Richard Dawkins and the De-evolution of Dialogue

About the Dawkins-Pell debate: Pell did not deny that evolution happens. As I understand it he objected to the mechanism of change proposed by Charles Darwin. So it was rather confusing when Richard Dawkins argued for non-random selection. To Pell that meant design (or purpose). This assumption wasn’t based on a religious belief. Evolution has been accepted since ancient times, but the theory of natural selection is unique in its complete denial of teleological explanations and its insistence on a purely mechanistic process.

Evolution by natural selection is a purely mechanistic theory of change that does not appeal to any sense of purpose or a designer. There is no foresight or purpose in nature, and there is no implication that one species is more perfect than another.

Richard Dawkins and the Saducees

Recently, a video of an old debate between Cardinal George Pell and Richard Dawkins appeared in my YouTube news feed. (Please see the video below.) I had to watch it twice to be sure I understood what I was seeing, but you can guess my impression of the debate from the title of this post.

The Saducees denied the resurrection of the dead, the existence of spirits, and the obligation of oral tradition, and emphasized acceptance of the written Law alone. I call Dawkins a Saducee because he denied the validity of metaphysical propositions, claiming that ‘life’ is sufficiently explained by Charles Darwin. In my opinion, this is very similar to the stance of the Saducees. However, what I learned from this debate is that the Church addresses this line of thought with sympathy and compassion.

The statement that started me thinking about the Saducees did not come from Richard Dawkins. It came from the moderator who asked Cardinal Pell whether atheists can go to heaven (Part 4). The context was a caller who stated that he was an atheist and wanted to know what the Cardinal thought would happen to him when he died. Cardinal Pell answered that of course Atheists can go to Heaven.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw the question as a trick question. As I understand it, the whole point of being an atheist is that you are not worried about whether you will go to Heaven. I concluded that the moderator must really be questioning the extent of Pell’s, and therefore the Church’s, good will and compassion. Until I watched this exchange a second time I had the impression that Pell felt pressured to answer the way he did. I no longer think so.

Jesus was asked trick questions during his ministry. According to an article entitled Four Questions: Four Questions: Matthew 22:15-46, they came from three distinct groups of people: Herodians, Saducees and Pharisees. The Herodians asked a political question; the Sadducees asked a doctrinal question; and the Pharisees asked an ethical question.

The Sadducees were a wealthy, aristocratic party. They said when you’re dead, you’re dead, so don’t worry about it. They were very logical, and said since there’s no proof, they won’t believe it, and if the Bible isn’t logical in some point, they will always choose logic over the Bible. And many today say that where science disagrees with the Bible in some point they will choose science over it…

At least I was right about one thing. When the moderator asked Mr. Dawkins’ opinion on this matter, Dawkins said it all depends on whether you are cremated, buried, etc. When asked whether he thought there might be some part of his mind that would wonder if there wasn’t something more, Dawkins answered that since it’s the brain that wonders such things, that would be impossible. The brain rots after you die.

I will admit that I sort of expected the Cardinal to respond to Dawkins with more force. I partly blame the debate format and the audience responses but I see now that I wasn’t thinking like a pastor. It gradually became clear to me that Pell wasn’t trying to win a contest. He was a pastor and more than a pastor–he was a fisherman. He was inviting Richard Dawkins and everyone who was listening to think about other possibilities.

It may be true that the logic of atheism indicates indifference, or at least the claim of indifference, as to what happens to you after you die, but Pell was probably thinking of people he actually knows, including Richard Dawkins. He may also have been thinking about the family members of atheists who have already passed away. Cardinal Pell believes and hopes they will go to Heaven. And this is not just his personal belief.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)…

…we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Cardinal Pell, who was in the process of cleaning up corruption at the Vatican Bank, has been convicted by a court in Australia of molesting two boys. He was recently sentenced to 6 years in prison.

Catholic Conservatives and Their Prodigal Brothers

A recent interview on YouTube reminds me that the main concern of Catholic Conservatives is not so much the sex abuse scandal but the Church’s teachings about marriage. I don’t have a stake in the marriage debate but this interview reminded me of certain realities that I have come across in my studies. And I have to say, the struggle between Catholic Conservatives and the Church’s leadership is getting old.

The interviewee is concerned that changes in the Church’s teachings make God look like a trickster who handed down a set of difficult rules only to change his mind two thousand years later. He is concerned that it might begin to look like the rules never really mattered. He is also concerned that a changing church makes it difficult to know how to behave.

I wonder about his reasons. Lately I get the impression that conservatives know better than the Pope how to behave. Perhaps the real problem is that they feel their own rewards are diminished if other people who don’t follow the rules are allowed to be members in good standing. That’s how the brother of the prodigal son felt (Luke 15:11-32). The moral of the story: the brother got it wrong.

Penitents and Cynics: Are We Seeing a Civilization in its Death Throes?

I’ve found more English language videos on the proceedings of the conference on the protection of minors, and I think I had the wrong impression. I was working off of a liturgy that was not in English.

Green New Deal Mass Action

Young people from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell’s home state, are confronting McConnell in DC today. Anyone who is close to DC is invited to join them. Everyone else can join today’s effort by flooding the Senate with calls. You can watch today’s action here:

Tomorrow will be a National Day of Action. “…[Activists] will be storming into offices, singing, dropping banners, rallying outside and making it clear that young people are ready to hold our politicians feet to the fire if they don’t co-sponsor the Green New Deal.”

If you have a plan for the 26th, you can put it on the map, here.

Venezuela Update

The Venezuelan military has again rejected the Trump administration’s offer to join the forces of Juan Guaidó. The military is an important part of the government in Venezuela and its show of support for Nicolás Maduro is a bad sign for Trump’s regime change plans. Some readers may think the following video is too unapologetic in its support for Maduro, but there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in this conflict. There are a few exceptions however, including Bernie Sanders .

As I said, this video is extremely pro-Maduro, but even Sanders’ more moderate analysis was met with screams of anguish from Democrats who support regime change in Venezuela. Here’s Bernie’s Univision interview with Jorge Ramos. The questions concerning Venezuela are toward the end.

The most vocal criticism of Sanders’ stance on Venezuela has come from members of Congress who represent Venezuelan communities in the United States. However, it’s important to be aware of the makeup of these communities, as a 2018 editorial in the Houston Chronicle makes clear.

This editorial is not sympathetic to Maduro, but it expresses concern about the effects of sanctions on the Venezuelan people. One problem is that sanctions hurt the country’s main source of revenue, which directly affects the people. Another problem is that the Trump administration’s sanctions ignore Venezuelan oligarchs who are living in the United States, largely in Houston and Miami. The majority of Venezuelans living in the United States have nothing to do with the oligarchs, but law enforcement officials believe that some of them have made fortunes by scamming the government and its oil company, PDVSA. The Justice Department only started prosecuting them in 2015.

Sanders calls for a fair election in Venezuela rather than sanctions and military action. In his view, the choice of president should be left to the Venezuelan people.

Roast AIPAC #3

You may have already seen these videos and articles, but because this week is Roast AIPAC week I’ll take the opportunity to list them here together. They make it clear that Ilhan Omar’s criticism of the Israel lobby was too mild. AIPAC’s reach goes further than we would like to think, and AIPAC is not the only organization that influences American opinion and policy in favor of Israel.

The Washington Post published an informative article as well. This seemed surprising at first, given the Post’s previous support of the lobby, but maybe it wasn’t so surprising after all. The article did not criticize AIPAC. It praised the Democratic Party for supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–a stand that had a negative impact on Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Netanyahu’s ‘wedding’ together of Israel with the Republican Party has hurt the prospects of peace in the Middle East, the article claims. As for Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), it identifies them merely as the new members of Congress who have attracted attention with ‘toxic tweets’ and support for boycott and insists that they represent a minority of Americans. Not only that, they have both endorsed the BDS movement. The Post argues that this behavior is not representative of the majority of Democrats who think the United States should support Israel.

I think the Post’s criticism of Netanyahu merits a place here, but US support for Israel was not the point of Omar’s tweet, was it? She was making a comment on the undue influence of AIPAC. She was right too. Shortly after Omar’s tweets, The Nation Magazine published an article outlining the extent to which AIPAC has been able to influence American politics.

We do, in fact, have a growing anti-Semitism problem in America. But Omar and Tlaib are not a part of it. They are allies of mine and of Jews across this country who are fighting for peace, racial justice, immigrants’ rights, and the defeat of fascism. The anti-Semites are the Nazis and white supremacists who marched and murdered in Charlottesville, whom Donald Trump called “very fine people,” and the MAGA supporter who massacred worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The last video ends with Sam Seder wondering why it was left to the new Muslim members of Congress to call out AIPAC.

Seder’s point is appreciated, but by now we have a pretty good idea why the Democratic establishment keeps its collective mouth shut about AIPAC.


Rep. Illhan Omar (D-Minn) has been under pressure since she suggested that US support for Israel has something to do with money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Although AIPAC’s influence in the United States is no secret, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded that Omar apologize. Omar did apologize, but she remained firm on her criticism of the lobby. She has subsequently been harrassed by journalists and politicians alike. However, I’m not writing to join the ranks of her defenders. It is increasingly clear that she can handle the pressure. I’m writing because I was personally offended that so many people felt free to dole out this treatment on an elected member of the Congress of the United States.

Some assumed that Democrats were pressured by Republicans to discipline Omar, but it’s more likely they were pressured by AIPAC directly. Maybe the rumors of Israel’s influence in our elections are true. Is it possible that both Domocrats and Republicans know that if they offend AIPAC they could lose their next election?

I propose that we exact a cost for AIPAC’s arrogance. Progressives who object to the undue influence that AIPAC demonstrated this week should spend next week criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. This would inform AIPAC that there are costs for bad behavior.

Support Venezuela with Buycott

Greg Pallast has linked the situation in Venezuela to Koch Industries.

The Koch oil refinery was set up to refine the type of oil that Venezuela produces, and this has forced the company to cooperate with the Maduro government in order to assure a steady supply of oil. This is the motive for the Trump Adminstration’s sanctions on Venezuela and its support of Juan Guaido in his attempt to take over the presidency of that country. If you believe the Kochs are being treated unfairly you should be happy with the way things are going for Maduro, but if you disapprove of US meddling in Venezuela, and if you are tired of Koch money controlling domestic policy in the United States, I have a suggestion. Use the Buycott app to boycott Koch products. At the least, it might convince the Trump administration that diplomacy is not such a bad idea in Venezuela.

Download the app to your phone, join the campaigns that oppose GMOs, fracking, and factory farming, for starters, and then use the app to scan barcodes before you purchase items at the store.