QandA – Dawkins and Pell

As I watched QandA last night on television, I was reminded that Australia is a great country to live in. Professor Richard Dawkins, probably the world’s most famous atheist, debating Cardinal George Pell, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Sydney. Religions in conflict. Worldviews clashing. Freedom to speak your mind. This would never happen in some parts of the world. People are threatened with censorship, imprisonment, beatings, even death if they challenge another’s beliefs. Australia is a great country to live in because we are free to disagree. We are free to argue and persuade and critique and defend our beliefs. May it ever be so.

The debate itself left me somewhat disappointed. My chief concern was that Biblical Christianity was not well represented. Cardinal Pell made some curious comments about ‘atheists’ going to heaven, a place of purification for people not ready for heaven, bread and wine turning into the body and blood of Jesus, and the like. Dawkins was also bemused by Pell’s equivocation about a real Adam and Eve.

At times both Pell and Dawkins seemed to argue the case in areas beyond their expertise. Dawkins conceded that he was not a physicist as he sought to explain, in ‘layman’s terms’, how something can be created out of nothing. Pell got drawn into justifying scientific standpoints, when he was clearly unclear about the details. He had obviously done some homework in preparation for the debate, but it reminded me of a student swatting up a few exam questions, knowing they would likely come up. Dawkins was challenged with the ‘why’ question about existence. The question of meaning and purpose. His response was to ridicule the question as a ‘non-question’. At this point he had assumed his conclusion that there is no God. If you postulate a creator God, then the ‘why’ question is very meaningful indeed.

As could have been expected, Pell was challenged about his personal views on global warming, about the church’s attitude toward homosexual marriage, and there were snickers when he spoke of ‘preparing boys’ for their first communion. Sadly, religion was pitted against science, on the assumption that faith is incompatible with a scientific worldview. This wasn’t a debate of Christianity versus atheism. It was much murkier than this.

My biggest concern was that the very heart of Christian faith was largely ignored in this debate. While being promoted as an Easter edition of QandA, the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday were not properly addressed. Sadly, it was Dawkins, not Pell, who most accurately described the meaning and significance of the cross for Christians. The Cardinal didn’t focus people’s attention on Jesus. The evidence of the empty tomb and the witnesses who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus didn’t rate a mention. All in all, it was most unsatisfying.

My hope and prayer is that this debate will stimulate discussion, thinking and investigation. There must be better answers than what we heard last night. What does the Bible actually say? Who was Jesus? How is it that one man has left a mark on billions? Are we simply the product of time plus matter plus chance? Is death really the end? Is there evidence that Jesus rose bodily from the dead? Is there more clarity available?

And for Christians, let’s open our Bibles and read. And let’s listen to what others are saying, to understand their arguments and concerns, and to seek to understand them. Let’s take the time to truly know more of what we believe and what others believe. Let’s take the opportunities to talk rationally and clearly about the genuine hope that we have. Let’s seek to point people to the one we follow, Jesus Christ. As the first follower of Jesus, the apostle Peter, said:

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…  (1 Peter 3:15)

13 thoughts on “QandA – Dawkins and Pell”

  1. I thought it ironic that when Dawkins was talking about Matter and Anti Matter, that those two things were tangible something’s. Overall from an Evangelical position, it was disappointing, but we have to remember the positional framework in which Pell is coming from. And I don’t think either Pell or Dawkins answered the thematic questions of Q & A last night.

  2. Yes I agree the focus must have been on Jesus, through Jesus you can prove that God exist. Jesus is the way, the truth and Life, no one come to the Father except through Him.

  3. Thanks Dave, this expresses exactly how I felt about the debate (which to be honest, I regularly muted because it was so painful on both sides!) George Pell seems like a genuine believer and did his best, but I would love to have seen Sydney’s other Archbishop on the panel!

  4. Thanks for your thoughts Dave. It’s probably little consolation to hear that Dawkins represented my views as an atheist about as well as Cardinal Pell represented yours.

    It seemed as though they’d deliberately set up the show to promote adversarialism, with just those two guests. Unfortunate, when there are so many people in Australia who could’ve contributed to a far more illuminating discussion.

  5. Well said. I agree. Certainly Pell could have made great mileage, and taken much refuge in what we do know, through Jesus – and that is that God has entered our world. The coming of Jesus into our world means “we” (this is, the disciples directly) have seen, touched and heard (1John 1:1-3) God himself, in the Person of The Son. So, this mystery is revealed – however much else of the renewed heaven and earth, remains to be unveiled. ….

    And yea, he could also have added that sin has deeply affected us all, and our response to God and his world… so that, like all others, the atheist and the homosexual person do not think and act entirely truly, and with unquestionable nobility, in all they say and do.

    I would also like to have seem Pell spell out further, that, to refuse redemption, and eternal life, through our dear Lord Jesus, would make no sense. But it remains an option!

  6. In response to the Q&A Dawkins/Pell debate vote on religion, I can think of no better defence of religion being a source for good in the world, than that made by your own Ross Gittins in “What Jesus said about capitalism” April 9 (BusinessDay): “Jesus was always blessing the poor, challenging the rich, mixing with despised tax-gatherers and speaking of a time when the social order is overturned and “the last shall be first”.

    What Jesus said about capitalism (Ross Gittins)

  7. I was surprised to hear Dawkins admit that even if a ‘900 foot Jesus’ stood in front of him and said, ‘I exist’, he still wouldn’t believe that God exists. This is an amazing admission that Dawkins is not interested in investigating evidence to make a reasoned conclusion about God. There goes any claim of neutrality. Of course, Pell completely missed this. Tony Jones seemed more on the ball about the significance of this than Pell.

  8. I thought the one that was let through to the keeper was Dawkin’s assertion (several times) that whilst he believes that Darwinian evolution (survival of the fittest) got us to where we are, he would certainly not want to live in a society ruled by those principles. This seems to say that Dawkins wants to halt human evolution at its current state. A consistent evolutionist would surely accept that a Darwinian oriented society is essential to further development of the human species.
    It seems that Prof Dawkins is caught in the same web Christians often find themselves in. To state a consistent position would fly in the face of politically correct public opinion, so he has sacrificed consistency in order to make his position more appealing to the general public. A ‘survival of the fittest’ society sounds awful because it is – just look at some of the African and Middle Eastern states.
    In some ways this is one of the starkest contrasts between atheistic evolutionism and Christianity. Christians view our fellow humans as made in God’s image, and so deserving of respect. A consistent evolutionist must see great segments of humanity as inferior; hopefully to be weeded out in the next iteration.

  9. Dawkins was strident in his argument with Christianity and Pell didn’t seem to have a grasp of the Gospel. Give me a Lennox debate with Dawkins or Hitchens (now deceased) any day.

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