April 12, 2012 | Graham

Q&A’s Neanderthal dilemma

Greg Sheridan thinks that George Pell won Monday night’s debate about religion and atheism. I disagree. A man in Pell’s position ought to know much more about fundamental issues than Pell seemed to.

That doesn’t mean that I think Dawkins won. His performance too was second rate, justifying in this instance Sheridan’s description of him as a “C” list celebrity.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the argument they had about whether homo sapiens is descended from Neanderthal. The problem is that Pell thought we are, and Dawkins thought we aren’t.

Both positions are wrong.

The correct position is that we are mostly not descended from Neanderthals, but as there was some small degree of interbreeding, there is some small degree of descent.

Pell should have known this as a matter of general knowledge, and so much more should Dawkins, as the expert in such matters.

Dawkins probably did (how could he not), but probably chose to ignore it in the interests of not complicating his argument or his sneer at Pell.

Which is the problem with Q&A – it’s sideshow and spectacle, not serious intellectual endeavour. A problem which is worsened by host Tony Jones flip and sanctimonious interventions. Time to move him on and put a better performer into the spot. Geraldine Doogue would most likely have made a much more satisfactory moderator and interlocutor.

The debate was supposed to be about whether religion makes the world a better place or not, but instead of dealing with that it hared off down so many rabbit holes, like the neanderthal one, that the topic was never really discussed.

That made the television audience vote at the end on the proposition essentially meaningless because the debate had simply failed to address it. A pity because the idea of an audience vote has some merit, although not in the crude way that Q&A is currently using it.

Posted by Graham at 11:15 pm | Comments (11) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Q&A fails as a medium for debate because of both the host and the because the questions are often asked to prompt the “bleeding obvious” answer. The host is too often a biased interventionist.

    Where Q&A shines, rarely, is when the questions address underlying value systems and formation of those values. Often political opponents will share similar experiences but aspects of their life make them respond differently. It is when those aspects are explored that Q&A is worth watching.

    I would rather understand how our leader “tick” than how they respond to immediate problem of the day.

    Comment by Joe McKay — April 13, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  2. Look, I didn’t watch the whole tv programme nor did I twitter, email Q&A. Raised as a Catholic but rejected it by teens, I wondered (1) why would anyone want to EAT someone else’s body and blood in communion? Other Christian religions look at it as sharing bread, a meal, etc. (2) what was there before the Big Bang? Something or nothing?

    Comment by Dana — April 13, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

  3. On the whole I was disappointed. Both were surprisingly shallow (both were dogmatic; Pell was ponderous and Dawkins argumentative and seemingly jet-lagged), but I guess I was hankering for a deeper discussion of the competing philosophies. Neither made a compelling case. As one twitterer mentioned, the forum needed Christopher Hitchens.

    Comment by Purplehue — April 13, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

  4. Didn’t see it and don’t care Graham.It is not a matter of which diety you suck up to,but how you treat your fellow man.The concept of god is just another expression of our arrogance.

    Treat other people like inferior slaves and you shall reap what you sew.The Western Elites are about to realise this truth.

    Comment by Ross — April 13, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

  5. I’m not sure that Hitchens would have been any more enlightening Purplehue, but probably more urbane. I don’t have any problems with the atheist position – I was there once myself – but I do have a problem with the vilification of religion that Dawkins indulges in, and Hitchens was another.

    The idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is a force for evil is a slander against not only the institution, but the very many good people who are practicing members and believers, and so completely flies in the face of reality that one is left scratching for a word other than “evil” to describe it.

    Comment by Graham — April 14, 2012 @ 11:55 am

  6. George Pells complete lack of knowledge at 71 years of age is astounding. With his total lack of common sense,etc, lucky for him he found his niche in an institution that is based on total lies and make believe, he would have been totally unemployable, living on the streets as a homeless person. If that is the caliber of intellect in the catholic church, it’s time to close up shop! I think it is time for the roman catholic church to sell all assets, robes and pomp and give it to who is deserving- the worlds sick, poor and starving. Religious beliefs and doctrines truly are evil on earth. Spirituality is calming,caring and nuturing. PS on q & a George continually avoided discussing his religion, trying to talk science instead,with total failure.

    Comment by Jan Olson — April 14, 2012 @ 1:26 pm

  7. As a side note, keep your eyes peeled on rome in may 2012. Pope benedict XV1 will retire or die, paving the way for the last pope “Peter Romanus (the roman)”,who will try to buy his followers back, lost by disbelief. Don’t be sucked in! Look into this institutions past history- makes the roman empire,hilter,statlin and the like, look like pacifists! A truly cruel and dictatorial lot, the roman catholics! I want all the science,astrology and other works that have been confiscated by RC’s over the many centuries,returned to all society. Why do the inhabitants of the vatican dress like caesar and his senators? Because there is no difference between them, except the later is far more dictatorial and cruel. Lucky it is 2012, a new era is to come and there is no place in this new era for religions like RC. We need enlightenment not the evils of the past dictators of rightousness

    Comment by Jan Olson — April 14, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  8. Religion or atheism is a personal and free choice of every human being. Christianity is a combination of many churches, so is Islam with various branches, as is Hinduism. Each has its own rituals and ceremonies and all are not evil or dictatorial.The Salvos do so much good and help the poor and suffering, Mother Teresa & her sisters of Charity of Calcutta opened her institution run on donations to all denominations of people in dire conditions and need – she said every human being should be able to die with dignity. She picked up all the waifs and strays off the streets, the dying and diseased the homeless,if they died she gave each individual the funeral as per their religion regardless of her being an RC. She did not ill treat anyone or be cruel to anyone. The Salvos are an open institution as well. Therefore the people who condemn religions wholesale because of their rituals or ceremonies etc,are not perfect humans,none of us are. Would they do some of the things that religious institutons or other such bodies do??? Because there are a few bad eggs in the basket all are not bad. These fault finders and critics perhaps are more radical than the ones they are condemning and because of their lack of knowledge or understanding and base their judgements with bitterness by only looking at the negatives. Also notice there is a lot of criticism of the cruelty of RC’s what about some of the radical and fanatical practices of Islamic people,like the terrorists and Taliban and communistic people who dont have any religious beliefs.
    Think before mouthing off opinions. It is people who are without sufficient knowledge who make these radical and offensive general statements. One needs to be fair and not ready to condemn. One has got to be aware that there is good and bad in all things in life.This has always been so and will always be so.

    Comment by peejay — April 16, 2012 @ 12:39 am

  9. Religion can be a comfort to many and good works are performed by sincere Christians as they are by atheists. However, religion remains the biggest hoax in all of humanity and George Pell’s dismal performance on Q&A dispelled any doubts I may have had.

    Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical Christian and now agnostic professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina claims to unveil “one of the most unsettling ironies of the early Christian tradition”: the use of deception to promote the truth.

    “The Bible not only contains untruths of accidental mistakes. It also contains what almost anyone today would call lies,” Ehrman writes in “Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.”

    “From the first century to the twentieth century, people who have called themselves Christian have seen fit to fabricate, falsify, and forge documents, in most instances in order to authorize views that they wanted others to accept.”


    Might I add that I worked very happily with the Catholic clergy for a decade. On asking one of the clergy what he thought of the magnificent churches in Italy, he replied: “I wouldn’t go in those churches, they were all built on poor people’s money.”

    Comment by The Slow Awakening — April 16, 2012 @ 3:47 am

  10. I didn’t last too long watching it – the neanderthal bit killed it for me.

    Making stuff up is so much less interesting than the discoveries that non-African sapiens share neanderthal genes. Australians and Papuans but no others have denisovan genes. Sapiens have been around for >100k years.

    QandA is nothing more than there to transmit rubbish and made up stuff. And this cannot be good.

    Even worse, QandA intends to have a climate science “debate”. Nick Minchin and Anna Rose and probably some more ex-pollies and activists. They could have had a panel of climate scientists exploring what is the consensus, and where the experts disagree or agree on more investigation is needed. This would be immensely informative.

    Instead, ABC transmits rubbish. Does the ABC serve a function anymore? Should it be defunded or flogged off?

    Comment by Dave McRae — April 16, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  11. The most magnificant revelations about the Universe were done not by Jesus or the Old Testament.Einstein and other physists have shown mathematically that space,time and matter are intimately connected.Space is not empty nor time disconnected from it.Theoretically we can travel through time and via black holes and connect with other dimensions.Who needs the miracle of the loaves and fishes with these realities?

    If we look at the true magic of what they have discovered,you don’t need the humbuggery of traditional religions to inspire you.

    Comment by Ross — April 23, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

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