Lawrence Krauss – Theoretical physicist and cosmologist
EG: I’m going to be honest with you, Rachel; I wasn’t pleased to see Professor Krauss returning to the QandA set. His previous appearance (on another religious themed show) left me with the impression of someone who preferred to prove his colleagues wrong rather than prove his own case. So it was last night, as he frankly dominated the evening with interjections, questions, and cross examinations of his colleagues. As the readers will know, I’m a big fan of QandA panellists who go the proverbial knuckle during the show, but you do need to let your colleagues actually respond occasionally, Lawrence. He did make some interesting points about reality and morality, but all in all it was a frustrating appearance to watch, from my perspective.
RW: Science and reason were a formidable match for religion last night, although Krauss had his work cut out for him. He took lead of the debate from the beginning, using solid logic, much to the chagrin of his religious opponents. It’s always a precarious situation when an atheist discusses religion. Krauss navigated the line with varied success, taking a few misguided stabs at the bible but maintaining his sound reasoning for the most part. He spouted off his scientific gems all night, from global warming to the sex-life of rams, reminding us all that empirical evidence has the answer to the most convoluted of life’s questions. Unfortunately, for all his good points, something about Krauss’ smug demeanour left me rooting for his captivating opponent Robinson much of the night.
Amanda Vanstone – Former Howard government minister
EG: Surely this was a stunt double. Can we confirm that Amanda Vanstone is safe and well? Because the woman who participated in QandA last night bore no resemblance to the Amanda I know. Where was the cantankerous columnist in The Age who constantly finds new ways to say “Gillard’s ruining Australia”? Where was the take-no-prisoners debate? Where was the iron lady of the Liberal Party (sorry Julie Bishop, please don’t hurt me). Instead, we got a masterclass in rational, constructive debate; everything Vanstone said seem to ring true. There was an air of common sense, compassion, and honesty in her answers that was extremely impressive. I though she was as good as Robinson on the night, but her answers seemed more spontaneous, so I’ll give Vanstone a slight edge.
RW: Vanstone could easily have been swallowed by the heated debate that was the boys-club last night, but she emerged the quiet achiever. When she spoke up, she shone as brightly as that floral shirt of hers. I found myself nodding along so much, I must have looked like one of those ridiculous bobble-heads on a car dashboard. The voice of calm reason, Vanstone didn’t offend or spark debate, because her arguments were bulletproof. She was intelligent, insightful and respectful, but I couldn’t help waiting for one last passionate response to clinch it for her, which unfortunately never came.
Gene Robinson – Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
EG: Robinson got the night off to a good start (after an icy stare down from Fred Nile) with a nice quip about how he “may be the only gay person” on the panel. It got the audience on side early, and demonstrated an affinity for the format that held him in good stead throughout the night. I thought he did well at explaining how he blends the Bible’s teachings and his own sexuality, and he defused an aggressive question along similar lines with aplomb. All in all, it was an endearing, and engaging display from the American. You have admire the guy for keeping a cool head while he dealt with regular provocations from both ends of the table. I did take issue, however, with his cheeky attempt to suggest that Jesus may have been a homosexual. He was quick to point out that he hadn’t asserted that the son of God was gay, but his suggestion that we couldn’t rule it out was a bit strange.
RW: Gene Robinson may very well be the most charismatic gay bishop to grace the QandA stage. Okay, he doesn’t have a lot of competition there, but he certainly brought some entertainment to the panel last night. Dubbing himself “the gay gene”, Robinson immediately gained a few amused fans. The platter of topics served up was perfectly catered to his palate. Navigating the prickly issues of homosexuality, morality and religion, Robinson was quick witted and handled Nile’s insults with aplomb. Despite disagreeing with some of his points, I found myself engaged with Robinson and his progressive take on religion. Instead of rejecting science, he pointed out its shortcomings, such as its failure to explain the beauty in the world. It was at that point that I had to brush aside the warm-fuzzies, remind myself I’m a firm disciple of science, and get back down to business.
Fred Nile – Christian Democratic Party Leader
EG: Let’s just call a spade a spade here: Fred Nile was never going to do himself any favours by coming on QandA. He’s far to stiff for the show’s style, and he was always going to be wide open for some cheeky questions and comebacks. He began the night by trying to stare down an audience member (always a great way to win over the people who are allowed to boo you, Fred), and it didn’t improve from there, as Nile’s suggestion that Robinson should be ashamed to be a Bishop was met by the loudest crowd reaction of the night. Sadly, by the end of the show making the bizarre assertion that Jesus’s identity as the son of God was a historical fact. When Krauss challenged his statement that the majority of scientists are religious, he was quick to point out that “there have been surveys done!” Nile ranged from grumpy to weird throughout the night, but frankly I don’t think he landed a single significant blow thoughout. Whiff.
RW: Oh Fred. Where to begin… Your flawless logic is astounding. Nile alienated us all from the get go. Stubborn and uninformed, he lingered somewhere between the attack and defence. He aimed his bullets at whichever panellist got in his way, but made no impact. Oversimplifying the big issues, Nile avoided actually answering any of the questions put to him, even when Tony coaxed, pried and prodded. When his unreasonable comments were inevitably struck down, Nile opted to make excuses, or simply shut down. Nile scrapes a point for his unintended humour. First, for asking Krauss if he is open minded, and second, for mentioning the factual history of Jesus. I think we all got a laugh out of those quips.
Susan Ryan – Age Discrimination Commissioner
EG: *insert standard complaint about panel size/lack of contribution here*. After a largely silent night, Ms Ryan did a good job of handling the one issue that was clearly directed at her – voluntary euthanasia. She gave a a concise explanation as to why it’s such a thorny issue to deal with. Unfortunately, she was vastly outshone by Vanstone’s subsequent impassioned plea on the same issue.
RW: Ryan seemed happy to watch the discussion play out from the sidelines last night, but she could have picked up her purse and gone home and I doubt anyone would have noticed – or minded. To be fair, she made some good points on the skimmed-over health issue, but with no real opinion on the overarching topic of the night – religion – Ryan dissipated into the backdrop. She was accessible and spoke with common sense, but her lack of conviction left her the superfluous benchwarmer, content watching the big-boys play it out.