Richard Dawkins has commented since this debate that he was disappointed in his performance, blaming partly his jet lag, but also “… the astonishing bias of the audience and, second, the interfering chairman.”
During the debate, Dawkins repeatedly asked some members of the audience with credulity: why is that funny? He really ought to have been able to answer his own question without thinking about it too much.
Right from the start when we were introduced, it was clear that the studio audience was dominated by a Catholic cheer squad. They cheered whenever the Cardinal said anything, however stupid and ignorant.
Source: Why Evolution is True
Read the full transcript here
It is true that Tony Jones repeatedly ‘interferred’ in the debate.
Such an extreme audience bias was a little off-putting, but it wouldn’t have mattered so much if the chairman had allowed us to have a proper debate instead of continually racing ahead to get in another dopey question.
Perhaps Dawkins didn’t really understand the nature of the Q and A program when he accepted the invitation to participate. Q and A is primarily about questions and answers and audience participation, however dopey. In limiting the debate and focussing on audience questions, Tony Jones was really only doing his job. This did however, prevent any serious debate getting underway.
This was frustrating as Cardinal Pell made a number of astounding assertions, such as stating that atheists can gain admittance to heaven, evolution is ‘probably’ true, that modern humans are descended from Neanderthals, and that gay people have an inherent flaws, like those intentionally included in an oriental carpet. It was odd that Pell, the foremost Catholic churchman in Australia, was unable to adequately explain transubstantiation of the host and resurrection of the body. Had Dawkins been able to take Pell to task on these points, it could have been a very interesting debate, but then Q and A is not intended to be a debate. If that is the case, it is hard to understand why the ABC included only two panelists. Why not include some panelists with some different perspectives? Some religious or atheist female or gay panelists could have made the exchanges more balanced and stimulating.
But back to the dopey audience. What the ‘dopey’ audience in this Q and A highlight is the ultimate futility of Dawkins’ cause. It was distinctly noticeable that all the ‘dopey’ comments and questions came from religious members of the audience, or from Cardinal Pell himself. What Richard Dawkins doesn’t seem to realise despite all his erudition is that religious people don’t really want anything to do with the truth.
You can present the religious with all manner of well reasoned, persuasive and intelligent arguments and they will hold up a hand and stop listening. Religion gives stupid people a blueprint for living and comfortable answers to all the difficult questions. The last thing they want to do is think about such things.