Readers and viewers who have been following this debate, “Does God exist?” (September 17, 2021), between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty may recall that it opened with Egnor explaining why, as former atheist, he became a theist. Then Dillahunty explained why, as a former theist, he became an atheist. Michael Egnor then stated his case, offering ten proofs for the existence of God. Matt Dillahunty responded that they wre all unfalsifiable propositions. Now it is Egnor’s turn to rebut Dillahunty. The conversation was somewhat rambunctious and has been condensed for print:
A partial transcript (beginning at 36:30) and notes follow:
Michael Egnor: Well, first of all, you mentioned that you don’t defend the existence of leprechauns and fairies. Of course I don’t either. The arguments for God’s existence are of an entirely different nature. So Christians don’t believe that leprechauns and fairies exist either. [00:36:30]
The burden of proof is on all of us. That is, that the reality is that the vast majority of people in human history, including the vast majority of the best minds, best philosophers, and best scientists have been theists. So the argument that atheists don’t have anything to prove is nonsense. Nature is full of evidence, massive evidence, for a mind, for intellect behind it. And for atheists to say, “Ah, I don’t have to prove that that’s not real,” is nonsense. We all have a burden of proof in this, and you can’t just run out on it. You have to prove your case, I have to prove mine. And… [00:37:00]
Matt Dillahunty: My case is that you haven’t proved your case.
Michael Egnor: What is my case? What is Aquinas’s First Way? Tell me it.
Matt Dillahunty: That’s the, essentially the First Mover. It’s an argument from change.
Michael Egnor: What is the argument?
Matt Dillahunty: I don’t have it written in front of me, I’m not going to necessarily remember it specifically. You summarized it earlier…
Michael Egnor: Then how is it that you claim that that case is not made when you don’t even know what the argument is?
Matt Dillahunty: Okay, first of all, I think it’s … Wow, all right. I’ve spent most of my life studying with this stuff, and dealing with it. The fact that I’m not going to be able, when you rattle off 10 arguments in your opening, in a span of 10 minutes, it’s not like you gave much substance, and you certainly didn’t give any definition, and you did not provide any actual evidence. For you to then suggest that I’m somehow failing because I can’t regurgitate, after giving my opening, an argument from Aquinas that others have dealt with, when what we’re talking about at this particular point is the burden of proof. Now, for people… [00:38:00]
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]
Michael Egnor: Which one of the 10 arguments that I gave you do you understand? [00:38:30]
Matt Dillahunty: If you ask me a question and I start to … Am I going to get to answer your question? Let’s assume that I don’t understand any of them.
Michael Egnor: All right. So then why do you think they’re wrong?
Matt Dillahunty: Well, I’ve evaluated each of them at different times, and found them wanting. [00:39:00]
Michael Egnor: So you used to understand them, but you forgot them.
Matt Dillahunty: See, the whole point of tonight’s debate is to demonstrate that a God exists, and all I did was point out about where a burden of proof is, and you immediately start to suggest that I don’t understand what I’m talking about, which may be fine, and it may be fair, but it doesn’t do anything to prove your God. If you think that you proved your God by rattling off short intro to philosophy versions of arguments that have long been debated, you don’t understand the robustness of this. [00:39:30]
Michael Egnor: Matt, I’ll be happy to give you these arguments in detail. What I want to establish before that is that your arguments are not based on any actual knowledge. You don’t know the arguments for God’s existence. So your claim that they’re not true…
Matt Dillahunty: Which of my arguments do you reject? The argument from divine hiddenness is the only one I presented. The argument from divine hiddenness isn’t based on an understanding of any of your arguments, so please, tell me where my argument’s wrong. [00:40:00]
Michael Egnor: No, your argument is that God’s existence has not been proven.
Matt Dillahunty: Correct.
Michael Egnor: You don’t understand the arguments for God’s existence. Tell me Aquinas’s Second Way. What’s the second way?
Matt Dillahunty: The argument from causation and it has to do with causal change. But there’s a problem with causal change, because you cannot demonstrate that causal change extend beyond… We can’t explore the universe prior to the Planck time. So the fact that there are causal chains within the universe don’t mean that there are causal chains out of the universe that operate in the same way. As a matter of fact, if you start talking about something that exists outside of time, you’ve already made an error, because existence is necessarily temporal. It doesn’t mean anything to say that something exists for no period of time. [00:40:30]
Michael Egnor: That has nothing to do with Aquinas’s Second Way, or his First Way, or anything. [00:41:00]
Matt Dillahunty: Well, I didn’t show up to debate Aquinas, and he’s not here to defend it. So either you can tell me…
Michael Egnor: No, but you showed up to debate …
Matt Dillahunty: … you can either debate it and tell me I’m wrong, or you can just assert that I’m wrong, which is what you’ve done from the beginning. You’ve made nothing but assertions. “Here’s a whole bunch of arguments, I’m going to assert that these arguments make the case, and I’m going to do no work.” That’s what you did from the start.
Michael Egnor: Matt, the argument that I’m making is actually fairly simple, and you’re blowing smoke. [00:41:30]
Matt Dillahunty: I’m not the one blowing smoke.
Michael Egnor: I’m arguing that you don’t understand the arguments for God’s existence, yet you have rejected them — which is the same sort of ignorance that you accuse Christians of.
Matt Dillahunty: No, sir. As I pointed out in my opening, I gave my reason for not believing. And my reason for not believing was not, “I studied these 10 arguments and found them wanting and left them alone.” As a matter of fact, I specifically pointed out that the argument from personal incredulity fallacy would prevent me from doing that, which is why I gave the argument that I gave. So you’re now accusing me of the very thing that I absolutely did not do, and defended against from the outset. [00:42:00]
Michael Egnor: Have you ever studied the arguments for God’s existence, the ten that I told you, which are classic arguments, they’ve been around for thousands of years. Have you ever studied them?
Matt Dillahunty: Yes.
Michael Egnor: And so you forgot them, is that the point?
Matt Dillahunty: See, no. Each one of these we can go through and have a discussion about. But you didn’t really present them, you presented the Cliff Notes, “I’m going to dump out a whole bunch of stuff.” You didn’t provide anything of substance, you just rattled off what they were. [00:42:30]
Matt Dillahunty: Pick one, pick one and I would be happy to discuss it with you… but this is some gotcha stuff.
Michael Egnor: I did present them for a reason, okay? I didn’t present them in detail, because I wanted to hear what you knew about them. I’m hearing that very, very clearly, you know nothing about them. [00:43:00]
Matt Dillahunty: As I said, I’m happy to discuss them, but my ignorance or misunderstanding is irrelevant to whether or not a God exists, and that’s the subject of the debate.
Michael Egnor: Well, your ignorance isn’t irrelevant to the debate. It’s quite relevant to the debate. You are denying God’s existence, and you have not engaged the arguments for his existence… I don’t know a single New Atheist who knows any of these arguments. All you guys blow smoke, constantly. [00:43:30]
Matt Dillahunty: I’m sorry that you’re upset at all of us, but here’s the facts. I’ve been hosting a TV show on this, taking calls from everybody, and done countless debates. If you go back through the debates that I’ve done, you will see me addressing many of these arguments, because unlike some people, some debate opponents actually show up with an argument and present it, and then we have a discussion about it, instead of, “Here’s 10 arguments in rapid fire, what do you think?” Which one would you like to discuss? [00:44:00]
Michael Egnor: Let’s start with Aquinas’s First Way.
Matt Dillahunty: Let me finish, let me finish. If your plan here tonight is to demonstrate the truth of your proposition, or the proposition you accept, that God exists, by showing that I don’t understand something, that is itself a logical fallacy, and that’s not going to work either.
Michael Egnor: No, the fact that you don’t understand the arguments is obvious, and it raises a question of how is it that you can reject them if you don’t know what they are. [00:44:30]
Next: Egnor, Dillahunty Egnor, Dillahunty dispute the basic causes behind the universe
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.