The Hitchens Blair Debate

The videos are below the fold to avoid flash freakout on your computer.

The question: Is Religion a Force for Good in the World?

The Pre Debate poll of the audience said no, it is not:

PRO: 22% CON:57%
And 75% of those polled said they’d be willing to change their mind.

After the debate, the results of a second poll were:

PRO: 32% CON: 68%

So, Blair: 0 Hitchens: 1


  1. #1 Kimbo Jones
    November 27, 2010

    Was nobody “undecided” afterwards, or was that not an option? If the former, that says something interesting about these debates…

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    November 27, 2010

    Kimbo, I was wondering the same thing. I think the point of these debates is actually to pick a side at the end based on what you saw. So “undecided” would be like the judges at an Olympic sport putting up “+/-” instead of “9.8” or something.

  3. #3 Kimbo Jones
    November 27, 2010

    It seems then, that in the forced choice, the “undecided” group was split 50/50 (assuming that the other voters remained relatively similar in their choice).

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    November 27, 2010

    Exactly, good point. So they probably were decided, but inclinded to say undecided because they had not seen the debate yet.

  5. #5 6EQUJ5
    November 27, 2010

    Thank you. That was well worth my time.

  6. #6 Ellie
    November 27, 2010

    Did he just…? He didn’t did he…? He only bloody did you know! Tony Blair Godwinned in his opening speech!

    That man makes me sick.

  7. #7 Ravi
    November 27, 2010

    Why does religion have to be anything more than a philosophy?

  8. #8 Harbo
    November 27, 2010

    Religion is merely a redundant meme.

  9. #9 wfr
    November 27, 2010

    Hitchens made his case with logic and a rich collection of supporting evidence. Blair had only one point – a good one about religion not having a monopoly on evil – and he made that point several times. Because he had nothing else to say.

    They were both witty and charming, which is distracting as hell.

  10. #10 Bruce Elrick
    November 28, 2010

    I think Hitchens only tangentially brought up one of the most important points (that I think he’s brought up in his books). That is that the truly fundamental thing in religion is faith, not reason. This means that it does not give one the faculties to decide what to accept and what not accept.

    Blair comes off as an apologist for religion, asking us to see the good and explaining away the bad as something that would occur without religion as well. But blind faith does not give him or any followers of religion the faculties to decide which statements and actions, made by people proclaiming to act in faith, should be followed.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    November 28, 2010

    I wonder if downplaying the faith thing, which certainly is the key thing … in fact, I’d have no problem whatsoever with religions that do not have a faith component … because “faith” is a great social good in many people’s minds. As a debating tactic it may be better to step aside from it. The question was about Religion, and Hitchens seems to have translated that slightly into “religions” … an excellent tactic in this context.

  12. #12 Timberwoof
    November 28, 2010

    I was disappointed in Blair’s continual use of the No True Scotsman fallacy: he often said that those who did bad in the name of religion were not following the True Spirit of religion. He missed the point that the same logic which lets him choose the “good” parts of religions allows fanatics to choose their “good” parts.

    I think that Blair talked past Hitchens’ points. Despite his opening remarks, Blair kept demonstrating that whether one is religious or not does not determine whether one does good works but ignored Hitchens’ central point which is that the supernatural element of religion, which requires one to follow a human interpreter of divine will, is harmful.

    Did you catch Hitchens’ homage to Douglas Adams?

  13. #13 MadScientist
    November 28, 2010

    @wfr: Blair’s point was not a good one – the “religion does not have a monopoly on evil” is absolutely irrelevant – it is a straw man. Blair’s speeches consisted entirely of logical fallacies and lies.

    I also have to disagree about the score – if you award points for various issues (aside from just the overall result), Hitchens won every time. Blair even contradicts himself many times. My favorite contradiction though is when he denied Hitchens’ claim that there is no peace in Israel/Palestine because of the God veto and then while answering questions Blair states that the religions need to work out their differences if there is ever to be peace.

  14. #14 Kendrick Brix
    November 28, 2010

    I suppose what stood out most to me, other than that I am a poor student of world history, is that Mr. Blair had to continually back off all actual religious texts and practices and try to present a watered down “people of faith” position. In his version of “religion” the religious just believe there’s a higher power than our own, that Jesus’ life was an example of love, selflessness and sacrifice, and all “people of faith” should work together in spite of their different beliefs. I don’t know a single religious person who would support that position nor consider that position to be a religious one.

    Mr. Hitchens was as brilliantly articulate as I expected, presenting the most rational and logical positions on both religion’s belief systems and the impact these beliefs have on humankind.

    I was not undecided going into this so it’s likely unfair for me to say that the debate would have swayed me toward Hitchens’ side, but I’ll say it anyway.

  15. #15 JG
    November 29, 2010

    @ 1, 2, 3, 4

    The host asked that those who voted decide upon either outcome after having heard the debate.
    This doesn’t leave any room for undecided.