John Dickson on #qanda

I’m thankful Australian Christianity has spokespeople who don’t play the stupid combative game that Q&A seems to thrive on. John Dickson continued in Peter Jensen’s fine tradition (not Pell’s so much, thankfully).

science plus Jesus

Image Credit: Australian Christian News

I really appreciated his willingness to charitably cede points, and agree with others on the panel in order to make the most important point, and to push on despite being interrupted to get his key message across. This is a paraphrase, I only started typing what he was saying about halfway through… but I thought this bit was the highlight. The transcript is now available, and I’ve included some other highlights below.

“you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.”

There were some great #qanda tweets on screen tonight too that indicated Dickson’s approach, and the substance of his answers, was appreciated by the non-Christians in the audience.

I’m sure others are going to be more or less excited about his treatment of science – but historically, there’s little doubt that science arose on the back of a Christian desire to know more about God’s creation, so there is something nice about not tossing science under the bus while acknowledging that it is a movable feast – a point Krauss made very strongly over and over again – science isn’t set in stone, it’s an ongoing discussion of the evidence, and what Dickson demonstrated is that a robust Christian faith has nothing to fear from science – because it’s all about Jesus, and understanding how the Bible relates to the God who created the world reaching out to touch it in the person, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s worth pointing out that while Dickson accepted a truckload of science that some Christians might be unhappy with – including stuff about the age of the earth and evolution – he wasn’t asked about the historicity of Adam, which is where a lot of the theological weight in the debate rests – he also didn’t say anything disputable about the content of Genesis 1-2, what might be in dispute is what to do with his genre observations… and being honest about the history, intentions, usefulness, and limitations of science while being clear about who Jesus is, in a program that was trending worldwide on Twitter, is, I think, a win. The program format limits the panelists’ ability to come back and clarify or expand on the points they make – so while I’ve read a bunch of people throwing rocks at Dickson, on Twitter, in the comments here, etc – I think you’ve got to take the format into account.

Here were some bits from Dickson that I thought were just stellar…

“I agree with almost everything Lawrence just said actually except I would beg to differ about whether science can actually produce an ethic. I think human beings produce an ethic and we decide whether to use science positively or negatively according to our world view and history is littered with examples of science being used brilliantly, ethically so, and times when it’s used badly. I disagree that science has any ethical import. It’s a neutral discipline and it’s a wonderful discipline. The little quips that I heard throughout about science is all about humility and so on I love. In fact Peter Harrison of Oxford University, who is one of the world’s leading historians of science, thinks that it was a revolution in this doctrine of humility that flourished in the 14th and 15th centuries that got science going in Europe in part. It’s not a total explanation but that as Augustine philosophy developed, which basically said human beings are flawed so we need better techniques. We can’t trust our brains. We need to observe, and this Augustinian philosophy grew out of Christianity, as you know, and so Christianity probably is, in part, responsible for science in the first place. I agree that it shouldn’t stick its head in now and tell the scientists what to do. My view is let the scientists do the science. My view is let the scientists do the science and let religious believers do what they do.”

This bit (Family First can learn from this one)…

“The only thing I want to pick up Lawrence with is to say to call it child abuse, to me there are two problems with this. One, it so inflames the conversation and I think the new atheism breeds of this kind of inflamed kind of conversation. The second thing I find very uncomfortable about it is that anyone in the audience who has actually been abused finds that a very odd use of that very loaded term. I know you don’t mean it like that but it’s like someone saying “Oh, that’s a holocaust”. There is one holocaust.”

This was the absolute gold.

JOHN DICKSON: “We live in a universe that operates according to these elegant, beautiful laws and when I read your book this week I was more convinced that that’s the case. And this universe, operating according to these elegant laws, has produced minds that now understand the laws, especially this mind next to us. And so this, to me, all looks and this is not a proof for God but I’m just saying why a lot of people think the God thing has a lot going for it, the whole thing looks rational. The whole thing looks set up to be known. Now, only known in a rational, like the God of Einstein, so then you’ve got to ask yourself the question: is there any evidence on the world stage that this God we think is maybe just a mind has touched the earth in a tangible way? And for me, if you are asking me why do I think there’s a God, it’s this philosophy of science, plus the life of Jesus.

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, yeah, but hold on. There was a bait and switch there that I object to and that was that…

JOHN DICKSON: Can I get to the end of the bait?

LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Well, you said Jesus and then you started going off and we were no longer – okay.

JOHN DICKSON: So what I’m saying is you ask yourself the question: is there any tangible thing in the history of the world that looks like contact from the God we suspect might be there? The overwhelming – I think overwhelming evidence points in the direction of Jesus, his life, his teaching and his healings, his death and resurrection. And when I come to believe that, this opens up the world to me. It is like CS Lewis saying “I believe in Christianity for the same reason I believe in the sun, not because I can look at it but because by it I see everything”. And, for me, Christianity explains the world I live in in such a spooky and deep way that I find I feel I have met the God I had a hunch was there based only on the beautiful elegant (indistinct)…

TONY JONES: Okay. All right. So now we’ve moved into the – I was going to say I would like Lawrence to respond to that. We have moved into the area of intuition now and perhaps…

JOHN DICKSON: And history.”

I barely watch Q&A anymore – five panelists is far too many. Tonight would have been sensational had it just been Krauss and Dickson, the others (as much as I like Tanya Plibersek) added nothing to the discussion, and there were too many times where misunderstandings were glossed over and not resolved in order for the pollies to get their bits about climate change in.

Did you catch it? What’d you think?


Simone R. says:

Same. The others had nothing to contribute.

Al Bain says:

I thought on the whole that Dickson was excellent. Although I think I heard him say that that theological colleges etc now teach evolution. If that’s what he said then he has betrayed his Sydney-centric view of the world.

I did wonder if in an attempt to find common ground, he gave away to much at times.

A friend of mine quipped that Plibersek was agreeing with ever tithing Krauss was saying but understanding very little of it.

Fred says:

I thought that John did an outstanding job. I don’t think he gave away too much at all to be honest, since he qualified the fact that mainstream churches generally accept theistic evolution as the best explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. A few things Lawrence said were bizarre (i.e insinuating that it was science, not faith that got rid of slavery and gender inequality), and his explanation of “something from nothing” got all tied up in knots!

Sounds like you’ve got a fair bit of work to do in Queensland though….

David McAllan says:

I thought he compromised way too much. When will someone question the presuppositions of science. Science is not the observation of facts, but more the interpretation of the facts. And when men & women are the interpreters, then they will spin them the way of their prevailing worldview. Evolution is far from being fact. Even Stephen Gould, a leading evolutionist (deceased now I believe), did not consider that the links we have were sufficient to prove the point.

Surely, we must stop treating science as a “god”. The interpreter must admit to his or her bias & in humility have an open mind to another interpretation. We only need consider some of the crime shows on the TV. Looking for evidence of “who done it” can be very daunting, but any one who appreciates the art knows that facts themselves do not necessarily speak for themselves. A wet sidewalk is not sufficient evidence to say that it rained. Someone might of hosed it down, for example.

John Dickson played into his hand, I thought. The Professor saw the conflict. On the one hand, John agreed unequivocally, with him on science, but then spoke of how the universe tells of the glory of God (not in those words, but I sensed John beaming Psalm 19). The Professor could clearly see the “two bob both ways” trick.

Another disagreement was with his interpretation of Genesis. It is not at all clear that it is “myth” or “poetry”. In fact, if we are going to look at the earliest historic interpretation of that part of Genesis, one needs to look at Exodus 19, where the Sabbath day was modeled on the Creation narrative. One would be hard pressed to find that the early Hebrews interpreted the early chapters of Genesis non literally. Then again, John has to go down this path or else he finds himself in contradiction with his accepted views on prevailing scientific perspectives.

Nice summary, Nathan. Dickson’s appearance on Q&A last night was something I have been waiting for. It would be a fairly pressured environment in the studio for an evangelical Christian, and he was able to present a good and gracious defense of the faith.

I blogged about it here:

John Dekker says:

Just to clarify, Al, Dickson said “most mainstream Christians are very comfortable with science … and evolution by natural selection” AND “When you go to theological college you are taught how to read Genesis 1”. That is a very careful statement, given the circumstances. Presumably everyone would agree that at theological college people *ought* to be taught how to read Genesis 1….

Al Bain says:

Thanks John. I stand corrected.

[…] Good summary of the night here by Nathan […]

[…] this 15 minute journalistic monstrosity from A Current Affair last night. But on the same night John Dickson was presenting Christianity in a positive light on Q&A, the knives were out for Christians, and churches, but mostly Hillsong, on Australia’s least […]

Rowan says:

I thought John did a cracking job.The best thing he did was manage to bring Jesus into it, far too often when a Christian is on telly they get railroaded into talking about the contentious sideshows like creation. John managed to bring it back to Jesus so hats off to him!

[…] I did feel that Dickson did a half-decent job and I dare say that had he squared against Richard Dawkins, that would have made even more […]

[…] South Wales, Fred Nile, isn’t exactly presented in the media as being moderate and nuanced. Lawrence Krauss went toe-to-toe with John Dickson – one of Australia’s most impressive Christian thinkers, and while it was a bit of an […]

Michael Viljoen says:

Krauss said that I and other Christians who hold similar beliefs to which I do were: liars, child abusers, and motivated by fear like ‘the Taliban’. John Dickson was complicit in this abuse in that he challenged very little of what Krauss was saying, except for a weak effort in objecting that real child abuse sufferers are being belittled (but he never challenged Krauss that training your child to follow clear Bible teaching is, as Krauss put it, quite detrimental to their well being.)

I found such insulting remarks and the complicity demonstrated by Dickson quite appalling and offensive to Bible believing Christians.

It’s hard to imagine any more demeaning allegations than these, ‘liar’, ‘child abuser’, ‘Taliban’, yet the ABC said this without allowing anyone to speak on behalf of the creationists, whom they ‘forgot’ to invite to the discussion. This was un-Australian, Bigoted, and Cowardly. The ABC holds a privileged place in society, and is supposed to take an egalitarian, non-partisan role (we wish.)

The problem with Dickson was that he spent too much time and energy trying to agree with the atheist professor, and not enough defending the gospel. Who is he supposed to agree with more, Scripture or atheism? Let’s have a look at what he said:

JOHN DICKSON: ‘… I’ve got plenty of friends who are six day creationists.… I just think they are wrong. Wrong on the science. Wrong on the Bible.’

Which part are the creationists getting wrong? They believe God created everything in six days.

This is what God said: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them’ (Ex. 20:11). This is what DICKSON says: “I just mean we could be the friend – we could be the friend to the new atheism and have the effect you (Krauss) want.”

Dickson says he believes in the historical Jesus. What does he think of the Biblical Jesus? Dickson doesn’t agree with him either. Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” But Dickson prefers to agree with Krauss, the atheist. In describing mainstream Christian (presumably his own) beliefs, DICKSON says “13.72 billion years ago there was a bang and evolution by natural selection. This is standard.”

Jesus says people were created at the beginning. Dickson says people came about 13.72 billion years after the beginning.

Dickson needs to read his Bible better, and stop trying so hard to agree with atheists.