Cardinal Pell to participate in Festival of Dangerous Ideas

Christopher Hitchens / Cardinal George Pell
Christopher Hitchens / Cardinal George Pell


Cardinal George Pell will provide a counter to the atheist debater Christopher Hitchens at the first Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney this October 3 and 4.

Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, will deliver an address titled “Without God We Are Nothing” on the evening of Sunday October 4. According to the Archdiocese of Sydney, his address will draw on his own faith and scholarship and on scientific figures such as physicist Stephen Hawking.

He will reportedly describe secularism as a “minority sport” and a temporary phenomenon, arguing that it only survives in the Western world by attacking Christianity or living off Christianity’s “moral capital.”

“Science alone cannot provide answers either to the existence of God or to atheist options," the cardinal said. He borrows ideas from the English philosopher and former atheist Anthony Flew, who questions how a universe of “mindless matter” can produce “beings with intrinsic ends, self-replication capabilities and ‘coded chemistry’.”

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas will be held at the Sydney Opera House. It is an initiative of the St. James Ethics Centre in partnership with the Special Broadcasting Service, the Foxtel television company and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Christopher Hitchens will speak the day before Cardinal Pell. He will claim that by believing in God people deceive themselves and attempt to deceive others.

Feminist academic Germaine Greer will explain her belief that freedom is the most dangerous idea of all. Another speaker, Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield, will argue that online networking may be rewiring children’s brains and eliminating human traits like empathy and compassion.

Other speakers at the festival will include academic Carmen Lawrence, aboriginal activist Gary Foley, and Sydney Muslim spokesman Keysar Trad.

"Bombs, guns and bullets may be dangerous. But closed or complacent minds make them lethal,” said Dr. Simon Longstaff, Executive Director of St. James Ethics Centre. He said many topics and speakers will trigger unease and even anger but will also help define our own identity and positions.

The “dangerous ideas” presented at the festival will also include discussions on polygamy and Islam, a panel debate on the theme “Why Democracy is Not for Everyone,” and a discussion of Australian stereotypes and cultural identity.

More information about the Festival of Dangerous Ideas is available through the Sydney Opera House.

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