“Does God exist?” On September 17, in a dramatic debate, Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty squared off on the question at Theology Unleashed. The debate hosts are Arjuna Das for Theology Unleashed and Nathan from Digital Gnosis as the moderator. A partial transcript and notes follow.
Egnor has been a guest at Theology Unleashed, before, debating materialist philosopher David Papineau. The ten proofs of God that he presents as his opening argument below are not drawn from sacred texts but from philosophical reasoning:
Michael Egnor: There are, broadly speaking, two different kinds of theology. There’s natural theology and there’s revealed theology. Revealed theology is the use of scripture, personal experiences, or relationships to God. And that’s a separate question and separate topic.
Natural theology is the use of evidence from nature that points to God’s existence. And that’s the topic that I want to stress today. I think there are 10 pretty good proofs of God’s existence. Pretty good, meaning I think they’re irrefutable. [00:08:30]
The first five are Aquinas’s five ways.
➤ His First Way is the observation that change exists in nature. Some of these causal chains, are called instrumental change. [00:09:00]
Instrumental change is a chain where each cause needs to continue to exist to cause the next cause. A good example — one that Aristotle used — was a man pushing a rock with a stick. The stick is a cause, of sorts, but there needs to be a hand pushing the stick. The stick doesn’t have the ability] to cause things by itself… When you have a chain of possibilities, there has to be something that causes the whole thing to start happening. And that is what all men call God. [00:09:30
Note: Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) is among the best known early Western philosophers. He applied the approach of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) — reasoning things out carefully — to Christian theology, among other things.
Michael Egnor: So that’s Aquinas’s First Way. It basically is the argument that for something to happen in nature, there’s got to be something at the beginning of it that is outside of nature, that has the ability to transcend nature and to get things moving. [00:10:00]
➤ The Second Way has to do with causation — as opposed to change itself:
Note: “There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible… But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.” — Aquinas, Lycaeum All activity requires something to start it and all causes require a First Cause.
➤ The Third Way is the argument that in order for anything to exist contingently — that is, it might not exist, but it does exist — there must be one thing that necessarily exists. For example, I might not exist. I might die, or I might never have been born. Everything can’t be contingent, everything can’t depend on everything else, because then you get circular reasoning. So there must be a necessary existence for anything contingent to exist. [00:11:00]
➤ The Fourth Way is that we recognize degrees of perfection in reality. These degrees of perfection point to an ultimate perfection, because you can’t really talk about degrees of perfection unless there’s an extreme to which those degrees point. And that degree of perfection is God.
➤ The Fifth Way is the teleological proof — inanimate things in nature follow patterns of behavior. Rocks, when we drop them, fall down. They don’t fall up. Electrons go around protons. They don’t just shoot off into space for no reason. Nature is full of natural laws that have consistency. But the things that obey these laws don’t have minds. They’re not capable of knowing what they’re supposed to do. A rock doesn’t know it’s supposed to go down when you let it go instead of going up. And the fact that inanimate things don’t know what to do but do it anyway implies that there is a mind guiding things. This is kind of an intelligent design argument, that nature shows this elegant example of design of purpose. [00:12:00]
➤ The sixth proof is something that’s called the Thomistic proof and it differs from the first five. The sixth proof is the notion that the essence of something — what something is — and the fact that it exists, are two separate things. I can describe something without it actually existing or I can point to the fact that it actually exists. And there needs to be something outside of the system that connects possibilities with actualities of existence. There needs to be something that is, essentially, existence itself. And that is what all men call God. [00:12:55]
➤ The seventh proof is sometimes called the Neoplatonic proof: There needs to be a singular, infinitely powerful cause of the organization of objects in the world. That is objects bear relationships to one another. They bear geometrical relationships, they bear causal relationships. And to put this whole orchestra together requires an infinitely powerful, metaphysically simple entity, which is God. [00:13:30]
Note: “This proof is rooted in the insights of the philosopher Plotinus which developed the natural theology of his predecessor Plato and lays upon the premise that “everything which is composite has a cause” (which points to the fact that the ultimate cause that accounts for the composite thing is non-composite).” – Confident Faith
➤ The eighth proof is the Augustinian proof. And that is the proof that concepts such as mathematical concepts and universals like justice and mercy clearly have some kind of real existence that’s independent of human minds. Otherwise, we couldn’t communicate them to one another. The realm in which these exist, Plato called the world of forms. And St. Augustine made the argument — I think a very good argument — that a much more reasonable way to understand this is that universals exist in the mind of God. So they do have a real existence and their existence is in the divine intellect. [00:14:00]
Note: “Augustine was perhaps the greatest Christian philosopher of Antiquity and certainly the one who exerted the deepest and most lasting influence… Platonism in particular remained a decisive ingredient of his thought. ” – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
➤ The ninth proof is sometimes called the rationalist proof. And the rationalist proof, which was championed by Leibniz several hundred years ago, is the notion that everything that exists necessarily has some explanation for why it exists the way it does. That is that things don’t exist for no reason. [00:14:30]
That doesn’t mean that we can know the reasons, the reasons may be obscure. But it doesn’t make any sense to say that something exists and there is no reason for it. And that implies that there is an ultimate explanation that is outside of nature and is in itself not in need of explanation. And that is God. [00:15:00]
➤ The tenth proof — which I think is a very powerful way that we often overlook — is the existence of moral law. We all acknowledge in our daily life implicitly, and we should do it explicitly, that there is an objective morality out there that’s separate from our minds. That is, we all acknowledge for example, that it’s not okay to kill innocent people.
And that’s not just an opinion. It’s not as if, “Well, I don’t think it’s okay to kill innocent people, but hey, if the guy next to me thinks it’s okay, well, who knows?” We all acknowledge that certain things are right and wrong in objective ways that are beyond human opinion.
And of course, if there is a moral law that manifests objective right and wrong, then that moral law has to exist in the mind outside of man, which means God’s mind. To deny his existence is to deny the existence of any objective moral law. [00:16:30]
So that’s basically a summary of my arguments for God’s existence.
Michael Egnor had six minutes left, according to Nathan, the moderator, so he chose to ask Matt Dillahunty some questions:
Michael Egnor: There are lots of questions I think that one can ask of atheists. And it’s questions like this that actually led me to a belief in God because I found as an atheist, I couldn’t answer them. But I thought that they needed answers.
The first question is, did everything come from nothing for no reason? That is that, “Well, why is there anything? Why is this whole shebang here? And where’d it come from?” Is it really the case that there’s no reason for anything and it came from nothing?
What caused the Big Bang? Where did the Big Bang come from? What caused the laws of nature? If you look at quantum mechanics, the incredible mathematical structure of quantum mechanics, of general relativity, of physics in general, where did all those laws come from? Those laws existed before there were even human beings on earth. What mind created them? Where did they come from? How did laws just happen? [00:17:30]
Why is there evil? And that is often used as an argument against theism that, “Well, hey, there’s bad things in the world. So God must not exist because he wouldn’t allow bad things if he really existed.”
But in fact, I think the problem of evil is a problem for atheism. It’s not a problem for theism, or at least it’s not a fundamental problem for theism. The reason is that if there is no God, there is no moral law, and there is no objective right or wrong, so there is no such thing as evil. There’s just stuff that happens. Now, we might not like the stuff that happens, but that’s just an opinion. That doesn’t mean that what happens is evil.
So to acknowledge that there are standards of good and evil is to acknowledge a divine intellect that gives us those standards. So I think atheism has a real problem with why is there evil as opposed to why aren’t there just things that we don’t like. Let’s see. Other questions. [00:18:30]
Is there any kind of ultimate accountability? Is there any way that we will be held accountable in our lives for what we do? Or if atheism is true, then Adolf Hitler is no more accountable ultimately for his actions than Mother Theresa. It doesn’t really matter because we’re all dead and we all think God doesn’t exist. No one ultimately is judged. [00:19:00]
Question, where does biological information come from? Where does the genetic code come from? The genetic code has been around on earth for probably at least 5 billion years. Where does a code like that come from? [00:19:30]
And one last question is, do atheists have faith? That is that Christians and other religious people were often accused of having irrational faith, but do atheists have faith? And if they don’t have faith, I’d like to hear that explained.
Now it is atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty’s turn to make his case and, in the process, answer the questions above. Stay tuned…
Next: Atheist Dillahunty spots fallacies in Christian Egnor’s arguments
The complete debate, with transcripts and notes:
- Debate: Former atheist neurosurgeon vs. former Christian activist. At Theology Unleashed, each gets a chance to state his case and interrogate the other. In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and broadcaster Matt Dillahunty clash over the existence of God.
- A neurosurgeon’s ten proofs for the existence of God. First, how did a medic, formerly an atheist, who cuts open people’s brains for a living, come to be sure there is irrefutable proof for God? In a lively debate at Theology Unleashed, Michael Egnor and Matt Dillahunty clash over “Does God exist?” Egnor starts off.
- Atheist Dillahunty spots fallacies in Christian Egnor’s views. “My position is that it’s unacceptable to believe something if the available evidence does not support it.” Dillahunty: We can’t conclusively disprove an unfalsifiable proposition. And that is what most “God” definitions, at least as far as I can tell, are.
- Egnor now tries to find out what Dillahunty actually knows… About philosophical arguments for the existence of God, as he begins a rebuttal. Atheist Dillahunty appears unable to recall the philosophical arguments for God’s existence, which poses a challenge for Egnor in rebutting him.
- Egnor, Dillahunty dispute the basic causes behind the universe. In a peppery exchange, Egnor argues that proofs of God’s existence follow the same logical structure as proofs in science. If the universe begins in a singularity (where Einstein’s equations break down), what lies behind it? Egnor challenges Dillahunty on that.
- Is Matt Dillahunty using science as a crutch for his atheism? That’s neurosurgeon Michael Egnor’s accusation in this third part of the debate, which features a continued discussion of singularities, where conventional “laws of nature” break down.
If the “supernatural” means “outside of conventional nature,” Michael Egnor argues, science routinely accepts it, based on evidence.
- Dillahunty asks 2nd oldest question: If God exists, why evil? In the debate between Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty, the question of raping a baby was bound to arise.
Egnor argues that there is an objective moral law against such acts; Dillahunty argues, no, it is all just human judgment.
- Does morality really exist? If so, does it come from God? Matt Dillahunty now challenges Michael Egnor: There is no way to know whether a moral doctrine represents any reality apart from belief. Michael Egnor insists that a moral law exists independently of varying opinions. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, that has always been the traditional view worldwide.
- Michael Egnor explains why Matt Dillahunty is not an atheist. Not really, anyway, Egnor insists, because he keeps invoking a moral standard that can’t exist if materialist atheism is true. Egnor: I’ve encountered few people who demand as much fairness for themselves as atheists. They don’t live like atheists. They live like theists.
- Christian Egnor and atheist Dillahunty now take questions… For example, “ What is Mr. Egnor’s best evidence of any god that would make me believe?” Key questions turned on whether abstractions like “right” or wrong “wrong” represent realities. It’s the perennial realism vs. nominalism question again.
- Is evil in the world simply the absence of good? Christian Michael Egnor argues for that view. Then he and atheist Matt Dillahunty clash over whether a cause can be outside of time. Many traditional philosophers have held that evil is the absence of good in the same way that darkness is the absence of light. It has no independent existence.
- Egnor vs. Dillahunty: How can God be both just and merciful? After atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty explains his view of morality, an audience member asks neurosurgeon Michael Egnor to explain how a just God can show mercy. Under what circumstances, a debate watcher asks, would it not be contradictory to show both justice and mercy?
- Egnor vs. Dillahunty: Are singularities a part of science? Also, an audience member asks the debaters: Does atheism make better predictions than theism? Dillahunty denies that atheism is a single position; Egnor responds that that is a suspect claim because atheist positions are quite predictable.
- Debate: Is morality a mere emotion that we project on others? Theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty continue their conversation about basic issues at Theology Unleashed. Michael Egnor argues that God created the universe, imperfect in relation to himself, out of an excess of love — perhaps so that we all have some type of being.
- Debate: How can a cause and effect occur at the same time?? In the broken window analogy, the brick becomes a cause simultaneously with the shattered glass becoming an effect. In the wrap-up, Egnor restates that atheism is not really an argument, just ignorance, and Dillahunty restates that Egnor was attacking him personally.
You may also wish to read these pieces by Michael Egnor:
Science can and does point to God’s existence. Michael Egnor: Natural science is not at all methodologically naturalist — it routinely points to causes outside of nature. If we are to understand natural effects, we must be open to all kinds of causes, including causes that transcend nature.
The Divine Hiddenness argument against God’s existence = nonsense. God in Himself is immeasurably greater than we are, and He transcends all human knowledge. A God with whom we do not struggle — who is not in some substantial and painful way hidden to us — is not God but is a mere figment of our imagination.
Atheist Claims about logical fallacies often just mean: Shut Up! In the recent debate, Matt Dillahunty accuses theists of “the fallacy of the argument from personal incredulity” because we examine his claims and find them incredible. What atheists fear most is having to explain themselves, and the invocation of fictitious “fallacies” is one of their favorite ways to evade scrutiny.
Theists vs. atheists: Which group has the burden of proof? Because Dillahunty refuses to debate me again, I’ll address his claim that atheists have no burden of proof in the debate over God’s existence in this post. Both atheists and theists make positive statements about the nature of the universe. If atheists shun the ensuing burden of proof, it should count against them.
Atheist spokesman Matt Dillahunty refuses to debate me again Although he has said that he finds debates “incredibly valuable,” he is — despite much urging — making an exception in this case. Why? For millennia, theists have thought meticulously about God’s existence. New Atheists merely deny any need to make a case. That’s partly why I dumped atheism.