Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
10 Apr 2012
With a packed studio audience and a large number of video questions sent from around Australia the topics for discussion were far reaching, covering everything from the big bang, evolution and life after death to gay marriage, social responsibility and human suffering.
Greg Sheridan, foreign editor from The Australian, noted that the debate with the huge attention it received "was an important event in Australian public life and it tells us several things" (Pell's Performance Was a Revelation, The Australian, pg 12, April 12, 2012). One of these is that "the new militant atheism represented by Dawkins and his countless local imitators, is a destructive force because it seeks to annihilate, or at least cut society off from, the great store of human knowledge, expertise and wisdom embodied in the Christian tradition."
Another is "what a remarkable, and internationally important figure Pell is". Sheridan says "he was a clear, self-confident, erudite but easily understandable spokesman for mainstream Australian Christianity".
At times during the debate, Dawkins appeared visibly upset with the audience. When Dawkins explained that the universe was created from nothing, but that nothing was actually a highly complex arrangement of something, laughter erupted. Annoyed, he quipped "Why is that funny?"
The Cardinal humorously said the trouble with Dawkins' teachings is that "he dumbs down God and soups up nothing".
The Cardinal said afterwards that it is always a difficult forum to debate such complex issues in a limited timeframe. There were certainly some areas he would have liked to develop further, however the moderator wanted to move on and cut many topics short.
He said he was comfortable that he made some extremely valid points, whether or not they were accepted by Richard Dawkins and his atheist followers. Overall, His Eminence found the evening an enjoyable experience.
With so many tuning in to a discussion about God and religion, it seems, Australia's appetite for the spiritual is not dead. As Greg Sheridan put it "we are less secular than we seem".