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1986 Oxford Union Debate - Comments

Magpie's Avatar Comment 1 by Magpie

Nice debate! Interesting fact. David Watson who organised the debate, is the grandfather of my housemate. No, she's not a creationist.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 03:35:00 UTC | #23078

glittergulch's Avatar Comment 2 by glittergulch

Ooh, brilliant! I have a CD-Rom of this. I highly recommend it from start to finish, especially since Dr Dawkins doesn't debate creationists anymore (easy to see why!) There are many bizarre and hilarious moments. Also, for those of us on the western side of the Atlantic some of the pomp and tradition is quite interesting.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 04:20:00 UTC | #23079

deviljelly's Avatar Comment 3 by deviljelly

The last section is quite funny, mainly knob jokes, and a very early reference to the stupidity of Boris Johnson.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 06:00:00 UTC | #23083

Logicel's Avatar Comment 4 by Logicel

This debate happened around twenty years ago, and though there is some interesting and humorous aspects associated with its age, all in all, it was depressing, though the motion for the doctrine of creation being more valid than the theory of evolution was voted against.

Dawkins was calmly brilliant, focusing on what a big, sumptuous, worthy-of-the-wonder-of-the-universe theory evolution is, while mentioning that Creation doctrine is petty, small, and insulting to any notion of a God worthy of its name.

Twenty years later, we are hearing similar drivel on the threads at this site from theists who are unable to grasp a bigger theory based on substantial evidence, and instead continue to cling to a threadbare doctrine with no substantial evidence.

I have just started my first reading of Dawkins Unweaving The Rainbow,, and it is a captivating, spellbinding read because I am learning science easily and with enjoyment while my wonder remains intact. Not an easy task to accomplish, but Dawkins has. Kudos.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 06:24:00 UTC | #23085

okani3000's Avatar Comment 5 by okani3000

It's incredible how the real scientists have defended and protected against the constant surges of creationists, through out the years. And seems like the battles will go on for a long while longer. I see why Prof. Dawkins and the other scientists don't, anymore, give formal forums to the creationists - the argument doesn't go anywhere.

I agree with glittergulch, and love the jabs in the debate, plus the pomp & tradition is very interesting. Also, I am even more thoroughly convinced, Professor Dawkins is a master speaker and debator - what talent.

Glad he, and the other scientists, are on our side. "...keep on keepin' on!"

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 06:38:00 UTC | #23088

Carl S. Richardson's Avatar Comment 6 by Carl S. Richardson

1986, the year before I was born and it seems the creationist arguments haven't progressed much, if at all. The same web of lies was still been swung 20 years ago and from listening to you can really see that intelligent design shares the same worn out empty notions. You'd think the creationists would at least be able to come up with something remotely new or that at least it would have sunk in by now that evolution is not a theory of chance.

I think you can really tell how weak the creationist groups are with their inability to accept that natural selection is not random -- Their willingness to go on spreading lies despite been taught time and time again that that's not how it works, is just despicable. It really makes you wonder if the advocates even believe in creation or are just following it as some sort of big money maker.

It's funny, I wonder if the debaters for the motion, went home still holding the view that evolution was the straw man they made it out to be. You'd think after the good arguments but forward by Dawkins and the rest would have sunk in but alas people like the creationist are either immune from reason or, as I've said, out to make money from a gullible public.

If you can put forward arguments that sound scientific you could make a good living on the creationist lecture circuit, it'd a sure fire way to make money and you don't even have to believe it!

The amusing thing was in Edgar Andrews's speech where he claimed science can't answer 4 questions and then claimed theology could. He then failed to give any reason why the theological answers were correct. It seems the difference goes something like this:

Science: We're working on it
Theology: We can't know so here's a made up explanation

After centuries of been wrong you'd really think theist would learn their lesson by now that the limits of science can not be determined by our inabilities of the current day.

The most annoying part wasn't surprisingly the creationist argument themselves but namely one of the creationists, Theodore Wilson. I don't know how Dawkins must have felt but Wilson's "Doctrine [bang!] of [bang!] Creation [bang!]" actually had me shouting at the computer for him to shut up.

But anyway you can understand why Dawkins is now unwilling to engage in debates with creationists and honestly I don't blame him.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 08:25:00 UTC | #23095

wendelin's Avatar Comment 7 by wendelin

Oh wow. This brings back so many memories of varsity debating, I'm now realising I really miss it! But I wonder why they're using Australs style debating in Britain, where I've heard it's almost always British Parliamentary style?

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 08:40:00 UTC | #23097

glittergulch's Avatar Comment 8 by glittergulch

It would be great if Dr Dawkins would post some thoughts on this classic event.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 08:47:00 UTC | #23099

deviljelly's Avatar Comment 9 by deviljelly

For fun:

I like this bumper sticker

"Gods don't kill people. People with Gods kill People"

and the "COGITO, ERGO DEUS NON EST" t-shirts

If anyone wants to correct the Latin check this out first.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 08:59:00 UTC | #23100

LookToWindward's Avatar Comment 10 by LookToWindward

Listening to this event confirmed my opinion of Oxford Union members as puerile narcissistic loud-mouthed sociopaths. With small dicks. Much like the politicians they usually go on to become.

And I am exceedingly pleased to have this affirmation of my decision not to join the Union (nor, in fact, its lesser, if slightly less hacky version in Cambridge). Go me!

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 09:05:00 UTC | #23101

jesus_christ_himself's Avatar Comment 11 by jesus_christ_himself

Does the Oxford Union always have so many (bad) cock jokes?

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 09:41:00 UTC | #23102

oskorei's Avatar Comment 12 by oskorei

Thank you! This is a fascinating historical document; I am amazed how little the creationist arguments have changed since then. I guess nothing at all can be done about certain kinds of arrogant ignorance..

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 13:40:00 UTC | #23117

Bremas's Avatar Comment 13 by Bremas

re oskorei post 12
I agree, after listening to that, and how little the arguements have changed, there seems to be no point in debating creationists.
Let's hope the fence sitters can be convinced to read a book.

On a brighter note, The God Delusion, after spending months in the basement of my local Barnes and Noble, is suddenly prominently displayed in several places throughout the store.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 13:58:00 UTC | #23119

jamesstephenbrown's Avatar Comment 14 by jamesstephenbrown

I though it was hilarious when Dawkins mentioned the contention that the miraculous ordering process of fossils were from the biblical flood. What occured to me was that all prehistoric fish would have escaped, because of course fish can't drown! They wouldn't have even been in upper levels let alone the lower levels beneath all mammals and land dwelling reptiles. Its honestly laughable.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 15:46:00 UTC | #23124

Yorker's Avatar Comment 15 by Yorker

In American made movies, the hero is usually an American. In reality, the American is most often the asshole. I wonder why?

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 18:16:00 UTC | #23135

Yorker's Avatar Comment 16 by Yorker

4. Comment #25326 by Logicel

Dawkins books are best for the science of evolution. But for a person wishing to study and learn the scientific method, then I would recommend Carl Sagan; his "Demon Haunted World" is arguably beyond comparison. I think it should be made compulsory reading for all.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 18:23:00 UTC | #23136

Yorker's Avatar Comment 17 by Yorker

I liked Maynard-Smith, he was an honest and insightful man; he is sorely missed.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 18:30:00 UTC | #23137

davyB's Avatar Comment 18 by davyB

Dr. Dawkins has gotten a lot quicker over the years. He stepped on his own toes a few times, like when he said people should vote against the proposition because if it passed, the press would misinterpret the result.

Mon, 12 Mar 2007 22:48:00 UTC | #23154

RickM's Avatar Comment 19 by RickM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Wilder-Smith (Part 7) actually prove, in his convoluted way, that virgin birth is impossible?

If we except the voting as a statistical sample (115 for, 198 against), we are able to determine that 63 percent of Oxford students are able to critically identify bull shit.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 01:04:00 UTC | #23162

Logicel's Avatar Comment 20 by Logicel

Yorker, if you have not yet read Dawkins review of Sagan's Demon Haunted World, perhaps you may find it interesting:

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 01:19:00 UTC | #23164

Lord Asriel's Avatar Comment 21 by Lord Asriel

I am amazed how little the creationist arguments have changed since then.

The absence of development in their argument struck me too.

I think it illustrates well that it is not a scientific debate they are interested in and that they are lacking real arguments. I have never experienced a scientific debate so inert that arguments do not progress for over 20 years (or should I say 2000 years?)!

Interestingly, the only important change (from 'creationism' to 'ID') occurred not to improve the argument but was legally inspired (and still the arguments didn't change much).

I was surprised by the high number of favourable votes. Was it just due to the way the two sides mobilised or is it in any way representative for time and place of the debate?

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 01:20:00 UTC | #23165

Logicel's Avatar Comment 22 by Logicel

Yorker, Dawkins does a splendid job of explaining electromagetic and sound waves in Unweaving The Rainbow. Though grounded in the scientific method because of my biological/biochemical/medical background, I have always found physics difficult to understand. Dawkins significantly widened the crack of that door for me in this book so I can in this middle-aged stage of my life comprehend/see the basics which were hidden previously.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 01:24:00 UTC | #23166

Yorker's Avatar Comment 23 by Yorker

22. Comment #25408 by Logicel


I was aware that Dawkins liked Sagan's work.

My first career was electronics engineering so I have some expertise in electromagnetic radiation, I can confirm Dawkins did a fair job in UTR. Glad your getting grips with physics, most people's difficulties lie in the fear of it, approaching it from the fun angle is very helpful.

Incidentally, a few days ago I listened to a speech Sagan made two years before he died; it was remarkably prophetic, almost 100% accurate in the predictions he made about the current situation. I'm about to buy his new book, edited and released by his wife, Annie Druyan.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 03:25:00 UTC | #23180

sidd's Avatar Comment 24 by sidd

I thought that Dawkins' referring to the supporting side's other publishings was not really in the spirit of debate. Particularly when he mentions the fact that Edgar Andrews is a young-earth creationist. Doing so was nothing more than an ad hominem, since Andrews makes no reference to such a position in his speech.

John M Smith was the highlight. Particularly his rebuttal to Arthur Smith's comments about 3/4 of the way through Part 8.

Many thanks for posting this!

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 04:15:00 UTC | #23187

Skeptic Jim's Avatar Comment 25 by Skeptic Jim

Who was that pompous fool who stood up in protest suggesting that atheists shouldn't be allowed to speak?

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 04:41:00 UTC | #23188

Habalabam's Avatar Comment 26 by Habalabam

I'm so frustrated by this form of debate.

Can somebody who listened through give me a rundown of the following:
* What DID the creationists get away with?
* What could they PRETEND to get away with?

If the creationist really got his nose grounded, I'll listen for mere entertainment value. If he in all unlikelyhood raised any form of relevant objection to anything, then I'll listen. The normal gibberish has no information or entertainment value.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 05:07:00 UTC | #23193

glittergulch's Avatar Comment 27 by glittergulch

I've listened to it a couple of times and I'm pretty sure that this is what the creationists are saying:

1) Creationism is a doctrine and evolution is a theory and doctrine trumps theory.
2) One species cannot spontaneously change into another.
3) Science will never - I mean never, ever, ever - answer any questions of any importance, ever.
4) Ever.
5) No one has shown any evidence of evolution, ever.
6) DNA code can't ever be created out of random chaos and therefore the origin of life will NEVER ever ever be understood.
7) A skull was found in some coal. Therefore, checkmate.
8) Evolution means that two similar wooden debating dispatch boxes share a common ancestor.
9) Creationism doesn't explain HOW the world works but WHY it exists.
10) Ooga booga.
11) Ugga Wugga.

Honestly, their comments make no sense at all. Even so, the debate is great to listen to.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 06:40:00 UTC | #23202

WilliamLP's Avatar Comment 28 by WilliamLP

A point that seems to always come up in these debates is that a creationist will claim that similarities in DNA between species are evidence of a common designer, not of common descent. I'm aware that the molecular similarities and differences observed are exactly what would be suggested by common descent, and not at all what would be indicative of a common designer, but I was disappointed that Dawkins wasn't able to refute this succinctly and effectively here. In debates like this, it seems a lot of scientists don't address this point well, in a way that would be compelling to a non-biologist.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 06:46:00 UTC | #23203

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 29 by Richard Dawkins

24. Comment #25429 by George Dickeson on March 13, 2007 at 4:15 am "I thought that Dawkins' referring to the supporting side's other publishings was not really in the spirit of debate. Particularly when he mentions the fact that Edgar Andrews is a young-earth creationist. Doing so was nothing more than an ad hominem, since Andrews makes no reference to such a position in his speech."

It is precisely BECAUSE Andrews avoided mentioning his young earth creationism that it was necessary for me to do so. He was doing a typically duplicitous thing, cleaning up his act for a sophisticated (actually not so sophisticated as it turned out) Oxford audience. If he had changed his mind since writing the Young Earth book, that would be different. But he had not changed his mind. He was dishonestly pretending to be less of a wingnut than he really was.

Later that evening, at the drinks after the debate, Maynard Smith had a blazing row with Edgar Andrews, because of his dishonesty. It was the only time I ever saw that beloved man go positively RED with anger, and it was a splendid sight.


Tue, 13 Mar 2007 10:44:00 UTC | #23221

mintcheerios's Avatar Comment 30 by mintcheerios

I'd like to have heard that.

Tue, 13 Mar 2007 11:12:00 UTC | #23223