Civilized discourse is defined as “engagement in discourse to enhance understanding.”
Psychologist Kenneth J. Gergen states that civil discourse is “the language of dispassionate objectivity ” and requires the respect of participants.
I came across the link to this interview very recently as part of a post from the “Sacred Space ” blog from the Vatican Observatory. I have been a subscribing member of of the blog since completing the Faith and Astronomy retreat at the VO back in 2016. ( see previous posts for more info and photos ) I have learned a lot from reading posts from the Jesuit astronomers and their colleagues : the information presented is not only scientifically accurate and relevant but thought provoking and contemplative. I must confess, however , when I first saw this link, based on a 2008 interview between Richard Dawkins and Father George Coyne for Dawkins’ television program ” The Genius of Darwin” , I was reluctant to watch it. I didn’t know a lot about Richard Dawkins, but I knew that he was an outspoken activist for atheism and views religion as being anti-science. And, given, my admittedly limited experience with atheists who don’t miss an opportunity to attack religion and faith, I expected him to be combative. And for good or ill, I am someone who doesn’t like conflict and find that most “debates” wind up being shouting matches between people who don’t listen to each other , much less respect the other’s opinion and therefore are anything but civilized discourse. Did I want to subject myself to an hour of conflict–after all —isn’t there enough of that in our world right now? I honestly expected the interview to be along those lines, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!
I pondered whether I wanted to invest an hour of my time to watch this and I am profoundly grateful that my curiosity won out. To be honest, I have now watched it twice now and find something new to marvel at each time. I am not even going to try to summarize the highlights here but strongly recommend that you take some time to at least watch some of it—just to watch how these 2 gentleman who represent two opposing views , interact with each other. First of all, it was the first time I had seen Richard Dawkins and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he is congenial , courteous and respectful. That doesn’t meant that he didn’t challenge Father George on some of this views but he did it in a respectful way and always listened attentively to his responses. And as a man of deep and abiding faith who also happens to be a Catholic priest and an astronomer, Father George was simply delightful! It is absolutely worthwhile to listen to his reflections on faith and science , especially as it relates to evolution . For the record, the Catholic Church does not have an official stand on evolution or at least it didn’t at that time. Father George does state that the theory of natural selection ” doesn’t conflict with any theology and is the best scientific explanation that we have for these origins”. I suspect that might come as a surprise to some Catholics that I know as well as other Christian faiths, although it is important to note that he is speaking solely about Roman Catholic dogma.
I won ‘t even try to explain it here but it so interesting and provocative to listen to Father George’s understanding of God and how God actually lives outside of our Universe rather than controlling what goes on within it. This might sound counter intuitive to most people of faith and I am probably not explaining it correctly but that is why this interview is so worth investing some time in. It really was a joy to listen to this soft spoken and articulate man of science ( who clearly knows his stuff ) who also happens to be a man of God. His faith was on full display during the interview but not “in your face”. It was almost understated, quiet and humble but inspiring at the same time.
One of my favourite moments came when Father George catches himself during one of his reflections, seemingly concerned that it was going on too long . He smiles and shrugs in an almost self deprecating way and says, “Oh- I’m getting too preachy.” And—you have to listen really closely to catch it– but Dr. Dawkins responds with, almost as if he is reassuring him ” I find it fascinating”.
Well, I have written a lot more than I intended to but I guess you have figured out by now that I am really impressed with this interview. It is a true and genuine example of civilized discourse, at least in my opinion, and I think that it should be required viewing for all of our politicians before they participate in so called “debates”. Also–both the science and faith communities of the TMT/ Mauna Kea standoff. Yes, it is possible to really listen to each other and respect each other’s views, even we don’t agree with them. And God willing, find the proverbial middle ground when we need to find it to be able to move forward.
Check out the link here: If for some reason, it doesn’t work ( God forbid!!) – you can find it on YouTube–or at least snippets of it. But I hope that this link works, because the full interview is definitely worthy of your time if you are interested in this topic.
Would love to know your thoughts! 🙂 I am also curious about one more thing. Apparently, Richard Dawkins taped this for his show but ultimately, did not use it. I wonder why?