The Christopher Hitchens/Tony Blair Debate on Whether Religion is a Force for Good November 30, 2010

The Christopher Hitchens/Tony Blair Debate on Whether Religion is a Force for Good

***Update***: Links have been fixed!

In case you’re one of the three people who weren’t aware of it, Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair debated the resolution “Religion is a force for good in the world”… and Hitchens seems to be the winner with more than 10% of the audience changing their minds and siding with Hitchens during the course of the debate (giving him 68% of the audience vote).

For those interested, here is the rest of the debate:

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

I hope I get a chance to watch the whole thing this weekend… any particular sections I should take note of?

(Thanks to everyone for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Deepak Shetty

    similar number of people were swayed so I cant see how Hitchens “won”

  • MadScutter

    I agree that 11% vs 10% isn’t much of a margin of victory, but keep in mind that this is a news article, “X beat Y” reads better than “X and Y did equally well”.

  • Bob

    While there is undoubtedly good done through religious and charitable organizations, it stands in stark contrast to the two wars started by an American president who continues to claim that his faith and conversations with God led him to his decisions on those wars.

    And that’s just within the last decade. Two more World Wars, plus the Korean and VietNam wars, were not started by or on behalf of non-theists.

    It would seem to me that there’s really no way to answer in the affirmative when considering empirical data.

    Additionally, am I a good person because I am a Christian? That’s like saying I was a good child because I believed in Santa: the belief does not negate nor inoculate against bad behavior.

  • RS

    Declaring a “winner” in a debate always seemed like an incredibly silly exercise to me, especially when there are so many strikes against Blair (former politician, converted Catholic, general sweatiness) and so many points for Hitchens (general reputation as “greatest living atheist orator”, sympathy). Hitchens eloquently reiterates his usual points from his “God is Not Great” era speeches and debates with Dinesh D’Souza, and Tony Blair makes the same point repeatedly (Christians do good things). Thankfully, Blair doesn’t dare to go the “Atheism=Nazi!” route.

  • jose

    A little bit simplistic isn’t it? Labeling complex concepts as “good” or “bad” seems like something George Axis-of-Evil Bush would do. Like, Abu Ghraib was forgivable because after all we are the good guys and they are the bad guys.

  • i guess i’m one of the three. i had no idea this was going on; i don’t generally have the time to follow all the celebrity events (of any kind) that most people do, i guess. then again i don’t facebook or twitter either. 😉

    i used to like Hitch a lot. my grad school advisor and he are good friends. but his support for the wars in the middle east made me lose all respect for him. i’m sorry he’s suffering from his disease, but intellectually i think a lot less of him than i used to, for all he’s on ‘our side.’ i still think he should be ashamed, as a militant atheist, for supporting what amounts to be a 21st century crusade against islam by western christendom.

  • Brian

    I don’t think swaying more people automatically means “winning” a debate. I don’t think that “winning a debate” denotes any meaningful concept.

    “what amounts to be a 21st century crusade against islam by western christendom.”

    If it were against Islam, the targets would be different.

  • Ryan

    A lot of it is the standard stuff you get from Hitchens (The opening statements especially. When you get into the questions segment (like part 3), it starts to get good. Start watching Part 4 from about 1:00, and then once Blair is done talking about Northern Ireland skip ahead to about 4:00 when Hitchens starts up. The shot of Blair’s face was epic.

  • Ben

    Intellectually, I think Hitchens is correct in the necessity to take out Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party. How the war was conducted and the justification used is another story. We were going to invade Iraq nonetheless. I know there are people who will disagree, but that’s how I feel about it.

    I think Hitchens is the “best” atheist orator out there. He isn’t afraid to take on moral and ethical arguments and does it with beautiful precision. It’s a pleasure to hear him speak and I can’t get enough.

  • Hangnail

    Take note in the beginning they state that 75% of the audience would be willing to change their mind depending on how the debate went. I don’t believe this. I would NOT be willing to change my mind and I’m sure almost everyone in that room wouldn’t either. If Hitch said, “You know what, I’ve been wrong, God is good” and ended his debate in 2 seconds flat, I wouldn’t even start to change my mind. I think people think a lot more highly of themselves and give themselves the benefit of the doubt about changing their mind, but in reality, no matter how their hero does in the debate, they will just rationalize it to themselves and carry on.

  • Steve

    Hitchens does repeat certain phrases in just about every debate. Like “created sick and commanded to be well” and “celestial North Korea”. That makes him seem more rehearsed than he really is.

    Though I absolutely love how he said “But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea” that one time.

  • Claudia

    As far as the results of the debate go vote-wise, it was mostly a tie. As far as I’m concerned, Hitchens absolutely beat Blair. It wasn’t even a very interesting debate. By the end, Blair was practically begging for the concession that some religious people do nice things, a point no one was contesting. William Lane Craig vs. Hitchens was a far more engaging. Of course, Blair did seem to wish to actively avoid lying, something that Craig has absolutely no problem doing, which helps him along in debates.

    However the Hitch-slap about Northern Ireland was fucking priceless.

  • Zach

    It seems Hitchens was the overall better debater, in my opinion. He raised many great points, and was able to clearly respond on every raised point.
    Blair just kept repeating the same point over and over about how you cannot judge one religion from a few fanatics. It seems he couldn’t successfully defend any point without resorting to this same statement.

  • Hangnail

    RS says “Thankfully, Blair doesn’t dare to go the “Atheism=Nazi!” route.”

    Actually, Blair did bring up Hitler, Stalin, and someone else I forget. He mentioned the Hitler part at the beginning, when he was trying to say what secular life brings.

    They never do admit that Hitler’s foundation of bad idea’s were rooted in theology.

  • MikeW

    woops, they’ve been taken down. I was in the middle of watching them when they were removed. Hopefully they’ll be reposted.

  • Samantha

    damn. they’ve been taken down. let us know if they are posted anywhere else!

  • Justin

    Unfortunately, it looks like the debates were just pulled off youtube. You now have to goto the Munk site to view them for ~$3.

    @Hangnail- the third was Pol Pot (another very common one for theists to bring up. Also, I don’t think it’s enough for them to admitt that Hitler’s ideas were founded in theology, when they’re ignoring that he was a Catholic (or his ties to the Arch Bishop / Pope)

  • Matteo Watkins

    Not available! Damn you for getting me all excited…

  • Dmitri

    I was apparently another of the three that didn’t know about this. At least I got to see about half of it before it was taken down.

  • Robert W.


    And that’s just within the last decade. Two more World Wars, plus the Korean and VietNam wars, were not started by or on behalf of non-theists.

    Really, Korean and Vietnam wars were over the spread of communism and started by communist leaders who were definitely non theists.

  • To summarise the whole debate:

    Hitchens:? “Religion is dangerous and f*cked up. Seriously!”

    Blair: “Yes. Yes it is. I agree. But … come on!”

    Hitchens: “No I’m serious. Look at all the f*cked up things it’s done.”

    Blair: “Yes. It has done all of those f*cked up things. But … come on!”

    Hitchens: “WTF?”

    Blair: ” 🙁 “

  • Mike

    And I’m number 3! Glad we got that settled! 😉

  • jose

    Apparently nobody thinks it’s simplistic. Oh well.

  • dean
  • cat

    It is still available through a different link (at least at the moment)

    The short summary of my perception of this debate: Blair spouted tired arguments in a very repetitive fashion. Hitchens mostly let them go, but made a few decent points and jokes. I found it overall rather boring. But, then again, I am unusually dense about what others call being a ‘good speaker’ and focus intently on the content most of the time.

    Here’s some thoughts from when I was watching:

    Wow, Blair sure loves the ‘no true scottsman’ fallacy. He also seems to have some sort of weird notion that if religion is not the only source of evil then it is good. No, Blair, the fact that racism, imperialism, etc also cause genocide does not excuse religion for starting and/or participating genocide either (especially when religion is also spurring on the racism and imperialism). He also pulls a ‘god of the gaps’ bit at the end.

    Hitchen’s pro-war crap was rather annoying. Also, his claims about caring about the status of women rang hollow when coming from a man known to make sexist statements about women’s meekness and biological inability to be funny. Also, Hitchens has no basic understanding of socialism, not that his opponent is any better.

  • A Portlander

    I hate to say it, but as Hitchens debates go, this one is completely skippable. Hitch is always a pleasure, but he doesn’t articulate any particularly novel arguments here. The real disappointment is Blair, he brings the weak sauce every time he opens his mouth. As ambassadors for religion go, he’s a great proponent of nonsectarian humanism.

    If you’re looking to kill some time profitably, watch the Hitchens & Fry Intelligence Squared debate again, or watch Harris destroying Wolpe at AJU.

  • Brian

    “Hitch is always a pleasure, but he doesn’t articulate any particularly novel arguments here.”

    He can’t because they don’t.

    They don’t because they can’t.

  • jolly

    Tony Blair’s argument seems to be, ‘you can be good and still hold religious views’. Not very persuasive.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    I’m really, really going to miss Christopher when he dies. He is my very favorite atheist speaker, and seemingly a good man.

  • And now, because you’ve all been waiting for it, I present my analysis of the debate:

  • ludovico

    Avoid part one–it’s nothing but introduction. BTW, whatever happened to “without further ado?” The first guy drones on for over 12 minutes fer chrissakes! Oops! forgot what site I’m on…

  • I usually enjoy a good debate. My assessment of the Blair Hitchens debate is that Blair started off strong and with a lot of conviction, however, weakened toward the end of the debate. Hitchens, at least to me, came across as a pompous ass. My argument is that it is better to serve God and find out he doesn’t exist than to not serve him and find out that he does exist.

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