Humanitarian bleeding hearts, the lot of them. Hypocrites to boot. One of our readers (atheist) insisted I should watch it. Sorry I wasted my time.
Q & A in the touchy feely way. Not one asks how the country could be protected from the Mohammedan invasion. But if they’re all so adamant that we take in those who are religiously obliged to destroy us, Â they certainly should be asked to pay for it with their own money.
Or put Â these fake asylum seekers up in their posh little mansions.
One thing is certain: if Australia keeps importing large numbers of mohammedans, this will be the inevitable result.
TONY JONES: Good evening, and welcome to Q&A. Answering your questions tonight: the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke; mental health expert and Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry; Rabbi Jacqui Ninio of Sydney’s Progressive Emanuel Synagogue; the author of The God Delusion and the Greatest Show On Earth, evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins; Family First senator Steven Fielding; and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop. Please welcome our panel.
And we’re also sending out best wishes to Sister Veronica Brady, who was going to be part of tonight’s panel but had to withdraw at the last minute due to ill-health.
Remember, Q&A is live from 9.35 Eastern Time. Join the Twitter conversation with your comments. If you have a question send it by SMS to 197 55 222 or go to our website, abc.net.au/qanda.
Let’s go straight to our very first question tonight. It comes from Arthur Lith.
ARTHUR LITH: It’s a question for Richard Dawkins. Can one be a believer in God, as well as a believer in the theory of evolution?
TONY JONES: Richard, we’ll start with you obviously.
RICHARD DAWKINS: First I want to say why am I the only one who is outspoken?
TONY JONES: You want to be.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Obviously you can be a believer in God and in evolution, because the archbishop of Canterbury is, the Pope is – at least the previous pope was and the present pope almost is kind of there and so is any bishop, any archbishop, so is any cardinal, so is any priest worthy of the name. So that is absolutely clear as an empirical fact. It is easy to be both. I find it slightly hard. I have a certain niggling sympathy for the creationists, because I think, in a way, the writing is on the wall for the religious view that says it’s fully compatible with evolution. I think there’s a kind of incompatibility, which the creationists see clearly but the archbishops and the bishops, nevertheless they’ve see the evidence. Anybody who’s seen the evidence knows that evolution is a fact and so you can’t get away from it, but I think the writing’s on the wall.
TONY JONES: Evidently 40 per cent of Americans disagree with you and they can’t reconcile their faith with the theory of evolution.
RICHARD DAWKINS: The figure varies between 40 and 45 per cent and has done for about the last 30 years. It’s an astonishing figure and that appears to be true. Gallup polls seem to suggest that that is true. It’s even worse than that, because they actually believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old and because since the true age of the earth is 4.6 billion years old, that’s a non-trivial error. I’ve previously compared it – I’ve previously compared it to believing that the width of North America is eight yards.
TONY JONES: Steve Fielding can one be a believer in God, as well as a believer in the theory of evolution?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I’m not an expert on these issues whatsoever and I think people in Australia have different beliefs and their faith may driver them one way or the other. I actually believe in creationism. I think the Prime Minister does as well, so I suppose at the end of the day each person will come to their own conclusion on the issue, Tony.
TONY JONES: You believe in creationism. Because I’ve never heard you state this, but it’s a fact is that you believe in creationism not evolution. Is that right?
STEVE FIELDING: That’s correct. But, look, each person will come to their own conclusion and I…
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well…
STEVE FIELDING: …you know.
TONY JONES: Richard, you’d like to respond?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Do you believe the world is less than 10,000 years old?
STEVE FIELDING: Look…
RICHARD DAWKINS: No, do you believe that?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think that there are a lot of questions in this area and I think people will come to their own conclusions. I don’t want to force people into one way or the other.
RICHARD DAWKINS: You’re not being asked to forced. You’re not being asked to forced.
JULIE BISHOP: It’s either a new earth creationist or an old earth creationist, so which is it, Steve?
RICHARD DAWKINS: So, 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 is less than 10,000 years old?
STEVE FIELDING: I didn’t say that, by the way. You’re saying that I said it was 10,000.
TONY JONES: Okay.
STEVE FIELDING: I didn’t say that.
TONY JONES: Okay. No, you didn’t say that.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Do you? Do you believe it?
TONY JONES: It is an open question, though.
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think…
TONY JONES: Is that what you actually believe?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I think that the science today will discover more and more but I think that most Australians come to a view. They either believe that we evolved or we came from creation and I think that, you know, people – you can believe whatever they like on that issue. I’m not trying to force that issue onto anyone, Tony.
TONY JONES: So where did human beings come from?
STEVE FIELDING: Well, you may well ask this guy. He’s got firm views on that perspective from there.
TONY JONES: Just in your view, I’m just interested in, before we move on.
STEVE FIELDING: Well, as I said, I believe that people, you know, started from being created. But, look, there are some other views out there about people evolving from other types of animals.
TONY JONES: As in apes, for example?
STEVE FIELDING: Well, that’s what others – some believe that, yeah.
TONY JONES: Jacqui, let me bring you in here. We’ll come back to that, Steve. Your view: can one believe in evolution and still reconcile faith in God?
JACQUELINE NINIO: Absolutely, and I think I’m in very good company, as it turns out, with many religious leaders who believe that the science is pretty clear that, you know, we evolved but I think that there are still many unanswered questions, and I think we go to a big bang or whatever theory we start with and there’s always questions that we don’t have an answer to and I think for me I answer those questions with a divine being or a God. Others will answer it in a different way, but I don’t think there incompatible at all.
TONY JONES: So your God is the person or the being which created the big bang which started the whole process and then stepped aside. Is that the way it is?
JACQUELINE NINIO: Yeah, in my mind God was involved somehow, somewhere. There was something before the big bang and there are questions that we don’t understand. There are still things we don’t know and for me my faith and my belief tell me that that was the role of God was involved there somewhere but, you know, I don’t think that negates the science and I don’t think that the story that we have in the Bible in any way negates all that we know in science. I think as human beings struggling to understand and to make sense of our worlds, and I think we can learn a lot from the creation story in the Bible. Not necessarily about how the world was created but good moral teachings and lessons about humanity and about the earth and the world and how we should treat each other and how we should treat the world.
TONY JONES: Tony Burke? Go back to the original question: can one be a believer in God as well as a believer in the theory of evolution?
TONY BURKE: Oh, the simple answer to that is yes. I should add I’ve spent my whole political career avoiding ever making a comment on religion and you bring me here tonight. Tonight!
TONY JONES: Welcome to our panel.
TONY BURKE: I can’t for the life of me see where there’s a conflict there. I just can’t.
TONY JONES: Julie?
JULIE BISHOP: Evolution and faith can and do co-exist and I think many scientists and theologians are able to reconcile their belief in evolution and the scientific fact and theory and also a belief in a higher being. And, you know, I understand the evolution side of it. You know, amino acids to proteins to molecules to cells to organisms and then to a creature that has the bring power to question its own origins. That is man. But as Pope Benedict did say, he said it’s absurd to suggest that these should be presented as alternatives. That is evolution or faith and, in fact, they can co-exist. They don’t have to exclude each other and who answers the imponderable question, “Well, where did everything come from originally? I mean, where did the original amino acid come from?” So I think there’s room for both and they have co-existed happily in Australia and will continue to do so.
TONY JONES: Okay. There’s a question down the front. I’m going to come to you in a moment, but first of all we’ve got a question that draws in Patrick McGorry and I’m going to go to Dan Anderson first. There’s Dan.
DAN ANDERSON: Professor McGorry, in your experience do you think that belief in a transcendent being or in the transcendent in general is part of normal, healthy human psychology or is it a symptom of mental illness?
PATRICK MCGORRY: That’s obviously a trick question, right?
TONY JONES: Do your best, Phillip.
PATRICK MCGORRY: Well, look, you know, I’ve looked after a lot of people over the last 20 or 30 years who have had very significant psychiatric disorders and, you know, it’s quite common for religious themes to actually manifest within the context of their symptoms so, you know, religion and mental health do co-exist in that way but clearly, also, spirituality is an important part of positive mental health. So I think there’s two sides to this coin and, you know, I think the question – we could talk about that for hours, really.
TONY JONES: Let’s go back to Richard Dawkins. I mean, you refer to belief in God as “the God delusion”. I’m wondering whether you think that spirituality may have a positive psychological benefit, as the questioner implies?
RICHARD DAWKINS: No, I don’t think it has a positive psychological benefit. As to whether religious belief is a mental illness, I don’t think it’s fair to call it a mental illness because so many people actually do it. On the other hand I think you could say that if you met one person, just one person, who claimed to believe some of the things that religious people as a whole claim to believe, you would think they were suffering from (indistinct). I mean it’s just because so many of them believe it that we treat it as normal. But if you actually met somebody who said he believed that water could turn into wine, a man could walk on water, that a man could raise somebody else from the dead, you’d say, “Well, put him away.” But because so many people believe it, you take it seriously.
TONY JONES: Okay, I’m told we’ve got a question come in, a web question. It’s from Cassandra Devine in Victoria. It’s too Richard Dawkins: “Why do you feel the need to express your views so stridently when they’re not always welcome? Isn’t it rather like going around to playgrounds and telling children that Santa Claus isn’t real?”
RICHARD DAWKINS: In modern English vocabulary, it’s more or less impossible to use the word atheist without preceding it with the adjective strident. They simply go together. I am not strident. I am not more strident than anybody else. Now, is it like disillusioning children about Santa Claus? The weird thing is that children manage to grow out of Santa Claus and for some reason…
TONY JONES: Let’s throw that to Jacqui, and the questioner says that questioning faith might be a bad thing? It might sort of cause people stop believing in Santa Clause or whatever.
JACQUELINE NINIO: I think we have – as people of faith, we have an obligation to question and to continually be understanding and reinterpreting and trying to find meaning within our tradition and I can say for myself that what I understand and believe about God now was not what I understood and believed about God when I was 10 and it’s not what I understood when I was five it won’t be what I understand when I’m 90. I think that it’s an evolving process to understand God and what God is and how God is in the world, and I think…
TONY JONES: Here’s the interesting thing: you keep reinterpreting God as you get older, by the sound of it. Do you ever consider that perhaps God doesn’t exist?
JACQUELINE NINIO: No, I don’t, but there are those who do and I think for me my faith in God is quite strong but I think for many, many believers it’s very – of course you question the existence of God and that sometimes you may come to the position that God doesn’t exist and all kinds of things can happen in your life and in the world and the way you view things and there’s an amazing Jewish philosopher who said the second you start to define God, you already limit God. God is un-understandable in some ways by humanity and so the second we try and grapple with it, we’re already limiting what God is. I think that there’s an unfolding understanding of God as you change and as the world changes and all we can do as human beings is to approach it from where we are and from our understanding and what we know in that moment.
TONY JONES: Now, before we come to our questioner down the front who had his hand up, Richard, do you regard that as just clever sophistry?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I was wondering what on earth it meant, I must say.
JACQUELINE NINIO: I preferred clever sophistry, myself.
TONY JONES: Okay. We do have a question down the front here and I’m going to go to you. You had your hand up.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes, my question is for Professor Dawkins. Given that your previous role at Oxford University was about, you know, propagating the knowledge of science to the public, which I think you’ve done excellently with, you know, the Great Australian Earth and also the BBC documentary that you did were you, you know, exposed the stupidity of homeopathy and so called eastern medicine, don’t you think it would have been prudent to stick on that sort of line as opposed to driving a wedge between religious people and science? I mean, in my opinion what you’ve sort of done, probably inadvertently, is create a situation whereby people like Steve, who are actually in control of, you know, whether our country has an emissions trading scheme, you know, believing in climate change or not have to question science over their faith. Wouldn’t it be better to separate the two issues completely and just say, “This is science. This is evidence. You know go out and make the best decisions that you can based on fact and what you, you know, believe in your own personal life should be completely separate”?
RICHARD DAWKINS: It’s a familiar line of argument and I’ve met it often. I think it’s – that wasn’t supposed to be a put down. It’s a genuinely difficult question. It’s a question of political expediency. The implication of your question is that there’s something about religion which is personal and which doesn’t have any bearing – that evidence doesn’t have any bearing upon it. Now, as I scientist I care passionately about the truth. I think that the existence of a supreme being – a supernatural supreme being – is a scientific issue. Either there is a God or there isn’t. Either there are gods or there are no gods. That is a…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Indistinct)
RICHARD DAWKINS: Yes, because it’s a supremely important scientific question. If the universe was created by an intelligence, then we are looking at an entirely different kind of scientific theory from if the universe came into existence by natural means. If God or gods had something to do with the creation of life, then we’re looking at a totally different kind of biology.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How so?
RICHARD DAWKINS: So I think you can’t just say religion and science have nothing to do with each other. Science can get on and you let people have their own religious – of course you let people believe whatever they like. But you cannot say that science and religion are completely separate because religion makes scientific claims. It certainly makes scientific claims about miracles, as I mentioned before, and you cannot reconcile an authentic approach to science with a belief in miracles or, I suspect, with a belief in supernatural creation. At least the very least you should say is that this is a scientific question.
TONY JONES: Okay. No, I’m sorry, I’m going to interrupt you there, because we’ve got lots of questions. You’re watching Q&A. Remember you can send us your web or video questions to our website. The address is on your screen. But our next question tonight comes from in the audience and it’s from Renee Brasier.
RENEE BRASIER: Professor Dawkins, you are clearly against the teaching of creationism in the context of the science classroom, but do you think there is any value in teaching religion studies in schools?
TONY JONES: I won’t start with you, if that’s okay. I might go to Tony Burke first of all for an answer to that and I’ll come back to you.
TONY BURKE: I think on the teaching of religious studies there is a significant role there for parents as to whether or not they want that to be one of the things that’s taught to their children. I agree with the comment that religious teaching does not belong in the science room. I do agree with that but I also think, that there’s significant issues for parents. Some parents want their children to have a religious education. Some what their children to have a religious education that exposes them to a whole range of different faith belief systems and some don’t want to go there at all and I actually reckon that’s personal enough for parents to have a significant say in that.
TONY JONES: Let’s go to Julie Bishop, because I want to hear, as I said, from the three politicians before we go to the rest of the panel.
JULIE BISHOP: Tony, you might recall there was a debate earlier this year when it was suggested that the Bible should be taught in schools and there was quite a controversy about it. I happen to believe that the Bible is one of the all time best sellers. That’s a fact. And it is the basis of so much western morality and thought and history and law and western culture and literature and it doesn’t have to be taught in religious classes. It could be taught academically along with – – –
TONY JONES: What about is science classes?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, along with the works of Shakespeare and the Iliad. But, no, I believe that intelligent design is not something that would be taught in a science class. I mean science, as far as I’m concerned, is the search for the natural causes of universe and that’s what science should be about. We don’t have intelligent design classes as such in Australia, as far as I’m aware in the curriculum, but I think that it should be open to parents and open to schools to choose to offer religious instruction if that’s what the schools and the parents wish to have.
TONY JONES: Steve Fielding, they don’t have it in many schools, but they do have it in the school associated with your church, where they do teach creationism, Waverley College.
STEVE FIELDING: Look, different schools teach different things. There’s Jewish schools, there’s Christian schools, there’s all sorts of schools. Look, I actually think religion and science are separate. I don’t think they should be taught in science, no.
TONY JONES: I noted – I looked at the website of Waverley College. It has a slogan that says, “All your children will be taught by the Lord.” What does that mean exactly?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, it may be that you’ve read more than I have, Tony, but, look, at the end of the – look, for example, I mean my faith if personal. I don’t think I’ve ever really come out and spoken about it. It’s the media that have quizzed me more on it than I’ve actually gone out and actually spoken on it. In actual fact I first met the Prime Minister when I was first elected and it’s funny, you know, he sat there, pulled out his Bible out of his top pocket and started to lecture me and give me a sermon and I thought, that’s interesting. I’ve never done that to anyone and here’s the Prime Minister, first meeting, never met the guy, he pulls out his Bible. He’s probably still got it in his top pocket, I think. But look, it’s not – I think it’s very personal and I think that, look, I’ve got my decision making – my core decision-making team. I have a Jew and an atheist. I think you should be making policy on common sense and what is best for Australia. I don’t think that, you know, Australians like the idea of having it driven by religion and that is the truth, Tony. I’ve never raised the issue. It’s very personal to me. I’ve never gone out and done what Kevin Rudd’s done – meet someone for the first time…
TONY JONES: Okay. Okay.
STEVE FIELDING: …and pull out the Bible and lecture them.
TONY JONES: I’m going to interrupt you, because once again we’ve got a web question on this subject. It’s from David in Victoria: ” Do you believe intelligent design should be part of the science curriculum, taught alongside evolution or do you believe it is non-scientific and should be relegated to the rubbish bin?” And while you’re talking Steven Fielding, we’ll go to you first?
STEVE FIELDING: What was the question? Sorry, Tony, I missed it. I was thinking about…
TONY JONES: The question was about whether intelligent design should be taught in the science curriculum?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I actually think that kids are pretty smart and I actually think that there’s room, potentially, to be actually taught both and allow the kids to work it out. You know, I mean, I think they’re pretty smart.
TONY JONES: Not in the science room. I said before Tony. So in the science room, I’ve told you before, and I’ll say it again, religion and science should be separated. I don’t think there’s room for that and that’s why I’m saying is that, you know, if you really – if parents are concerned then maybe the schools should teach both, but not in the science class, if you know what I mean. I think kids can work it out themselves with their parents themselves from there, but I don’t think it should be in science at all. I’ll make it quite clear. Religion and science are two separate issues.
TONY JONES: All right, Richard Dawkins, is that a compromise that you’re comfortable with?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I’d like to answer the previous question, which was, after all, put to me.
TONY JONES: Yeah, of course you may.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Which was: do we think that religion should be taught in schools not in science classes? Of course it should not be taught in science class, but it certainly should be taught. Religion is a very important part of our culture. As Julie Bishop has said, it’s a very important part of literature. She also said it’s important for our morals and goodness sake I hope we don’t get our morals from it.
JULIE BISHOP: No, I didn’t say that. No, I said it’s a basis for western morality and thought.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, I very much hope it is not the basis for western morality.
JULIE BISHOP: But it has been. I mean, that’s a fact.
RICHARD DAWKINS: It is the basis for a lot of western literature and for that reason it’s very important to teach it. You can’t understand European history without being steeped in religion, because so many of the wars were about it. There’s another very good reason for teaching religion, comparative religion, which is that children will then learn that there are lots of different religions and they’re all incompatible and they can’t all be right and so what is, I think, actually rather wicked is taking children who are too young to know and teaching them, “You belong to this religion”. “You belong to – you’re a Catholic,” or “You’re a Muslim,” or whatever it might be. That I think it wicked. What you should say is, there are people called Catholics and they believe this. There are people called Protestants. There are people called Muslims who believe that. People called Jews who believe the other. That’s important. That’s worth teaching. Let children make up their minds when they’re old enough but don’t tell children that they belong to this religion or that.
TONY JONES: Jacqui? Jacqui, let’s hear from you and bear in mind that I think you heard Julie Bishop, former education minister, suggest that teaching of the Bible in schools might be a good idea. I mean are you – I mean, I suppose it depends whether we’re talking about Old Testament or New Testament from your point of view.
JACQUELINE NINIO: Yeah, I think that there are many, many religious beliefs and I think it’s really important maybe for some of the reasons that Richard suggested to be able to let people know the beliefs of various religious communities and I think that it’s really important in order to breakdown the misunderstanding and the prejudice and the division that happens between people when instead of seeing actually the differences between religions that teaching about them can actually find a lot of commonality, as well, and a lot of places where we do agree and we – and we do see things in the same way. But not just teaching religion. I think we should be teaching other moral basis of thought and other philosophy, as well, and I think on the point of not telling your children what religion they are, I think we have an obligation as parents. We are raising our children. We are making decisions for them all the time and I think this is…
TONY JONES: Are you at all worried that in religious schools children get indoctrinated, which I think is one of the points Richard was making?
JACQUELINE NINIO: Well, I don’t want to speak for all religious schools but the ones I know I don’t feel they’re indoctrinated. I think there’s a very – well, I don’t know. The ones that I know, there’s a very healthy spirit of questioning and a lot of opening for children to, you know, to question what’s going on and to question belief and to ask – and to not necessarily follow their parents. And, you’re right, if they come to an age and a time when they decide that that philosophy or that religion is not for them then they’re not going to remain part of it. But I think, you know, as a parent, I want to be giving my child a firm foundation in my beliefs (indistinct).
TONY JONES: All right, let’s hear what Patrick thinks about this. Teaching religion in schools, are you comfortable with it? Are there limits? Where do you set them?
PATRICK MCGORRY: I thought you were going to let me off the hook, Tony.
TONY JONES: No, we want to explore who you are.
PATRICK MCGORRY: Yes. Yes. Well, look, I very much agree with what Jacqui and Richard have been saying about the value of teaching comparative religion. I’ve seen that in my own children. They went to a nominally religious school of one particular domination, but it was extremely liberal and they certainly didn’t teach any religion in science classes. They taught it in a comparative religion way. My youngest son learnt a lot about Islam through that process and really noticed the common features, actually, with other major religions. So I thought that was really valuable for him to do that. But I certainly don’t think that intelligent design should be taught anywhere, really.
TONY JONES: Okay, you’re watching Q&A, the live and interactive forum where you get to ask the question. Our next question comes from in the audience. It’s from Hamzah Qureshi.
HAMZAH QURESHI: My question is for Professor Dawkins. Considering that atheism cannot possibly have any sense of absolute morality, would it not then an irrational leap of faith, which atheists themselves so harshly condemn, for an atheist to decide between right and wrong?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Absolute morality – the absolute morality that a religious person might profess would include what, stoning people for adultery, death for apostasy, punishment for breaking the Sabbath. These are all things which are religiously based absolute moralities. I don’t think I want an absolute morality. I think I want a morality that is thought out, reasoned, argued, discussed and based upon, I’d almost say, intelligent design. Can we not design our society, which has the sort of morality, the sort of society that we want to live in – if you actually look at the moralities that are accepted among modern people, among 21st century people, we don’t believe in slavery anymore. We believe in equality of women. We believe in being gentle. We believe in being kind to animals. These are all things which are entirely recent. They have very little basis in Biblical or Quranic scripture. They are things that have developed over historical time through a consensus of reasoning, of sober discussion, argument, legal theory, political and moral philosophy. These do not come from religion. To the extent that you can find the good bits in religious scriptures, you have to cherry pick. You search your way though the Bible or the Quran and you find the occasional verse that is an acceptable profession of morality and you say, “Look at that. That’s religion,” and you leave out all the horrible bits and you say, “Oh, we don’t believe that anymore. We’ve grown out of that.” Well, of course we’ve grown out it. We’ve grown out of it because of secular moral philosophy and rational discussion.
TONY JONES: Tony Burke? The follow up question, I suppose, is from where do you derive your sense of morality? Is it from the Bible or is it from some sort of humanist principles?
TONY BURKE: Okay, you’ve now got me where I didn’t want to be. I guess for me and Richard can say it’s cherry picking, the concept a couple of thousand years ago from a bloke who my faith follows that says even if someone is your enemy you ought to love them, for me that’s a fundamental part of how people should interact with each other ideally. Fundamental. And I reckon a lot builds from that and some of the principles that build from that aren’t that different from the best humanist principles that Richard wants to cherry pick. But I’ve got to say if you want to look at the worst that people have done in history, you can find religious examples and you can find atheist examples. I don’t think Mao Tse Tung’s China during the cultural revolution as an atheist regime or Stalin’s Russia are great examples of morality either. People have done some shocking things in human history, sometimes in the name of religion. Sometimes in the name of whatever other division they could find but to say that that’s an argument against religion, I don’t think matches the level of logic that Richard’s demanding of everyone else.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I…
TONY JONES: Can I just interrupt you there because what was raised by Tony Burke was obviously the sermon on the mount, the beatitudes, which does provide a kind of moral template for a lot of people. I mean, turn the other cheek, love your enemy as yourself, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted because they stand up for what’s right, et cetera, the meek shall inherit the earth. Those are principles you could take as a humanist as moral principles, are they not?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I’m delighted to cherry pick those. Jesus said some wonderful things and the sermon on the mount is terrific. Modern morality goes back to that and says, yes, that’ll do. That’s very good. The Mao Tse Tung point, of course, is religious.
TONY BURKE: And every religious war is not. Come on.
RICHARD DAWKINS: No, the difference is this: we are not counting up the number of good things and bad things that have been done by people who happen to be religious or who happen to be atheist. We’re looking at whether there are religious or atheistic motives for doing good or bad things. Is there a logical pathway that leads from religious faith to doing bad things? Sure as hell there is. Is there a logical pathway that leads from atheism to doing bad things? No, you cannot make a logical pathway that way. Nobody would ever say, “Because I’m an atheist I’m going to kill somebody.” You could very well say, “Because I am a Christian I’m going to go and kills Muslims.” “Because I’m a Muslim I’m going to go to kill Christians.” This is something that’s happened throughout history. Nobody has ever said, “Because I’m an atheist, I’m going to go and kill somebody.”
TONY JONES: Okay, we’ve got a questioner down the front here and just wait a moment, we’ll come to you straight away.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Professor Dawkins, thanks for your presence here. I think there’s a very obvious flaw in the logic that you’ve used there. You seem to conveniently forget that many of the wars that have been fought in recent years and see, indeed, the most controversial ones, they have been this direct result of the desire to spread these values of capitalism, these values of democracy, which essentially are exactly what you’re against in one way, shape or form. So whether it’s spreading democracy or spreading capitalism or any of these ways of life or a few decades before spreading communism or whatever, it has to be faced up to that these ideologies were what people used to advance wars, to advance persecution and oppression. So how can you possibly say that it’s only in the name of religion that these sorts of acts have been done when…
RICHARD DAWKINS: No, I never said…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: …clearly the reality is the exact opposite.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I never said that. There are plenty of other ideologies. Ideology is what motivates people to do these things, not atheism. Communism could well motivate. Nazism motivated people to do these terrible things. These are things that people believe as a matter of faith, not religious faith in that case but faith, whereas atheism is not that.
TONY JONES: Okay. I’m going to go now to another question from the audience. It’s from Andrew Kollington.
ANDREW KOLLINGTON: My question is to Senator Fielding. You’re courageously open about your religious and moral beliefs. As a believer in God, do you accept the Bible as the word of God and those who participate in homosexual behavior ought to be shunned or be put to death as the Bible demands? Or do so called ‘moderate Christians’ simply choose to ignore the word of God in this case, picking what passages they feel best suit our social trends of the day?
STEVE FIELDING: Look, I’m certainly not fearful of gays, as someone said just the other night, I think, on 60 minutes. But, look, I don’t think gays should be shunned or put to death. That’s just a joke. That is just absolutely insulting. It’s actually – I find it, you know, really offensive for that to even be even thought of.
TONY JONES: But it is…
STEVE FIELDING: But I’m just is I find that…
TONY JONES: It is….
STEVE FIELDING: Not you yourself…
TONY JONES: Those penalties…
STEVE FIELDING: …but just the question, you know.
TONY JONES: Those penalties are actually cited in the Bible. I think that’s the point he was making.
STEVE FIELDING: Yeah. Look, I actually don’t believe in that at all, so that gives you…
RICHARD DAWKINS: Well, why not? I mean, it’s the Bible. How do you decided then?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Senator, do you find God offensive?
JULIE BISHOP: I was just saying the Bible is a text some 2000 years old. You’ve got the Old Testament which, you know, the stories in the Old Testament are fascinating. They are intriguing. The new testament tells the story of a man who tried to do good things and who began this movement of Christianity that is still with us today. He must have been an outstanding person, let’s face it. But the beautify of the psalms, the message behind the parables, doesn’t mean that you have to be absolutely wedded to each word. It means that there were messages there that live through the ages and I don’t have any difficulty with the New Testament at all in that regard. But it doesn’t mean that I live my life according to every single chapter of the New Testament.
TONY JONES: Let’s hear a brief response from Richard Dawkins?
RICHARD DAWKINS: The New Testament – you believe, if you believe in the New Testament, that God, the all powerful creator of the universe couldn’t think of a better way to forgive humanity’s sins than to have himself put on earth, tortured and executed in atonement for the sins of humanity? What kind of a horrible, depraved notion is that?
JULIE BISHOP: You know, can I just say one thing?
TONY JONES: Yes.
JULIE BISHOP: You know what disturbs me about this debate and that is that people should respect other people’s views. Now, the neo-creationists say that there’s no scientific theory or fact and they deny it and the neo-Darwinists deny that there’s faith or religion. Let’s show some respect for different people’s views and then I think the debate will be perhaps much more pleasant.
RICHARD DAWKINS: What is wrong – when you say – you’re implying I didn’t show respect.
JULIE BISHOP: No, I’m saying that what disturbs me about this debate and we see it often is that there are extremes. And whenever I see extremes I’m concerned.
RICHARD DAWKINS: But the extreme is in the New Testament. I simply told you what is New Testament doctrine. That is St Paul’s view, which is accepted by Christianity. That’s why Christ came to earth, in order to atone for humanity’s sins. If it’s extreme, it’s not me that’s being extreme, it’s the new testament that’s being extreme.
TONY JONES: No, well, I’m going to jump in here, because is that not a story of sacrifice and therefore has something admirable attached to it which is the opposite of what you suggested?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Do you think it’s admirable? You think it’s admirable that God actually had himself tortured for the sins of humanity?
TONY JONES: That is the Christian view obviously.
RICHARD DAWKINS: That is the Christian view. If you think that’s admirable, you can keep it.
TONY JONES: Okay. Tony Burke, first of all, quickly?
TONY BURKE: I don’t think your ridicule of people’s faith is much better than what you’re criticising. I really don’t.
RICHARD DAWKINS: But I just stated it. I didn’t ridicule it. I simply stated it.
TONY BURKE: No. No. No. No. Sorry, if you go back over the words you used, once you’re stating it you did then ridicule it. You did. And if you want to look at the challenges and the conflicts and making a community around the world work together, then the level of respect that so many religions have not shown for each other absolutely needs to be lifted and your level of respect and tolerance could probably be a bit better too.
RICHARD DAWKINS: Let me answer that. Let me answer that. I did not more than state the Christian doctrine and Tony then said, “That is the Christian doctrine. Isn’t it admirable.” People said, “Yes, it’s admirable.” So how is it disrespectful if I simply state what it is and half the audience think it’s admirable? What’s disrespectful about stating it?
TONY BURKE: Press rewind, hear your own words. You have changed them.
TONY JONES: Okay.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I have not.
TONY JONES: I’m sorry, I’m going to bring in our other panellists quickly to respond to this and we’ll start with Patrick. Your thoughts?
PATRICK MCGORRY: Well, I find the whole discussion a bit frustrating, I’ve got to say, because I’m a minister in the real world. This is very intellectual stuff, you know. I’m thinking about the people that are being tortured these days, you know, and, you know, what’s happening to them and so I think – and it’s on a whole lot of different bases. I would say ideology rather than faith is the driver of it. You could say faith is a kind of ideology, as Richard probably agree with that. That’s the problem and we’ve got, you know, millions of people around the world that are still suffering these days. Slavery only went out about 100 years ago. We’ve still got torture. All of these social evils are still with us. So what are we doing about it? I’d like to talk about more practical things. That’s my tendency.
TONY JONES: Okay. Well, we do have a – we’ve got a lot of people with their hands up. We do have a question which relates to one of your practical interests, and it comes from Dennis Colombo. Question nine. Where’s Dennis?
DENNIS COLOMBO: It’s a different kind of question, Tony. My question is both political parties, the Coalition and Labor, have been severely criticised about their handling of the boat people asylum seekers. I’m wondering if the non-politicians and the audience have got some insight into how they think we should go about it and perhaps lead us in a fresher direction.
TONY JONES: Patrick, let’s start with you on this.
PATRICK MCGORRY: Well, this is a subject very close to my heart. I’ve worked with asylum seekers and refugees since the late eighties and…
TONY JONES: And you’ve been scathing about immigration detention practices.
PATRICK MCGORRY: I think I’ve seen the situation deteriorate in Australia since that time. At that point in the 1980s we had a very positive international reputation for looking after refugees and dealing with them in a very humanitarian way and the whole situation deteriorated quite significantly in the last 20 years. We’re starting to dig ourselves out of that hole now and I am worried that we’re – in the context of the political debate, we might be going to do a u-turn backwards again. So I am concerned about that, particularly from a mental health point of view, because the two things we know about the people that are coming to Australia and seeking asylum are 90 per cent of them are genuine refugees and 50 to 60 per cent of them have been through very extreme experiences. They are not only the most courageous people, but they also are extremely vulnerable and traumatised. So the one thing we have to do as a country is not add insult to injury and make that worse, and there are two things that do that: prolonged uncertain detention. And I’m not saying mandatory detention isn’t necessary for certain purposes. Brief detention is quite warranted for health and safety checks. And the second thing, and this is the thing I have most clinical experience with was the effect of temporary protection visas on people. That was just an absolutely devastating experience for people.
TONY JONES: Well, let me ask you this, because the question that’s being raised now is whether this government has actually shifted the problem offshore – effectively outsourced it so that the same people who were put in detention in Australia are now largely being kept in detention funded by Australia and in detention centres built by Australia dollars in Indonesia?
PATRICK MCGORRY: Well, I’m just going to stick with the health focus here. The key thing is to make sure that mental health and health facilities are available to them. That’s the key issue with the offshore issue. Do they have access to proper mental health care and other types of health care in the locations they are being maintained.
TONY JONES: Do you fear that they may not?
PATRICK MCGORRY: I’m not sure about that. I think there are processes to try to ensure that happens, but I haven’t been to the offshore detention centres, so I can’t answer it definitely.
TONY JONES: Okay, let’s go to Julie Bishop on this. There’s been a fair bit of talk about this recently. In fact, the Opposition has pretty much accused the government of shifting the focus of this detention of asylum seekers back to Indonesia and putting the problem in their lap.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, our concern is that the government weakened the border protection laws and has essentially said to Indonesia, “This is now your responsibility to sort it out.” The Prime Minister actually rang President Yudhoyono and asked him to intercept a boat that was heading to Australia and asked him to intervene and take it to Indonesia’s shores and then essentially said to Indonesia, “It’s your problem.” Same with the Oceanic Viking. There is nothing humane about a policy that encourages people to go to people smugglers, puts them aboard leaky boats and sends them across the seas. We know that there are 105 Afghanis who were on boat last November coming down from the north and haven’t been seen since. We don’t know how many other situations there are like that, so there’s nothing humane about the people smuggling trade. What we need to do is ensure that Australia meets its obligations to be a humanitarian – a good humanitarian country and we do take our share of humanitarian refugees under an organised program, but we must also ensure that the integrity of our borders are such that we don’t have people arriving by boat in circumstances which causes death and injury,
TONY JONES: Very briefly, the logic of that would be to keep them in detention centres in Indonesia, which have been outsourced and built by the Australian Government.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, working with the transit countries and working with the source countries to ensure that they don’t get into the hands of the people smugglers.
TONY JONES: Tony Burke?
TONY BURKE: I think the point that we need to discourage seriously people smuggling is inarguable. There’s no argument against that. You have a situation and Julie’s referred to more recent example. I remember all the discussion following SIEV-X. People drowned on the way here and that’s not the way we want people to get here. It’s also the case that the solution is not, once people get here, to treat them pretty cruelly and say, “Oh, there you go. We found a deterrent.” And under temporary protection visas what we said to people was – Australia said to people was, “Even if you’re found to be here genuinely, even if you have ticked every box in being a true refugee, we’re not going to give you any certainty possibly ever, and that brought down mental health consequences which weren’t in their interest, weren’t in Australia’s interests and I really hope the opposition is not serious about wanting to bring them back.
TONY JONES: Can I just ask you this. How do you know the same things aren’t happening in detention centres in Indonesia, where you have no control but simply provide funding?
TONY BURKE: What they are there in place of is the camps which, in terms of living conditions, the camps that people have been waiting on, whether it be Lombok or elsewhere, have not been good situations. The fact that Australia is helping Indonesia with the people who are there is a better situation than what was happening prior to our assistance.
TONY JONES: Let’s hear from Jacqui Ninio. I mean, interesting question for you, I think, because are there parallels here with the 1930s and what happened with Jewish people who desperately tried to find third countries to take them and they simply weren’t allowed in any of these places? They were kept in camps. Sometimes they just couldn’t get anywhere. They couldn’t find a port that would take them?
JACQUELINE NINIO: Absolutely, and I think the telling thing is that, you know, the statistic that 90 per cent of the people who are coming are genuine refugees – they’re people escaping and fleeing the most horrendous situations and we are so blessed and so lucky to be here and I understand also the need for health checks and for security checks, but really it needs to be done in the most humane way possible for these people who have been through so much already just to give them a home and a place and we have enough space. We have enough room and they’re each human beings and I think that we need to be reaching out to them and to bring them in in the most – the best possible way, I think.
TONY JONES: Steve Fielding, let’s hear from you. I mean, Family First – I can remember when you first came to parliament, Family First had quite a strong position that people were being poorly treated in detention centres. That seems to have evolved, if I may say that.
STEVE FIELDING: Yeah, look, it certainly has and, look, Family First realises that our vote is going to be crucial on this issue. I think it is going to come up in parliament, I think probably before the election. I went to Christmas Island this year. The Rudd Government was able to get me there, which was good, and I spoke to some of the boat people or asylum seekers fresh off one of the boats. I asked them, “Did you pay any money?” – and this is not the driving force here – and they said, “Yes, about $8000 and another 20 on the way.” Now, I said, well, how many actually make it to Australia.” And out of a hundred about 20 get through. And I thought, blimey, that’s a lot of people that people smugglers are playing on people’s minds. Some get detained and some are actually killed along the way and some actually die along the way that nobody hears about. Now, this is a real issue. I voted – my record on this is pretty strong. I voted against some of the Howard Government changes. I look at this issue seriously. I voted against some of the Howard Government issues. My vote was crucial. He withdrew the bill from parliament. Wouldn’t even have the guts to bring it into parliament, because I said I wasn’t going to vote for it. Now, that’s…
JULIE BISHOP: (Indistinct).
STEVE FIELDING: Many people may not know that. Then when the Rudd Government got elected the Rudd Government made some changes which I thought were a good move, more humane. I backed those changes. My vote was, again, crucial on those issues. Now, what I didn’t expect was thousands of people to start arriving in Australia. We have a problem, okay? Now, before we start overreacting and say, “What are we going to do?” you have to admit we have a problem. First of all every person that Australia takes that comes through an authorised way we take one less from the front of the queue. These people are wait…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Indistinct)
STEVE FIELDING: Hold on a second here. When you say there’s no queue, there’s people waiting for years – for absolute years – and everyone we take by boat we take one less. And, secondly, we are making it even easier for the boat people. Now, I’m proud, as an Australian, that we should treat people humanely but I didn’t expect the problems of thousands of people coming and actual boats. So we do have to admit that we’ve got to address this issue. How we need to address it? We have to have a fair dinkum debate without all the decisiveness about it.
TONY JONES: All right. I just want to hear from Richard Dawkins. The same debate, essentially, has been going on in the UK. In fact, right across Europe. Your thoughts on hearing it repeated here?
RICHARD DAWKINS: I’ve been rather moved to hear the very humane statements that have been made. I don’t feel I should contribute to this debate. I know nothing about the Australian situation. But I was moved, especially, by what the rabbi was saying.
TONY JONES: Okay. And Patrick McGorry, finally to you. I mean you seem to be reflecting on the way the conversation is going. I’m just interested on your thoughts.
PATRICK MCGORRY: Well, I think a number of points have come out. Look, it’s an upstream problem. You know, it’s a massive worldwide problem. When Senator Fielding says, you know, there are large numbers coming, actually in world terms there are a couple of thousand on Christmas Island. It seems like a lot because there’s been an increase but if you look at it in world terms, Australia itself takes 130,000 people plus into the country every single year. So we’ve got – it hasn’t been looked at in a logical way, this issue, because it’s been politicised for the last 15 years or so. I just don’t think the media, the politicians, the community have really had a logical look at this issue.
TONY JONES: I want to just complete this by going back to Julie Bishop. Do you take the view that the Navy should basically toe the boats back to Indonesia?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, that was Kevin Rudd’s view before the last election. He said…
TONY JONES: Is it your view now?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m just saying it was Kevin Rudd’s view before the election that they should take the boats back.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Indistinct) Is it your view?
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you. My view is that we should be working with the source countries, the transit countries to do what we can to stop the boats coming. Now, if…
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why?
JULIE BISHOP: Because it is inhumane to put people on boats where they have a very high risk of drowning and we’ve seen it already with 105 people left the northern shores – it was Indonesia or Malaysia. They haven’t arrived, haven’t been seen since last November. Now, that is a (indistinct) so…
TONY JONES: So, briefly, should the boats be stopped and towed back to Indonesia? That was the question and I’m just wondering whether you actually have a position on that?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, obviously in some circumstances that might be possible. In other circumstances it won’t be possible. So you’d obviously look at each…
TONY JONES: So if you find a boat at sea full of people, are you saying – because that’s when it’s possible…
JULIE BISHOP: It would depend.
TONY JONES: …are you saying that it should be then towed back if it’s seaworthy?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, it would depend on the circumstances. Kevin Rudd rang President Yudhoyono and asked him to send the Indonesian Navy down to collect them and take them to Indonesia. So it depends very much on the circumstances. But my point is first you must work with the source and transit countries to make sure that we can get rid of this people smuggling trade and process refugees in a much more humane way.
TONY JONES: Tony Burke?
TONY BURKE: The one thing that hasn’t been mentioned at all is that people are also fleeing countries. Part of the motivation right at the beginning is someone has a well-founded fear of persecution and there is no doubt that the situation in Africa, while still intense, is less intense in some parts than it was a few years ago. The number of people leaving Africa has gone down. Similar in parts of the Middle East and in Sri Lanka the number of people leaving or who had partially escaped and were waiting has gone up a lot. Now, that puts extra pressure on our region and I know the Opposition don’t like talking about the so called push factors but the truth is we have a big change…
JULIE BISHOP: You don’t like talking about the pull factors…
TONY BURKE: …we have a bit change in the region and when you’re talking about 90 per cent of people having a well-founded fear of persecution, you need a smart solution, a responsible solution, but it can’t be based on a level of cruelty to their mental health once they arrive.
TONY JONES: Okay. Talking about once they arrive, what Julie Bishop said earlier was it was the Prime Minister’s position prior to the election that boats be towed back to Indonesia. You didn’t deny that. That’s true, is it?
TONY BURKE: Yeah. There are times when you can and there’s limits under the international law of the sea when you can and one of the ways that does effectively have a dent on the people smuggling trade is if a whole lot of people have paid money to the people smuggler and then they arrive back in port. I mean, you can achieve very rarely – very rarely – because frequently the moment the boat’s sighted, it starts to sink.
TONY JONES: But essentially the towing back option is still an option – a live option for this government, is that right, from what you’re saying?
TONY BURKE: The theory of it, as what was put by Kevin at the time, is something that has been very rarely possible. There’s been times when it’s been attempted but I’m not going to pretend that we’re able to do it on every occasion because what do you then do if…
TONY JONES: But you would do it. That is the point. You would do it.
TONY BURKE: No. No. No. I’ve said that Tony. Yes.
TONY JONES: When you could, you would do it?
TONY BURKE: The answer to that is yes. It’s limited by international law of the sea and it’s also limited by what do you do the moment that boat starts to sink.
TONY JONES: All right. I’m sorry, we’re – I know there’s people with their hands up. We’re running out of time. We’ve got time for just one more quick question. It is a web question from Patrick O’Shea in Queensland. “Do you wish for or indeed hope for an afterlife?” So this takes us back to religion and let’s start with Julie Bishop. Do you wish for or hope for an afterlife?
JULIE BISHOP: Well, I hope this is not it. I mean, is this it?
TONY JONES: There is life after Q&A.
JULIE BISHOP: I’m told there’s life after politics. So, yeah, obviously that’s part of my faith. I hope that there’s something beyond what we have on earth. I don’t know. I don’t think about death that often actually and so it’s part of my hope that there is something more but I haven’t, you know, formed that in any sense that, you know, I’m going to be up there with angels and that sort of thing. I don’t mean that, but I just think that we have this being, human kind. I believe we have a soul and I would hope that the soul lives on.
TONY JONES: Patrick McGorry, do you wish for or hope for an afterlife?
PATRICK MCGORRY: Yeah, I probably agree with general. That’s my general feeling. I’d like to think that. You know, I think about my family and I think about my parents and, yeah, I’d like to think that.
TONY JONES: Jacqui?
JACQUELINE NINIO: I think there’s more to us than this body. I think we are an essence or a soul and a spirit and I don’t think that when our body dies that dies, as well. What it is we’ll never know. And, well, we will know hopefully at some point, but I don’t know now and I think my religion teaches me to live the best possible life that I can here and now and to do the best I can in the world and not to focus too much on what comes next, just to do the best I can now.
TONY JONES: Very brief answer, Tony Burke.
TONY BURKE: I reckon it’s true and I reckon Richard’s going to love it.
TONY JONES: Richard?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Let’s be realistic about this. We have brains. It’s brains that do the thinking. Our brains are going to decay. That will be that. But when you say, “Is this is?” How much more do you want? I mean this is wonderful. We have a…
TONY JONES: At least another five minutes. So you don’t wish for an afterlife?
RICHARD DAWKINS: Wouldn’t it be incredible tedious after the first thousand years or so?
TONY JONES: Okay, sadly, we don’t have a thousand years to run the program. We are out of time. One hour isn’t quite enough to answer all these big questions. Please thank our panellists: Tony Burke, Patrick McGorry, Jacqui Ninio, Richard Dawkins, Steve Fielding and Julie Bishop.
Okay. Next week the battle of the columnists: outspoken conservative Miranda Devine; anything but conservative Catherine Deveny; politics lecturer Waleed Aly; Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten; and Shadow Minister for Health Peter Dutton. So look forward to another fiery discussion next Monday night when we return. Good night.