Showdown in Oz: Dawkins vs. Cardinal George Pell

Here, courtesy of alert reader Stan, is yesterday’s Q&A debate in Australia between Richard Dawkins and George Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney.  The debate takes the form of both men answering questions posed in advance by readers. I haven’t yet watched the hour-long debate, but am putting it up so readers can see it in a timely fashion.

What is notable here, at least as reported by The Australian, is that Pell admits that Adam and Eve are complete fictions:

AUSTRALIA’S Cardinal George Pell has described the biblical story of Adam and Eve as a sophisticated myth used to explain evil and suffering rather than a scientific truth.

Cardinal Pell last night appeared on the ABC’s Q&A program, where he was debating British evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins.

Cardinal Pell said humans “probably” evolved from Neanderthals but it was impossible to say exactly when there was a first human. “But we have to say if there are humans, there must have been a first one,” he said.

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve as the first man and woman.

Asked by journalist Tony Jones if he believed in the existence of an actual Garden of Eden with an Adam and Eve, Cardinal Pell said it was not a matter of science but rather a beautiful mythological account.

“It’s a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and the suffering in the world,” he said.

“It’s certainly not a scientific truth. And it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.”

This is curious because it violates the Catholic Church’s official attitude toward the Primal Couple.  The Catholic Catechism, for example, states:

390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.264 Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.265

. . . 397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of.278 All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”.279

399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness.280 They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.281

. . . 402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.”289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.”290

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”.291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

I wonder if the good Cardinal will now be excommunicated? Don’t count on it—the Vatican tends to turn a blind eye toward these local violations of dogma.

The Cardinal went on to blame atheism for Hitler and Stalin:

Cardinal Pell argued that the “great atheist movements” of Hitler and Stalin were the personification of social Darwinism.

“It’s the struggle for survival, the strong take what they can, and the weak give what they must and there’s nothing to restrain them.” he said. “And we’ve seen that in the two great atheist movements of the last century.”


  1. Fred Keeley
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    I think it’s time we put the “Hitler was/wasn’t a catholic’’ issue to bed (along with the inevitable Pol Pot/Stalin/Mao arguments)with a change of tack.

    The Hitler-was-a-catholic argument, rightly or wrongly, comes across as special pleading. Arguments attempting to distance Mao/Stalin etc. from an atheistic motivation have a similar weakness.

    If we argue that morality is a human (as opposed to Christian) invention it follows that atheists (being human) are quite capable of morality. It also follows that atheists and Christians (also being human) are both capable of immoral acts. The argument is that Christians are no more moral than atheists.

    Since Christians claim special ownership of morality they must show that they are (and always have been) more moral than everyone else. ’Everyone else’ includes atheists along with all other religions/philosophies. Since the sins of Christians are legion, this would appear to be a difficult case to prosecute.

    The associated sound byte is:
    “Humans invented morality. Christianity just stole the patent”

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      & I’m so stealing that!


  2. Liz Naples
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I watched the whole debate, and I totally agree with Dr. Dawkins. I myself was very annoyed by the inappropriately-timed snickering and laughing of an obviously immature and ignorant audience. What was up with that?!

    No matter… it was clear to me that Dr. Dawkins won the bout with both hands tied behind his back.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      One can easily imagine Hitchens’s response to “snickering and laughing.”

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:23 am | Permalink

      That’s one angle I think Richard got wrong, the irritation at the sniggering, possibly due to jet lag, but I’ve seen him respond similarly before.

      It appeared to me that at least on some points the laughter was from Richard’s supporters, laughing at the the fact that some people would believe the position he was criticising.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

        I had that impression too. I think Dr Dawkins did very well most of the time, but it’s a pity he allowed his irritation at the laughter to show. (Okay, I know, easy to criticise, hard to do).

      • Filippo
        Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

        ” . . . the irritation at the sniggering . . . .”

        Just how forbearing and “accommodating” must Professor Dawkins be? To what behavioral standard ought the “sniggering class” be held?

        Professor Dawkins’s experience reminds me of that of a teacher in an Amuricun middle school, dealing on a daily basis with those who “don’t know that they don’t know.” Per Darwin, “We bear the stamp of our lowly origin.”

        There’s an old American pop song, “Blame It on My Youth.” Perhaps it should be retitled, “Blame It on My Willfull Ignorance.”

  3. Jim Jones
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    “Humans invented morality. Christianity just stole the patent”

    Not so much IMO. Religion pretends to morality – it fakes it.

    Religion, including Christianity, is at one end of the spectrum. Morality is at the other.

    Religion is doing what you are told regardless of what is right.

    Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told.

  4. stevelockstep
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Dawkins, you’re a hero of mine. The Selfish Gene changed my life at age 20, wonderfully broadening my perspective from physics to a comprehensive understanding of evolution. I saw that teleology was dead; it rounded out my atheism.

    I was sorely disappointed all round by the Q&A performance. I would have put it down to a bad night — as you should have yourself. But I’m aghast to find you making lame excuses, even blaming the umpire.

    FFS Dawkins, it wasn’t Tony Jones’ fault! You let Pell off the hook time and time again. In a most egregious debating snafu, you had a Catholic Cardinal concede that we’re descended from other primates but instead of taking Pell back through time where we should have all seen his god shrink to nothingness, you jumped absurdly and grandiosely on his trivial misunderstanding of the status of the Neanderthals. That soooo was not the point!

    [You may not have noticed but your pedantic detour has this morning energised one of the worst loonies of the Australian right, Andrew Bolt, who has dug up some tidbits about hominid inter-breeding with Neanderthals implying we might be descended from "cousins" after all.]

    Jet lag notwithstanding it looks to many us atheists like your indignation with religion has got the better of you. As we say in Australian football mate, you have to play the ball and not the man.

    • Filippo
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Everybody rides the bucking horse better than the guy riding it.

      • stevelockstep
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        Dawkins was never really on the horse in the first place.

    • SLC
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Interbreeding /= descended from. In order to interbreed, both subspecies (humans and neanderthals are sub species of Homo sapiens) had to exist previously.

      • stevelockstep
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        Yes yes. But …
        My point was that Dawkins had a Cardinal on the run for chrissake. Dawkins got Pell to concede that humans are descended from non-humans, but instead of pressing his advantage, he went screaming off into a pedantic sideline. He lost the moment. He got lost in the noise. If Dawkins could just keep his cool, we would have seen headlines in the morning like “Cardinal Pell admits Genesis a myth; humans really descended from fish”.

        • silkworm
          Posted April 14, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          That’s exactly what we did see. Yahoo7 had Pell’s blunder on Adam and Eve being a myth as one of its headlines. So did the SMH.

  5. Derek Morr
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Where did they find this Cardinal? He had nothing interesting, or even coherent, to say. It was useless babble all the way.

  6. Anna
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    I rejected religion at 13 after reading the Bible (I don’t recommend it, very boring), but could not at such a young age come up with something better, so I discovered the word agnostic. Then I read The God Delusion when I was 17 and became enlightened. So, thank you Richard Dawkins for that. Really, thank you. (Don’t worry, I don’t take it as dogma, I have my own opinions too!)

    I thoroughly agree with religionenslaves, you cannot carry out a debate if one side doesn’t play by the rules. In this case, there is one rule – logic.

    Also, every time Pell opened his mouth (or gesticulated, prevaricated or otherwise sidestepped a question), he revealed just how little of the literature he had read, and of that, how little of it he (or his data monk-eys) understood.

    Not the best debate. I come out feeling annoyed at the ABC, which makes me sad, disgusted by members of society who regard Pell as an intellectual and so respect his opinions, but mostly in the mood for Doctor Who. Although that could be because of Ant and Stevelockstep…

  7. simple or not
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:12 am | Permalink

    quite astounding how many “scientists” in here will debate till their last breath on the subject of defining nothing

    nothing equals nothing – pretty simple really, or are we really that bored?

    • SLC
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Not true. The “nothing” of the quantum vacuum is not the same as the classically defined nothing of empty space.

  8. Jolo
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I found this article which carefully explains how Dawkins was demolished by Pell:

    The final reflection is that we should realise what a remarkable, and internationally important, figure Pell is.

    Uhm, yeah…

  9. l4manga
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Just watched this. Towards the end of the Q&A the Bish just begins to babble inanely to avoid, I believe, answering the tough questions.

    I wish Dawkins had pressed him on to what extent he believes some of the Bible to be literally true, and which bits he considers to be metaphor.

  10. Paul
    Posted March 15, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    It’s interesting that he claims Darwin is a Theist – and quotes “Page 92″ of his Autobiography.

    Which is an out and out lie.

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  2. [...] Showdown in Oz: Dawkins vs. Cardinal George Pell « Why Evolution Is True [...]

  3. [...] Dr Dawkins actually comments about the QandA episode below this article at “Why Evolution Is True“. VN:F [1.9.14_1148]please wait…Rating: 7.9/10 (10 votes cast)VN:F [1.9.14_1148]Rating: +5 [...]

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  6. [...] Showdown in Oz: Dawkins vs. Cardinal George Pell ( [...]

  7. [...] other or with other people who are either welcoming or or antagonistic. Snippets of Dawkins’ debate with Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia certainly show how loathsome Pell is. You also get [...]

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