Dawkins Challenges Australian Lawmaker on Creationism

May 4, 2010

A recent hourlong program on ABC Australia, called "Adventures in Democracy" and featuring Richard Dawkins, is now on the Web in full . The discussion, covering religion, science, and politics, is particularly intriguing because, though the six-person panel supposedly features liberals, Dawkins is alone in defending the secular, scientific, freethinking worldview (and what a fantastic job he does). This makes for a couple of tense moments -- perhaps the most interesting of which comes when Dawkins challenges an Australian lawmaker who admits to being a creationist.

The exchange happens after the program opens with an audience member asking Dawkins: "Can one be a believer in God as well as a believer in the theory of evolution?"

Dawkins says yes; plenty of people do it. "The Archbishop of Canterbury is, the Pope is -- at least the previous Pope was and the present Pope kind of is almost there. So is any bishop, so is any cardinal, so is any priest worthy of the name," he says. Dawkins then goes after young earth creationism, remarking that the difference between believing the age of the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and 10,000 years old is "a non-trivial error." As for the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury and others, Dawkins says he sees a "kind of incompability" between their old earth creationism and evolution.

The moderator then poses the audience member's question to the panelist next to Dawkins, Australian Sen. Steve Fielding .

Fielding responds: "I actually believe in creationism."

Dawkins looks shocked. The moderator asks Fielding to confirm that he is a creationist.

"That's correct," Fielding says. "But each person will come to their own conclusion."

Dawkins interjects immediately. "Do you believe the world is less than 10,000 years old? Do you believe that?"

"Look, I think there are a lot of questions in this area," Fielding says, "and I think people will come to their own conclusions."

The audience, which seemed largely in Dawkins' side, actually boos at this point. Dawkins doesn't let Fielding off the hook. "You're a young earth creationist who believes the world is less than 10,000 years old? You're a parliamentarian in Australia who believes the world you live in less than 10,00 years old?"

Fielding looks uncomfortable, avoiding the question again. "I didn't say that, though. You're saying that I said 10,000."

The moderator tells Fielding he still hasn't answered the question, so the lawmaker responds: "People can believe whatever they like on that issue, I'm not trying to force that on anyone. ... I believe that people started from being created." (This contradicts what Fielding says later when quizzed about intelligent design. "I actually think that kids are pretty smart and I actually think there's room potentially to actually teach both -- and let the kids work it out." Fielding hedges that comment, stating that intelligent design shouldn't be taught in a science classroom, but another classroom -- which, he does not say. Still, clearly his views influence his policymaking.)

The conversation moves on after that, but the 60-minute program is well worth watching. Dawkins is absolutely stellar, providing several perfect examples of how to apply critical inquiry to religious and related beliefs with care. He excellently handles critique from other panelists for merely stating the Christian doctrine on Jesus Christ; provides a great response on secular morality; defends the wonder of the view that this is the only life humans get; detangles the supposed link between atheism and violent regimes; and after the introductions, in which he is described as an "evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist," Dawkins retorts: "Why am I the only one who is outspoken?"

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