mankind. Though this like of thought helps cooling my head sometimes.
            No, in fact I’m certain that he is otherwise a good man, someone with respectable scientific insight AFAICT, and has the misfortune to be affected by what could be easily classified as a crippling insanity. If it had been about something else, in fact, it may very well have. I do respect him for not choosing the violent way but if he was prosecuted for hate-driving propaganda, I would argue before a tribunal that he can not be held responsible for it.
            Similarly, when I say he is not a genius, by that I mean his writings won’t have the same weight, ultimately, than Rousseau’s Confessions (or his act those of Robespierre, to take the other extreme). For what I know, he could very well be a genius zoologist, or even a genius cook. There are many more geni out there, simply most of them aren’t the flashy kind.

            Now don’t get me wrong. When I say “hate-driving propaganda”, I mean it. As I’ve said before, I’ve seen people consumed by hate after being exposed to this ideology, be it from this book or other sources. Both for or against, but the result is the same. Without taking his author into account, this book is the literary equivalent of nuclear waste – it can only damage and cause problems, not heal or fix.
            I also consider antitheism as the spiritual equivalent of nihilism (or anarchism, for some versions). It brings nothing, only destroys and denies. I doubt it is by chance that his “only real convert” as he said, Douglas Adams, committed suicide. I can’t prove it nor do I want to, but giving how many more depressions there are among atheists than other believers, I would be surprised if there really was no link whatsoever.
            I come down particularly hard on antitheism as at the moment, it is the dominant religious extremism where I live so I’m more exposed to it. But AFAICT, paranoia is actually pretty common among extremists, be them from one religion of another. When you think about it, there is some logic about it: it’s about people who Know they are right, which dispense them to stop and question themselves – something I’ve seen the non-extremist faithful do a lot.

            So, here is my point of view. Whether you agree or not (which is fine either way), I hope it is a satisfactory answer. Sorry for writing such a long response, and for not giving a more detailed analysis of the book and the failings I perceived.
            I wish you the best of luck!

  3. Gap Gen says:


  4. Anthile says:

    I imagine it has something to do with Dawkins being the one coming up with the concept of memetics (in the original sense, not unfunny image macros), which ties heavily into linguistics.