Dawkins vs Pell – QandA on ABC TV

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Quick Note, Thoughts | 14 comments

Last night on the ABC the program “Q and A” featured a debate between Dr Richard Dawkins and Archbishop George Pell, and I for one was excited to see this match-up of opinions.

For those who aren’t familiar with the program, it usually has a panel of 5 guests from a varying backgrounds discussing questions posed to them from the audience, via email or via video link. Hosted by Tony Jones, this format is highlighted by the inclusion of onscreen tweets which are chosen by the ABC staff. For me it’s usually a once-a-week opportunity for me to yell at the television, and throw shoes at the screen, and last night’s installment promise to be a night when I should have made sure all smallish objects were out of my reach, lest they be launched through my Sony Vaio.

This week however there were just the two guests, and I’m sure this was done in order to give QandA a “title fight” feel. Most would think that given my preoccupation with religion and the like that this would be just my cup of tea. Not so. To my dismay, last night’s installment was a dull disappointment. Dr Dawkins was quieter than I would have liked, and Archbishop Pell came across as verging on senility. While the questions from the audience and online community were good questions, the answers were nothing short of predictable. Regardless of the content of the questions, the panelists both continually brought the answers back to the topic of whether god existed or not. And as could be predicted, Dawkins said no and Pell said yes.

It struck me last night that the god question is pointless. Either god exists, or god does not exist. If there is a god, what kind of god there is is also a boring question, as it’s all speculation. It’s like asking what colour a unicorn’s favourite pyjamas are. This argument can only go around in circles with the believers claiming belief and the non believers claiming the opposite.

I would much rather the topics be in Dr Dawkins’ field of expertise, biology and science, than the topic of theology. Rather than Dawkins being forced to discredit Pell’s arguments about his belief system, it would have been much more interesting to see Pell being forced to address his own cognitive dissonance about the nature of the universe at the hands of scientific inquiry. Pell should have been subjected to questions about the harm that religion can do to people, rather than speculations about the nature of his own personal Jesus.

The god question/hypothesis is a dead-end, and since they had one of the world’s top popular scientists on the program they could have made it much more interesting. Personally I was bored by the whole exchange. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I’m bored of the arguments launched at atheists again and again. Maybe the frustration at the brick wall of ignorance thrown up by believers has become too much for my tolerance levels. In any case I see it as a wasted opportunity where much more interesting topics could have been discussed.

UPDATE: Dr Dawkins actually comments about the QandA episode below this article at “Why Evolution Is True“.

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14 Comments

  1. The only thing I would say about the “does god exist” question is this.  While us atheists may be tired of it, the fact that it was on ABC may have exposed the topic to a whole new group of people.  For sure there were theists  watching it who will never be swayed from their opinions.  However, there were probably some religious folks watching who fall into the category of “moderates” or “cafeteria”–who knows, maybe Dawkins managed to get some of them to ask themselves the hard questions.  That alone is worth it for me.

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    •  @reasonbeingblog Politically, it might be more important to reveal that Biblical teachings about God are untrustworthy, rather than to convince the public that the God they have in mind doesn’t exist outside it.

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      •  @blamer You might be right, though I am not sure on that.  It seems to be quite a debate between atheist activists on which route to take.  To be honest I have straddled teh fence on it and taken both routes  My only point above, though I can see how my wording prompted your comment, is that exposing a group of people who probably do not think about the theist/atheist debate at all to the idea that there are even questions to be asked is a good thing.

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        •  @reasonbeingblog Absolutely. Social science tells us the deconversion route isn’t one size fits all. What works depends on the audience member’s psychology, personally type, thinking style, etc. Teaching academic facts (science) seems to work for egalitarians, but not authoritarians.
           
          Asking the god question is rallying the non-religious and prompting religious leaders to defend their biblical God. It’s polarising. Either the bible miraculously contains the answer (one god) or their entire religion is profoundly mistaken.
           
          Meanwhile the non-religious centerists are hopefully learning that one god or none, biblical teachings and laws are rediculously out-of-date. That should undermine christianity’s public moralizing and political lobbying for jesus’s biblical laws to be imposed on all us non-christians.
           
          That’s why atheists are now active; church/state separation. Or lack thereof.

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  2. Martin, I thought the standard of the questions was really poor, and that’s why Richard didn’t come across as well as he might have. There was nothing he could get his teeth into. Pell certainly displayed his ignorance and pomposity for all to see.

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    • @GrahamCoghill I agree. Pell’s ignorance surprised me. The format also has it’s constraints and Dawkins did as well as could be expected in the circumstances and with some of the questions presented.

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  3. There is also a post about this debate by Dr. Jerry Coyne on his “Why Evolution is True” blog at:
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/showdown-in-oz-dawkins-vs-cardinal-george-pell/
     
    There are a lot of interesting comments, including one from me; I referred the people there to this post, and posted the last three paragraphs of Mr. Pribble’s post, as I felt they were expressed particularly well.

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  4. What a dreadful audience last night.  Christians at their rudest.

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  5. Martin, I’m not sure you are doing justice to dismiss the question of God’s existence in favour of science etc. Surely it is equally open to question the whole ridiculous hypothesis of who God revealed “himself” to. I’m sure I heard Pell say last night that revelation stopped with Jesus and that he came from an ignorant bunch of farmers as opposed to the intellectually superior Egyptians and Persians.So the idea is that God created the world , let it go for some time then destroyed it again with Noah then let it go till he again revealed himself with Moses and then later with Jesus and the Apostles. Not once did he consider venturing further afield to Asia, Africa, the Americas or Australia. And from out of this came a dogma which will give you an eternal life if you follow the Church’s interpretation. I should also add that last night  Pell  also gave a free pass to anyone of any religion provided they were good so what’s the point of following the Church’s dictates.
     
    My point therefore is we should still go after religious dogmatists for their own stupidity and their imposition of dogma which is counterproductive to the good of mankind until such time as science conclusively proves what sane people already know – the universe evolved out of a big bang and we should make the best of our very limited time here.

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  6. It’s available on ABC iview for the next 13 days for anyone who missed it.
    http://www.abc.net.au/iview/?series=3460300#/recent

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  7. I didn’t watch because it seemed to me I’d hear nothing new from two people I would consider to be the least interesting in the field of modern religious thought due to their extreme dogmatic postions. I like Dawkins but he doesn’t show much understanding of humanity from a realistic perspective. People are in general not rational beings and they often like the mish mash of beliefs they have accumulated.  Christian people  are as varied a bunch as are scientists and many are practical atheists. I call myself christian and I am happy to be called atheist . 
    On another stream of thought I am also just a bit bored of  simplistic arguments that religion has harmed humanity , god causes wars etcetera. This gives away responsibilty for human destructiveness just as blaming god or devil for it does with a certain kind of believer.  70 people died at a soccer match recently. Soccer is evil. The poms are always fighting at matches. :)

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  8. I saw the debate on the internet, and was not impressed. Richard Dawkins was not his usual self, perhaps a bit jet-lagged? Pell was just the usual Pell. It was a bit embarrassing for Pell when he said that he thought humans evolved from Neanderthals. Overall the whole thing didn’t work.
     
    Off topic, I’ve just got to say that the new design of your site is beautiful. If only more web pages were up to the standard of this site, the internet would be a better place. I hope your recent competition against PZ will bring you some more readers, from PZ’s immense hordes.

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  9. Some scientists do believe that populations of Europeans are partially descended from Neanderthals due to interbreeding. Pell was not so far off as Dawkins seemed to claim, although Pell couldn’t articulate the theory. Dawkins should have known that…

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    •  @asda Not surprising that Pell can’t articulate primate evolution, just disappointing he can’t articulate why modern Church teachings mustn’t be updated to fit with scientific discoveries about this world.

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