The Dawkins vs Pell debate

On Easter Monday, 2012, I was staying with my friend at her beach house at Rosedale on the NSW south coast. I whipped up a gourmet meal, and we pulled up our armchairs, food bowls on laps, to watch the ABC’s flagship current issues program, Q&A. Professional atheist, and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins was debating with Cardinal George Pell, head of the Catholic Church in Australia.

One of the debaters, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, above, in full regalia.
BTW, did God really say that men should wear funny hats?

What a schemozzle the debate was!

English: Richard Dawkins giving a lecture base...

English: Richard Dawkins giving a lecture based on his book, The God Delusion, in Reykjavik (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Dawkins was very defensive. I don’t know why, because he would have faced every question many times before. At the beginning when some Pell supporter applauded, he commented about the audience being one-sided. His applause came later. Then he forgot the name of someone he said he knew really well, apologised to her and said he was jet lagged. He should have apologised to the Australian audience.  If you are a major speaker in a high profile national television program, you have a duty to arrive early enough to get over your jet lag. We are a remote country, but I believe planes fly in every day. I thought it was really disrespectful to the Australian audience.

I get sick of international celebrity speakers coming over here where they have a captive audience, being unprepared and just making use of us for their own ends. Richard, you can do better than that! Sometimes the comments made by the debaters were so stupid that the audience laughed, and Richard Dawkins would say “What’s so funny about that? Why are you laughing?” which just made people laugh all the more through embarrasment.

Then George Pell seemed so incoherent that my friend wondered whether he was drunk. We decided he wasn’t – he just wasn’t making much sense.

He also showed his ignorance in several ways. He stated that humans originated in South Africa. Well, excuse me, the last time I looked at a map, the Laetoli Gorge was in Tanzania. Then he said that Neanderthals were human ancestors. The scientific evidence and the vast majority of scientific opinion is that they were not, although we probably shared a common ancestor. As Richard Dawkins replied, “the Neanderthals were our cousins”.

He didn’t seem to grasp the elements of the Big Bang theory, at least “the standard model” as it’s called. Nor did he seem to realise that Catholics don’t have a problem with the Big Bang theory. In fact, the first men to propose it was a Catholic priest. In 1931 George Lemaître suggested that the observed expansion of the universe, if projected back in time, meant that the further in the past the smaller the universe was, until at some finite time in the past all the mass of the Universe was concentrated into a single point, a “primeval atom” where and when the fabric of time and space came into existence.

Lemaître’s work is consistent with observations by astronomers, consistent with Edwin Hubble’s work, endorsed by Einstein, and was vindicated by the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation shortly before his death in 1966.

Then George Pell made some astonishing remarks that Jews were intellectually inferior, not just because they were pastoralists when Jesus was on Earth, but as he implied, they were dumber than other pastoralist of the day. What was he thinking?! Another atheist, Christopher Hitchens, who died last year, asked the question “why would God choose to reveal himself to a bunch of middle-eastern pastoralists two thousand years ago?” Why not send Jesus to China, which was a literate and far more advanced civilisation at the time? Maybe it’s because we then would not have had 2000 years of metaphorical references to shepherds and sheep. As a modern woman of the 21st century, how am I supposed to feel when the hymn (All people that on Earth do dwell) says that God “doth take me for a sheep”? The only shepherd sleeping on my bed is of the German variety.

To read Tess Lawrence’s punchy review of the debate, see:

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