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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 continued discussion of singularities, where conventional “laws of nature” break down

At this point in the “Does God exist?” debate between theist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty (September 17, 2021), 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). What lies behind that?

They continue on the vexed issue of singularities — the boundaries of nature that challenge conventional interpretations from within current science. Egnor argues they point to something beyond that.

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

Michael Egnor: What is a singularity? You’ve said it’s natural. What is it?

Matt Dillahunty: The singularity is the abstraction that cosmologists have put in a particular model that seems to be the current best explanation for the origins of the universe. It is viewed as all of our observable detectable physical universe condensed to, in an abstraction, a single point. Not a point, because there’s no such thing as a point, just like there’s no such thing as a number or an instant of time, which is why I have issues related to concurrent causation, but it may be there. [00:58:30]

But at the end of the day, I’m describing what scientists have said about Big Bang cosmology. I’m not saying it’s true. I’m not here to give a lecture on Big Bang cosmology. The issue was, does a God exist? For me, nothing about the singularity within Big Bang cosmology is necessarily a nail in the coffin either way, because there are theists who think that a God exists and accept Big Bang cosmology. Similarly, there are atheists who don’t accept that a God exists and don’t accept Big Bang cosmology. I have physicist friends who are working on alternate cosmologies. There needs to be a little bit of humility here in saying there are things that we don’t understand, and just because we don’t understand them, doesn’t mean we’re justified in taking an analogy and sticking a God in. [00:59:30]

Michael Egnor: You’ve made the argument that the argument for God’s existence is unscientific because it invokes the supernatural, things outside of nature. That’s the precis of your argument. I’ve just pointed out to you that singularities are outside of nature, and that’s a very scientific argument. There’s nothing unscientific to supernatural causation. If the effect of the causation is within the natural, that’s what arguments for God’s existence use. You see natural effects and you can infer a supernatural cause, which is done all the time in cosmology.

Big Bang
Artist’s conception of the Big Bang

Matt Dillahunty: I will go check, because I have a couple of friends who are physicists. Matter of fact, if any of you happened to be watching, I doubt it, but I’m not aware of any actual cosmologists that views the singularity as a supernatural or extra-natural thing. I’m not aware of any cosmologists that views the internal, or the center of a black hole is something that’s extra-natural, supernatural, not in the sense that it is outside of the universe, outside of space time. It seems to be a functional part of that, and that time began [01:02:00] with that.

Setting all that aside, because you didn’t show up with a cosmologist, when you ask “What caused the Big Bang?” and I say “I don’t know,” the fact that I don’t know is irrelevant to whether or not a God exists. The fact that perhaps at some point, I would hope we would agree, that at some point no human being had any explanation for what caused the Big Bang, because nobody even had a Big Bang model to look at. And so, at that time, clearly this wasn’t relevant to whether or not a God exists. [01:01:30]

Michael Egnor: You’ve been using science as a crutch for your atheism.

Matt Dillahunty: I’m not using science as a crutch for atheism. I was a sincere believer. What I found were problems with the reasons for my belief, either fallacies or whatever else. I am a fan of science. I have been accused of scientism. I don’t know how much that does or doesn’t apply, but I also know that it’s not relevant to whether or not a God exists. Everything about me and my life… This is why at the beginning, when we talked about doing the introductions, nothing about me is relevant to whether or not a God exists, including whether or not I believe. There could be a God, despite the fact that I don’t believe there is one. [01:03:30]

But when you say that science makes appeals to the supernatural or the extranatural all the time, that is antithetical to any sort of science that I’m familiar with and any of the various scientific experts that I’ve studied and sat with and learned from. Science is rooted in methodological naturalism, not philosophical materialism, but methodological naturalism, which means that when we’re coming up with explanations for things, we only get to appeal to the natural, not ghosts or spirits or anything else. That’s all I’m saying when I talk about science and the natural. [01:04:00]

Note: At this point, the debate turns on what “supernatural” means. Egnor’s point is that, at a singularity (a point zero), mathematical operations break down. It is not possible to do fruitful mathematical operations if we are adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing by zero. Therefore, we lack “natural” science-based explanations for such events. In that case, anything that happens before the Big Bang (or inside a black hole) is not natural in the conventional sense. We can call it extra- or super- natural if we like. But in any event, it is outside nature as we understand it. Thus, Egnor argues, even an atheist must accept some supernatural events.

Matt Dillahunty: I’m not saying the supernatural doesn’t exist, and as soon as somebody could demonstrate the existence of the supernatural, how it is detectable, how it is demonstrable, I think it would be rolled into science, but it’s not currently there. What supernatural thing do you think science appeals to all the time and is justified?

[In this segment, there were several interruptions due to bad connections.]

Michael Egnor: Okay. Well, black holes are excellent examples of things that are routinely studied in science that have an extra-natural origin in the sense that at the core of every black hole is a singularity. A singularity is an undefined term in the equations of general relativity, and therefore is not a natural thing. It’s undefined. Black holes are an obvious example. Frankly, the whole mathematical structure of modern physics is supernatural. [01:05:30]

Eugene Wigner

Note: Nobelist Eugene Wigner (1902–1995) wrote an influential essay, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, in which he made the point that the very fact that mathematics works as well as it does should provoke a pause for thought: “. We are in a position similar to that of a man who was provided with a bunch of keys and who, having to open several doors in succession, always hit on the right key on the first or second trial. He became skeptical concerning the uniqueness of the coordination between keys and doors.”

Michael Egnor: Science uses all kinds of things that are not objects in nature. As I said, singularities, even mathematics itself, is not an object in the natural world. It’s not something you could put under a microscope or see through a telescope. There are all kinds of things in science that involve abstract concepts that are not properly objects in the natural world. The whole notion that science can’t be used to show God’s existence is nonsense. [01:06:30]

Matt Dillahunty: I would agree that mathematics are abstract concepts and that they don’t exist as things in reality and yet they’re used in science all the time, because we’re taught there’s a difference between abstract things and physical things. A black hole is not an abstract thing. If we’re talking about making a model and using the singularity as a model for the internals of a black hole, that in no way means that we’re appealing to something that is supernatural. There’s a distinction between, here’s something that’s abstract, here’s something that’s conceptual, here’s something that we’re using as an analogous model, and here’s something that is in fact beyond nature. It exists… It is beyond nature and can interact … [01:07:00]

Michael Egnor: All right. I believe that science very strongly points to God’s existence because all the arguments, or at least all of the cosmological arguments for God’s existence, as well as for example, the Fifth Way, involve observations in nature that biological sequence, as you follow the sequence back point to the existence of a supernatural creator, a first prime mover, or first cause of necessary existence, an intelligent designer. Science is a wonderful way to demonstrate God’s existence. The argument that I’m making about singularity as black holes and the Big Bang, is that there’s nothing in science that precludes pointing to extra-natural causes. Extra-natural causes are ubiquitous science and science is perfectly okay with that. [01:09:30]

An artist’s drawing of a black hole named Cygnus X-1. It formed when a large star caved in. This black hole pulls matter from blue star beside it./NASA, CXC, M.Weiss

Note: A black hole is “ a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space… Scientists think the smallest black holes formed when the universe began.” NASA The smallest are as small as an atom. Studying black holes requires special assumptions and methods.

Matt Dillahunty: Okay. All right. You’re saying science isn’t constrained by methodological naturalism? Science can make appeals to… [01:10:00]

Michael Egnor: Methodological naturalism is just philosophical naturalism that’s kind of a…

Matt Dillahunty: It’s funny because when you talk about what’s philosophical, you just said that science points to God, and then you use Aquinas’ five points. Thomas Aquinas’ five points aren’t science, they’re philosophy. [01:10:30]

Michael Egnor: No, no. They’re science. Absolutely. They’re science because there are two fundamental ways to reason. One is deductive and the other is inductive.

Matt Dillahunty: The third is abductive, but…

Michael Egnor: Well, abductive is a kind of inductive. Abductive is a variant of inductive reasoning. Deductive reasoning cannot prove God’s existence because you can’t prove the existence of something by pure logic, without some kind of evidence, and deductive reasoning doesn’t use evidence in the real world. It’s a purely formal logical structure.

There’s an argument that Thomas Aquinas made against the ontological argument for God’s existence: It’s not a valid argument.

Inductive arguments are where you take things in nature, you look at experience, you organize them, you follow a logical sequence, then you can make an inference to best explanation. That is what science does. That is what all of Aquinas’ five ways are — inductive arguments.

Aquinas said there’s change in nature. Darwinists say that there is evolution in organisms. Physicists say that there’s a red shift. Everybody argues by logic to the inference to best explanation. The Thomistic arguments are that the inference to best explanation is the existence of God, or the existence of a supernatural or extra-natural agent. It’s a scientific argument. It’s an inductive argument, just like every other scientific theory. [01:12:00]

Matt Dillahunty: Well, could we at least agree that not every inductive argument is science? [01:12:30]

Michael Egnor: Well, it depends on how you define science.

Matt Dillahunty: We’re clearly defining it differently, but I was just trying to get to the one point that if you say that all scientific arguments are inductive, I would probably be on board. But if you said that all inductive arguments are science, I’m definitely not on board. That’s just a logical fallacy.

Michael Egnor: Well, if you define science as the study of the organized patterns in the natural world, that’s what inductive arguments are. [01:13:00]

Matt Dillahunty: [crosstalk 01:13:06] Inductive arguments are not the study. The study isn’t… If you define science as inductive arguments, then yes. You’re right.

Michael Egnor: Well, science uses inductive arguments.

Matt Dillahunty: I agree, but is it possible for me to make an inductive argument that isn’t science?

Michael Egnor: I don’t know, try. Try.

Matt Dillahunty: I’m not going to bother.

Michael Egnor: Okay, all right. I mean, if you think that inductive arguments aren’t science, show me an example. [01:13:30]

Matt Dillahunty: That’s not what I said. I didn’t… Never mind.

Next: Dillahunty raises the oldest question: If God exists, why evil?


The debate to date:

  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.

You may also wish to read:

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. (Michael Egnor)

How Orwell’s 1984 can be seen as an argument for God’s existence Atheism is not only fundamental to the power of the Party in 1984 but is also its central weakness.

Gödel says God exists and proves it. Here is a line-by-line explanation of his proof. Gödel is the first of many great scientists and philosophers to present the argument for God’s existence using mathematical logic

COVID-19: Atheism went viral as well. Atheists are uniquely unsuited to accuse others of devaluing human life. Professor Steven Pinker’s quickly deleted tweet provides a window into anti-religious hate. In health and medicine, he is entirely mistaken. (Michael Egnor)


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6. Is Matt Dillahunty using science as a crutch for his atheism?