Thursday, 12 April 2012

Galus based response from Pell

Galus based response from Pell

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Cardinal Pell not anti-Semitic but Dawkins is Humourless

April 10, 2012 – 10:13 pm31 Comments
By Anthony Frosh
In one of the highest profile episodes of the ABC’s Q&A program, evangelical atheist Professor Richard Dawkins debated Australia’s Cardinal George Pell.
The most entertaining aspect of the episode was watching Dawkins on several occasions bellow at the audience (whenever they laughed) “Why is that funny?!” As one rather witty aired tweet alluded to, this would be, along with the question of whether there exists a deity, one of the great scientific or philosophical questions that Dawkins would never be able to answer.
At rather one dramatic point, host Tony Jones tried to paint Pell as having said something anti-Semitic, an event that brought much joy to the face of Dawkins, as well as that of Jones.
TONY JONES: George Pell, can I just come back to you on this question of the existence of God. Why would God randomly decide to provide proof of his existence to a small group of Jews 2,000 years ago and not subsequently provide any proof after that?
GEORGE PELL: Well, I don’t think there’s ever been any scientific proof. I don’t believe God does anything randomly, although he might set up he might set up a system which works, apparently through, you know, through chance, through random but if you want something done, you’ve got to ask somebody. It’s no good, say, my asking everyone in the congregation will you would do something. Normally you go to a busy person because you know they’ll do it and so for some extraordinary reason God chose the Jews. They weren’t intellectually the equal of either the Egyptians or the…
TONY JONES: Intellectually?
GEORGE PELL: Intellectually, morally…
TONY JONES: How can you know intellectually?
GEORGE PELL: Because you see the fruits of their civilisation. Egypt was the great power for thousands of years before Christianity. Persia was a great power, Caldia. The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They’re still stuck between these great powers.
TONY JONES: But that’s not a reflection of your intellectual capacity, is it, whether or not you’re a shepherd?
GEORGE PELL: Well, no it’s not but it is a recognition it is a reflection of your intellectual development, be it like many, many people are very, very clever and not highly intellectual but my point is…
TONY JONES: I’m sorry, can I just interrupt? Are you including Jesus in that, who was obviously Jewish and was of that community?
TONY JONES: So intellectually not up to it?
GEORGE PELL: Well, that’s a nice try, Tony. The people, in terms of sophistication, the psalms are remarkable. In terms of their buildings and that sort of thing, they don’t compare with the great powers. But Jesus came not as a philosopher to the elite. He came to the poor and the battlers and for some reason he choose a very difficult but actually they are now an intellectually elite because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work. They’re a – I mean Jesus, I think, is the greatest the son of God but, leaving that aside, the greatest man that ever live so I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days.
Leaving aside Tony Jones’ error regarding historical timeframes (2000 years??), it was wrong of him to try to imply Pell had smeared the Jewish people as an intellectually inferior people. It is a reasonable statement that from the point in history when the Hebrew patriarchs are believed to have lived right through to when the Exodus is believed to have happened, the Egyptians were a far more technologically advanced society than that of their Hebrew contemporaries.
As Pell clarified, intellectual capacity is not intellectual development. Our Hebrew ancestors were not less intelligent than their Egyptians contemporaries, but they were at an earlier stage of their development. The Egyptians had already reached their zenith as a civilisation, a civilisation that would soon be at its end, whereas Jewish civilisation was in its relative infancy.
In the above exchange, Pell could perhaps have been accused of having spoken clumsily, but in fairness to him, it probably wasn’t a topic he was expecting to have to speak about.
Other points of interest included Dawkins confusing atheism for agnosticism.
I live my life as though there is no God but any scientist of any sense will not say that they positively can disprove the existence of anything. I cannot disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny and so I am agnostic about the Easter Bunny. It’s in the same respect that I am agnostic about God.
In actuality, Dawkins is an avowed atheist who lives his life, like most of us, as an agnostic. After all, on the program, Dawkins, not without a modicum of pride, refers to explaining evolution as his “life’s work”. It seems contradictory to have pride in a “life’s work” if one is really operating with the understanding that all a human being amounts to is a complex set of atoms. (For more on this reasoning, see here).
As for the Cardinal, he likely disappointed many critics and followers alike who have a simplistic understanding of religious belief when he stated he believes that human beings have evolved from primate ancestors. Pell made the mistake of saying humans had evolved from Neanderthals, when orthodox scientific theory in fact places Neanderthals on a side branch from Homo Sapiens, both species having had a common ancestor. Instead of graciously accepting that Pell was not rejecting evolutionary theory as Dawkins would have posited, Dawkins instead rudely tried to embarrass Pell for having the details wrong. This from a man who routinely misunderstands the religious beliefs of those he belittles.
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  • Eli says:
    I like your description of Dawkins as an evangelical atheist . That has nice cruel twist to it.
  • Ittay says:
    Whilst this episode must have been great for ABC ratings. I really wish they hadn’t chosen such extremists to represent Religion and Atheism. I agree with Frosh that both really did not understand the philosophy of the other in any meaningful way.
    If the goal of Q&A was to educate rather than to agitate, they would have chosen Alain de Botton to represent Athiesm, with religion being represented by Karen Armstrong.
  • frosh says:
    Ittay, I agree that it was set up to draw and entertain an audience rather than to enlighten an audience.
    I think Alain de Botton does a far better job of ‘representing atheism’ (or at least what passes for atheism) than does Dawkins.
    If they would have had all four of those guests on the panel, they could have achieved high ratings and entertainment as well as had a more educational discussion.
  • Seraphya says:
    I think Pell also slipped up and looked antisemitic when talking about German suffering as the worst in history.
    He also was expecting people not to pay enough attention to remember what he was said in the previous sentence for instance arguing that Hitler must suffer therefore hell exists and then the next second saying that he hopes no one goes to hell and if they do then it is really just like having the sun in your eyes when you wake up.
    As for Dawkins getting upset over Humans and Neanderthals, I think he can’t just let that slide. It would be like Dawkins talking pell about how Pell believes in Sharia law or the Shulchan Aruch or in four gods that are one. The record of fact needed to be set straight and it shows on Pells part a serious gap in terms of knowledge whether you accept it or believe it. Pell was just not the right face of religion, especailly in his answer to why god is believable but anthropogenic climate change is not.
  • frosh says:
    Hi Seraphya,
    I don’t share Pell’s theology, even in the general sense.
    I was also troubled by Pell’s mention of great German suffering during WWII, and I think he was again very clumsy in his speech.
    However, after I read the transcript, I think was Pell was trying to say was that the Germans were punished by God (via secondary forces) for the sins of Nazism. He was trying to make the argument that, under his theology at least, God still does interfere in the world. That is, God, via what he terms secondary forces, saved the Jews during WWII and punished the Germans.
    Dawkins was right to correct Pell regarding Neanderthals, but he did it in an unnecessarily rude way. I don’t think the details of human evolution were relevant to the discussion. The point was that Pell accepts humans evolved from primate ancestors. The fact that Pell doesn’t know his Homo neanderthalensis from his Homo erectus tautavelensis is neither here nor there.
  • Ilana L says:
    When I mentioned in a different forum to Ant that I felt Pell came across as anti-semitic on last nights Q & A, I was referring to the exchange you mentioned, but also to the following exchange regarding the holocaust (taken from ABC transcript):
    TONY JONES: But he chose to intervene at different times in history to save the Jews when they were going over the River Jordan. I mean there are many times when, apparently, God has intervened in biblical times. Why not now?
    GEORGE PELL: Well, that’s I think revelation is complete. That’s a mighty question. He 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.
    TONY JONES: There would be a very strong argument saying that the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans.
    GEORGE PELL: Yes, that might be right. Certainly the suffering in both I mean the Jews there was no reason why they should suffer.
    - Pell paused and seemed confused in his response. Again, perhaps Tony misunderstood his remark concerning suffering of the Germans. Perhaps Pell was suggesting in his original remark that through a non-random act of intervention from above (“secondary causes”), justice was served because some small number of Jews escaped and the Germans also suffered heavily in WWII. Perhaps he wasn’t suggesting, as Tony took it, that the Germans suffered more than the Jews. If the former was his intended meaning, it is not anti-semitic, but the suggestion that any secondary causes intervened in the holocaust sufficiently to bring about justice doesn’t sit well. Does his response ignore or trivialise the millions who perished in the holocaust that did not benefit from the secondary causes intervention? I am sure Pell would have more to say on this question if he had time (or I had time to read more on the subject…)
    Otherwise, I thought Dawkins should have spent more time imparting his wisdom on the topic of evolutionary biology on a lay audience, rather than sniggering at Pell. When the audience laughed at Pell’s “preparing some boys” remark, Dawkins smirked, which I found immature and disrespectful.
  • Ilana L says:
    Hi Ant – I posted just after you but see we had the same reading of the German suffering vs Jew suffering scenario. (as I said, his answer is inadequate for my own purposes, but that’s not a reflection on his meaning). Its not good that we both had to re-read the transcript to understand what he was saying.
    Also, I was confused about the soul stuff. Watching the show, it seemed at the time as though Pell first suggested that the soul arose with the first human, and then switched to saying animals had souls (principles of life). Again, I had to re-read the transcript. He was consistent in saying all living things have souls, but humans have a soul capable of communicating etc. So the whole discussion about humans descending from neanderthals was irrelevant (obiter?) anyway, because Pell thinks all living beings have souls (not only the first human).
    GEORGE PELL: Yes. That is fascinating because most evolutionary biologists today believe that the animal world is developing accord to go patterns which we’re starting to know more and more about them.
    Oh – also, my final rant, to me, Pell clearly believes in intelligent design despite his denial:
    GEORGE PELL: Yes. That is fascinating because most evolutionary biologists today believe that the animal world is developing accord to patterns which we’re starting to know more and more about them.
    TONY JONES: Are you referring to intelligent design?
    GEORGE PELL: No, I’m not. I’m leaving that right to one side.
    TONY JONES: Do you believe in intelligent design? Or that there is an intelligent designer?
    GEORGE PELL: I believe God is intelligent.
    TONY JONES: No but it’s obviously a loaded question but do you believe in intelligent design and an intelligent designer?
    GEORGE PELL: It all depends what you mean. I believe God created the world. I am not entirely sure how it works out scientifically
    If Pell is not sure how “it works out scientifically”, then why bring up subject of the animal kingdom developing according to patterns. The presence of patterns in nature is a very scientific concept.
  • Steve Lieblich says:
    On reading the transcript it appears to me that Pell was referring to “intellectualism” as measured by empires, buildings and engineering achievemts.
    The best response, if any response is needed at all, was given (in advance) by Ezer Weizman in his famous address to the German parliament in 1996:
    “…Ladies and gentlemen, we are a people of memory and prayer. We are a people of words and hope. We have neither established empires nor built castles and palaces. We have only placed words on top of each other. We have fashioned ideas; we have built memorials. We have dreamed towers of yearnings — of Jerusalem rebuilt, of Jerusalem united, of a peace that will be swiftly and speedily established in our days. Amen.”
  • Daniel Levy says:
    Actually Frosh, it is entirely you who does not understand that atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive. You have displayed this ignorance before, and it saddens me that you are unable to learn basic definitions, so I’ll try to explain it succinctly for you now:
    An agnostic atheist is somebody who doesn’t believe in god (atheist) but cannot know for sure if there is one, and so doesn’t make a conclusive statement that there is no god (agnosticism).
    That is to say, you are entirely able to not believe in god without saying definitively that god does not exist. That is the only way for any self-respecting rationalist to view the issue.
  • Daniel Levy says:
    Also, definitely loving the use of “evangelical” to try to paint Dawkins as religious.
    We rationalists have the thankless task of attempting to keep you religious nuts from brainwashing children and oppressing minorities.
    There would be no “evangelical” atheists if religion didn’t have such an insidious grasp on the vulnerable that exploits them at every turn. Stop living a fairytale, start living in the real world. Faith is not a virtue, it’s a primitive relic of our animalistic origins that we ought to do away with ASAP.
    You’re on the wrong side of history, and you will be laughed at by your descendants for your idiocy. Much like we laugh at the people who believed in witchcraft and leprechauns, you too will soon be a historical joke.
  • frosh says:
    Hi Ilana,
    I tend to agree with almost everything you have written here. On the point of Pell’s belief (or anyone else’s for that matter) in Intelligent Design, I don’t think it’s relevant. What is relevant is if one thinks Intelligent Design belongs in the science class room. That should have been the question that Jones asked.
    I’d just point out for the readership, in case they are confused, that Ilana L is a different person from another frequent commenter on Galus (with the same given name and surname initial, only typically commenting with her full surname).
    Again, I am in agreement with what you have written. Furthermore, the building of enormous towers and pyramids is often associated with idolatrous cultures or at least idolatrous sentiments. This may even be one of the messages in the mysterious story of the Tower of Babel.
    However, I don’t think Pell was saying anything contradictory to what you have written.
  • frosh says:
    I see you are still unable to grasp the concept of stated belief vs. how one actually operates.
    Oh, and no atheistic regime ever oppressed minorities, did it?
    Your own comment here proves that you are evangelical. Instead of leaving people to their own beliefs, you feel the need to zealously come on this forum and bellow at them.
    I’ve also note in the past that you have Dawkins’ same incredible inability to interpret even the most obvious comedic material as comedy. Life can’t be easy for you.
    One might think you and Dawkins are the same person, except that you have somehow managed to have even worse manners than Dawkins.
  • Daniel Levy says:
    Frosh, you state unequivocally that Dawkins confuses atheism with agnosticism. He does not.
    He does not know if there is a god or not, and in the absence of not knowing, he refuses to guess.
    You live your life as an atheist, too, Frosh. You are an atheist to every god but the one you worship. You have made your haphazard, ill-considered guess of the Judeo-Christian god. 1 god out of the (literally) thousands you could have picked. You are atheistic to all of them but that one.
    Dawkins refuses to make that guess. And in the absence of making that guess, that does not make him a gnostic atheist as you so stupidly seem to think it does.
    And yes, I do tell people when they’re being stupid. Why? Because if more people held others accountable for their idiocy, we’d be far more advanced as a society.
    You ignorantly state “[Eds: Comment removed - this is positioned as a direct quote but you have made it up]”
    You have to be the most blinkered fool to think that genocide has ever been waged in the name of atheism. If you bring up communism, that was merely another failed ideology which, ironically, Stalin tried to make a religion unto itself.
    Nazism was firmly rooted in Christianity and there are a litany of examples of Hitler using catholic doctrine to convince people to rise up against the jews. And you should know that.
    Hitler and Stalin both had moustaches. That means that all people with moustaches are genocidal maniacs????
    You just can’t resist logical fallacy.
    And that’s why I come at you to show you up for the fool that you are. Because people like you hold society back. You poison the minds of others with lies and fantasy. I know that there is an extremely high probability that this is the one life I get on this earth. And if it weren’t for fools such as yourself, humanity might be 1000 years more advanced scientifically, and I’d get a much longer time on this earth (perhaps even immortality as I am almost certain we will one day achieve it).
    That is if we don’t kill each other first over whose imaginary friend is cooler. You and your ignorance sicken me. I don’t find it funny, or humourous you are correct. There’s nothing funny about the damage people like you have done to this world. You are bad, and you should feel bad, too.
  • Daniel Levy says:
    Frosh, thank you for linking me to what is arguably my finest piece of trolling in quite a while :)
    Was a good trip down memory lane.
    This, however, is no such exercise.
  • Daniel Levy says:
    ” “[Eds: Comment removed - this is positioned as a direct quote but you have made it up]””
    Wowwwwwwwww I exaggerated it so much, with like four question marks and full on caps lock and you really think it looked like anything other than paraphrasing?
    You know, for someone accusing others of being humourless, you sure are a sensitive fellow :)
    [Eds: It's a basic convention that if you use quotation marks, it's a direct quote. If you wish to paraphrase another commenter in your own childish words, do not use quotation marks].
  • Itzi​k says:
    It was an awkward encounter, and it’s easy to see why any defender of faith would be anxious faced with Dawkins/science, but perhaps Dawkins too was uncomfortable because of a lack of meaningful answers to moral questions..
  • Pell has now issued the following clarification, as published on Jwire:
    “On ABC1’s “Q & A” program on Monday night, I tried to make a point about the unique place of the Jewish people in human history as the first to receive the revelation of the one true God, while I was being regularly interrupted and distracted by the chairman.
    “Why did the Lord choose the Jewish people and lead them to a Promised Land between the greatest military and cultural powers of the era? Human thinking assumes that if something needs to be done, you go to the powerful. But God did not choose Egypt or any of the Eastern nations, Assyria, Chaldea or Persia, the great powers of the day. Instead he went to a people who at the time of Abraham, were nomads and shepherds, making them over time a great nation. “Historically” or “culturally” unequal might have been more appropriate than “intellectually”. My reference to “morally” was interrupted, but as I would never describe the Jewish people at any stage as morally inferior to their pagan neighbours, I was attempting to establish a counter poise to my earlier comment when interrupted.
    “I also made some remarks about the way the German people were punished for the Holocaust, which is a crime unique in history for the death and suffering it caused and its diabolical attempt to wipe out an entire people.
    “At the back of my mind I was thinking about an answer the Jewish writer David Berlinski gave to atheist Sam Harris on why God did not prevent the Holocaust. Referring to the incredible destruction and loss of life that the Allies inflicted on Germany in the course of the war which Germany started, Berlinski observed that ‘if God did not protect his chosen people precisely as Harris might have wished, He did, in an access of his old accustomed vigor, smite their enemies, with generations to come in mourning or obsessed by shame’.
    “This is not to deny the enormous sufferings that the Germans caused to the other peoples of Europe. But Berlinski’s thoughts point us to the mysterious ways in which great crimes are sometimes brought home to those who have committed them.
    “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 on Q&A on Monday did not come out as I would have preferred in the course of the discussion.”
  • Anthony, Pell said: “…I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don’t need to exaggerate their contribution in their early days…”
    This certainly suggests that he WAS saying that the philosohical genius of Abraham and the Jewish people in recognising the power of montheism and “love the other as yourself” as inferior to the mighty Egyptian, Persian and Roman Empires. He tries to make that acceptable by saying the Jews are NOW intellectually “elite” (but only re-inforcing the apparent opinion that they were inferior then…)
  • Helen Landau says:
    I want to comment about the following description of the Jewish people by George Pell that I believe was discriminatory and I haven’t seen any other mention of it yet.
    He said:
    “Because you see the fruits of their civilisation. Egypt was the great power for thousands of years before Christianity. Persia was a great power, Caldia. The poor – the little Jewish people, they were originally shepherds. They were stuck. They’re still stuck between these great powers.”
    What did Pell mean by “the little Jewish people” – did he mean little in size, little in number, of little importance. What was he referring to? I believe that his statement was condescending & discriminatory.
  • Reality Check says:
    Apart from his norrow view of intelligence, judging people 3500 years ago by todays standards and his ignorance about the Ten Commandments not being written by the Hand of G’d, what erked me most about George Pell on Q & A was the way he tried to appeal to the ignorumouses in the audience.
    Now Pell has an enormous amount of influence, and by resorting to mass reaction to argue his point did him no service. And to say he sees no evidence of climate change because of his experience living in Ballarat and to discredit overwhelming evidence by the experts says it all.
    He argues against science with obviously no knowledge of the subject: eg he suggested that the only force in nature was electromagnetism.
    His knowledge and understanding of physics was only equal to his understanding of biology and evolution, which was zero.
    But his patronization of Jews was the final scraw and I just turned him off.
  • Seraphya says:
    I don’t know why people keep mentioning that Nazism stems from Christianity, when it is much more accurate to say that much of Nazi theology is Neo-Pagan.
    As for whatever Pell meant via-a-vis antisemitism I think that reading the transcript can clear him of any blatant antisemitism but I think that he still views Jews from a slightly theological problematic pre-Vatican II type of non-aggressive antisemtism. I can’t point to anything, but i get that vibe.
  • Reality Check says:
    Seraphya, The Jews have always been a problem to Christians because we just won’t accept their saviour, and Pell is no different.
  • Reality Check says:
    And what’s more, when, friend of the Jews, Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the chirst, came out, Pell thought it was a great film that all Catholics should see – to reinforce their hatred of Jews.
  • TheSadducee says:
    The editors should consider removing Reality Check’s last post which suggests that George Pell encouraged Catholics to see a movie to reinforce their hatred of Jews – possibly defamatory and/or libellous statement about the leader of Australian Catholics.
  • Larry Stillman says:
    I’m glad to see that Frosh and I concur on Pell.
    As I’ve suggested elsewhere, he is a Prince of the Church, thinks like one and expects others to defer to its full philosophical majesty. That is what he is trained in. He is coming out of a very different philosophical system (the Church having taken over Aristotle etc) that sees it self as the (improved) successor of Judaism. He’s also a pompous git, and he’s not into split second responses as demanded on TV. He and Dawkins just fed off each other.
  • frosh says:
    Hi Steve,
    We can interpret someone’s comments with a generosity of spirit and we can interpret it with a hypercritical ear (or anywhere in between).
    I interpreted Pell as saying that Jews have made such a great contribution, that there’s no need to exaggerate it by pretending, for example, that the earliest Hebrews made a significant contribution to engineering, astronomy, or hydrology etc.
  • TheSadducee says:
    Pell’s comments regarding “little” could fit into any of the criteria you suggest (size, number, importance) during the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods and are not then either discriminatory or condescending.
  • frosh says:
    I think the most obvious interpretation is “little in number.” Also, from the times of the Jewish patriarchs up until the Exodus at least (and through most of history), little in military might.
    “Little in number” remains true to this day (albeit because of countless acts of persecution and genocide carried out against the Jews). And as Pell said, we ARE still stuck between the larger (in number/size) nations.
    I fail to see how that’s condescending let alone “discriminatory”.
  • Marky says:
    “ are the least of all the nations” Bamidbar 7:7
    Obvious (kepshuto)interpretation is little in number(Rashi). Other interpretations: humbleness(Rashi), power etc.
  • Marky says:
    Oops! I meant Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:7

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