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.