Tony Jones: Jesus “Intellectually not up to it?”

ABC1’s Q & A abandoned its traditional panel on Easter Monday for a two-handed debate between Christianity and Science -and stumped up with one of its best shows yet.

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion argued against Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell on questions of faith, science, history, morality and more.

But it was host Tony Jones who delivered the show’s best moment.

When asked why God would “randomly” provide proof of his existence to a group of Jews 2000 years ago, Pell replied:

“For some extraordinary reason God chose the Jews. They weren’t intellectually the equal of either the Egyptians or-”

“Intellectually?” Jones interceded. “How can you know, intellectually?”

“Because you see the fruits of their civilisation. Egypt was the great power for thousands of years before Christianity. Persia was a great power. Caldia. The little Jewish people were originally shepherds. They were stuck, they’re still stuck.”

“That’s not a reflection of your intellectual capacity is it?” asked Jones. “Whether or not you’re a shepherd.”

“No it’s not but it’s a reflection of your intellectual development,” said Pell. “Many, many people are very, very clever and not highly intellectual.”

“Can I just interrupt, are you including Jesus in that, who obviously was Jewish? And was of that community?” Jones inquired.

“Exactly,” answered Pell.

“So…. intellectually not up to it?”

“That’s a nice try, Tony,” Pell replied. “The people in terms of sophistication, the Psalms are remarkable, in terms of their buildings and that sort of thing, they don’t compare with the great powers. But Jesus came not as an officer to the elite. he came to the poor and the battlers. And for some reason he chose a very difficult, and actually they are now intellectually elite because over the centuries they’ve been pushed out of every other form of work.”

There were plenty of moments of audience applause, and on Twitter last night several hashtags reflected the fervor for the topic:

#qanda, #Pell, #Hitler, #Jews, #Adam and Eve, #Tony Jones, #catholic.

Over 20,000 votes were received for the new iPowow interactive tool. 76% voted “No” to the question “Does Religion make the world a better place?”

Later Pell also attributed Hitler as causing the death of 50 million people.


  1. Yep, it was an amazing admission by Pell about the Jews that I’m sure he’ll never live down, and rightly so.

    But it was another part I found particularly amazing, when asked about his vision of heaven Pell seemed to commit a complete Catholic heresy, one so basic I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, one that should have him summoned to Rome for a formal dressing down by His Holiness. If he doesn’t recant then he should be stripped of his position and excommunicated forthwith.

    Pell said that he believed that everyone in heaven is there with their earthly bodies, not just their souls as is the Catholic dogma. Only one person, aside from Jesus, has ever been taken up into heaven body and soul, Mary. That’s what the Assumption of Mary is according to Catholics, it was the subject of Pope Pius XII’s famous ex cathedra use of Papal Infallibility in 1950. There’s no way anyone else is getting a body in heaven, that’s an honour reserved for the Virgin Mary alone, and anyone who says differently has to be a heretic.

    Pell’s amazingly ignorant comments about humans evolving from Neanderthals was also pretty stunning. He clearly hasn’t studied or read anything (or watched any of the many TV docos on the subject, one just a few weeks ago) about human evolution published in the last 100 years!

  2. Yeah not the fireworks I had hoped for. The audience reaction to ‘preparing young boys’ was interesting, pity the catholics themselves could care less.

  3. Pell also said toward the end of the show that homosexuality was a result of an imperfection in the creation of man. He says “…it’s the oriental carpet makers always leave a little flaw in their carpet” – referring to why he thinks gays exist.

  4. Maev....Sydney

    Hmmmm….much as I thought it would go…which is why I gave it a miss….
    And I prefer the panel type discussion…rather than one on one…it is more lively….and keeps the pace moving along.

  5. It was a very interesting debate, but i’m still none the wiser. I don’t believe “God” created the world, yet I don’t believe in the Big Bang theory either. The whole thing does my head in.

  6. You’d think Pell would actually have at least a passing knowledge of the history of the Kingdom of Judea (especially when a chunk of it is written in some form or another in the Old Testament!) and some ability to at least imagine the position of a non-proselytising religious group.

    But instead he comes up with the adjective “little”. It’s pretty astounding!

  7. The complex issues raised were never going to be resolved in 60 minutes of TV, but it was definitely one of the better discussions I’ve seen recently.

    I agree with the comments above that neither guest really nailed it and for a religious leader Pell seemed very muddled and confused in his arguments. Most of all he just seemed rather weary of the discussion and rarely showed any passion for what he allegedly believed in.

    I’m liking the way Q&A are moving away from having sitting politicians on the panel, as they are just ‘he said she said’ dull and I’d like to see more single issues episodes like this.

  8. I tuned in hoping to learn how two ‘intelligent’ men would grapple with the problem of arguing about unknowns and intangibles, fact vs faith. Sadly, not much of a debate in terms of advancing either sides’ POV (and I wonder how the other branches of religion enjoyed having Pell as their unelected spokesman), but the hour went quickly so it must have been mildly absorbing.
    It suffered from the usual qanda problems of myopic audiences and Tony Jones being the only one to advance any searching questions.

    BTW @Julie S. is spot on, it was a fairly lowbrow clash between atheism and one branch of Christianity, featuring a truly cringeworthy moment when Pell spoke of ‘preparing young boys’ (or somesuch) in England. Much hissing and murmuring from the audience!

  9. It was more like a debate between Atheism and Catholicism (which shouldn’t be confused with Christianity). In the end I felt neither side won – both men made mistakes and they both never really got their points across convincingly.

    Also Cardinal Pell was probably a wrong choice considering the controversy the Catholic church has been embroiled in lately – a point which was proven when he was telling a story about his time in England.

  10. Actually. It was a born again christian that started the whole end of the slave trade in the western world. And i wonder how far those women libbers would have got in a non christian country?

  11. I think both Pell and Dawkins made fools of themselves. Pell made several blunders, especially one where he claimed that modern humans came from Neanderthals. Where as Dawkins was utterly stumped when asked about a question relating to the big bang and the origin of the universe. They both made unconvincing arguments towards both Atheism and Christianity. It was, however, entertaining television.

  12. Butterfly Carnage

    We doen’t get an intellectual workout much in our media (unless you listen to ABC RN) theses days. Dawkins looked and sounded jet lagged and Pell was his usual pompish and unapproachable self. Dawkins kept asking the audience why they were laughing (he couldn’t tell why yet it was obvious) and Pell was borderline insulting to various minorities throughout At one high point Pell claimed the abolition of slavery and the equality of women as a christian thing. When the complete opposite is true. LOL. Good on you Aunty and Q & A. Tony I love you!

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