You’d expect a vinegar-and-baking-soda sort of interaction when Bill O’Reilly interviewed Richard Dawkins — but in fact, they had a pleasant, civil discussion with no voices raised or names called, and concluded it by agreeing to disagree. I know, such a thing seems beyond the range of possibility, for both of these men whose favored means to attract attention to their opinions is to confront and outrage rather than to reason and converse. But here’s the interview to prove that it really happened:
Now, it’s true that O’Reilly dominates the discussion and throws in a few cheap shots and intellectual shortcuts (the Declaration of Independence does mention the “Creator” and “Nature’s God” but does not “heavily” use the language of religion, for instance; it is mainly a list of political grievances against King George III), but remember that it is O’Reilly’s show, so that means O’Reilly gets to control it. If Dawkins wants to be in control, he can go do his own show. Dawkins surely knew what he was getting into when he agreed to make the appearance. But while O’Reilly dominated the conversation, he did not monopolize it and Dawkins got a substantial platform to respond to his opinion, which is pretty fair, all things considered.
Whether it was a case of both men making similar tactical decisions to be reasonable in order to be persuasive, or a case of both men being coached by producers to avoid letting the disagreement descend into a more stereotypical kind of O’Reilly-style shouting match, or if it was just that they both took their meds that day, this is the way people ought to talk to one another about how they disagree; they don’t have to moderate their position to show one another respect and they don’t have to back down to try and understand each other. Ultimately, I think it was a decent exchange between a prominent theist opinion leader and a prominent atheist opinion leader. So good on, to both O’Reilly and Dawkins.
A better, deeper, and even more civil exchange has been had recently between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan, by the way. Of course, the conclusion is again, as it must always be, an agreement to disagree.