Friday, March 30, 2007

Atheists Win High-Profile Debate?

Hitchens, Grayling, and Dawkings vs. Spivey, Scruton, and Neuberger. The debate was, "would we be better off without religion," sponsored by intelligence2 in Westminster Hall, London. I wish I could have attended! You can read James Randerson's summary for more details, but here is a great quote:

How sweet, [Dawkins] wondered, would Haydn's Evolution Oratorio or Beethoven's Mesozoic Symphony have sounded?

Besides, said Mr Hitchens, there is ample beauty in nature without the need to believe in myth. "Take a look through the Hubble telescope and look at the beauty and majesty of what you will see," he said, "And you want to exchange that for the burning bush?"

What I want to focus on is the debate victory. An audience vote afterwards revealed a win for the atheist panel, with 1,205 votes for, 778 against. (60.7%) Sounds great, right? Big atheist win! Except that without information on the makeup of the audience, these numbers ring hollow. I'm more interested in knowing how many theists admitted the atheists victorious -- or vice versa.

What if the audience was 61% atheist? In politics, that vote would be known as "along party lines." What if the audience was 80% atheist? That means that some of the atheists thought that the theists had won the debate, and that certainly wouldn't feel like a victory. If the audience demographic corresponded to the public statistics -- which in England is around 33% atheist, according to a BBC poll -- then that's very encouraging. But I have a hunch that the debate audience had a higher percentage, as a Dawkins appearance would no doubt attract a lot of atheists.

But to end on a high note, here is a quote from Dawkins, relating the aftermath of a debate he held against the Archbishop of York. Atheists can relax in this victory, as this time it was confirmed by a clergyman:

I once had a public debate with the then Archbishop of York, and The Observer quoted the verdict of one disconsolate clergyman as he left the hall: "That was easy to sum up - Lions 10, Christians nil."


Intergalactic Hussy said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of this, but I am happy we atheists "won". But the audience make-up is also very important. I'd be more amazed if there were a lot of theists who changed their minds by the end!

vjack said...

It is getting harder and harder to continue to justify Christianity in our modern world. My sincere hope is that reality will eventually penetrate the Christian delusion and that people can realize the true cost of this delusion.