A recent debate, held in the Methodist Central Hall in London, covered the motion "We'd be better off without religion." The arguments were presented by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Professor A. C. Grayling vs. Nigel Spivey, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, and Professor Roger Scruton. It had originally been given positive coverage by the atheist crowd because of a 'winning' vote taken after the debate -- 1,205 for, and 778 against. My opinion on the matter was that the numbers were meaningless without comparitive statistics.
Now, another article covering the debate has been released by the Telegraph, and has offered more insight into these numbers. Specifically, it provides votes from the audience from before the debate. Before: 826 for, 681 against, and 364 don't knows. After: 1,205 for, 778 against, and 103 don't knows. Time to analyze!
The first thing that stood out is that the totals don't match. There were 1,871 votes before the debate, and 2,086 after. This might mean that there were more than 200 walk-ins, leading to a larger audience at the end. Or it might mean that the passionate debate had stirred more of the audience to vote afterware. Or something else entirely, or all of the above. So let's look at these as percentages. Before: 44.1% for, 36.3% against, 19.5% don't know. After: 57.7% for, 37.3% against, and 4.9% don't know.
Both for and against votes gained ground! The theistic point of view by 1%, the atheistic point of view by 13.6%. The "don't knows" dropped by 14.6%. This means that both sides were being very persuasive. The fact that the theistic view netted a gain (ignoring any side-switchers we don't know about) means that this isn't the big atheist victory we were hoping for. Because in my opinion a big victory would be theistic converts.
But since the atheistic point of view gained more ground, I will say that it's a small victory for atheists. Convincing those corresponding to the agnostic viewpoint still means putting more numbers into the atheist crowd.