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Tuesday, April 10, 2012



Dawkins was pretty weak and obnoxious. Pell was pretty weak as well, and seemed to get annoyed as time went on. Pell dropped the ball in a few places and even misconstrued Catholic teaching on a few things. Disappointing all around.


Cardinal Pell is a fine leader and I like him a lot for his tough leadership qualities but he's not theologically sophisticated enough to defend the Church's teaching in certain areas with the requisite speed, subtly and wit to be able to persuade those either on the fence or on the other side to sit up and take notice. For example, all he had to say when asked if he believed in evolution was to immediately answer yes and then expand on it by raising one or two key and easily understood reservations. You can’t afford to begin to answer even one question foolishly in a debate like that. The only forgivable though annoying mistake one may ever make in such a debate is to agree far more with one’s opponent that should really be the case. Father Lorenzo Albacete did so against Hitchens, and by doing so, played for a draw.

Simon Russell

I thought Cardinal Pell did really well and offered many good arguments against Richard Dawkins.

I was, however, very concerned to hear what he said about Adam & Eve and the Genesis Account. I thought it was official Church teaching that you were required to believe that Adam & Eve were real people. Richard Dawkins himself pointed out the obvious implication about original sin – “Well, I’m curious to know if Adam and Eve never existed where did original sin come from?”

This is from the transcript:

GEORGE PELL: Well, Adam and Eve are terms – what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.

TONY JONES: But it isn’t a literal truth. You shouldn’t see it in any way as being an historical or literal truth?

GEORGE PELL: It’s certainly not a scientific truth and it’s a religious story told for religious purposes.


Cardinal Pell's comments about Jews were not very comforting either. They feed into the claims of anti-semitism that some charge against the Church and especially against the Curia and many cardinals.

First, his claim about Jews being intellectually inferior than other ancient cultures got muddied because the moderator intervened and the Cardinal did not seem to clarify sufficiently what the point was ... at least did not do so without sounding negative towards the Jews.

Secondly, and I think more importantly, Cardinal Pell may have been trying to make a valid point about German suffering but it was lost since he did so after a comment about Jews which made him sound like he was minimizing Jewish suffering at the hands of Germany:

GEORGE PELL: [...] He helped probably through secondary causes for the Jews to escape and continue. It is interesting through these secondary causes probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It is a terrible mystery.

TONY JONES: There would be a very strong argument saying that the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans.

GEORGE PELL: Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both I mean the Jews there was no reason why they should suffer.

Might be right?

Tom Hockel

I agree that Cardinal Pell badly dropped the ball in some places (including those cited above) but it was truly appalling when the crowd perversely laughed after he commented on "preparing some English boys for First Holy Communion." It rather tellingly displayed the prevalent mindset of much of the audience. Unfortunately, it also suggests that the audience was unlikely to be disposed to know the truth when they heard it since, as Aquinas explained, whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. I thought Dawkins' most remarkable statement in the debate was his dogma that asking why the universe (and we) exist "isn't a valid question" and it's a "silly" question with "no meaning." Of course, that arises out of the a priori rejection of final causality. I'd suggest Dawkins read "Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species and Evolution" by Etienne Gilson but I doubt he could get through it!

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