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Brick through Window.

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 “Does God exist?” debate at Theology Unleashed between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), a questioner asks, are singularities really a part of science?

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? Then we got past whether singularities are a part of science and another questioner asks, is atheism a belief system? Aand what underlies that whole edifice of morality? Mere emotion that we project onto others?

Now, in the final episode, a questioner asks, How can a cause and effect occur at the same time?

A partial transcript, notes, and links to date follow:

Arjuna [blog host]: Question for Michael: If a cause and effect can occur at the same time, how can you distinguish the cause from the effect if neither is before nor after the other?

Michael Egnor: The notion of cause and effect… is kind of fascinating. The traditional notion from Aristotle, from the scholastic philosophers, was that causes and effects are simultaneous in a sense. A very good example is a brick breaking a window: You throw a brick through a window. The cause is the brick and the effect is the broken window. And causes and effects are things, they’re not events in time. The more modern view, which was characterized, I guess, very well by David Hume, is that cause and effect are events. They have a place in time. [02:11:30]

In the Aristotelian tradition, cause and effects are agents… The cause is the brick and the effect is the broken window. Time isn’t a part of that. The Humean view is that the event is the brick flying through the air. The effect is the window breaking. That puts time into it. Aristotle and St. Thomas didn’t put time into cause and effect. The relationship does not involve a time lapse. [02:12:00]

Note: One way of thinking about the question: The reason that the relationship between the brick and the window is not a time relationship is that the brick becomes a cause simultaneously with the broken window becoming an effect.

Arjuna: Question for Matt. If two people have different moral codes with different actions deemed objectively correct, whose code is correct and why, if there is no ultimate justification for each? [02:12:30]

Matt Dillahunty: If two believers in different gods, both are convinced that they have objective moral codes that are guaranteed by the gods, who’s objectively correct and how do you tell? That’s what I mean. There is no objection to moral, to secular moral systems that is solved in any way by appealing to a god because that god can be rejected and is rejected. The Christian god doesn’t have any say, at least for now, over the Muslim or the Hindu or anybody else. [02:13:00]

Two chess knights facing away from each other

And similarly, if you have a Hinduistic view of morality, that’s not bearing on Christians or atheists. The way that secular morality, once you build a system, the way that we work to share that and establish it and get the consensus that you need to make it work is through discussion, debate, data. The way that religious moral systems have managed to get the consent they need is through conquests and conversion. [02:13:30]

It’s not a process like, oh, here’s the actual evidence that shows… This is why when I asked him earlier, how do you show that God actually wrote on your heart, he gave an example, and I’ll leave it to you guys to decide if that in any way demonstrates that any god has ever done anything, because it was just a list of how people act. And the truth is, Dr. Egnor looks at how people act, sees it’s consistent with what he views, and is convinced that God has written on his heart, and determines that God’s also written on their heart, or they’re acting in accordance with God. And he could be right. I’m not saying he’s wrong. I’m saying he has no way to demonstrate that the moral code that he feels is written on his heart was actually written there by a god and was written on other people’s hearts as well. There is no way to demonstrate. And that’s God’s problem, not his. [02:14:00]

Michael Egnor: Just a quick note, if that’s okay. The relationship, at least from a Christian perspective, to God is an interpersonal relationship. It’s a relation, again, with a person, not with an objective set of laws. And in many ways it can be compared to a marriage, a love affair, a very close friendship. And one always encounters, in those kinds of interpersonal relationships, things that cannot be proven, not things that you test scientifically. It’s just things that you know. [02:15:00]

Like, how do you know you love your wife? How do you know you love your kids? You could present me with a ton of evidence, all kinds of evidence, that I couldn’t know if I love my wife, and I’d still know I love my wife. That is that, a relationship to God, God is a person. He’s not a list of rules. And he’s not a list of physical laws. He is a person and relationships of people to God are personal relationships. And they transcend scientific, detailed kinds of, kinds of proof. And I can’t prove I love my wife, but I sure do. [02:15:30]

black knight chess piece

(They were approaching the end of the podcast so a last-minute statement was solicited from each side.) [02:16:30]

Nathan [moderator]: So Matt, would you want to go first?

Matt Dillahunty: First of all, saying I’m speaking nonsense or gibberish is neither rebuttal to my point, nor an argument for anybody else’s. Saying “I don’t understand” is neither a rebuttal to my point or an argument for yours. If the goal is to educate, explaining something for clarity is preferable to, you never studied. Saying Aquinas’s Five Ways, or science, is wrong. Saying science canon does appeal to the supernatural is reaching, if not outright wrong. Saying I’m not an atheist doesn’t make it true. Saying all atheists believe X and putting on a front by claiming things about atheism doesn’t make it true. Saying I’m depending on an objective moral code, when I’m actually holding to a code that we agreed to for the debate, demonstrates a problem with your view. Saying “everyone”, just because you can’t imagine that some people who disagree with you, is a problem. 02:17:00]

Coming in with an attack on my supposed ignorance doesn’t support the claim that a god exists; it’s an absolute personal attack: “Matt doesn’t understand these, Matt didn’t study these…” none of this does anything to demonstrate the existence of God, which was the subject of the debate. There was no definition of a god, no evidence for a god, just a parade of old arguments rapidly done in almost no time, not even any discussion, and a parade of questions. [02:17:30]

Tonight was about morality with just assertions sensationalized and appeal to popularity on multiple occasions: When Dr. Egnor says, “I don’t know many people who feel that way” = fallacious appeal to the population. Or “Nobody feels that way” = fallacious appeal to population.

Saying it’s an internal, personal relationship in order to avoid having to prove it — because in interpersonal relationships there’s things you can’t prove to other people — is like saying you have a girlfriend who goes to another school, and so you can’t prove that she’s real, while the subject of the debate was, please demonstrate that your girlfriend exists. And showing up to pretend that she goes to another school, and therefore the intangibles can’t be demonstrated, is in no way an argument for the existence of that. Personal relationships don’t prove anything to anyone. It’s still just you and what you think. And there was no rebuttal to the argument from divine hiddenness at all. [02:18:30]

Nathan: Awesome. Thanks for that, Matt. And then, Michael, do you want to go with your closing statement? So your final thoughts and kind of summary of the debate?

Knight chess isolated on gray background

Michael Egnor: Sure. When I converted to Christianity and to Catholicism, I had a secret fear. And my secret fear was that atheism had the best arguments, and that if I was to believe in God, which I felt rather intensely was true, I would have to insulate myself to some extent from the logical and empirical arguments about God’s existence. So I began reading. I read atheists, I read Christians, I watched debates, and I was astonished. And I must’ve been still kind of astonished at the gibberish that is the content of atheist arguments. [02:19:30]

In my view, atheism is not really an argument. It’s just a kind of ignorance. It’s not even wrong. That is, that atheists don’t understand the arguments for the existence of God with anything that approaches rigor. And as I say, atheism really isn’t even wrong. The term gibberish, I mean with full force, that generally when you pin an atheist, they start spewing gibberish. They start dancing around subjects that bring in all kinds of nonsense rather than address the actual issues. If you believe that everything came from nothing for no reason, you’re crazy. [02:20:00]

(The debate ended, with everyone mutually thanked.)

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.


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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15. Debate: How Can a Cause and Effect Occur at the Same Time?