The Huxley Memorial Debate:
Ayes 150 - Noes 198
on MP3 CD - Go To: CD
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Page updated 29/6/2006
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 world view 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 world view 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 over
view of the original events and an analysis of the background to it, see the
following web page. It is the first of four pages which are all part of one
lecture by Professor Brookes, but broken up into four parts. Following the
lecture is a bibliography, and a transcript of an after lecture/dinner
discussion in response to the lecture by Professor Brooke. There is a link at the bottom of each
page so that you can move easily from one to the next.
...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:
(Died September 13th, 1995)
(Died September 13th, 1995)
Speaking for evolution and opposing the
(Died April 19th, 2004)
(Died April 19th, 2004)
[Professor Andrews has just published his latest book (2009), 'Who made God?: Searching for a theory of everything'.]
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
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 about that
time was that after the debate, 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. Actually I am certain I have
this letter (the original) somewhere, but unfortunately have not been able to
locate it. Anyway, 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 belonged. 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 about
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 . For a PDF version of this issue of Creation Matters see:
Paul also alerted
me to the fact that Answers in Genesis in Brisbane (Now Creation
Ministries International - 2009) were right at that
time working on a transcript of the debate, which they were considering publishing at
Interestingly, Paul Humber had contacted the Oxford
Union inquiring after information relating to the debate and got the
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
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 has done 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 being made widely 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 funny if it had!]
So...after all of that, which may or may not be of interest, I now make the 'Huxley Memorial Debate' available 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 web site, 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 web site dissuade you from purchasing your own CD copy of this historic event.
I have also attempted to add additional information regarding the debate to the Wikipedia page relating to it, and also correct the erroneous vote count for the creationists on that page, but my additions and correction have been removed in all cases.
(As a bonus for visiting this page, if you would like to view a 10 minute video where I address at a 2008 NZ Election 'Education Forum', implications of creation and evolution for education, go to 'Should prostitution be taught in schools?' at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dTHhUO9V6o . Open link in new window to enable an easy return to this page.)
The debate is available only in MP3
format with the CD labelled and in a Jewel case - and mailed
in a protective envelope.
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
To purchase the CD the cost is:
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