Cardinal Pell shows up Richard Dawkins ignorance about Charles Darwin

In a televised debate on Australian TV Cardinal Pell showed the depth of Richard Dawkins ignorance about the Father of Evolution, Charles Darwin. This is becoming a regular occurrence in debates between clergyman and Prof. Dawkins:

‘Charles Darwin was claimed as a theist by the cardinal, because Darwin ”couldn’t believe that the immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity” – a claim disputed by Professor Dawkins as ”just not true”.

Cardinal Pell won applause when he shot back: ”It’s on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.”’

Here’s the excerpt from p.92-93 of Charles Darwin’s autobiography

‘Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.’

In February Richard Dawkins could not recall the full title of Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin Of Species’ during a discussion with Giles Fraser, Former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, over a poll conducted for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) which found that self-identified Christians didn’t go to Church, or read the bible.

Dawkins said an “astonishing number couldn’t identify the first book in the New Testament.” But his claim that this indicated self-identified Christians were “not really Christian at all” was challenged by Fraser,who said the poll asked “silly little questions” to “trip” people up.

Giles Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of ‘The Origin Of Species’, I’m sure you could tell me that.

Richard Dawkins:Yes I could

Giles Fraser: Go on then.

Richard Dawkins: On The Origin Of Species.. Uh. With ,Oh God. On The Origin Of Species. There is a sub title with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

Giles Fraser:You’re the high pope of Darwinism… If you asked people who believed in evolution that question and you came back and said 2% got it right,it would be terribly easy for me to go ‘they don’t believe it after all.’ It’s just not fair to ask people these questions. They self-identify as Christians and I think you should respect that.

Cardinal Pell spoke for many Catholics, and Christians, when he stated later in the debate:

‘Cardinal Pell said: ”Mr Dawkins, I don’t say things I don’t mean.

”I believe it because I believe the man who told us that was also the son of God. He said, ‘This is my body, this is my blood’. And I’d much prefer to listen to Him and take his word than yours.”

Protect the Pope comment: Why would Richard Dawkins, emeritus professor of Oxford, categorically state in a TV debate that it was ‘just not true’ that Darwin claimed to be a theist when the Father of Evolution makes that claim in his autobiography?

If Dawkins can’t make a correct statement about the field of his professional specialism, how many untrue categorical statements has he made about religion, philosophy or theology?

Increasingly Richard Dawkins is being revealed to be a straw-man, a light-weight, who can’t even speak with authority on the founder of evolutionary science.

32 comments to Cardinal Pell shows up Richard Dawkins ignorance about Charles Darwin

  • Karla

    Darwin in the ‘Origin of Species’ makes several references to the Creator. Darwin did not believe the Universe was self explanatory.

    By the way, the atheist convention Dawkins attended in Australia started on Good Friday. I’m sure that was no coincidence.

    • CathChap

      “By the way,the atheist convention Dawkins attended in Australia started on Good Friday. I’m sure that was no coincidence.”

      Not only not a conincidence but also not true. The convention starts tomorrow (13 April 2012) a week after Good Friday.

    • Turns out the cardinal was only half-right. He did quote almost verbatim from Page 92 of Darwin’s biography, where Darwin notes his leaning toward theism, but IN CONTEXT it’s clear that he soon drifted to Agnosticism. As Gbodunski points out in the comments:

      “If you continue to read onto page 94, Darwin states “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”"

  • Karla

    I love how blunt Cardinal Pell was, he did not mince his words.

    • CathChap

      Well he has already appologised for spouting anti-jewish crap during the Dawkins debate

      Dawkins wasn’t the only one to show his ignorance.

      • Karla

        Deacon Nick please remove my previous post on Cardinal Pell posted 11:34am.


        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?

        GEORGE PELL: Exactly.

        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.


        All Cardinal Pell was saying was that during that point in history when the Hebrew patriarchs lived, through to the Exodus, the Egyptian people were more technologically advanced society than some of the Hebrew contemporaries. Cardinal Pell was not saying Hebrews were less intelligent than Egyptians, but that were at an earlier stage of their development.

        The Egyptian civilization was coming to an end, the Jewish civilization was in its infancy.

        It was probably poorly worded from Cardinal Pell though, but he has apologized.

  • Allen

    If one continues with the follow-on passages to the above-cited quote, one discovers that Darwin was ruminating about how the old teleological argument was much more compelling in his youth than in his later years. He goes on to clarify his position at the time of his writing his autobiography as,

    “I [Darwin] cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.”

    It is on page 94. Go and have a look.

  • Phil Wampler

    I had the pleasure of watching the full hour long debate and I must say that this write-up is by far one of the most inaccurate I’ve read concerning this debate. The fact that Darwin “claims to be a theist” in his autobiography is taken far out of context. In no way, shape, or form, does Darwin suggest that he believes/follows a traditional god (such as gods Judeo-Christian or Islamic teaching. With the little to zero knowledge of modern physics, believing in some sort of divine power for the start of the universe was the only reasonable explaination. Now we have sufficient evidence to believe no such role exist.

    Also, if Dawkins is “revealed to be a straw-man,a light-weight,who can’t even speak with authority on the founder of evolutionary science,” I’d like to know who can do a better job.

    All in all, the Archbishop constantly resorts back to typical circular reasoning, while failing to provide reasonable, and definitely not tangible, evidence supporting his views.

  • Until the metaphysical confusion is cleared up between the two (one wants to reduce everything) then really not worth their time debating about religion. If a purpose itself is denied…what’s the point? JK. I wrote about this here

  • sam mace

    It is well known that Mr Darwin stopped going to church before the end of his life. Mr Darwin very rarely talked about his personal beliefs as well, so really both sides are talking rubbish. We really don’t know what Mr Darwin believed, his wife was very religious and it was one of the reasons why he delayed publishing on the origin of species. However he did stop going to church before the end of his life.

  • Dylan

    I’m afraid to say that I couldn’t believe that a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church would debase himself by appearing on a TV show with Dawkins, thus inadvertently lending some form of credence to the high priest of atheism.

    Richard Dawkins and his followers will be dining out on this for ages – they will love the fact that, as they may see it, Dawkins is now deemed to be such a threat to Christianity that Cardinals – and even atheists know that they are top of the tree in the Catholic Church – have to be wheeled out to debate with him. I’d much rather see him being tackled by a lowly Dominican friar (an orthodox but academically or scientifically literate one!) than a Prince of the Church (who are often skilled in ecclesiastical politics, but not in the trickery of the modern media world).

    Dawkins has no real arguments and doesn’t even understand Christianity – but sure knows how to be a polemicist. In that sense, it’s dangerous for Princes of the Church to try and tackle polemicists on live TV! All the Church can do is proclaim the Gospel by words and deeds – those who are genuinely seeking will come to God. Those who hate the truth are rarely convinced via 50 minute debates on prime-time television – which, in reality, have been designed a) to entertain and b) to sell advertising space.

    Also, it was embarrassing to see Cardinal Pell, a man whom I usually respect, making a bit of a fool of himself in relation to Neanderthals – he thought we had evolved for them. As Dawkins correctly – if rather shrilly – pointed out, they were not the precursors to homo-sapiens. For some reason, I always thought Pell was highly intelligent… Obviously, though, it seems that science isn’t one his strong points.

    The best thing to do with Dawkins is not to engage with him – he thrives on confrontation and such pointless showy debates as the one he entered into with the Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney. Princes of the Church – like the princes of Rome – should be above such Gladiatorial combats.

    • CathChap

      “I always thought Pell was highly intelligent…Obviously,though,it seems that science isn’t one his strong points.”

      I very much doubt that the man is highly intelligent. He has well-established his anti-science crudentials in his continued denial over climate change which puts him at odds with both the vast majority of scientists, the 2007 Report of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, last year’s Report of the Pontifical Accademy of Science (which was a fine bit of original science which demolishes the idea that religious people are neccessarily un-scientific) and statements of the Holy Father.

      Of course there is no requirement for a Cardinal of the Church to be scientifically literate, but a wiser man would choose to keep his mouth shut on issues that are clearly over his head.

      I find it an embarassement that Pell is a Prince of the Church.

      • Karla

        To be skeptical of climate change does not mean you are anti-science, Cardinal Pell has every right to be skeptical of it, and frankly some scientists have brought the growing public skepticism of climate change on themselves for manipulating the data. There are lots of qualified scientists who are skeptical about climate change. Are you going to accuse them of being anti-science?

        If climate change is true, it could be natural, it may have nothing to do with how humans are acting.

        • CathChap

          “There are lots of qualified scientists who are skeptical about climate change.”
          simply not true. There are very few scientists who are skeptical about climate change.

          Skepticism itself is of course not anti-science. It is a proscience atitude. But Pell’s skepticism doesn’t seem to me to be based on science, more on antipathy towards concervationists who he sees as part of a neo-pagan religion. Such antipathy may or may not have basis (I will reverve judgement as I am not an expert on neopaganism) but that doesn’t change the fact that the climate is warming at a faster rate than ever before and that the main cause of this is human changes to the atmosphere.

          This is a serious moral issue. I really recomend that you read the Pontifical Accademy Report. It is a brillant peice of really high quality science including some original research on glaciers, with the implications of the scientific facts put in the context of Catholic morality. The Report states “Human-caused changes in the composition of the air and air quality result in more than 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year and threaten water and food security—especially among those ‘bottom 3 billion’ people who are too poor to avail of the protections made possible by fossil fuel use and industrialization.”

          At the Copenhagen Conference on Climate change the Pope said that he “share[s] the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combating the degradation of the environment,” he said, adding that he hoped “it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question” at follow-up conferences in Bonn and Mexico City.

          “The issue is all the more important in that the very future of some nations is at stake, particularly some island states,” he said.

          I would say that being a climate change skeptic (without proper eveidence to be skeptical) is not only anti-science, it is immorral and anti-Christian

    • Some modern humans are descended from both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens, since Neanderthals and Homo sapiens sapiens could interbreed.

      • Mike

        That’s not a sensible or scientific way of looking at it. Lions and tigers have been known to interbreed to produce ligers. But lions are not descended from tigers, nor vice versa. Perhaps I can put it another way – humans have a huge proportion of their DNA in common with chimpanzees, but we are not descended from them and they are not descended from us, even though we are very distantly related as the DNA evidence proves. These fundamental misunderstandings of evolutionary biology and genetics seem to be endemic within the church, which pretty much resorts to the trusted old “god works in mysterious ways” explanation. Cardinal Pell reinforced that beautifully.

        • If some of those ligers would to breed with lions, and those offspring were to breed with lions, and so on, such that in some future generation the descendants would be classified as “lions”, then one could then say that “some lions” are descended from tigers. The same reasoning applies to those Homo sapiens sapiens who descended from Homo sapiens neanderthalensis (as well as Homo sapiens sapiens) ancestors.

        • CathChap

          actually Mike, the Lion/Tiger analogy is no good. Ligers are infertile so they are a dead-end evolutionarily. T

          he science shows that up to 4% of our DNA is from Neanderthals. We continue to pass this on through the generations so it is quite proper to say that we are decended from Neanderthals, but only very slightly. I think that Pell was implying that Neanderthals evolved into modern humans which is clearly wrong because humans of African linear appear to lack this Neanderthal DNA. The theory that best fits the DNA evidence is that humans evolved from an (non-neanderthal) ancestor in Africa, spread out of Africa and that the branch that ended up populating Europe, “picked up a few genes” from Neanderthans along the way before tehy died out.

  • Andrew

    Just pulling you back there – Dawkins was right on Darwin being agnostic; in the debate he should have challenged
    Pell on his selective quotation. Debate point to Pell; accuracy to Dawkins.

    See Wikipedia – includes a section on Darwin’s religious views.'s_religious_views#section_2


    • Karla

      Darwin’s religious views are complex, but he did refer to a Creator several times in the origin of species.

      Anyway, science has moved a long way past Darwin’s theory.

  • Wayne

    On page 92,93 Darwin speaks of a time when he was a theist he then goes onto say on page 94 “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic”. It’s a little disingenuous for Cardinal Pell to suggest that Darwin was a theist. Calls have been made for Cardinal Pell to apologise and retract his statement here in Australia.

  • Ashley

    I dare you to read a little before and after the excerpt posted. (I’m glad you provided the link so people can do so.)

    It adds, you know, a little context to the quote.

    As for the first comment, the atheist convention starts tomorrow (May 13th) which I’m pretty sure isn’t Good Friday.

  • James

    Ha Ha you’re as stupid as Pell.

    Carry on reading

    I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

    And Karla I sugest you find out when Good Friday is.

  • CathChap

    Dawkins and Pell are both right. It all depends which stage of Darwin’s life you consider.

    A fuller quote from his autobiography would illuminate this better..,.

    ….During these two years (March 1837 – January 1839) I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come by this time (i.e. 1836 to 1839) to see the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rain-bow as a sign, &c., &c., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian….
    ….Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. The rate was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted for a single second that my conclusion was correct. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished.
    And this is a damnable doctrine….

    At present the most usual argument for the existence of an intelligent God is drawn from deep inward conviction and feelings which are experienced by most persons. But it cannot be doubted that Hindoos, Mahomedans and others might argue in the same manner and with equal force in favour of the existence of one God, or of many Gods, or as with the Buddhists of no God…
    ….This argument would be a valid one, if all men of all races had the same inward conviction of the existence of one God; but we know this is very far from being the case. Therefore I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists….”

  • Dawkins has a history of claiming to speak for the dead. Maybe he should set himself up as a medium. At different times he’s claimed that Gregor Mendel was not a believing Catholic, despite being a monk, and had only joined the Church as a kind of research grant. Then he claimed that Stephen Jay Gould did not really believe in his Non-overlapping magisteria idea and in The God Delusion, apparantly Thomas Huxley was really an atheist, not an agnostic, as Huxley himself claimed. Dawkins is a total man of straw, and it’s worth remembering that his Oxford chair was funded by a millionaire specifically with him in mind. Would he have received a professorship otherwise?

    By the way, Nick Spencer of the Theos think-tank has written a comprehensive and very readable book on exactly what Darwin ACTUALLY thought on the matter of God. It’s called, surprisingly, Darwin and God and I recommomend it to anyone interested in the subject.

  • Mike

    Fairly uninformed commentary, unfortunately, by Deacon Nick. It is very clear who is doing the selective quoting of Darwin’s autobiography. Darwin’s religious views later in life were clearly agnostic at best, and certainly cannot be twisted to sound theistic when read in context and as a whole. And what on earth is meant by calling Dawkins a “straw-man”? I know what it is in relation to logical argument, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it applied to a person! Does it mean that Richard Dawkins the man is a misrepresentation of Richard Dawkins the man? What a bizarre thing to say.

    Pell was way out of his depth on scientific reasoning and made no attempt whatsoever to understand the points Dawkins was making, which virtually any scientifically literate person can, even if Dawkins on the night did not come across as eloquently as he usually does. Pell chose to invoke Godwin’s Law early on too – a complete nonsense argument correctly attacked by Dawkins. The last half of the debate was Pell speaking in tongues, and nothing else.

  • Chet McCracken

    This article is dishonest. Darwin’s autobio is online. You can see for yourself what Deacon Nick is up to.

  • Feargus

    The Cardinal had no idea of what he was talking about, neither when it came to simple scientific reasoning or historical knowledge. Dawkins kept quiet on Darwins autobiography because he couldn’t be 100% sure of whether he was right. The Cardinal used that to make him look bad, while in reality he was throwing “bull***t” at Dawkins, who at least was honest enough not to claim authority for subjects in which he is not informed. Shame it wasn’t Christopher Hitchens, he would have demolished this idiot.

  • Blathering Fool

    nother source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with the reason and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much more weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist.

    This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species; and it is since that time that it has very gradually with many fluctuations become weaker. But then arises the doubt—can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal, be trusted when it draws such grand conclusions? May not these be the result of the connection between cause and effect which strikes us as a necessary one, but probably depends merely on inherited experience? Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps an inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic.

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