Oxford Union Debate CD
The Huxley Memorial Debate:
‘That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution’
Oxford Union, 14th February, 1986
Featuring (along with members of the Oxford Union):
Professor Edgar Andrews
Dr Arthur Wilder-Smith
Dr Richard Dawkins
Professor John Maynard-Smith
Score: Ayes 150 – Noes 198
Debate play time = 3 hours 49 Minutes
Available on MP3 CD – $NZ15.00
On the evening of the 14th February 1986, a significant debate occurred under the auspices of the famous debating club at Oxford University, the ‘Oxford Union‘.
It was billed ‘The Huxley Memorial Debate’ in commemoration of the famous exchange between Thomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Oxford on June the 30th, 1860.
Charles Darwin had published his famous book ‘The Origin of Species’ the year before, and it had sent ripples throughout English society. Was man a special creation of God as the Bible clearly stated, or was he a chance product of a mindless universe and descended from animal ancestors? Darwin’s ideas threatened not only the influence of the Biblical worldview in English culture, it threatened the very status of human beings themselves – wherever found – and their place in the universe. Wilberforce understood the threat, and we know in hindsight that Darwin’s ideas were a dagger right to the heart of a Biblical understanding of man and the universe. In the 150 years since Darwin, the Biblical worldview has been overthrown culturally by evolutionary views…worldwide.
The exchange between Huxley and Wilberforce at the Oxford meeting was part of this debate. It has received some notoriety and seems to have gathered about it such a great deal of folklore that it is difficult to know precisely what happened. One thing that seems certain is that it did not happen the way popular stories have it.
For what appears to me to be a helpful overview of the original events and an analysis of the background to it, see the following article. It is by Professor John Hedley Brooke, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford.
…in commemoration of this event – whatever occurred – the Oxford Union decided to stage a comeback duel in 1986. The motion they prepared was: ‘That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution’. Beside several local speakers for each side, they also called in heavy weights to put the opposing viewpoints.
For the creation side, these were:
– Professor Edgar Andrews of Queen Mary College London, materials scientist, and President of the ‘Biblical Creation Society‘ – a British creation organisation, and…
– Dr Arthur Wilder-Smith, triple doctorate, prolific author on science matters, drug specialist, and Professor of Pharmacology and Consultant from Geneva. (Died September 13th, 1995)
Speaking for evolution and opposing the motion were:
– Dr Richard Dawkins, zoologist from Oxford University and well known outspoken atheist and opponent of creation, and…
– Professor John Maynard-Smith, Professor of Biology from the University of Sussex. (Died April 19th, 2004)
Ironically, in the 126 years since the first encounter, the roles of cultural top-dog / underdog had reversed. In 1860, Wilberforce, opposing Darwinism, had the weight of the establishment and culture on his side, whereas Huxley was decidedly counter-cultural. In 1986, it was those speaking for evolution that had the establishment and culture on their side, and those speaking for creation were the ones who were counter-cultural.
My observation is that when people are culturally in the top-dog position, they can tend to be patronising and self confident, assuming that all they have to do is trot out the ‘self-evident’ cultural party line and they will have won the day. They often also assume they can personally attack those who challenge them with impunity. Alternatively the ‘underdogs’ have to carefully justify virtually every word they say, and must be careful how they speak.
Whether this applied in 1860 I do not know, but it certainly was the pattern worked out in the 1986 Huxley Memorial Debate.
My interest in the debate came about initially because Dr Wilder-Smith made his first visit to New Zealand in the middle of 1986 at my initiative, and stayed with us. He related to me the events of the debate and among other things, said regarding Dr Richard Dawkins “…that man has nothing to offer science!” He also told me that audiotapes of the debate were available through David CC Watson in England. I duly purchased the tapes, listened to them and put them away. They sat on my shelf more or less forgotten for seventeen years.
A story that began to circulate during that time was that there was a total blackout on the part of Oxford Union regarding it, that in fact as far as the Oxford Union, and the Oxford University were concerned, the event may as well not have happened. I’m not sure of the origin of this story, or to what degree various people confirmed or denied it. But Dr Wilder-Smith did show me a letter from a woman who had made contact with the University and had been rebuffed in a way that could have justified thinking there was a snow job being done. I personally have never felt inclined to accept this reading of events, even though Dr Wilder-Smith appears to have accepted it to some degree. I have preferred to think there is some less conspiratorial reason for the origin of the story.
On Monday 29th September 2003, a comment relating to this debate, drawn from another website, was posted on the Creation Research Society discussion group to which I belong. It contained a number of factual errors, among which was that the debate had been held at Cambridge University. I read this but not having thought about it seriously for 17 years, did not immediately pick up the errors. However it began me thinking and the Cambridge reference began to bother me. Then I recalled that I had the tapes of the debate somewhere, so looked, and there they were. Sure enough the comments were wrong.
I was one of several who told the CRS group it was Oxford and not Cambridge, and I said that I had a copy of the tapes. A number then expressed interest in having a copy, so I then decided to copy them on to my computer and make them available on CD.
At this point I was alerted to the fact that Paul Humber from the CRS group had been in touch by email with Dr Richard Dawkins early in 2003 regarding the debate, and had actually written up an article about this correspondence for Creation Matters, a publication for the members of the Creation Research Society .
Paul also alerted me to the fact that Answers in Genesis in Brisbane (Now Creation Ministries International – 2020) were right at that time working on a transcript of the debate, which they were considering publishing at some stage. As far as I am aware, this has not happened.
Interestingly, Paul Humber had contacted the Oxford Union inquiring after information relating to the debate and got the following reply:
Your e-mail to the Union regarding the debate in 1986 has been forward on to me and I have been asked to get in touch. Unfortunately we wont have any of the information you require on the debate, indeed it sounds like you have more than we do.
The only records kept of debates are the title, speakers names and result. We don’t hold any other information such as reports or fliers (there wouldn’t have been any, only the title of the debate published in the term card). Unfortunately I can’t even give you the result for this debate. The results are noted in a large minute book which spans several years. I’m sorry to say that the minute book in question was either lost or stolen many years ago, which is a great pity. I’m sorry the Union can’t be of any help to you. If there is anything else though you feel I might be able to help with then please do not hesitate to get in touch.
So…while there has, for whatever reason, been a definite loss of information (perhaps an illustration supporting the creationist claim regarding the universal tendency to degradation of biological information as a result of mutations over time!), there does not now at least, appear to be any blackout.
I emailed Dr Carl Weiland CEO of AIG regarding the transcript and was subsequently asked to check it. This has been done. Carl also raised the question of copyright.
I decided to see if I could contact David CC Watson who supplied me the tapes in 1986, and find out if he knew anything about the copyright. Through contacts in England I learned that David himself had actually bought the copyright from the Oxford Union, and so he was able to give permission for me to reproduce the debate on CD for distribution.
One thing Paul Humber asked me to carefully check was the results of the vote taken at the end of the debate. There have been questions raised about the number of votes the creation side got, though the 198 gained by the evolution side is not in doubt. The numbers given in various accounts for the ‘ayes’ were either 114 or 115 – Dr Wilder-Smith refers to it in his memoirs as ‘some 114’, and the same way in another book of his. However it is clear from the tape that in fact it was 150. This is also the view of Kym Holwerda who was doing the AIG transcript, and others at AIG. I don’t think there can be any doubt about this. On tape it certainly is not 115, let alone 114! Nor is the Chairman of the Oxford Union, who read out the votes at the end of the evening, corrected in any way by either the tellers who counted the votes, nor any from the evolutionary side of the debate. Given that official written records have been lost or stolen, but on the tape we have the voice of the Chairman of the Union giving the number of votes, we should take her statements as definitive.
[Actually there could be a bit of comic opera here. Let’s follow the conspiracy angle for a minute and assume that the vote count was actually 115 verses 198, and with the chairman making a slip of the tongue and saying 150 instead of 115.
Now, imagine someone wanting to destroy the evidence that the creation side had done so well by scoring 115 votes, sneaks in in the dead of night and steals or destroys the record book. So now the official record is gone.
BUT…they forgot about the tapes, and the tape record which has survived and is now available, has the chairman – with her slip of the tongue (if that is what it was) saying 150. By removing or destroying the written record, they left only one verifiable record from the night itself, a record which gave an even higher number than that contained in the record they removed or destroyed (assuming that the vote actually was 115 and not 150)! If this was the case, they shot themselves in the foot well and truly, and I must say I am quite partial to people shooting themselves in the foot.
Now I do not think any of this actually happened but I would find it comic if it had!]
So…after all of that, which may or may not be of interest, the ‘Huxley Memorial Debate‘ is available for to you to make of it what you will.
To make the debate more accessible, I have cut the full debate up into separate files, one for each of the speakers. This will mean you do not have to hunt for a speaker you want to hear, a frustrating exercise. You certainly will want to hear Dr Richard Dawkins, though he mightn’t want you to…
The debate has not been edited in anyway except for what I describe below, and no comment has been added to it. It is the raw debate as it occurred.
The original tapes began with about 20 minutes of Oxford Union business dealing with a motion to expel Major Robin Sanderson from the Union. This section, which contains a quite humorous speech by Major Sanderson coming immediately before the debate, has been deleted. After Professor Maynard-Smith’s speech, there was an intermission of a number of minutes and the tape was left running. I’m not sure you would want to listen to a background hum of conversation and chairs and tables being pushed around, so have deleted this section also. These are the only editing changes. A very small amount of Oxford Union business occurred at one or two other points during the debate and they have all been left in.
Also…the original recording was done on audiotape and unfortunately the tape had to be turned over or changed at certain points. Thus a small amount of recording time was lost. My tapes for some reason have about an extra sentence of recording at each of these points than the AIG copy.
I have inserted a ‘ding’ at the change points to indicate lost recording time.
Interestingly, Richard Dawkins has somehow acquired my recording – identified by the ‘ding’ I inserted – and posted them without permission on his website. I discovered this because someone who read this page, listened to the copy on the Dawkins website, heard the ‘ding’, and told me about it! I have emailed Richard several times about this but have had no reply. However, don’t let the fact that this debate is available illegitimately on the Richard Dawkins website dissuade you from purchasing your own CD copy of this historic event.
I have also attempted on a number of occasions to add additional information regarding the debate to the Wikipedia page relating to it, and also to correct the erroneous vote count for the creationists on that page, but my additions and correction have been removed in all cases.
The debate is available only in MP3 format with the CD labelled as photo above, in a Jewel case – and mailed in a protective envelope.
Because MP3 is compressed and not a straight audio file, the whole debate fits easily onto one CD. This can be played on Windows Media Player, or most other media player programs on computers, and other media machines such as DVD players that play MP3 files. It will not play on older CD players.
Purchase cost is: $NZ15.00 including shipping.
Single copies of the CD will be shipped International by Airmail.