TORONTO - It was a sold out show in Toronto last night as former British prime minister Tony Blair debated the merits of religion with journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens.

Two sparred over the question of whether religion is a force for good in the world.

Blair maintained that while people have often used religion to justify "horrific acts of evil," it doesn't mean it's not a force for good.

The convert to Catholicism said removing religion would not remove war and inhumanity and that for him the essence of Christianity is a life of love, selflessness and sacrifice.

Hitchens said religion is divisive rather than inclusive, and acts of charity and kindness done in its name are just humanism.

He argued religion forces nice people to do nasty things and that for it to be a force for good it would have to first give up all supernatural claims.

The author of "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything," is fighting cancer and said he scheduled his chemotherapy treatments around the debate so he "wouldn't have to let anyone down."

Preliminary results posted on the Munk Debates website from an audience poll suggest Hitchens won the debate with 68 per cent support to Blair's 32.