Here are the edited highlights of the debate between Cardinal Pell, Richard Dawkins and Tony Jones on Monday night’s Q&A.
Pell: For some extraordinary reason God chose the Jews. They weren't intellectually or morally the equal of the Egyptians or the Persians. The poor little Jewish people, they were shepherds.
Jones: But being a shepherd isn’t a reflection on your intellectual capacity?
Pell: It is of your intellectual development.
Jones: Are you including Jesus, who was Jewish? Was he not intellectually up to it?
Pell: For some reason God chose a very difficult (hesitates)… but actually they are now an intellectual elite, because over the centuries they have been pushed out of every other form of work. Jesus is the greatest man that ever lived so I’ve got a great admiration for the Jews but we don't need to exaggerate their contribution.
Question: Explain in layman's terms how the universe came from nothing?
Dawkins: When you have matter and antimatter and you put them together, they cancel each other out and give rise to nothing. If you start with nothing the process can go into reverse.
Jones: Is the “nothing” you're talking about some creative force?
Dawkins: You can dispute exactly what is meant by nothing but whatever it is it’s very simple. (Audience laugh) Why is that funny?
Pell: I think it’s a bit funny trying to define nothing.
Jones: Do you accept humans evolved from apes?
Pell: Yeah, from Neanderthals.
Dawkins (outraged): Neanderthals were our cousins! We’re not descended from them and we’re both descended from...
Pell: Where will I find a Neanderthal today if they're my cousins?
Dawkins: They’re extinct.
Pell: That’s my point.
Jones: At what point was a soul imparted to the humans from God?
Pell: A soul is not like putting a spot of gin in a tonic. We know the first humans developed in Africa because of the drawings in caves. No such thing from Neanderthals.
Dawkins: Successive Popes have tried to suggest that the soul did indeed get added, rather like gin to tonic.
Pell: The soul is the principle of life. There are animal souls.
Dawkins: Do jellyfish...?
Pell (earnestly): All living things do. We have a voice box, which is one of the great miracles, so we can communicate our thoughts rather than just grunting.
Jones: Is it possible for an atheist to go to heaven?
Pell: Certainly. We will all be there as continuing persons in a new heaven and a new earth.
Jones: Billions of individual souls existing in some galactic space?
Pell (shrugging): How it will work out I've got no idea. It’s also the view of some of the Jews.
Dawkins: What’s going to happen when we die depends on whether we're buried or cremated. I don't believe you mean that the wafer turns into the body of Christ?
Pell (indignantly): I don't say things I don't mean. The son of God says, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and I’d much prefer take his word than yours.
Dawkins (snidely): So you do not mean that the wafer turns into the body in any sense in which normal English language usage would understand?
Pell: I remember when I was in England we were preparing some young English boys, they were from very... (Audience laugh) Thank you. Preparing them for the first communion. We Catholics believe there is a hell. I certainly believe in a place of purification. It will be like getting up in the morning and throwing the curtains back.
Jones: Why create a world with so much suffering?
Pell: My first Easter as a priest was in Italy. Very sad village. All the men were away in Germany or Switzerland getting big money, home only for three weeks a year. I said: "Well, look, Christ suffered too. Christ had a bad run.”
Jones (shifting awkwardly): Can I take it to a higher level? The Holocaust, genocide, famine? Why does an omnipotent God let these things happen?
Pell (frowning): Probably no people in history have been punished the way the Germans were. It’s a terrible mystery.
Jones (trying to hide his alarm): There’s a very strong argument saying the Jews of Europe suffered worse than the Germans.
Pell (nodding): That might be right. Certainly there was suffering in both.
Question: Cardinal, how can you be against gay marriage when equality and respect are the foundations of love?
Pell: Christians love everybody.
Jones: Do you believe homosexuality is part of God's natural order?
Pell: Creation is messy. The oriental carpet makers always leave a little flaw in their carpet.
Jones: Are you suggesting homosexuals are flawed?
Dawkins (tetchily): I’m interested in whether God is actually there.
Pell: So am I.
Some conversations defy satire.