Richard Dawkins, a Bishop and a Rabbi walk into a bar…

by |March 9, 2010

Late last night, on the ABC’s talkfest Q and A, a hastily gathered panel of Australia’s finest minds… er… a hastily gathered panel of eminent Australians… a hastily gathered panel of kooks, cranks and crazies were placed at a desk beside visiting UK author and evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins.

Oh, Australia, the shame, the shame of being represented, even if only in part, by Senator Steve Fielding!

Richard Dawkins was introduced as an outspoken atheist (Incidentally, Fielding was not introduced as an outspoken idiot!).

Richard Dawkins used to be known as the fellow who wrote The Selfish Gene (still a controversial work).

When I was first introduced to his work, he was known as the fellow who had written The Blind Watchmaker and yet I didn’t get around to actually reading one of his books until he was known as the guy who wrote, Unweaving the Rainbow, which was the year I read River Out of Eden.

Unweaving the Rainbow and River Out of Eden, are both examples of the best kind of science writing, the kind that can help squeeze big, big ideas into my small, small brain.

In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins suggests that instead of waiting for Art to come to Science, as it did in the past (eg Da Vinci), Science should go to Art. He argues that scientists should find better channels for communicating their ideas – they should learn to write more engagingly, learn to depict their ideas in film, so as to engage directly with the public.

Art and Science used to be married, but in the early 20th Century the marriage foundered. Art blamed Science for the ills of the world -WWI, Industrialisation, Technology. Art felt betrayed. But went on to win custody of the children (most of mankind) and went about slandering, in its brilliant fashion, the good name of Science.

In Unweaving the Rainbow Dawkins suggested that Science no longer needed to suffer these insults in silence.

Dawkins’ books are filled to the brim with interesting ideas. They lead me on to other science writing – the works of Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Steve Jones, Robert Winston and Jacob Bronowski.

I never thought of Dawkins as an atheist, because to my mind every intelligent person is entitled to be thought an atheist until being proven stupid.

I didn’t even click that he was a big A atheist when I read the astonishing article he published in The Guardian on September 15, 2001. (Yes, the date is correct.)

It wasn’t until the launch of his book The God Delusion that he became – Richard Dawkins, Atheist. (I preferred, Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great. Am I allowed to say that here?)

I wonder if Dawkins regrets publishing The God Delusion?  He seemed to regret accepting the invitation to appear on Q and A last night. But then it must be rather dull for an author, who can talk intelligently on a great variety of subjects, to be always asked the same questions. And such silly ones.

I was ready for good TV. I was being optimistic, I know.

What did I find? We finally get Richard Dawkins on Australian TV and we sit him beside Senator Fielding and Julie Bishop!

Hmmm…. Were the big questions of Science discussed? Did we ask him about literature or politics? Climate change or species extinction or the latest in evolutionary biology? Did we mention his work at all? Nope. Instead, we asked him whether or not he feels like a man in a playground telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist!


Thank you Q and A,  I’m now certain of one thing – last night Dawkins must have felt like a grown-up among children.

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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  • Claudia

    March 9, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I completely agree. I spent half the program cringing and the other half ranting about Q&A’s inappropriate guest choices. Dawkins must have left the studio last night thinking Australians are the missing link!

    • March 10, 2010 at 9:11 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      It was a missed opportunity. As was Denton’s interview with Dawkins, aired last year.

      Thanks again.

  • Simon Reidy

    March 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Thank you for putting so eloquently what I felt while watching Q&A last night. Not only was it embarrassing to put an intellectual giant like Dawkins alongside such morons, but as you said it was a wasted opportunity to hear him talk passionately about the subjects he knows so much about.

    I was really surprised at the ABC for thinking that Stephen Fielding of all people would be a suitable choice to sit alongside Dawkins (his name doesn’t even deserve to be used in the same sentence as Dawkins’ let alone share oxygen with the man). Not only is Fielding an uneducated ‘Young Earth Creationist’ moron, but he’s so unsure of himself and just what it is he believes in, that he didn’t dare accurately answer any questions about his personal beliefs unless really pressured to do so. I loved how he fended off the notion of persecuting gays as an absurd idea just because it was in the Bible, yet the idea of the Earth being less than 10,000 years old was perfectly reasonable to him (which would entail a massive conspiracy involving the entire scientific community who almost universally accept evolution as fact).

    • March 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

      Thank you for taking the time to write such an interesting comment.
      I have begun watching a program on YouTube which aired in the UK in which Dawkins interviews people like Ian McEwan. I noticed they were available on DVD the other day. I plan to sit down and watch them soon : Dawkins on YouTube

      Thanks again.

  • Michelle Armstrong

    March 10, 2010 at 11:23 am

    As intelligent and wonderful a human being as Richard Dawkins surely is, those who compare the more ordinary earthlings amongst us unfavourably because they happen to sit beside him are missing the point I feel. Didn’t see the show, haven’t read any of his books (yet – after reading this I surely will). While healthy cynicism is a good thing, unjustly criticising those who have made a worthwhile contribution to this world (or have at least attempted to do so) is not conducive to making the world a better, more livable place. If scientists were to consider themselves as somehow separate or (God forbid – ha!) above ordinary people, then they’d begin to deserve to be ostracised, yes? The most intelligent of scientists have a strong capacity to be inherently humane and to be, dare I say it, humble. The denial of the existence of God doesn’t give one person a right to consider themselves superior to others. Those who use the non-existence of a deity as an excuse to belittle their fellow human beings are the ones who need “God” most of all. Have a good day people!

    • March 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

      Thank you for your comment.
      We appreciate your views and will look out for any comments you may wish to make in the future.
      Thank you for for reading the blog and for taking the time to comment.

  • March 11, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Watching Dawkins an Q and A was like watching Muhammad Ali in a title bout with Peewee Herman.

    I was embarrassed for Australia.

  • Richard Oakes

    March 15, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Richard Dawkins was definitely wading in the shallow end…
    I felt rather sorry for Tony Jones. He has an opportunity to include one of the cleverer men on the planet on his show and with three “sub-prime” politicians, and new age rabbi, and a psychiatrist who wanted to talk about something else.

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