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Analysis of Hitchens/Blair Debate

A few days ago, Christopher Hitchens went up against the former Prime Minister of England, Tony Blair to debate the proposition that, “religion is a force of good for the world.”

The thing about debates is that after they are over, both sides usually claim victory. However, this debate was done a bit more scientifically. The audience was polled before the debate to see where they stand and then polled after the debate to see who was actually persuaded. This way both sides can’t claim victory because it all comes down to the numbers. With that said, both sides won this debate.

I noticed that a lot of the people covering this debate from the atheist perspective are claiming that Hitchens won hands down. He did after all get 68% of the votes at the end of the debate. But this is really misleading. At the beginning of the debate 57% voted that religion is NOT a force of good for the world (Hitchens position). Only 22% agreed with Blair from the start and 21% were undecided. At the end of the debate, Hitchen and Blair pretty much slip that 21% of those undecided between them. So if the claim is that Hitchens won, that might be the case, but it was only by a small margin of less than one percent.

On watching the debate, it was clear to me that Hitchens was at his best and really kicked some ass. Blair pretty much relied on one argument which he used over and over again. His argument is that Hitchens is correct that religion can be used for evil, but that it can also inspire people to do good. Blair was nervous, out of his element, and sounded like a broken record. Hitchens was funny, excited, and in top form despite the cancer. At one point he had to stop for a moment for a drink of water and then came back with “fire in his belly” as they say.

Hitchens made the strong counter point that it isn’t that people do bad in the name of religion, but rather that they do bad because of religious scripture. Blair even conceded this point. Where I think Hitchens could have been stronger (Thursday morning quarterbacking as it were) is that he should have talked more about the ease in which religion can be used to inspire good people to do massive amounts of bad things like oppress women, gays, and others. I think he could have talked more about the mechanisms that religion uses rather than just an abstract concept. I would have really emphasized the divide between faith and skepticism as well as the hope that science and reason brings to the world.

Personally, I am really surprised Blair was able to convince anyone in this debate, but the numbers don’t lie. On the other hand the undecided people may have.


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