1. birgerjohansson says

    The word “literalist” is a red flag. It is never associated with good news.
    Does not matter if it is ultra-orthodox jews, the American taliban or the real taliban. Interacting with polite debaters is not the same thing as dying of a disease because the faith condemns blood transfusions.

  2. Sunday Afternoon says

    The high frequency of interruptions for adverts in this video prompted me to stop after 13 minutes. Sorry.

  3. says

    Excellent as usual. Here is the statement by Eugenie Scott (former head of NCSE) as to why debating creationists is on the whole a Bad Thing:

    One detail of Christopher Hitchens’ statement puzzled me. He debated Reform Jewish rabbis?. I suppose that was about God:Yes/No because I’ve never heard of a Reform leader who didn’t acknowledge that evolution happened, and was how humans came to be. Those congregations are usually very eager to show their support for separation of church and state, and to show their opposition to the Religious Right. Even rabbis from Conservative Judaism, who are mostly people who are politically liberal, usually take the same position.

    Anyway, good job, as usual.

  4. chrislawson says

    Debates used to be meaningful in the pre-modern era because they allowed the audience to judge the personalities of the debaters — which is important for deciding who to vote for political office. But with modern media and online search technology the only useful function is as a vehicle for comedy, e.g. the Melbourne Comedy Festival’s annual debate which is really just an excuse to get six comedians on stage riffing on a topic.

    And none of this ever applied to scientific debate anyway, which has only ever been settled through publication, not town hall theatrics. If anyone wants to know the state of the evolution debate, all they need do is look in scientific journals.

  5. PaulBC says

    Great video… I will try to watch the whole thing.

    I’m at 13:40 or so, and it sounds like Hitchens was only willing to grant legitimacy to Christians who fit his strawman of what a Christian is supposed to be. Though contradictorily, he accuses liberals of ridiculing a strawman of the Christian right when he notes that those inviting him to debate were polite and welcoming against… well against his expectations and what he assumes to be the expectations of the strawman liberals he attacks. (It’s as if he has heard about the existence of proselytizing religions, but this is the first time he encountered one directly or worked through the implications.)

    I liked the statement about middle aged white men competing for dominance. It would be more entertaining if they put antlers on their heads and fought on stage that way.

  6. chrislawson says

    The most famous evolution-creation debate, the 1860 Oxford meeting, ended with each of the presenters confident that they had won the day (according to their various surviving correspondences) and has done nothing to stop the regurgitation of the same old creationist nonsense in the 160 years since.

    Even contemporary takes on creationism such as ID are just the same old rubbish in slightly shinier wrapping paper. “Specified complexity” has a glittery sciency-sounding surface, but unwrap it and there’s just a shonky knock-off Paley’s watch inside.

  7. John Morales says

    PaulBC, you’re judging Hitchens by what you saw on this video? Heh.

    (It’s as if he has heard about the existence of proselytizing religions, but this is the first time he encountered one directly or worked through the implications.)

    Wow. You really don’t have the first inkling.

  8. whheydt says

    As regards to scientific public debates… I once had the great pleasure to attend a series of public lectures about the then quite new K-T boundary impact theory. The series was organized by Walter Alvarez. His father, Luis Alvarez gave one of the lectures and was usually in the audience for the other ones. Another frequent attendee was the then head of the Paleo department (whose name escapes me at the moment) at UC Berkeley, where the series was held. Alvarez, pere, and the paleontologist would often ask very pointed questions from the floor after the talk when there was time for Q&A.

    The experience made me feel as if I were witnessing a modern version of that famous Huxley-Wilberforce debate. It was fascinating, enlightening, and exciting.

  9. PaulBC says

    whheydt@10 That sounds like it was carried out with honest intent, and the questions were also of much higher quality. That doesn’t sound anything like what PZ described. I’m sure it was an exciting thing to witness.

  10. PaulBC says

    The chart PZ shows at around 30 minutes is interesting. I wonder how much of the increased acceptance of evolution is simply a generational change. No matter what, it’s good news and I hope it continues. (It already shocked me in the 80s to meet college students who were creationists.)

    I remember naively thinking (early 90s) that the coming flood of genomic data would put the matter to rest. Haha. We did get the flood of data though. And it backs up evolution. But who knows, maybe that helps or at least changes the way we talk about evolution in popular culture.

  11. John Morales says

    chigau, what, specifically, leads you to perceive such a thing?

    (I suspect you’re trying to be subtle)

    Anyway. I hope that this response reassures you that I am not mindless.

    BTW, I watched the video (I sped it up to 1.45x, PZ speaks exceedingly clearly but slowly). One thing PZ did not directly address (though there was subtle allusion) is that Hitchens made his money from such activities.

  12. Walter Solomon says

    Two white men arguing over who’s the dominate one.

    I’m not sure why I found this line so hilarious.

  13. outis says

    That was very good, thanks – I’d say you got the hang of talking on video, which means dooooiiinnngg iiitt ssssllllooooowlllyy. Generally, everyone talks way too fast which may be fine face-to-face, but not on vid or public: slow down, enunciate and everything will go swimmingly.
    As for the content, I’d agree that the gradual acceptance of evolution and the rest is due to generational change. I would venture to say that also here in Europe the old-style religionists are simply going six feet under one by one, and the younger generations tend to be less horrid.
    But rather than creationism (rare in Europe) they gravitate towards and facilitate fascism, and there’s still way too much of that going around.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Outis @ 19
    Recently, a far right nut was on a British TV channel and blurted out “we are too tolerant” and “minorities should be squished”.
    It has come to the Church of England being a moderating voice compared to the vulgo-conservatives and opportunist boot-lickers shouting at the top of their voices.

  15. birgerjohansson says

    Dang! I realised there will be no Youtube PZ today as it was on Saturday.
    Also, as I have said many times I consider muslims to be victims of both the Christian majority and their imams, so don’t get it wrong when I say literalist muslims -shia and sunni- are one notch worse than literalist Christians. Too often, they will literally ice apostates (because Mr. M spelled that out in his book).
    When a Christian or atheist debates them, he takes no risks.
    Doing a debate as an ex-muslim takes courage.

  16. cheerfulcharlie says

    Actually, the Quran claims that there is to be no compulsion in religion. The idea that somebody who decides to leave Islam must be executed comes from the hadiths. Not all Muslims accept the hadiths.

  17. davidc1 says

    @20 ,I had to look that up ,he was referring to the recent protesters on the Motorways .
    To be honest ,never heard of him before .
    @22 All that means is Muslims are just as good as Christians at ignoring bits of the users manual that they don’t like .

  18. seachange says

    I ain’t saying a dam’ thing about how good a human Hitchens was anymore than I’da dunnit about Sister Teresa. This video seems to miss the point.

    Was Christopher Hitchens human? Are only atheists capable of noticing others are human?

    Dude was a fat old white male, so he perhaps he didn’t think he needed to say any corollary from the longquote PZ made. PZ quotes Hitchens on how CH found others to be human without considering CH was allowing others to consider atheist-him human. Christians talk about ‘bringing the light where it is most needed’. But the folks who’d support Wilson? They DO NOT think that =most= people are human.

    Now maybe ol’ CH was aiming super-high. Gosh. People do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do for money, it’s called having a job. Some jobs aren’t all that rewarding non-money-wise. Maybe CH was making money. As if DW’s cows weren’t gonna get milked without his help.

    Humanization is one of the three issues that PZ supports…maybe? CH was perhaps more arrogant of himself and his time to suppose that he could do that…maybe?

  19. whheydt says

    Re: PaulBC @ #12…
    The series was originally conceived as a graduate seminar series. Then the university looked at the list of speakers and decided to turn it into a public lecture series with a “private” grad student session to follow each public lecture. It was all working scientists, some of whom disagreed with others, so while it was all very collegial, you could see the virtual knives coming out and being every so politely slipped between the ribs. Utterly fascinating to listen to if one had been following the reports about the theory at the time.

  20. PaulBC says


    It was all working scientists, some of whom disagreed with others, so while it was all very collegial, you could see the virtual knives coming out and being every so politely slipped between the ribs.

    Whereas what PZ describes sounds more like being rudely hit over the head with a rubber chicken.