“Does God exist?” On September 17, in a rip-roaring old-fashioned debate, Christian neurosurgeon Michael Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty debated the question at Theology Unleashed. We’ll cover this debate for you, including transcripts and notes. First, each participant was given a chance upfront to state where he is coming from and why. Michael Egnor, representing the Yes side, went first. How did a medic, formerly an atheist, who cuts open people’s brains for a living, come to be sure there is a God? And how did a fundamentalist Christian come to be hosting The Atheist Experience?
Michael Egnor’s opening statement
Michael Egnor: I’m a neurosurgeon at Stony Brook, New York. I’m a Christian, I’m a Catholic. I converted to Catholicism about 20 years ago. I was originally for most of my life, at least an agnostic and probably an atheist. And I came to believe in God and to believe in Christ for a whole bunch of reasons. I was raised in a Protestant environment although my family wasn’t particularly religious. I got dragged to church occasionally. And by the time I reached college, I was really at least functionally atheist.
I never disliked Christians. I always thought they were nice people, but that what they believed didn’t make a lot of sense. I thought it was just a fairy tale. I majored in biochemistry in college. I love science. I went on to medical school. I became a neurosurgeon. I still love science. I still think science is fascinating. And I believed that in order to be a Christian specifically or to believe in God in general, I had to leave my brain at the door, basically. That if I went to church, I couldn’t really be a thinking person. [00:02:00]
I came to feel very differently about that over time for a whole bunch of reasons. I had a Damascus road experience related to the illness of one of my children. But I also investigated the questions about God’s existence in considerable detail. I read a lot of Thomistic philosophy. I read and watched a lot of debates between Christians and atheists. And I must say that, repeatedly, I was amazed at how little atheists had to say about the question of God’s existence. I was shocked actually that the atheist arguments were as weak as they were. And that the arguments for God’s existence were remarkably strong. [00:02:30]
And so that certainly helped me a lot of belief in God, because it’s a personal relationship goes beyond simple reason in the same way that your love for your spouse goes beyond simple reason. There’s no reason to doubt. You feel it. But there are very, very strong reasons to affirm that God exists and there’s been a lot written about that. My own view is that there are 10 reasons that are very solid, that are really irrefutable. That has been very important to my faith because I believe that a genuine faith needs to have a rational component to it. And so that’s where I stand. [00:03:00]
Matt Dillahunty’s opening statement
Matt Dillahunty: I’ve been hosting the Atheist Experience for the last 16 years, but I didn’t start off anywhere near there. I was raised primarily a Southern Baptist. I did go to Pentecostal churches on a couple of occasions, but we were pretty much Southern Baptist. And my mom’s side of the family was Catholic, but Catholics were Mary worshiping, Saint worshiping, evolution accepting, drinking people. And so that was forbidden for us. And yet curiously, I always had a lot more fun and, and had more pleasant times around my Catholic relatives. [00:04:30]
And at some point that kind of changed. I wonder actually — me being a former Baptist and with Dr. Egnor being a current Catholic — if that’s going to cause more conflicts in thoughts than whether or not I’m an atheist. But I walked down [00:05:00] the aisle at the age of five at a revival and accepted Jesus into my heart.
My parents have later told me that they were concerned. Could this actually happen to a five-year-old? And so they spoke to the pastor and everything else. But I grew up active in the church and there was just an assumption or a declaration in some cases that I was going to grow up to be a preacher. My mom had told me that — without telling me that. I won’t go into the whole story, but eventually [00:05:30] I said I don’t want to do that. And when I graduated high school, I ran off and joined the Navy and served for eight and a half years. And did not find my way out, but didn’t really care that much about my religious belief and got out and began working in the tech industry.
And around 2000, 2001, I lost my job and everything fell apart. And I sincerely thought it was God punishing me. And I figured, okay, God had called you to be a preacher and I said no. And so now he’s taking it out on you. And so I spent a lot of time in serious prayer and study and talking with family members who were ministers and missionaries and others as well. Mainly because I had a roommate who was an atheist and I didn’t want to get to heaven and have God say, “Why is this guy who you love like a brother burning in hell? You didn’t do what you’re supposed to do.” And so I set out to try to find the way to convince an atheist. [00:06:30]
And I don’t even disagree with Dr. Egnor in the sense that the arguments against the existence of God are generally weak. But that’s because if you haven’t established that you’ve remotely met your burden of proof in claiming there is a God. You don’t only have to do much other than to say, “I don’t think you made your case.”
I didn’t have a Damascus road experience, but also unlike what some people would say, I never got mad at God. I never got angry at God. There wasn’t a how-dare-you-take-this-away-from-me? or anything else. It was — and maybe I’m weird — a purely an intellectual exercise. There was emotion involved as well, at different times. But I just came to realize that I didn’t have a good reason for my belief. And as I began looking into it more and more, I couldn’t find anybody who did. I understood why people believed and understood why they looked at reasons that were good and thought they were good, but I kept finding fault with them. And eventually, it led to me hosting the Atheist Experience TV show and doing lectures and debates. And here we are today. [00:07:30]
Two different lives. Two opposite views. And a debate!
The debate to date:
- 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.
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)
You may also wish to read: 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.