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Huxley Memorial Debate

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The Huxley Memorial Debate was the title of a 1986 Oxford Union Debate between two biblical creationists and two evolutionists. It is notable in being the last debate in which Richard Dawkins debated a creationist, and apparently the reason that Dawkins now refuses to debate creationists (even though he continues to criticise them), as the vote taken after the debate did not produce the result that he wanted.


The Union

The Oxford Union is one of the—if not the—most prestigious debating societies in the world, and was established in 1823. It is separate to both Oxford University and the Oxford University Student Union, but its membership is open primarily to graduates and students of Oxford University.

It currently holds formal debates on Thursdays, and competitive debates at other times. The formal debates are in the form of a motion which is debated by speakers, and include a vote from the audience taken by which door they exit.[1]

The debates have often been well-publicised and controversial, with many prominent people appearing as speakers.[2]

The Huxley Memorial Debate

Arthur Wilder-Smith, a scientist (with three earned doctorates), lecturer, author, three-star NATO general, and biblical creationist, was invited to give the 1986 Huxley Memorial Lecture at Oxford University.

Creationist David C. C. Watson suggested to the Oxford Union that they should hold a debate on the creation/evolution issue, with Wilder-Smith taking part. The lecture and the debate took part on Fri. 14th February, 1986Fri. February 14th, 1986, with the debate titled the Huxley Memorial Debate, commemorating the "debate" between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in 1860.[note 1]

The motion that the debate participants spoke to was That the Doctrine of Creation is more valid than the Theory of Evolution.

The main participants in the 1986 debate were evolutionists Richard Dawkins and John Maynard Smith and creationists Arthur Wilder-Smith and Edgar Andrews. Dawkins "implored" (his word)[3] the audience to not give the creationists a single vote. However, although the majority voted for the evolutionists (198 votes), the creationists received 150 (or 115[note 2]) votes.

Watson obtained a recording of the debate, as well as copyright on the recording. Dawkins has posted a copy of the debate on his web-site, allegedly in violation of the copyright.[4]

Allegations of suppression

Allegations have been made that the existence of the debate was suppressed, although there appears to be no hard evidence of any deliberate suppression.

Wilder-Smith records that the main Oxford University science library contacted him in December 1986 asking if the lecture had taken place, as they could find no record of it.

In December 1986, I received an inquiry from the Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford, asking if I had ever really held a Huxley Memorial Lecture on February 14, 1986. 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. So total is the current censorship on any effective criticism of Neo-Darwinian science and on any genuine alternative.

Malcolm Bowden said "that all records of the event were completely removed is a severe indictment of those who decided to take this action. It is also an indication of how fearful they are of any evidence against evolution (and by inference for creation) that they treat it as if it never existed."[5]

The Oxford Union's minute book that would have recorded the votes of that debate is missing.[4]

The AAAS published a chapter of John Durant's book Evolution and Creation on its web-site for a few years, including Durant's account of the debate. Durant recorded the vote as 198 to 115, but the web-version is altered in two places so that it appears to read as though the creationist vote was 15. (In fact, it was "l 5" (i.e. lower-case L, space, 5).)[3][5]

Wikipedia's article on the debate quickly became a controversy of its own, with anti-creationists citing Wikipedia's policy on "no original research" to reject the evidence that the vote was not 198 to 15.[6] When a contributor proved beyond doubt that Durant's on-line account was incorrect, the vote now became unimportant and was deleted. Anti-creationists then succeeded in getting the article itself deleted, partly on the grounds that it was covered in Wikipedia's article on Richard Dawkins.[7] That article, however, failed to mention the vote.


  1. The 1860 "debate" was at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Oxford University. It was not a formal debate, but a heated discussion.
  2. John Durant recorded the vote as being 115 to 198. Wilder-Smith, writing twelve years after the event, recalled that "the creationists won some 114 of the votes from the voting public of about 300". People who have heard the audio recording of the debate are convinced that the moderator announced that the vote was 198 to 150.



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