What that guy believes

Fig. 68Michael Egnor has now answered his own questions so we can now review his answers and discover in amazement how they make a lot more sense than what non-theists and scientists could come up with. Or not. His new post can be found here. My own answers to those same questions can be read here.

The first thing I noticed in Egnor’s new piece is that while atheists are often accused of arrogance, Egnor also assumes that they are ignorant:

“these explanations have largely been forgotten by atheists and by scientists with a dogmatic materialistic view of nature”

They have not been ignored of course, they have just proven to be useless or obsolete and it’s the likes of Egnor who have been largely oblivious of the progress of science over the last centuries. Which is why they clutch at multi-century-old notions that the rest of the world has dismissed for good reasons.

“Dogmatic”? How pretentious! The essence of science is to be the opposite of dogmatic thinking. It is a set of methods that we have devised in order to discover truth about the natural world despite our preconceptions thereof. Scientific thinking cannot be dogmatic, otherwise it’s not scientific. It’s a common technique to accuse your adversary of your own faults so this is hardly surprising from the apologists of Dogma.

Also make note of the pretensions of Egnor:

“these beliefs are entirely compatible with modern science; in fact, classical philosophy and classical theism is the source for modern science”

We’ll see about that...

1. Why is there anything?

“God created the universe as a free act of creation. God is Spirit and is not created; The Thomist paradigm of essence (what a thing is) and existence (that a thing is) can be applied by analogy to God: God's essence is existence. His existence is necessary.”

That is an entirely circular definition of God. It is essentially different from my own argument which was based on the intrinsic existence of real mathematical objects that have a rigorous definition. The argument from instability of nothing also is a well-established discovery of 20th century physics.

Hand-waving and play on words on the other hand are not considered a proper form of reasoning. The only thing whose essence is existence is existence itself. Not God. You might as well say “the essence of the universe is existence. Its existence is necessary.” The reasoning isn’t any more valid but there is at least one thing that is verifiable in there. Not so of Egnor’s argument.

2. What caused the Universe?

“1) Whatever begins to exist has a cause 2) The universe began to exist 3) The universe has a cause. A super-natural cause in necessary for the creation of nature ex-nihilo. 'Nature created itself' is nonsense- it's a contradiction. From nothing comes nothing.”

Again, Egnor demonstrates his ignorance of modern science. Causality is a notion that presupposes time, which may not have existed as we know it at the “beginning” of the universe. The argument that everything has a cause only applies to the contents of a universe where causality exists, but not necessarily to the universe in its entirety nor to any kind of universe. It’s hard for us to imagine anything else, because our whole existence would be impossible in a universe that wouldn’t have causality, but it isn’t otherwise a necessity and in particular it probably breaks down near the “beginning” of the universe. It’s also assuming there needs to be something outside of the universe. A real Universe is entirely self-contained: by definition it’s the total sum of everything that exists. We can conceive in cosmology of universes that have no boundary and no beginning, just a smooth form. Think of a sphere (which we know how to construct without plunging it into a 3D space by the way). Where is the beginning of the sphere? There is no such thing. Any definition of one is arbitrary.

Also, from nothing comes something all the time, everywhere. Another discovery of 20th century science was that void is unstable. Combine that with a force like gravity, which has negative energy, and you have the absolute necessity for a material universe to emerge.

Finally, please show me the cause for the existence of the mathematical group Z2.

Egnor is almost right on one thing though:

“This Pure Act is uncaused, beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless”

Replace “Pure Act” with the universe and there you have it: a modern view of the universe. Except for one essential difference: modern cosmology is based on and verified by observation, whereas Egnor’s Pure Act is just hand-waving.

3. Why is there regularity in nature?

“Teleology is the goal-directedness of nature.”

There is no such thing as the goal-directedness of nature, except in the twisted minds of ID-proponents.

4. Of the four causes in nature proposed by Aristotle, which are real?

“the four causes were truncated to two or three by enlightenment philosophers, who didn't like the theistic implications of classical philosophy […] Moderns generally don't understand any of this, and accept merely material and truncated efficient causes as adequate to describe nature. They are mistaken.”

It’s not that they didn’t like them. That does not matter in the least. What matters is that they discovered that the harder they looked, the less final causes seemed necessary (science does not bother with unnecessary hypotheses, as famously illustrated by Laplace). Worse: they were counter-productive in that they were getting in the way of finding objective truth. This is all very well understood and not the product of ignorance. Quite the contrary.

5. Why do we have subjective experiences?

“humans have spirits, which are created in God's image. We are subjects and not just objects because of the powers of our rational souls and the fact that we are spiritual creatures. […] Nothing in materialism predicts or explains the emergence of 'I' from 'it'”

Again, failure to recognize the achievements of science and even philosophy. For instance, read Nietzsche and his idea of consciousness as a grammatical fiction or Hofstadter’s I am a strange loop. Neuroscientists have been able to study the brain with ever-increasing precision and have obtained some extremely curious and important results, such as consciousness of an act happening after the act is performed, reversing our assumption on which causes which. The way consciousness, sensations, feelings, states of mind, memories or even religious experiences can be induced or suppressed by physical and chemical stimulation of the brain also point to a materialistic explanation of our subjective experiences. There is plenty of science dealing with the emergence of ‘I’ from ‘it’, and it suggests that our consciousness is more after the fact story-telling than causation and free-will agency.

There is one question I’ve always wanted to ask dualists: where does the soul go when you sleep and when you don’t dream?

6. Why is the human mind intentional? How can mental states be about something?

“Intentionality is no problem from the classical hylemorphic understanding of nature and of man. It is inexplicable by materialism. Materialism, which acknowledges only material and efficient causes, founders on intentionality”

Here, Egnor is lying. He has read Dr. Novella’s answers to his posts on that subject but ignores it.

7. Does Moral Law exist in itself?

“Moral Law is "written in the heart" of men, and each of us feels an obligation to comply with it. […] Moral Law is the manifestation of Divine Law, and compliance with the Moral Law represents a telos (final cause or purpose) of man's life.”

More hand-waving. Here is another thing that is written in the heart of men, quite literally: genetic information, the results of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Seriously, read Sam Harris.

“if Moral Law doesn't exist independently to men, then it is the moral law of the strongest of men that will rule”

Ah, that old canard that if morality does not come from God, everything is permitted. And that other canard that evolution is about the law of the strongest.

Never mind that the evolution of altruism is well understood since George Price. Never mind that modern evolutionary theories deal with populations much more than with individuals.

8. Why is there evil?

“Evil is the privation of good. It exists because we are a fallen race in a fallen world.”

This, I must say, may be the most disgusting and dare I say evil part of the Christian dogma: that we somehow all have to pay for the Sin of our long-dead ancestors is plainly immoral. Compound that with the nature of the Sin in question and you get a doctrine that I could never, ever swallow (pun intended). There are plenty of very obvious and perfectly good explanations for the existence of evil, and God is not one of them. Quite the contrary, if God were to disappear in a puff of logic (to quote Douglas Adams) it could be from the existence of evil, and Egnor is well aware of it:

“there are still aspects of natural evil (children with cancer, etc) that I find very hard to understand”

Indeed. but he also says:

“The traditional theodicy that natural evil provides opportunity for courage and faith makes sense to me”

What a horrible, twisted way to induce virtuous behavior. Aren’t there ways to inspire courage other than the horrible suffering and death of children? Especially when you are an omniscient and omnipotent being? Does Egnor even realize the enormity of what he’s saying?

“atheism and materialism offer no solutions at all. If mankind evolved by natural selection, we wouldn't even perceive the death of unrelated others as evil. It would be a real win- more offspring for me!”

And once again, we see the use of a straw-man version of evolution that only exists in the minds of ID proponents. See above, this is very well understood.


A few things should be clear from all this.

Far from resulting from ignorance, at least some atheistic views are constructed on the accumulation of centuries of philosophy, science and even theology. They also take into account results from modern science and are open to revision as new evidence is discovered.

Egnor, by comparison, ignores -probably maliciously- centuries of progress. And he doesn’t take comments on his blog, which says a lot about his open-mindedness.

Make your own conclusions...