Reflecting on Dawkins vs Pell

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On Easter Monday, the ABC’s Q&A program featured a live debate between evolutionary biologist, author and militant atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins, and Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, on topics of faith, science, history and morality. The show attracted an audience of 863,000, its highest since the coverage of the 2010 Federal election; an indication that faith and God are still of great interest and challenge to Australians.

The next day media headlines included: “Dawkins and Pell battle it out in one hell of a debate” (Sydney Morning Herald), “Adam and Eve? That’s just mythology, says Pell” (The Australian), “Pell, Dawkins wage battle of belief” (The Age), “Heated debate between Cardinal Pell and Professor Dawkins” (CathNews).

When I read these headlines, I thought I must have watched and listened to a different program! Heat or battle I did not observe. I thought it was rather tame, with two disconnected arguments. Neither argument met the other while discussing the profound topic of the mystery of God; one came from a purely scientific point of view and the other from a metaphysical or philosophical perspective. Neither of them expressed any interest or real understanding of the other’s discipline. Each came from a position of certainty so there was no meeting of minds.

In its headline, The Australian reported a level of surprise when the Cardinal described the Genesis accounts of Adam and Eve as sophisticated mythology, and it dismissed mythology as insignificant (as had Dawkins the night before). Any well educated Christian would be fully aware of the implications of this profound religious myth. All cultures have sophisticated myths which tell the story of their search for meaning in life. I was surprised that Dawkins, an avowed atheist and intellectual, knew so little of the body of religious knowledge that he was rejecting.

It became clear to me that science cannot explain ‘the why’ of human life and therefore its meaning and purpose. Science can and has improved our knowledge and understanding of the way the physical world and universe work and we should seek to constantly update ourselves with the findings of science.  Continue reading

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News category: Opinion.

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