Pell v Dawkins


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  1. SimonR says:

    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.

  2. Andrew says:

    I watched this entire segmente and now I want to bang my head against a cement wall!
    Not really! But here is something that kept coming to my mind: the atheists speak of suffering. And I find it curious. If one believes that all reality is composed of material particles going through a series of developments: if that is true then how do you arrive at a concept of suffering? I mean, if there is nothing but matter which is evolving according to predetermined physical characteristics, at what point does it arrive to where it (the matter which includes human beings) says: “I am not content with this current state of being: I am suffering”. Shouldn’t an atheist who believes in material evolution deny the possibility of suffering? How can a progression of material mutations arrive at “suffering”? And the same can be said of many other concepts used in this discussion: for example how can Dawkins say “I wish?” What is a wish if one does not accept any other reality but that of a physical matter? It seems to me that by the fact that we speak, and think, and wish, and disagree and suffer: by that very fact we have moved beyond the purely materialistic concept of the universe. How could atoms wish for anything? And how could atoms suffer?
    I suspect that in the final judgement indeed “our own words will condemn us” because we knew the truth all along, but we were keen on denying it.

  3. MarkJ says:

    Cardinal Pell is dead wrong about Adam and Eve. In order to have Original Sin, you have to have Adam and Eve as the first two humans who disobeyed God. No Original Parents, no Original Sin. He seems to have bought the Modernist arguments on this one. Bishops need to stop sowing confusion if we ever want to rebuild the Church…

  4. Andrew says:


    The Cardinal was very brave to step into that ring surrounded by a mostly hostile crowd, including the host. He was there to evangelize, not to engage in polemics. They hurled every kind of baggage at him and he kept his composure. This was not a place to explore advanced theological concepts. He had to accommodate his language to the level of the audience. He did well not to get drawn into making any statements that would have left the impression of not being open minded. He skillfully avoids making a specific statement about Adam and Eve (notice his circumlocution): which, in the given setting was very prudent. You cannot feed meat to infants: you’ve got to start with milk.

  5. St. Louis IX says:

    I see a real problem with the Adam and Eve (STORY?) account.
    Seems to me that is a very basic cornerstone of the Fall of Man(factual account). Milk that completes the meat if you will.
    No original sin (actual 1st parent account) = denial of the need for salvation=denial of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross=Denial of Christianity as absolute truth (revealed religion)= universal salvation=the practical atheism= Great apostasy…
    Woe to us

  6. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about the theological finer points of original sin, but geneticists and anthropologists say that all of us are descended from one woman (as shown by mDNA) and at least all men are descended from one man. It appears that these two ancestors did not live at the same time, but why can’t original sin be committed and passed from only one parent? When Pius XII made his statement in the 50’s, he was answering biologists who said that there was no single woman nor single man from which we are all descended. Biologists think differently now.

  7. Lurker 59 says:

    n reading over the transcript, Cardinal Pell is parsing words in regards to Adam and Eve. He is asked “You shouldn’t see it in any way as being an historical or literal truth?” His answer though doesn’t answer the question because he is talking about different categories. He states that the account is two things 1.) not scientific truth. 2.) a religious story told for religious purposes. Now scientific truth is a different category than historical truth. Scientific truth is truth backed by empirical evidence — it is true because you can test it, experience it, observe it. A historical truth means that the event is contained within the historical record and we have evidence for that, and most of the time that evidence is not scientific. Now Cardinal Pell says that it is a religious story. This shouldn’t be a problem but I think that his usage of “story” is what bothers most people. The creation account is not a history book in the terms of what constitutes a modern book of history. Blow by blow chronology without interpretation is not a style of historical writing that you find in the ancient period it is a later development. History is always rendered in terms of meaning not chronology — a true myth. For lack of a better word, its a story — though perhaps there are indeed better words to describe a non-historical writing that actually happened. It is also probably wise to understand the term “religious” in a more narrow Catholic sense. Religious is a category of truth for Catholics — the focus of truth is on religious things here particularly man and creations relationship with God not on empirical or scientific truth.

    Thus Cardinal Pell is not saying that Adam and Eve didn’t exist.

  8. Jon says:

    Evidently His Eminence didn’t brush up on Humani Generis before the debate.

    “37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”

    I once asked a rather well-known FSSP from Australia about Cardinal Pell. I mentioned my thought that he was a conservative. The priest said, “No, he’s just the best of the worst.”

    The priest now seems sadly right. I considered Cardinal Pell worthy papabile at one time. No more.

  9. anilwang says:

    Andrew, actually an atheist would argue that suffering is merely a mechanism to ensure the safety of the species. It would be lethal to you if a tiger started biting your leg and you didn’t react immediately and instead focused on finishing your crossword.

    But you are right that materialism making atheism inconsistent. Take knowledge, for instance. Why should an atheist care about science and knowledge? Isn’t knowledge just copying something out there in the universe and representing it in the molecules of your mind? What’s the value of that? If copying is a virtue, then salt crystals are more virtuous than us. If the reasons for copying is survival, then again salt crystals in caverns last millions of years, so they are more valuable than us. Knowledge has no value in a materialistic world.

    Take Darwinism for a moment. Two “goals” of Darwinism are the survival of the fittest and having a large number of children. Contraception is absolutely against Darwinism. Ironically, even eugenics is against Darwinism since genetic variability enhances the survival of species and even genes that seem defective might be a benefit in another environment (e.g. people with sickle cell anemia are immune to malaria) and vice versa (giraffes are horribly disadvantaged in places without trees). So an atheistic Darwinists should be pro-life!

    It’s not too hard to get an atheist to contradict himself. We don’t need to make concessions or excuses for the faith. A century ago, scholars disputed the existence of Pontius Pilate since there was no evidence he existed outside the Bible. They also disputed the theory that the universe had a beginning. Now both have been proven to exist. Science changes, but the faith remains.

    There is no scientific evidence for the non-existence of Adam and Eve and some evidence that they actually did exist. According to current science, all humans share a common female ancestor (Mitochondrial Eve speculated to live about 190,000 – 200,000) and male ancestor (Y-chromosomal Adam lived about 142,000 years ago). See wikipedia for more details.

    While there is a huge gap between Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam, such a gap could be explained by there being a disaster that wiped out most of humanity except for a father and his children and their wives about 142,000 years ago. So Y-chromosomal Adam could be called Noah, although we mustn’t get too attached to that theory since science changes but the faith remains.

  10. Giuseppe says:

    It’s so hard to debate faith. It’s easier (and probably a debate cop out, I know) to just say, “The church teaches that Adam and Eve existed, disobeyed God, and this changed them and all of their descendants such that we are now subject to mortality – we previously were not. This is called original sin, and while we are not personally accountable for Adam/Eve’s sin, we must have it removed at Baptism, although the penalties of mortality, painful manual labor and childbirth labor remain. Two people were exempt – Mary and Jesus. You either believe it or not. There are no new-age theories to explain it.”

    Re. suffering in atheism. I think @anilwang explains the evolutionary explanation/advantage of pain, but not suffering. Re. evolutionary value of knowledge, I think @anilwang doesn’t quite capture it — knowledge is not copying nature (actually, philosophers usually say art is copying nature). I’d go back to Adam/Eve and say that knowledge allows man to have better understanding of nature and to develop ways of exerting dominion over it to maximize survival. God warns us about limits to knowledge. Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge. Don’t become gods. I don’t think the athiest/evolutionary explanations adhere to those limits.

  11. The Ubiquitous says:

    Referring to Humani Generis:

    Now it is in no way apparent …

    … is not an explicit denial, either. It is a circumlocution, just as a previous commenter pointed out about Pell’s statement. I don’t mind that he ignored mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam. I think the big point of most of the old Genesis stories involves riffing on contemporary legends, baptizing them in the light of the Light.

    Perhaps it would have been better to emphasize how the Genesis account is a lot more interesting and a lot more true than, say, that the Earth is made on the back of a turtle, expressing grander things about the human condition than the story of Prometheus.

    Perhaps it would have been good to at the time emphasize that it is the intention of the human author and the intention of the divine author which matter, not the interpretation of the human reader.

    Such observations smack of a staircase wit. I doubt I could wax eloquent like this when I’m on the spot. I won’t hold what Pell didn’t say against him.

  12. digdigby says:

    Speaking of suffering and atheism, I cannot forget the young boy in college who killed himself in despair after reading Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’. I like to start the day with a ‘brain-teaser’. Which figure in Grunewald’s ‘Mocking of Christ’ is Dawkins?

    I immediately was drawn to the seated, sensual dolt but no, Dawkins would be the ‘wise’ Pharisee whispering earnestly in the dolt’s ear.

    Richard Dawkins

  13. ContraMundum says:

    Pope Liberius is not accused of actually denying the divinity of Christ; he “merely” created scandal by de-emphasizing that dogma and using circumlocutions. For that he is, in some lists at any rate, the first pope not to be given the title of “Saint”.

    So to say that Pell did not actually deny the reality of Adam and Eve, he “merely” de-emphasized that teaching and used circumlocutions, is to damn him with the faintest of praise.

  14. ContraMundum says:

    Oh, and milk is given to babies, not to the dead.

  15. Bev says:

    For the benefit of Cardinal Pell and anyone else unfamiliar with the infallible dogma of the Catholic Church concerning the creation of man — I will quote Pope Leo XIII’s infallible statement in Arcanum:

    “We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time.”

  16. LisaP. says:

    Anyone who looks upon Dawkins as a rational, anti-delusional scientist needs to watch the end of the movie “Expelled” — it’ll knock you out of your seat, and it’s a straight interview with him, I can’t see how it could possibly be subject to false paraphrase or deceptive editing — the man states his beliefs clearly and without equivocation regarding the possibilities of the origin of life. This guy is, seemingly, the chosen spokesperson for reason and science in our nation, it’s really enlightening to see that science is no longer science in America, it’s a faith-based corruption. It grieves me not only because this scientific pseudo-religion attacks Christianity (and other faiths) but also because it is degrading our ability to make real discoveries and do true work in scientific fields. Just think how much more we’d know, how much more we would be able to do, if this fake science had not taken the place of true objective concrete inquiry.

  17. jonh303 says:

    It’s hard for me to understand why so many fail to see the many parallels between religion and well, religion (of positivism). They both are dogmatic. They both have people that are evil. They both have people who don’t know where their beliefs come from and don’t know the difference between ad hominem and the search for truth. Yet is seems that Dawkins wishes to reduce religion to the mere mechanism of its existence (so does Daniel Dennett in “Breaking the Spell”). The debate is about different metaphysical views in the end. Dawkins is a dogmatic reductionist which is an inconsistent position. If somehow he can be disabused of this problem, then a debate would be a little more worth our time. But it’s always fun to see two high profiles go at it, even though we all know how its going to end. I reblogged the story here: . Thanks Fr. Z for posting.

  18. jonh303 says:

    Well that HTML didn’t exactly work but anyways..

  19. Maltese says:

    @42:30: Can an atheist get into heaven? Cardinal Pell: “Certainly, certainly!” (Huge applause from the audience.)

    No, an atheist cannot get into heaven: extra ecclesiam non salus. [You have just placed limitations on God, who in His mysterious mercy can save anyone it pleases Him to save.] That is one of the fundamental problems of the modernist Church, in her rejection of that thrice declared Dogma.

    Cardinal Pell was very brave to put himself toe-to-toe with an emanate atheist and, largely, hostile crowd; he was put on the ropes a few times, and handled himself very well. I just wish he hadn’t capitulated on a few occasions, such as salvation towards atheists and Adam and Eve (e.g. Original Sin, which, ironically, he brought up sua sponte).

    But, otherwise, he did a remarkable job, given the audience. He did his homework before this debate! @25:30 Pell speaks about the differences between “nothing” in the scientific field versus the theological field, which had Dawkins bewildered. Pell also quoted from a book which Dawkins wrote the introduction to to refute Dawkins. Brilliant! Pell had the audience laughing, and constantly belittled Dawkins in a scholarly but firm manner. Well done Cardinal Pell!

  20. introibo says:

    VERY disappointed with Cardinal Pell’s discussion of Adam and Eve. And man started in South Africa? I thought it was established that man originated in Mesopotamia. And even Dawkins asked back, if there was no first human, where did original sin come from…?

  21. AGA says:

    For those of us who have access to traditionally trained clergy, yes, Cardinal Pell was indeed a disappointment. That being said, however, I cannot think of any other Novus Ordo clergyman who could have as ably participated in that debate as His Eminence did.

  22. I admit I haven’t seen the whole video yet, but I saw his first discussion of Adam and Eve, and if that is what people are reacting to, I think you are being too hard on Cardinal Pell.

    First of all, consider the venue and the format; he is being asked to give fairly brief and simple answers, so I don’t take anything he said as denying anything dogmatic. He did not–to my ears–deny a first set of parents.

    What I heard was a discussion about the sort of truth being presented in the Genesis account; and allowing for the context–and the fact that terms like “story” and “myth” are misunderstood–I think what he said is more or less right, at least orthodox.

    I’ll take a stab at it.

    The story of our first parents, including their names, need not be taken as an exact photo-finish historical account of the mode of their creation, their awareness of God, their temptation and their fall. It is a true story nonetheless, because it tells us the truth about who created humanity, their dignity and worth in God’s plan, and that they did make a choice that occasioned their fall from grace; and that explains how sin and suffering is part of humanity.

    It is fairly common for the term “myth”–rightly understood–to be used in this context: a TRUE story that tells the TRUTH via story; as opposed to a strict historical account, which then is taken to describe all details as factual.

    My understanding is that the Church has not insisted on every detail of the Genesis account of creation, including human creation, and then the temptation and fall of the first parents, as FACTUAL, but she does insist that it is TRUE. It can be understood as containing some “poetic license,” for lack of a better way to say it.

    We live in a time when such talk sets off alarm bells, because so often that sort of talk is preparatory for a denial of dogma or of facts that really are essential to the Faith. The fact of the Resurrection, for example–or in this case, the fact of an actual sinful choice occasioning the corruption of all humanity with original sin.

    Nevertheless, the Church has not ruled out seeing some of Scripture as this sort of literature.

    While it may be that Cardinal Pell was muddled on these points, I think it’s also likely he didn’t want to get into those finer points in this setting. I can understand that.

    I mean, if someone wants to parse every word, we can try that for awhile. I’m saying my reading of what was quoted from the transcript does not represent any denial on his part.

    For example: when Pell says, “it’s everyman,” that’s not denying Adam and Eve existed; that telling us what the story means for us. And he’s right. After all, St. Paul says, in Adam, all died.

    Again, I haven’t watched the whole thing yet, so perhaps later on, he’s asked point-blank about an original set of parents. Was he?

  23. Christine says:

    I am of the opinion that debates like this should not have a live audience.

  24. AGA says:

    Fr. Fox, Dawkins understood well the implications of Cardinal Pell’s ambiguous description of the Creation narrative. Original Sin, if it is going to have any real meaning, is dependent on the Creation account being true. Otherwise, Original Sin is relegated to allegory too. Beyond Original Sin there were several other errors generated by Cardinal Pell’s conservatively modern understanding of theology. For instance, when he opens the door to the possibility that evolution can explain the existence of the human race, it eventually led to his being unable to adequately explain the Resurrection. If God did not create Adam and Eve directly, then how will He resurrect us? Dawkins understood this and was quick to exploit the connection as soon as the cardinal opened the door. If God used evolution to bring about humanity, then will He use a form of evolution to recreate our bodies at the End of Time?

    Again, by modern standards Cardinal Pell did a fine job. However, there are many well trained traditional priests who can explain Catholicism, and its implications in the universe, better.

    Please listen to this sermon by a traditional priest on evolution:

  25. Geoffrey says:

    I just finished watching the video and thought His Eminence did an excellent job. It was very courageous to enter that lion’s den! It is a good reminder of how he and the entire Order of Bishops need our prayers!

  26. Supertradmum says:

    I like Edward Feser and read his blog frequently. Last year, he wrote on original sin and Adam and Eve and some here may enjoy his comments here

    I personally feel that Cardinal Pell could have been better prepared for this debate. He should have anticipated answering with the solid teaching of the Catholic Church, via Humani Generis, etc., as some have already pointed out. The references to Africa are silly, as most of that research has come under scrutiny even by non-religious anthropologists and is, to me, a blatant effort to downgrade and undermine the authority of both the Church and Tradition, as well as Scripture. To place Genesis in Africa is to deny that the traditional Cradle of Civilization is not connected to the Semites, but to the Negroid race, and is a premise of Black Liberation Theology, as well as a belief of those who are anti-Semitic. These “beliefs” are subtle, but Cardinal Pell should be au fati with the entire argument and all the subtleties therein.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    au fait…good grief. I am inventing words…

  28. Norah says:

    Cardinal Pell is not the only one who is causing confusion among the Faithful re the actual existence of Adam and Eve: Fr Robert Barron the flavour of the month for orthodox Catholicism said this on a YouTube video:
    In a Youtube video “Misreading Genesis”Fr Barron said.” Adam – don’t read it literally, we’re not talking about a literal figure we’re talking about theological poetry.”

    I seem to remember that years ago now Cardinal Pell caused some concern with comments about Genesis; I can’t find the information among My Documents but I will continue looking.

    This is the part of the debate – from the transcript – which concerned me:
    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.

    RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I’m curious to know if Adam and Eve never existed where did original sin come from? But I also would like to clarify the point about whether there was ever a first human….

    GEORGE PELL: Yeah, well, I mean God wasn’t running around giving injections and if there is no first person we’re not humans.

    Dawkins’ questions here are very much to the point and I for one, would like a clear non ambiguous statement from Cardinal Pell and Fr Barron. Do they believe that Adam and Eve were our literal first parents and does their belief square with the teaching of the Church? Jimmy Akin, apologist, says that the Church seems to be distancing itself from this literal belief in Adam and Eve. If this is correct, how do we explain/re explain the doctrine of Original Sin?

  29. AGA says:

    Another major theological consequence (among the many) of the non-literal approach to the understanding of Creation is the undermining of traditional marriage…. I forgot about that, but the traditional priest in the sermon below raises it toward the end…

  30. So to say that Pell did not actually deny the reality of Adam and Eve, he “merely” de-emphasized that teaching and used circumlocutions, is to damn him with the faintest of praise.

    Please note that Ven. Pius XII used a circumlocution also.

    Also, please note that there is certainly a defense of the “real person” hypothesis even while denying literal fact to the Genesis story.

  31. onearmsteve says:

    Patrick Coffin tried getting Dawkins on his show & went to an athiest rally & asked him in front of all Dawkins’ fans to come on the show & Dawkins said basically no

  32. Centristian says:

    If there were not an Adam and an Eve…if they are merely some sort of a device, a story told for religious purposes, and if modern man genuinely did evolve from primitive man, it really does shake faith in the dogma of Original Sin, and thereby faith in the whole kit and kaboodle. It seems rather unfathomable to me that a primitive form of man with his limited capacities could have been held responsible by the Almighty to the point of devastating the condition of all mankind throughout history for whatever disobedience it may have been that he, in his dull, grunting state of being, might have committed.

    Either the story is true…or one could easily be tempted (or forced) to conclude that none of it is true. When so many people are struggling so very hard to keep the faith in an age that laughs at faith, when so many Catholics are so heroically sacrificing so many worldy pleasures and denying themselves so many worldly pursuits and pleasures of the flesh for the love of God and the promise of beatitude, it seems to me that is singularly unhelpful for cardinals of the Church to say things that have the effect of pulling the rugs out from under our feet.

  33. CJD89 says:

    Though I admire his Eminence Cardinal Pell for taking up the offer to debate Dawkins, I do not believe he was the best prepared to do so. Cardinal Pell studied and lived through a time of de-emphasis of metaphysics especially Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics.

    In essence I believe that this debate lacked a full understanding of metaphysics and an understanding of science. First science and philosophy must debate each other and then science must debate religion. We need to recognize and uncover the differences between science and philosophy and then focus on the false presumptions of modern science. It is not a matter of asking different questions but rather the recognition of a different and more open minded way of thinking (which is philosophy and religion and not so much modern science.)

    P.S. In regards to Krauss (the physicist) sadly we have physicists now trying to be metaphysicians except without the proper training. The understanding of “nothing” deals more with understanding being and reality and less with analyzing atoms, though beneficial, it is not necessary and it even does not relate to the essential question.

    We need to study metaphysics!
    Philosophy and Science must debate
    Religion (and not in the broad definition but in particular Catholicism) then needs to show how it relates to science and philosophy. We need to stop thinking like moderns and more like the ancients and medievals in this regard.

    Pray for a greater use of the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite!

  34. BillyHW says:

    Pell was pretty disappointing in this debate. He dropped the ball about 4 or 5 times, and not just on the Adam and Eve question. Dawkins was not much better. Mostly a waste of an hour.

  35. jflare says:

    I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed by this debate. Cardinal Pell DID do a decent job of handling questions during the first half, but he fumbled quite a little on several questions in the second half. Actually, I’m a little perplexed by some of his answers.
    I’m a little surprised too that many seem to think this was a hostile environment and crowd. True, he did take some pretty pointed-even heavily loaded–questions, but considering the secular nature of the show, not to mention the identity of his opponent, I thought the event relatively fair.
    I thought Dawkins, though he made a good point about Original Sin, made atheists, agnostics, and other “sophisticated” types, look immensely foolish. Why would we ask why? Why would we assume that evolution had purpose, but not a pre-determined reason to happen? He almost appeared to me as though he couldn’t stand to admit that these have been questions that human beings have asked since recorded history began. If anything, he almost seemed to think that many key points about existence have no relevance. I’m inclined to wonder why he began his inquiry into life in the first place. If he didn’t ever ask WHY something about the world is the way it is, then what reason did he have to ever challenge the existence of God in the first place? Or, why did he pursue any inquiry into philosophy, science, or anything else? His answers seemed desperately contrived and self-contradictory to me.

    On the other hand, I wonder about how Card Pell prepared for this event. Some of the questions were obvious “gotcha” items, clearly aimed to try to force him to condemn something. He seemed incapable of both providing the best Catholic answer AND the reason why people need not be horrified by some answers.
    I would say he appeared to me to dodge, equivocate, and genuinely fail to answer a few things that..I would’ve thought should be easy to hit out of the ballpark. Again, I’m inclined to wonder if perhaps he didn’t prepare as well as he could have? I think the event had been arranged well in advance; given the nature of the show, I would’ve thought that he’d naturally expect some of those tough questions.
    They DO come up in life whenever things begin going wrong.

    On the whole, he did OK, but I would like a much more concise, clear, and bold presentation of the faith.
    Among other things, if it’s true that we can’t nail down a particular time and place for the existence of Adam and Eve, it’s also true that science, in spite of over 100 years of inquiry, still cannot nail down a decisive path from dinosaur to apes to neanderthal to home erectus to homo sapiens. If Dawkins and friends believe that it’s not a serious matter that we haven’t yet discerned this chain, but they insist that it definitely happened, I can’t imagine that the exact location and time of Adam and Eve should suffer worse scrutiny. If they take it as given that one happened, it certainly stand to reason that the other did as well.
    ..Unless, of course, we decide that scientific evidence only matters when one side wishes, but not the other. Of course, such an idea would certainly undermine the credibility of the debate.

    Not bad, Your Eminence, but I’d like to see better next time.

  36. introibo says:

    I just can’t understand why many Catholics, especially those in public high places, just can’t come out and say, look, we believe in an omnipotent God who can do all things…so why shouldn’t we believe that He created the world as described in Genesis? It takes a lot smaller leap of faith to believe that than to believe in evolution. The likes of Dawkins already believe we’re crazy for believing in transubstantiation…so let them believe we’re crazy for believing in Biblical creation.

  37. Nancy D. says:

    Since it is true that The Laws of Physics exist in relationship to Time and Space, one cannot use The Laws of Physics to explain how God exists, only that He must exist outside Time and Space, as The Laws of Physics cannot have evolved from the absence of something.

    Mr.Dawkins claims that humans evolved from non humans, gradually, over Time, and yet, Science has revealed that from the moment of conception, nothing is added to or subtracted from the DNA of a human being, and thus that human being is wholly human and a decendant of man and woman. We will never find all those missing links because they simply don’t exist. At the end of the Day, although we can know that God exists, we simply do not have the intellectual capacity to understand the omnipotence of God.

  38. bbmoe says:

    As most of the people here have noted, Cardinal Pell’s explication of Genesis leaves something to be desired, and his use of the childish word “story” is very unfortunate. I’m sorry, but any first year theology student or indeed, anyone who is seriously studying the Bible could have done better than that.

    Nevertheless, I was heartened by his critique of Dawkins’ claim that he knew a physicist who had the answer to how something could come from nothing. Apart from that, the denial that “why” is a valid question is atheism’s greatest weakness, a fatal flaw. Pagans wondered why, and couldn’t discern the nature of our relationship to the God that must have created the universe. The questions posed in Genesis (our purpose and relationship) are answered only in part in that “story”, and answered fully in Christ.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    Norah, thanks for your post. I have pointed out other errors of Fr. Barron, who is too heavily influenced by von Balthasar, who ended up believing in universal salvation. “Not all that glitters is gold”

  40. SimonR says:

    From the Daily Mail:

    Australia’s most senior Catholic Archbishop sparks outrage after saying Jews are ‘intellectually and morally inferior’

    Read more:

    “Australia’s most senior-ranked Catholic official has risked an international backlash by claiming that Jews are ‘intellectually and morally inferior’.

    Cardinal George Pell said ‘the little Jewish people’ were shepherds who lacked intellectual development during a debate with atheist Richard Dawkins.

    He went on to claim that Germans had suffered more than the Jews during the horrors of the holocaust in the Second World War.

    The remarks came during a televised debate with Dawkins on Australian TV in which the pair became locked in a heated discussion on religion and evolution.

    ‘I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days,’ Cardinal Pell said during the debate on ABC television.
    ‘They weren’t intellectually the equal of [the Egyptians or Persians] – intellectually, morally … The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They’re still stuck between these great powers.’

    Cardinal Pell said Jews had been stuck between the Egyptians and Babylonians, and that this reflected their intellectual development. He said this included Jesus.

    The religious leader went on to suggest that Jews had not suffered as much as the German people during and after the holocaust.

    Asked why god permitted the Holocaust to occur, he said it was a ‘terrible mystery’ why the Germans had been subsequently ‘punished’.

    He said: ‘He (God) 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.’

    The debate host said that the Jews had suffered more than the Germans, to which Cardinal Pell replied: ‘Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both, I mean the Jews, there was no reason why they should suffer.’

    Cardinal Pell was declared the winner of the debate, a decision that appeared to have caused confusion among viewers.

    His remarks were also criticised by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry which conveyed its ‘serious concern’ over the debate.

    The Australian Jewish News also condemned Cardinal Pell and published a front page with a large picture of the cardinal under the headline ‘Clerical error’.

    Editor Zeddy Lawrence said said the paper had been inundated with Jewish readers who were upset and offended.

    ‘It doesn’t seem he was thinking clearly, but many people also said he is a good friend to the community,’ Mr Lawrence told the Age.

    Cardinal Pell later apologised as he sought to clarify his argument. He said that he did not intend to offend the Jewish community.

    He said: ‘Historically or culturally unequal might have been more appropriate than intellectually.

    ‘My commitment to friendship with the Jewish community, and my esteem for the Jewish faith is a matter of public record, and the last thing I would want to do is give offence to either. This was certainly not my intention, and I am sorry that these points which I tried to make … did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.’

  41. AGA says:

    Regarding Cardinal Pell’s preparedness for this debate – I thought he was quite well prepared. He knew chapter and verse from several evolutionary biology texts and was able to use them effectively against Dawkins. To suggest that he fumbled the theological question because of lack of preparedness seems preposterous. This is a cardinal of the Catholic Church — surely he can answer questions regarding the most basic aspects of our Faith without having to “prepare”. Yet we are still unsatisfied from his answers. The problem doesn’t have to do with preparedness. The problem is doctrinal. It is the same basic doctrinal problem at the heart of the discussions currently going on between Rome and the SSPX. The liturgy is only symbolic of the differences between the modern Catholic Church and the traditional Church. The real, substantial differences are doctrinal. I was drawn to “tradition” not by liturgy, but by doctrine. The Catholic Church is able to answer the complex question. Tradition combines the supernatural and natural worlds perfectly. Tradition Catholicism makes these major issues of faith and life understandable. It is the completeness and fullness of faith. Modern doctrinal understanding introduces so much ambiguity that we are quite often left having to deal with major cognitive dissonance. It actually requires a strange type of Fideism — asking us to embrace something like Original Sin, yet undermining the scriptural context in which it is presented to us.

  42. I just wanted to say that I believe evolution is not inconsistent with Original Sin and provides a solution to the difficult problem of the suffering of animals. “For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now.”

    If you grant every created thing some small measure of free will, back to the first protoplasmic animacule, and say that in their actions every organism can in some small way cooperate with or resist the will of God, then the biological world arising through evolution must be an imperfect rendering of the potential biological world that would have existed with perfect cooperation. Thus all living things must suffer and are *unable* to choose perfect cooperation unaided: we are locked-in to our current state by the consequences of All Decisions Antecedent to Man.

  43. PostCatholic says:

    I wonder what you folks believe about the literal accuracy of Noah and the Ark. Certainly the pericope conveys some religious truth about the differences between divine and human nature. But was there literally an amateur shipwright named Noah? Not to mention how one does have to wonder if there were termites, woodpeckers and beavers on the ark, and what Noah might have done to keep them from puncturing the hull. And what would the anteaters have eaten, what with just two of each kind of ant?

    Speaking personally, I like Virginia Hamilton Adair’s poetic reinterpretation of the Garden of Eden (q.v.) myth/story/chapter/pericope/. Wisdom Thermidor sounds quite the treat.

  44. AGA says:


    Did Christ believe in Adam and Eve, and Noah and the Ark? He either believed in them or was a liar because he mentions these Genesis persons and events (and others), as recorded in the New Testament. Or, do you claim that the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity was ignorant of the truth and needed to wait 2,000 years up in Heaven for Dr. Dawkins to arrive on the scene to explain it all to Him?

  45. PostCatholic says:

    I don’t claim there is a Most Holy Trinity, nor do I take dialogue in the Gospels to be ipissima verba, so that certainly gets Jesus off the hook for lying. But I am interested in how you resolve these conundra. Most of the mainline Protestant churches prefer to interpret these {passages/stories/myths/pericopes/whatever-term-is-least-offensive} as allegorical yet truthful, rather than to take them at face value the way they were when they were written down.

  46. AGA says:

    OK. Got where you’re coming from now.

    I take the bible literally.

    It’s funny you mention the Protestants, because not only do they take wide latitude with interpreting the Old Testament, they do something similar to the theological language within the Gospels. So much of what Christ said and taught goes against the teachings of Luther, but especially Calvin. The Protestants have to butcher the meaning of the plainest language from Christ in order to maintain their theology.

    Anyway, I don’t have any particular problem with the Noah and Arc account. If God can work all the other associated miracles then why should we not expect something as basic as all the animals behaving themselves for 40 days aboard an Arc. By the way, I believe it may be true that the animals back in those days had a far different temperament then what we find today. You see at the beginning of Creation, Man had complete dominion over the animals. The animals obeyed man. After the Original Sin and the disruption of the relationship between God and Man, the rest of Creation began to suffer, ever increasingly, the effects of that disruption. Nature began to war against itself. Man began to lose dominion over creation. This didn’t happen instantly. It happened slowly. Similarly this is how we explain the long human ages in Genesis. The penalties of Original Sin (namely, the corruption of nature) came about over time. The lives of men became shorter. Anyway, by the time of Noah and the Arc, the animals were most likely still relatively obedient. This would make sense as a parallel to the diminishment in the lifespan of men too. I believe it wasn’t until after the Flood that the lifespan of men became set at 120 years. So if it wasn’t until after the Flood that the completion of the curtailment of man’s long lives occurred, perhaps similarly it wasn’t until after the Flood that man lost dominion over the animals and beasts.

    I don’t have a problem believing any of this.

    If you care to email me directly to continue the dialogue, please do so at

  47. PostCatholic says:

    Thank you. That explanation, to me, strikes me a lot like the explanations of Martian parallax by a geocentrist. I guess the question is, from which side do you apply Ockham’s razor? I prefer to start from observable evidence rather than from faith.

  48. Pingback: The debate about the debate | Blog of a Country Priest

  49. Nancy D. says:

    I am wondering, since Cardinal Pell acknowledges that it is true that there will be no new Revelation, when did Christ reveal to us that we should celebrate sex outside of a Holy Marriage?

    We are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, called to orient ourselves to The Word of God, The Truth of Love. Those who insist upon giving personhood to sexual inclinations, engage in the sexual objectification of the human person and thus the sin of adultery.

    God Has Revealed to us, from The Beginning, through The Gospel of Life, that any act, including
    sexual act, that does not respect the inherent Dignity of the human person and is thus Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, is not an act of Love. Thus to claim that Christ would Bless a same-sex sexual union, as Cardinal Pell suggests, would be a lie from the start.

    If in dying, we are restored in Christ, it is because at the moment of our Death, when Christ appears to us in all His Glory, we either are, or become part of His Church, The Body of Christ. Although at the end of the Day, it is still a Great Mystery, outside His Church, The Body of Christ, there is no Salvation.

  50. Nancy D. says:

    That should read, God Has Revealed to us from The Beginning, through The Gospel of Life, that any act, including any sexual act, that does not respect the inherent Dignity of the human person and is thus not Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, is not an act of Love.

    There is only One Word of God, One Truth of Love, as affirmed by The Filioque.

  51. AGA says:

    I’ve known quite a few well trained scientists who have gone on to hold very traditional and literal interpretations of the bible’s teachings on man and nature. (Including the priest who gives the sermon in the link which I posted above.)

    I’m neither a scientist nor a philosopher, so I can’t personally engage with much more profundity.

    I will say, however, that I define my views as close to Fideism as possible without running into heresy. The world makes more sense to me through the lens of faith. I had very little faith in science to not only answer the big questions, but also to fix major human problems – war, crime, etc. I’d go further to offer the following – (and this is obviously hard if not impossible to conclusively prove): that science, on the whole, has brought more misery into the world than good. (In saying “science” I’m including the general changes in the world since the Enlightenment.)

  52. Nancy D. says:

    Since it is true that our understanding of God’s Universe and The Laws of Physics is evolving, it would not be Science that has brought misery into the world, but rather a failure to recognize that the reason there is something and not nothing is because God desires that we come to know, Love, and serve Him in this World so that we can live with Him forever in Heaven. That being said, technology can be a great tool, if used correctly to serve the common good.

  53. Nancy D. says:

    Father John, do you know if Pope Benedict is aware of this video and if he was able to meet with Cardinal Pell regarding the statements that were made by Cardinal Pell that are not consistent with Catholic Doctrine?

  54. AGA says:

    Nancy, you are wasting your time with that question. Cardinal Pell’s comments were perfectly aligned with the modernistic style of explaining Catholic doctrine which dominates the Church. Cardinal Pell’s statements were all very conservative by modern standards. No eyebrows would be raised in Rome by watching that video. They knowingly tolerate far, far worse stuff!

  55. Nancy D. says:

    AGA, with all due respect, in order to be in communion with The Catholic Church, one cannot misrepresent The Deposit of Faith, thus someone who professes to be Catholic while deny The Deposit of Faith, is part of The Great Apostasy. One cannot be in The Catholic Church physically and leave their spirit behind. I believe that Pope Benedict recognizes the destructive nature of dissent, so if it is true that no eyebrows would be raised in Rome by those who watch this video, don’t you think it is Time for us to protect our Pope?

  56. AGA says:

    Nancy – you’re advocating a false choice: either everything is hunky-dory or we’re in a Great Apostasy. We’re indeed inside a period of great disorientation. Cardinal Pell, and even churchmen to the Left of him, are not apostates, however. The Pope, who probably agrees with much of what Pell said, is not an apostate. That doesn’t mean either that I think they are consistently articulating authentic Catholic doctrine either. There was never a period of perfect doctrinal harmony either. There are those who considered Pius X to be a liberal and even called him an anti-pope. There are those who say the Great Apostasy began with Leo XIII. It’s all nonsense. The Church is the Church. Relax a little.

  57. Nancy D. says:

    The Church is The Body of Christ. One cannot be with Him and against Him, simultaneously. Those who no longer believe in The Deposit of Faith are part of The Great Apostasy. If I thought Pope Benedict was an apostate, there would be no need to protect our Pope.

  58. Nancy D. says:

    Not to mention that how can there be a Great Apostasy that will deceive even the elect unless many remain within The Catholic Church physically, but not in spirit?

  59. PostCatholic says:

    Just when you think things have wandered off into lunatic fringe, you discover that fringe is finer than frog hair.


  60. Nancy D. says:

    Sometimes a tangled web is just a tangled web, but then, sometimes there are those who are willing to weave a tangled web in order to deceive.

  61. AGA says:


    Go ahead and continue to indulge in your smug self-confidence. It’s apparently served you well and I’m sure it will come in handy at your Particular Judgment.

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