Huxley Memorial Debate

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Dr. Arthur Ernest Wilder-Smith

The Huxley Memorial Debate took place on February 14, 1986 under the auspices of the Oxford Union, a student debate club of Oxford University. The motion "That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution" was debated by Edgar Andrews and A. E. Wilder-Smith for the ayes, and Richard Dawkins and John Maynard-Smith for the noes. A few members of the Oxford Union were additional speakers. After approximately 3 hours of debate, the notion was defeated by 198 to 115 votes.

Huxley Memorial Debate and Dawkins Subsequent Refusal to debate Creation Scientists

Creationists state the following regarding Richard Dawkins current refusal to debate a creation scientist:

A. E. Wilder-Smith is also probably responsible for Richard Dawkins refusing to debate creationists any more. In 1986, Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews debated the two leading evolutionists in Britain, Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith, at Oxford – a lions’ den with the two strongest Darwinian lions in Europe. Yet even there, over a third – almost half – of the staunchly pro-evolution audience voted that the creation side had won the debate. The vote count became a contentious issue. There were claims of a cover-up by the Oxford Student Union. The AAAS was accused of lying about the vote count and didn’ [sic] correct it even when confronted (see article). The evolutionists apparently were embarrassed that the creationists made such a strong showing. For whatever reason, Dawkins no longer will debate creationists. Reports from those in attendance say that, contrary to the ground rules of the debate, the Dawkins and Maynard Smith repeatedly attacked religion, while the creationists used only scientific arguments. Dawkins himself had to be reprimanded by the moderator for attacking Wilder-Smith about his religious views. Dawkins implored the audience not to give any votes to the creationists lest it be a “blot on the escutcheon of ancient University of Oxford” (an odd remark, considering Oxford was founded by Christians). After the debate, details of the event were lost by the University. Normally, Oxford Union debates are big news, given prominent publicity in the press, radio and television. This one, however, which should have rivalled the historic 1860 Huxley-Wilberforce debate in importance, and indeed was even titled the ’Huxley Memorial Debate,” was silently dropped from the radar screen. In his memoirs, Dr. Wilder-Smith wrote, “No records of my having held the lecture as part of the Oxford Union Debate could be found in any library. No part of the official media breathed a word about it.[1]

Creation Research Society Commentary on the debate

The Creation Research Society stated regarding the debate the following:

Despite Dr. Dawkins’ plea, there were apparently 115 votes for the creation position (more than 37%). This was done near Darwin’s turf. Imagine flat-earthers going to NASA and convincing over 37% of the scientists there that the earth is flat. Maybe creation science is not as closely akin to flat-earthism as Dr. Dawkins supposes (see his Free Inquiry article).[1]

Richard Dawkins' violation of the terms of the Huxley Memorial Debate proceedings

As noted earlier, it was agreed before the debate that discussion of religion was not to occur during the debate and that only the evidence related to the physical sciences were going to be discussed. At the end of the debate, Richard Dawkins started to give an impassioned plea to the audience to not give a single vote to the creationists which would show support for creationism. Mr. Dawkins was told to sit down by the President of the Oxford Union for violating the terms of the debate as far as not mentioning religion (as noted earlier John Maynard Smith also violated the terms of the debate).[1]

Lost records and the deception related to email correspondence with Richard Dawkins

The actual outcome of the vote is not clear. A report on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), quoting a publication by John Durant[2] lists 198 votes for the noes and 15 for the ayes.[3] A Christian site reports that Paul Humber from the Creation Research Society in Australia contacted the Oxford Union and got a reply from a Jeremy Worth that 'The results [of the votes] 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.'[4] It seems that the only reliable records for the debate outcome are copies in mp3 format of the debate tapes that can be viewed on YouTube. The teller of the vote can be heard to announce the outcome as 198 for the noes and 115 or 150 (the voice of the teller is not clear) for the ayes.

Deception related to email correspondence with Richard Dawkins

Paul Humber notes there was a deception that occurred during email correspondence with Mr. Dawkins concerning the tally of vote counts that occurred for the Huxley Memorial Debate between creation scientists Professor A.E. Wilder-Smith and Professor Edgar Andrews and evolutionists Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith.[1] Mr. Humber did not indicate whether Mr. Dawkins committed the deception or was merely duped by someone who provided an altered account.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Debating Dawkins, by Paul G. Humber, M.S., Creation Matters, Volume 8, Number 4 (July / August 2003)
  2. A Critical-Historical Perspective on the Argument about Evolution and Creation, John Durant, in "From Evolution to Creation:A European Perspective (Eds. Sven Anderson, Arthus Peacocke), Aarhus Univ. Press, Aarhus, Denmark
  3. AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Thematic Areas: Evolution: Perspectives
  4. The Huxley Memorial Debate: 'That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution', 'Tongues Revisited' (Website of 'Tongues Revisited: A Third Way', by Renton Maclachlan)