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Hitchens defeats Blair in Toronto

UPDATE: Full debate now up on YouTube (but hurry, it may not be there for long!) It is in eight sections (avoid Section 1, which is all introductions).

UPDATE: Full transcript via New Statesman
Christopher Hitchens vs. Tony Blair: the full transcript

UPDATE: You can watch the full debate on the Munk Debates website, where it will be available until 1 March 2011 for a payment of $2.99.

This BBC article has a video of two brief extracts of last night's (27th November) debate in Toronto, followed by a rather bland report, recording that Hitch won the debate two to one.

There are some first-hand accounts of the debate on our website here, from which I quote:

Comment 55 by Noble Savage
Watching the stream right now. Blair is sounding like a broken record. A very very poor broken record.

Hitchens is destroying Blair in my opinion. Utterly and totally.

I love Christopher. Tony's bringing up Hitler and Stalin for the third time.

Comment 57 by Noble Savage
Debate over. Blair was boring, repetitive and, astonishingly, his public speaking skills are vastly inferior to Christopher's.

Christopher was great, I thought particularly in the first half, but he was solid all the way through. He did look noticably tired after the show was over though.

Blair's arguments were, (and I do believe there were only three): 1. Not all bad things are done in the name of religion. 2. Religious people sometimes do good things, and I actually know some that do. 3. People never do anything bad in the name of MY religion, because I'm a lay catholic and the extent of my (public) faith is just that "Jesus was a good dude".

A couple of tough questions was put to Thunder Tony, all of which he declined to answer. Instead he rehashed his trusty three arguments and hoped for the best. It was terribly uncomfortable to watch at times.

Comment 58 by Sample
The question was an easy one for the former Prime Minister; he only had to describe one example where religion was or is a force for good. Hitchens had an impossible battle from the way the question was phrased. However, Hitchens answered the question (is religion a force for good?) in the only way possible; yes, but at what cost?

We felt sad that Hitchens appeared visibly uncomfortable at the end of the debate ostensibly because of his illness.

Blair mentioned (as a positive) that religion tried to bridge gaps in the Protestant/Catholic war in Ireland. And, brilliantly, Hitchens' retort was (paraphrase) "Yeah, but how did we get to the 400 year war with people killing each others' children in the first place? Religion!"

Mike & Rachel

Comment 62 by quaredunt
I saw the debate on live stream to a humanist centre in Toronto with an audience of a few hundred hanging on every word, especially CH's still fiery oratory. TB was indeed like a broken record until his final summation. CH, in his summation, spoke of the "numinous" and the "transcendental" and even the "ecstatic" in relation to our awe at the universe and our tiny place in it, something I have never heard him do before nor can I recall much use of those terms in any of his books. He sounded more like Sam Harris. Up to that point TB had not used any such language in his repetitive faith talk but when it came to his summation it was as though CH had given him the chance he needed and he ran with it as if to say, "There you see, the transcendental! There is some higher power!" By then the debate was over and CH didn't get a chance to challenge this.

It was a very gentlemanly affair, a good deal of mutual respect in evidence throughout. When CH found it necessary to support the war in Iraq, he ended up with some strange bedfellows including Blair and Bush but he seems to be able to live with them. Bedbugs?

Comment 64 by Lowleyuk
I watched the debate online, as expected Christopher won by a mile but did anyone else find the format slightly irritating? I would have much prefered more dialogue between the two. Also Noble Savage's review is highly accurate so I won't bother repeating the same thing, unlike Blair of course, who appeared to be oblivious of this basic principle.

Any more eye-witness accounts of the Toronto debate, please add them to the Comments.

Many congratulations to the indomitable Hitch.


PS The BBC website also has a round-up of polls taken around the world on the same question, showing a spread, ranging from more than 90% in favour of religion in Saudi Arabia to less than 20% in Sweden. Once again, the United States is weirdly anomalous among advanced countries. Even Turkey does better.



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Why should he sit still and see a valued and precious discipline being insulted, even threatened with not being taught?



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