UPDATE: As James Cameron reports in the comments below, the full transcript of the debate is online here (note that there are three parts).
Associated Press (the most thorough report):
“Is it good for the world to worship a deity that takes sides in wars and human affairs, to appeal to our fear and to our guilt – is it good for the world?” Hitchens said in his opening remarks.
“To terrify children with the image of hell … to consider women an inferior creation. Is that good for the world?” Hitchens asked as he opened the debate hosted by the Munk Debates center.
Though his face was pale and drawn, and his trademark mop of unruly hair gone, he was no less animated than usual in spite of his battle with cancer of the esophagus. He said earlier Friday that he scheduled his chemotherapy treatments around the debate so he “wouldn’t have to let anyone down,”
“This is what I do whether I’m sick or not. (Religion) is still the main argument,” said Hitchens who has made it known that his diagnosis has not opened him to God or religious belief.
Both men were unabashedly stalwart in their positions. Hitchens, one of the leading “new atheists” and author of the hit book God Is Not Great, slammed religion as nothing more than supernatural gobbledegook that caused untold misery throughout human history. “Once you assume a creator and a plan it make us subjects in a cruel experiment,” Hitchens said before causing widespread laughter by comparing God to “a kind of divine North Korea”.
Blair, perhaps not surprisingly, was a little less forthright. On the backfoot for much of the debate he kept returning to his theme that many religious people all over the world were engaged in great and good works. They did that because of their faith, he argued, and to slam all religious people as ignorant or evil was plain wrong. “The proposition that religion is unadulterated poison is unsustainable,” he said. Blair called religion at its best “a benign progressive framework by which to live our lives”.
Throughout the 90-minute debate Hitchens seemed to have the crowd’s sympathy. That might have been to do with his ill appearance due to cancer, but was far more likely to be down to the sharpness of his verbal barbs and the fact that 57% of the audience already agreed with his sceptical position according to a pre-debate poll, while just 22% agreed with Blair’s side. The rest were undecided.
57% of the audience agreed with Hitchens beforehand! Well, maybe the debate drew a biased sample, but I still find that amazing—and heartening!
And here’s a New Year’s present: the AP reports that “BBC World News and the News Channel will broadcast the debate on Jan., 1 2011.”
Preliminary results posted on the Munk Debates website from an audience poll suggest Hitchens won the debate, with 68 per cent of those who handed in a ballot at the end of the night saying they favoured the con side and 32 per cent agreeing with Blair.
Both, however, seemed to sway many people to their way of thinking, as ballots submitted before the debate put the audience of 2,700 at 57 per cent con, 22 per cent pro and 21 per cent undecided. . .
Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” said for religion to be a force for good it would have to first give up all supernatural claims. He proposed a “pact with the faithful.”
“As long as you don’t want your religion taught to my children in school, given a government subsidy, imposed on me by violence, any of these things — you are fine by me,” he said.