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13. Egnor vs. Dillahunty: Are Singularities a Part of Science?

Also, an audience member asks the debaters: Does atheism make better predictions than theism?

In the “Does God exist?” debate at Theology Unleashed between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), we now look at questions from the audience on whether singularities are really a part of science and whether atheism is really a belief system that can make predictions.

Readers may recall that the debate 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 made his opening argument, offering ten proofs for the existence of God. Matt Dillahunty responded in his own opening argument that the propositions were all unfalsifiable. When, in Section 4, it was Egnor’s turn to rebut Dillahunty, Dillahunty was not easily able to recall Aquinas’s First Way (the first logical argument for the existence of God). Then, turning to the origin of the universe, Egnor challenged Dillahunty on the fact, accepted in science, that our universe began in a singularity (where Einstein’s equations break down). He accused Dillahunty of using science as “a crutch” for his atheism. Then they discussed the Second Oldest Question (after “Why is there something rather than nothing?”) If there is a God, why is there evil?

And then, what is the true origin of our sense of morality? Besides, what if Dillahunty isn’t really an atheist anyway? Egnor has come to doubt that. Egnor and Dillahunty then took questions.The questions included a perennial question, why is there evil?, once again, and Egnor defended the traditional view that evil is absence of good. And how can God show both justice and mercy without contradiction? But now … the new questions …

A partial transcript, notes, and links to all previous portions of the debate follow:

At this point, podcast host Arjuna Das is taking questions from the audience:

Arjuna: Question for Michael. What scientific paper mentions or declares supernatural things, like your assertion on singularities, as part of a hypothesis of science? [01:58:30]

Michael Egnor: Every scientific paper that gives a mathematical description of singularities with the field equations of general relativity — because singularities in the field equations of general relativity are areas, are circumstances, in which the equations blow up. They go to infinity. Singularities are mathematical expressions in those equations. So any paper that has singularities or that discusses or describes singularities in the field equations of general relativity is discussing extra-natural objects. [01:59:30]

Note: Singularities are like the Big Bang or black holes. They involve concepts like zero and infinity that don’t really work as operators in typical math tasks. That confounds the mathematics in which scientists express ideas.

Arjuna: Another question. Could the debate have been framed better as: Whether a system of belief of atheism makes better predictions?

Matt Dillahunty: Well, the system of belief of atheism doesn’t exist. There isn’t a system. There is a single position on a single issue and it doesn’t make predictions. For that, there are other things.

Like I’m not just an atheist, I’m a skeptic, that’s the foundation of my epistemology. I’m a humanist. That is the foundation of my ethics and morality and social views. And so I’ve argued that a secular moral system is superior to any religious moral system that I’ve been presented with, including, and granted, I don’t know, Doctor, on your specific moral system, but generally, I mean, we’re talking about Catholicism.

Statue of famed Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) who was instrumental in the development of modern science and psychology, as well as contemporary debates in philosophy of religion (Apr., 2010).
Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) was instrumental in the development of atheism as we know it today/Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

I wouldn’t make a list of [what} Catholics must believe because that would be a mistake. That would be exactly what he [Egnor] did when he started listing what atheists believe. Because, “Oh, the Catholics have to believe in evolution.” I think they’re fine with it. Generally speaking, the Catholic Church is fine with evolution. I don’t think Dr. Egnor is fine with evolution. So I can’t make those blanket statements. [02:01:30]

Michael Egnor: I would respond that the atheist belief that nature itself is a fundamentally existing thing, and that God does not exist and did not create nature, is associated with a profound system of other beliefs as well: A lack of ultimate moral accountability, lack of ultimate purpose for the universe, a whole bunch of things. I find it remarkable and rather humorous that atheists repeatedly insist that atheism is not really a metaphysical perspective. I believe the reason for that is that atheism is indefensible as a metaphysical perspective … to try to avoid accountability.

Atheism is a very distinct set of beliefs. In fact, I don’t think that from a metaphysical perspective, there’s any group of religious people whose beliefs are more consistent than atheists. I mean, I have all kinds of different opinions than … than people who believe in Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and so on. Atheists, they sure think a lot, a lot alike in so many ways. So many ways. [02:03:30]

Next: Is morality just an emotion that we project onto others?


The complete debate, with transcripts and notes:

Two chess knights facing away from each other
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.

and

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.


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13. Egnor vs. Dillahunty: Are Singularities a Part of Science?