Egnor claims that the evidence for God is as strong as it is for evolution and the Big Bang

Christian neurosurgeon and intelligent-design advocate Michael Egnor insists that he and I are “debating” the appropriateness of prayer in response to the coronavirus (see my post here). But there is really no “debate”, just Egnor’s assertion (and my denial) that God is real and that prayer couldn’t hurt. He insists that I am “clueless” about the watertight evidence for God’s existence and am ignorant not just about natural theology, but about natural science. (I must have fooled a lot of people over my career!)

Egnor is obsessed with attacking me, and I’m convinced it’s because Intelligent Design has failed to catch on as its advocates promised, and so they resort to pushing a theological agenda and ignoring the indubitable evidence for evolution. This is a good example of that tactic, for here Egnor reiterates Aquinas’s “Five Ways” arguments for God—arguments that have long been refuted by philosophers—and claims that they’re dispositive: God really exists, and Aquinas proved it!

I hate to keep going back and forth with this clown (and I’m not going to be respectful of him given his language towards me). If you want to see some breathtaking examples of theological casuistry, though, read his latest piece at “Mind Matters,” one of the house organs of the ID-creationist Discovery Institute (DI). Like all the DI venues, it doesn’t take readers’ comments.

I’ve archived the article, which you can access by clicking on the screenshot.

In response to my claim that any evidence for God’s existence must be empirical rather than logical, Egnor responds by citing Aquinas’s “Five Ways” as empirical arguments. Most of these five arguments are variants of the “First Cause” argument: everything is caused, there can’t be an infinite chain of causes, and therefore there must be a First Cause. And that First Cause is God—or at least, as Aquinas said, “this everyone understands to be God.” And that, he says, is an airtight empirical argument, for isn’t the observation of “cause” itself an empirical one?

I’ll just summarize a bit of Egnor’s argument, but if you want to be amused by the mental gyrations of a true believer, by all means read the rest of the short article.  Egnor’s words are indented:

Me [i.e., Egnor]: Evidence for the existence of God, as provided by Aquinas, actually consists of the same logical and evidentiary process as science itself, only with much stronger logic and more abundant evidence than any other scientific theory.

Coyne, in reply : If there are going to be arguments for god that are convincing, they will have to be empirical ones, not theoretical lucubrations of ancient theologians.

[Egnor]: Coyne is clueless. All valid proofs of God’s existence—and there are many—are empirical proofs. As St. Thomas observed, any proof of existence must contain empirical evidence in its premise, because a purely logical proof, which is valid for mathematics and logic, cannot demonstrate the existence of anything. That is why the ontological proof of God’s existence is invalid. You can’t, by pure reason alone, conclude that God (or anything) exists. You must have evidence.

Well, yes, the ontological proof of God’s existence is a bizarre non-starter (read about it here). But here’s Egnor’s argument for why Aquinas, the consummate scientist, was correct in making an inductive and empirical argument for God.

All valid scientific theories are inductive. We begin with evidence, arrange the evidence in a logical (often mathematical) framework, and draw a conclusion. Here’s the Darwinian inference, for example:

1) Living animals and fossils show certain patterns of structure (evidence)
2) These patterns imply certain causes and are inconsistent with other causes (logic)
3) All living things are related by common descent (conclusion)

This theory of common descent, which Jerry Coyne accepts, is inductive—it is not and cannot be a deductive proof.

Well, the causes of evolution are independent of the observations of common ancestry, for you can have common ancestry regardless of what causes evolution, so long as it’s a gradual process that leads to changes in lineages as well as splitting of lineages (speciation). The causes could be natural selection, genetic drift, Lamarckism, teleoglogical or theistic evolution, and so on. You will get common ancestry under any theory of change so long as it is gradual, leads to splitting of lineages, and characters are modified only gradually after splitting occurs.

On to the First Cause argument as rehashed by Egnor:

Here’s Aquinas’ First Way:

1) Change exists in nature (evidence)
2) Change is the actuation of potentiality, and an essential chain of actuations cannot go to infinite regress. A fully actual Prime Mover is necessary (logic)
3) That Prime Mover is what all men call God (conclusion)

Note, contra Coyne, that all three scientific conclusions—common ancestry, the Big Bang, and God’s existence— are structurally equivalent. The inference to God’s existence is formally in every way identical to scientific theories. The inference to God’s existence based on the Prime Mover argument is a scientific theory—supported by massive evidence (change occurs in nature) and irrefutable logic (the reality of potency and act, and the law of non-contradiction). We are more scientifically certain of God’s existence than we are of quantum mechanics or Newtonian or relativistic gravitation.

While the first claim is basically correct, though not all things change (e.g., the speed of light in a vacuum or the laws of physics), the other two claims are where Aquinas’s argument collapses. I don’t want to reiterate the many flaws of even the first of Aquinas’s Five ways, as you can find those refutations in numerous places (e.g., here, here, here, here and here; I also have an earlier post on the First Cause argument as supported by Egnor and his ID colleage Klinghoffer here).

In brief, here are a few of the many counterarguments:

a.) There is no reason a chain of actuations cannot “go to infinite regress”. If there’s a multiverse, that’s more or less what you get. See Sean Carroll’s discussion below.

b.) The Universe didn’t have to have a cause, just as the decay of an atom of a radioactive element doesn’t have a “cause” —as far as we know. Nor does the appearance of virtual particles have to have a “cause”. There is no scientific “law” that says, “Everything has a cause.” As Sean Carroll said of the origin of the Universe in his post “Does the Universe need God? (his answer was “no”):

One sometimes hears the claim that the Big Bang was the beginning of both time and space; that to ask about spacetime “before the Big Bang” is like asking about land “north of the North Pole.” This may turn out to be true, but it is not an established understanding. The singularity at the Big Bang doesn’t indicate a beginning to the universe, only an end to our theoretical comprehension. It may be that this moment does indeed correspond to a beginning, and a complete theory of quantum gravity will eventually explain how the universe started at approximately this time. But it is equally plausible that what we think of as the Big Bang is merely a phase in the history of the universe, which stretches long before that time – perhaps infinitely far in the past. The present state of the art is simply insufficient to decide between these alternatives; to do so, we will need to formulate and test a working theory of quantum gravity.

c.) If you’re going to talk about causes, then what caused God? People like Egnor who make these arguments call god the “Unmoved Mover” or the “First Cause”, and so the question “who made God?” seems to them nonsensical, but nobody has made a convincing argument why the buck must stop at God (see my post here). See (b) above. The question of “where did God come from”—if there is a god—remains viable and trenchant.

d.) This is perhaps the dumbest of Aquinas’s arguments, but it’s one that Egnor buys into: Why is the Prime Mover—even if there is one, which isn’t necessarily the case—identical to the Christian God, the very God embraced by Aquinas and Egnor? This flaw can be seen at the end of all of Aquinas’s Five Ways: they finish with a sentence that says “This everyone understands to be God.” What a fricking joke! Everyone?  What about those of other religions, whose gods (and there can be multiple gods) are not Christian gods, and not ones that have the salvific Jesus as a divine son of God.  And what if space aliens are the prime movers?

Even if you take Aquinas’s argument seriously, and even if you buy his premise that everything needs a cause—which I don’t buy, and which physicists don’t buy—all you can conclude is that there was a beginning to things. Beyond that, you can say nothing, not even that there was a “being” that started it all off with an act of creation.

Egnor and his delusional confrères (including Aquinas himself) immediately conclude that the “prime mover” must be the Christian God, with all his omnipotence, benevolence, and omniscience, but this is surely the paradigm of tendentiousness. THEY JUST DON’T KNOW, but make the assertion anyway. Is that a “scientific proof” of a divine being, much less of a Christian God? I’m burning with curiosity about how they know who the Prime Mover really is. (You know the answer: they’re going on faith.)

And so Egnor comes to the end of his tiresome affirmation of his own Christian faith:

The inference to God’s existence based on the Prime Mover argument is a scientific theory—supported by massive evidence (change occurs in nature) and irrefutable logic (the reality of potency and act, and the law of non-contradiction). We are more scientifically certain of God’s existence than we are of quantum mechanics or Newtonian or relativistic gravitation.

Really? Which God? And how do we know it was a God rather than a clever alien, or even a malicious God rather than the Christian God. But wait! There’s more!

. . . The classical proofs of God’s existence are empirical proofs based on overwhelming scientific evidence and meticulous logic—perfectly valid inductive reasoning, identical in form to all scientific theories. Proofs of God’s existence are arguments in natural theology, and they share exactly the same structure as theories in natural science.

I think I’ve shown that the reasoning is not valid for several reasons, and I’ve demonstrated that “all rational men who haven’t already embraced religious superstition know the First Cause argument to be nonsense.”

Egnor adds this:

While it is true that much of the essence of supernatural reality is beyond our comprehension, we can validly infer the existence of supernatural reality. For example, as I noted above, we can validly infer the existence of the Big Bang singularity (which is not a part of nature) from natural evidence and logic. The Big Bang singularity and black holes are not in the natural world—they are undefined singularities in gravitational field equations—but we can know of their existence using evidence and the methods of natural science. In just the same way, we can know of God’s existence using evidence and the methods of natural science.

Notice that we don’t have the same kind of evidence for Egnor’s god as we do for the Big Bang, where we can see the expanding universe and hear the echo of that Bang. Egnor’s “evidence” is the argument that “everything has a cause in a chain of actuations,” and we already know that that isn’t an empirical observation, but a claim—one that isn’t supported by data from radioactive decay or, indeed, from the existence of the Big Bang.

Perhaps in his next piece of the debate (and I’m pretty much done debating tendentious faithheads like Egnor), Dr. Egnor will explain to us how he and Aquinas can conclude that the Prime Mover just happens to coincide with the God of Scripture. Rest assured that he’ll have an answer, but you can be equally assured that it won’t make sense to those not already marinated in religious Kool-Aid.

88 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I just think that Egnor, and all other religious cultists, should shut up until they work out the details of how their prayers operate. Once they’ve managed to convince God to rescind this whole pandemic, then they can report back with more authority.

    • drosophilist
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      +Avogadro’s number

  2. EdwardM
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    You’ve really gotten under this guys’ skin. I have to confess, there’s a deeply satisfying schadenfreude about it. It’s probably a moral failing in me but I get it get when such fish are so easily gutted. I no longer wonder why he keeps coming back for more more. I just stare in amazement.

  3. William Boecklen
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Science is not inductive; it is hypothetico-deductive. Popper addressed the problem of induction in science and deemed it to be non-operational because of infinite regress.

  4. Charles E. Jones
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    “or even a malicious God rather than the Christian God.”

    I would argue that the Christian God is a malicious God. After all, he created Adam and Eve as completely innocent and naive, unaware that lies exist or that anyone would lie to them. When they accepted the Serpent’s rather good reasons that the fruit could and should be eaten, or succumbed to his peer pressure, God’s punishment was the death penalty for Adam, Eve, and every other living thing down to the present day. That’s pretty malicious, but he also added disease, suffering, and evil into the mix!

    And the only way to escape Hell is to love Jesus. If you are unable to believe in Jesus and love him, or if you never heard of Jesus, tough: You must be tortured for all eternity in Hell.

    Isn’t that malicious?

    • Mark R.
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      “Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” Mark Twain

  5. Dawn Flood
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Problem is that we live in an expanding Universe. What, exactly, is the Universe expanding “into”? Nothing? Higher Dimensions? The simpest explanation is that the Cosmos is an actual infinite, both in time and space, or, to quote the late Professor Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that there is, all that there ever was, or all that there ever will be”. Space and time with a finite speed of light and information in a finitely expanding Universe is the simplest explanation, akin to Cantor’s countably infinite sets, infinities within infinites. Reality is like the number line; pick your zero whereever you like — the past is to your left, the future to your right.

    • EdwardM
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      Why are there only two directions?

      • chris moffatt
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        because time is a single dimension

        • rickflick
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          What about yestermorrow? 😎

          • EdwardM
            Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            I kind of asked that one tongue-in-cheek. These kind of discussions, though grounded in sound theory, often have the feeling of an undergraduate pot party. It’s just when you get into big-banging physics that things just get so weird.

            • GBJames
              Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:53 am | Permalink

              “undergraduate pot party”

              LOL!

      • freiner
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Sounds like you’re trying to make things complex.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      Need a physicist for this, but here is my understanding of expansion. Empty space is not nothing, it’s space with nothing in it. “Nothing” not only has nothing in it, it has no dimensions either.

      The cosmic expansion, then, isn’t about expanding into nothing, rather it’s about creating more space between the things in the universe. So effectively, neither you, nor the thing receding from you have to actually be moving if empty space is coming into existence between you.

      This only makes sense when you listen to a cosmologist explain it. I’m clearly not one!

    • grasshopper
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink


      “And there is no space
      But there’s left and right.
      And there is no time
      But there’s day and night.”

      — Saint Leonard of Canada

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    That syllogism about evolution is cute, but it only works because we’ve already accepted the truth of evolutionary theory. Logically, he could just as easily have made his conclusion “therefore, a creator must have planned it.” We must remember that Darwin adduced empirical evidence to prove the theory of evolution. It is unlikely he would have convinced many people if he were just arguing logically. Likewise, it is unlikely that Acquinas would have convinced many people who didn’t already believe in god (as he doesn’t).

    • Dawn Flood
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Prior to 1500, there were no atheists, at least in Europe. Belief in God was universal.

      • Matthew
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        I’m surprised you know the beliefs of all the people of Europe. You might wish to switch universal to dominant.

      • GBJames
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        “Prior to 1500, there were no atheists”

        You know this how?

        • RGT
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          Lots of foxholes, maybe?

        • Dawn Flood
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:46 am | Permalink

          The medieval historian, Professor Philip Daileader. For the record, I am an agnostic atheist.

          Dawn

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        That is simply not true. Read eg “The History of Atheism” by DeThier (it’s not a comfortable read though). Atheism is as old as human history.

      • JezGrove
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        From his frequent jokes about the gods, it’s hard to think that Aristophanes believed in them – and he was by no means the only writer in Athens’ 5th century B.C. “Golden Age” to express scepticism about their existence.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Omar Khayyam is also a good example of a Medieval Atheist, I’d say.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (4 BC – 65 AD): “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”
          Can it get more Atheist than that?

          • JezGrove
            Posted March 18, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            Great quote, Nicolaas – thanks, I’ll have to remember that one!

      • Anselm Kersten
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        “Dominant”, yes, as Matthew points out below. But “universal”? Rubbish. Check the Wikipedia article “History of Atheism”. The religion of Buddhism is functionally, if not literally, atheist. Both the existence and the persecution of atheists is attested in ancient Greece, Islam and medieval Europe, to say nothing of in the Bible. Psalm 14 begins: ‘Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”’

        • GBJames
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink

          It probably is mistranslated. The original actually read:

          Fools say in their hearts, “There are no atheists.”

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        There are 2 problems that should not be conflated:
        1 – Why is there anything rather than nothing?
        This is the ‘singularity’, ‘Prime Mover’ and Time problem. We are not even close to an answer there, although the ‘Big Bang’ has some evidence (red shift and background radiation), it does not really answer the question. This question is not answered and possibly may never be answered.
        2 – How is there complexity?
        I think biology has -at least to a satisfactory degree- answered that question.
        The designed is always less complex than the designer, empirical fact (please take that up with me if you disagree) and highly complex systems or ‘things’ always went to some kind of evolution, hence a Creator or ‘Prime Mover’, necessarily highly complex, cannot be the cause of complexity. That is begging the question (as all of Aquinas’ arguments basically are).

        I find it mind blowing that a neurosurgeon, of all people, well placed to see how molecular processes -with some steps inbetween- leads to something like consciousness.

        • Nicolaas Stempels
          Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:47 am | Permalink

          That was no meant as a answer, but a separate post under no 13.

      • Posted March 18, 2020 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        I fear you may be assuming rather too much. That would mean the word existed for 1000 years at least while referring no one.

      • Charles A Sawicki
        Posted March 19, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        More accurately, there were few to none atheists willing to be murdered for their lack of belief. Being a professor doesn’t give you access to the thoughts of all people in the middle ages. This is just silly guess work by someone with a PhD.

  7. rickflick
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    The Discovery Institute is such an oxymoron. They never discover anything. They simply bang on.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Good point!

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      By discovery they really mean unfalsifiable metaphysical claims.

      “Yeah fairies wear boots, and you gotta believe me”

      I hear they play Sabbath all day at the Discovery Institute.

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        “would you like to see the pope on the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?”

        ahhh, good ol’ Sabbath

      • XCellKen
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        ♫ ♫ Smokin and trippin is all that you do ♫ ♫

  8. Ken Phelps
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Well of course you are ignorant about science compared to him. He’s a *real* doctor, with a certificate in flesh-carpentry and everything. He’s *trained*.

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Do we assume that when Michael Egnor has a toothache, he consults the “scientific” writing of Aquinas to diagnose what is wrong? And then treats it by prayer—to that God which “everyone understands”, of course.

    The mystifying thing about this case is that Dr. Egnor is (apparently) a qualified physician. I was similarly struck by noting a few trained physicians among fanatic Muslim groups of the Islamist/jihadist varieties. This phenomenon, worth psychological study, testifies to the exceptional rigidity that mental compartmentalization can achieve.

    By the way, a slightly similar mystery attends the Discovery Institute itself. It was founded by Bruce Chapman, known early in his career as a liberal Republican, and its initial focus was urban planning! ???

    • A C Harper
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      I’ll make a sweeping generalisation (there are exceptions) and argue that surgeons are equivalent to engineers… give them the tools and they wield them (usually) with dedication. But a lot of engineers think of their workspace and tools as ‘designed’ by their very nature and this sometimes spills over philosophically into denigrating unguided systems such as ‘nature’ or evolution.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 19, 2020 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        I’ve more than once read somewhere an engineer saying to the effect, “I’m an engineer, and I know (supernatural) Design when I see it.”

  10. Eduardo
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Global reaction to Covid19 only leads to 3 conclusions:
    1) Science beats god.
    2) A miniscule virus in more powerful than god.
    3) God doesn’t care about humans.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      An oldie, but a goodie:
      1) Nothing is better than god;
      2) A ham sandwich is better than nothing;
      3) A ham sandwich is better than god.

  11. Anselm Kersten
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I do allow myself a chuckle or two when faithheads (what a neat term!) produce, with great fanfare, “indisputable proof” of the existence of their Magical Sky Daddy Mk387, except that such “proof” turns out to have been shot down in flames decades, centuries or even millennia ago. These faithheads are merely ridiculous and laughable.

    Until they get into senior administrative positions, that is. Then all hell breaks loose…

    • EdwardM
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      I also liked “casuistry”. Describes Dr Egnor’s thinking perfectly.

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Intended or unintended, I originally misread “faithhead” as “fathead”. (Which autocorrect keeps trying to change “faithhead” to.)

      • Anselm Kersten
        Posted March 19, 2020 at 6:59 am | Permalink

        The difference being…?

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    And that, he says, is an airtight empirical argument …

    Empirical? Where’s the cat? Where’s the cradle?, as Uncle Kurt might ask.

    Or, to paraphrase a famous exchange between Col. Kurtz and Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now:

    “Is my empiricism unsound?”

    “Frankly, sir, I don’t see any empiricism at all.”

  13. Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Read any decent history book … there is your scientific evidence that god does nothing … history unfolds as if humans are doing the stuff, building the cathedrals, composing the music, saying things and even writing it down in holy books. Absolutely nothing supernatural at all. Dreams decently explain miracles and also any prophecies.

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I somewhat understand why Kant, who did not even have Darwin’s evolution back then, modified his philosophy to include the soul … mostly to placate his servant Lampe. And unless someone is going to get real violent over their belief, why would it matter that much? Let the silly ones believe as much as they want to if it makes them ‘feel better’ … let the supposed clever ones stew in their silliness, which it is … all of history shows what Hume observed … what ought to be, (the soul, living forever in heaven or hell with a god to supervise)just ISN’T … I am with you, Jerry, that debating believer types is frustrating … but then again … keep at it … show them how silly they are … and more of us should debate believers willingly and with enjoyment to show them up in their silliness …

  14. Posted March 18, 2020 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    My wish is for Dr Egnor to get stuck in a lift for a while with Deepak Chopra.

    It’s a great pity for our species that the Church chose Plato’s creator-god over Aristotle’s far less implausible and less dangerous conception of God: God as consciousness itself, not doing anything, not answering prayers and not even aware of our existence. But they preferred Plato’s fascist overlord instead and condemned themselves to squabbling with scientists over every significant scientific advancement ever.

  15. Mark R.
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Egnor: more mutterings from a perpetual child.

  16. Jenny Haniver
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    St. Thomas Aquinas was a 10th century medieval theologian who used a priori arguments to ‘validate’ his conclusions. That you expect anybody, scientist or non-scientist in the 21st century to use Aquinas’s principles of reasoning, where the conclusion is assumed in the premises, is stupendously absurd. Aquinas also believed in the four humors. I suppose you do, too. Do you practice medieval medicine and study them in your lab? Do you find their effects operating in the brain, pray tell, fer chrissakes? Does one part of the brain exhibit an excess of black bile? If you’re a consistent Thomist you’d have criminal courts judging a defendant by the predominance of one humor over another and would serve as an expert witness. What is wrong with your brain that you believe such a crock of hooey? I ask that sincerely.

    Jerry calls your arguments casuistry, and casuistic they are. Isaac Disraeli, speaking of Scholastic theology in “Curiosities of Literature” calls them quodlibets, a term used in his day “to express anything ridiculously subtile; something which comes at length to be distinguished into nothingness.” You and Aquinas are quodlibetarians par excellence.

    Disraeli observes that “The scholastic tree is covered with prodigal foliage, but is barren of fruit; and when the scholastics employed themselves in solving the deepest mysteries, their philosophy became nothing more than an instrument in the hands of the Roman Pontiff.” ​That’s precisely what you are doing.

    And if g-d exists, Thomist that you are, what say you about these important questions concerning the deity that Aquinas was quite concerned with, to wit: “Whether Christ was not an hermaphrodite? Whether there are excrements in Paradise? Whether the pious at the resurrection will rise with their bowels? Others again debated—Whether the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the shape of a serpent, of a dove, of a man, or of a woman? Did he seem to be young or old? In what dress was he? Was his garment white or of two colours? Was his linen clean or foul? Did he appear in the morning, noon, or evening? What was the colour of the Virgin Mary’s hair? Was she acquainted with the mechanic and liberal arts? Had she a thorough knowledge of the Book of Sentences, and all it contains? that is, Peter Lombard’s compilation from the works of the Fathers, written 1200 years after her death.—But these are only trifling matters: they also agitated, Whether when during her conception the Virgin was seated, Christ too was seated; and whether when she lay down, Christ also lay down? The following question was a favourite topic for discussion, and the acutest logicians never resolved it: “When a hog is carried to market with a rope tied about his neck, which is held at the other end by a man, whether is the hog carried to market by the rope or the man?”

    That any of these medieval absurdities is posited today as valid modes of reasoning and of intellectual concern is appalling. I note that on a contemporary RC dating website https://www.catholicmatch.com/temperaments/introduction/history, the four humors/temperaments are used to find compatibility! Can 21st century Thomistic scientists solve some of the burning questions mentioned above that occupied Aquinas’s prodigious intellect: What say modern day Thomistic physicians of the question whether Christ was an hermaphrodite and how will the trans community react? Can modern day Thomist gastroenterologists solve the problem of whether there are excrements in Paradise and whether the pious at the Resurrection will rise with their bowels? And will the bowels of some still need Imodium? Do you practice Thomistic neuroscience and just what does that consist of? I await your answers with bated breath.

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      As Christopher Hitchens pointed out on several occasions, Aquinas also levitated and flew around the nave of Notre Dame Cathedral. I wonder whether Dr Egnor accepts or disputes this.

      (As a side note, when he joined the priesthood, his family were annoyed that he had joined the Dominicans that they punished him by locking him in a room with a woman, to tempt him. He managed to keep her at bay however, with a piece of burning firewood. For some reason this is happily recounted in short bio of him on the website of the Cologne Cathedral — https://www.koelner-dom.de/en/fenster/st-thomas-aquinas/st-thomas-aquinas-1 )

      • Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        That’s pretty funny. They give a very short five line biography of him, and half of it is devoted to this story. One might have hoped that “one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages” (according to the same biography) would leave behind a more substantial legacy than that!

        • Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          I find it a bit baffling too. I’m glad they didn’t depict it in the stained glass window.

      • Filippo
        Posted March 19, 2020 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        ” . . . .Aquinas also levitated . . . they punished him by locking him in a room with a woman, to tempt him. He managed to keep her at bay however, with a piece of burning firewood.”

        I guess he was afraid that she would cause him to involuntarily levitate.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Seems to me that anyone who uses Aquinas in support of any argument, except a historical one, never had a chance in the first place. Not because Aquinas is ancient history and we’ve accumulated much more knowledge since his time. That’s merely an explanation for the primary reason, that Aquinas’s arguments are juvenile and stupid.

      But then, I’ve never seen a single argument by any theologian on God that didn’t come down to the same thing. I once looked pretty hard. Read much of what believers claimed to be the best by their most acclaimed theologians. Despite all the convoluted and flowery verbiage it all, always, boiled down to unbelievably simplistic and stupid arguments. I was really surprised by this when I was younger. Now I’m just disgusted by it.

  17. Roo
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Talking about first causes definitely seem like a non sequitur when discussing the efficacy of prayer – and I say that as an annoying “spiritual” person (irritating to people on both sides of the aisle, atheists and Christians!) who suspects that prayer actually is helpful. In my imaginings, at least, this ranges from the common sense (saying a prayer is similar to positive visualization or ‘setting an intention’ in yoga class; praying for others is a good way to keep other’s needs at the forefront of your mind, thus influencing your actions,) to the speculative (prayer works better than saying “I” want strength / insight / etc., because the moment you say “I” you activate your ego, while praying to a higher power is a way to focus on your intention sans ego) to the downright new age (ancient prayer rituals work because they pierce the illusory nature of superficial reality and allow us to tap into A Great White Light, or The Math Spirit, or That Place People Go On Acid Trips, or something. Excuse me while I go play my old Phish albums.)

    I admit that any or all of those musings could of course be nonsense – but I personally find them compelling enough to at least be worth considering. I think there are also cases to be made against requests in prayer, even for the religious (it interferes with acceptance; if you truly believe God is perfect and has a divine plan then it makes no sense to say he’s waiting on suggestions from humans.) I don’t see what first causes has to do with any of that, however.

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      If you feel it benefits you to suspect “that prayer actually is helpful”, I hope it is beneficial for you. Unfortunately, my experience has been otherwise. I learned on my knees at the church altar many years ago that I believed my prayers went nowhere. Part of a poem I wrote years later said:

      My prayers lie lifeless
      about my head, a congregation
      of desiccated words. Shorn of faith
      they are powerless to wend their way anywhere. I am afraid that one more word
      will bury me in years of stillborn prayers.

      Perhaps God wasn’t listening. Perhaps, he/she only listens to certain people. I’ve known too many people whose prayers were not answered in the way they’d hoped. It has made not believe in a God.

      • Roo
        Posted March 18, 2020 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s different for everyone. Sort of like people take psychedelics to all different sort of effects. And it can depend on the state of mind one is in at a particular moment – at the moment, for example, I find that both my spiritual and creative life are very flat, I think as a side effect of lactation (Fun fact – dopamine inhibits milk production under normal circumstances. This seems like a strange way for humans to be wired… I assumed lactation was something that needed to be switched “on” in the body, when, in fact, it is constantly in a state of being suppressed or switched “off” under normal circumstances, at least if I understand correctly. At any rate, I feel this drop in dopamine has left me pleasantly mellow but mentally dull.)

        Anyways, while I do believe there are transcendent mental states that are always, hypothetically at least, available to humans, I wouldn’t use the word “God” in the traditional sense of God as an agent. This leads, as you talk about, to people feeling as if these states weren’t listening, didn’t choose them, etc. By contrast, if you didn’t experience bliss on an acid trip, you wouldn’t feel like “Bliss didn’t choose me” or “Bliss wasn’t listening”. You would see it as that state being unavailable for any one of a huge number of reasons, all of which are things that just happen. I would say the same is true for things like insight, wisdom, inner strength, etc. Sometimes I have genuinely felt prayer was a way to connect with these states but, when it isn’t, it isn’t, and that’s just how it goes. What’s helpful for one person in a particular circumstance and what’s helpful for another in a different circumstance can vary a great deal.

  18. darrelle
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Both qualitatively and quantitatively the evidence supporting both evolution and the Big Bang outweighs the evidence supporting any gods by several orders of magnitude. The only way for believers to deal with this is to deny that empirically verified facts and evidence are important, either by straight out denial or by denying the differences between their facts and evidence and facts and evidence that meet the standards of science.

  19. Steve Gerrard
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    “Change is the actuation of potentiality.”

    I guess Egnor thinks that means something.

  20. Mark
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    The “creation model” requires a creator. That’s an essential element for which there is no evidence at all.
    You first must define “creator” and then provide scientifically-valid evidence of its existence before you even get to discuss Big Bang and evolution.

  21. Posted March 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Yet more of this man’s egnorance.

    3) That Prime Mover is what all men call God (conclusion)

    It astonishes me that he believes apparently sincerely that this amounts to an argument at all.

    The problem is not merely imagining a first cause, or even suspecting it was the christian God, and not, say, aliens rebooting the simulation, Hindu deities or some cosmic algorithm, or any number of potential first causes.

    The problem is that Egnor knows of the christian God only through christian mythology via education, and just asserts that mythology becomes true because something (anything) counts as evidence. That’s truly astonishing.

    Egnor learns from a comic book that Superman exists. He hears about a dog that was seen trapped on a roof and somehow made it back to the ground. To him, the “miraculous rescue” becomes evidence that Superman exists. Apparently that’s the standard in theology. I’m always flummoxed that it has any currency at all.

    • Posted March 18, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I wonder what Egnor thinks of the fact (according to the teachings of Rudolf Steiner) that Aquinas was the reincarnation of Aristotle, and Steiner himself was the next reincarnation of that soul. And there were two Jesuses, hence the varying accounts in the Gospels. It’s all perfectly clear if you know how to interpret the evidence, of which Steiner provided a great deal.

  22. Posted March 18, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    My problem with Ignor is he insists in telling our host and by extension, us, how it is.
    By all means have your blankey if the real world of naturalism is to brutal and hard for you (and your mum) but keep it to yourself, for we want, NO, need to move on.
    Until he finds his inner evolved ape he is lost to the supernatural.

  23. Thomas Flanagan
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Let us consider that the medium of energy being scientific in nature has the ability to be manipulated supernaturally therefore the medium of spirit and the medium of energy are one and the same medium. Let there be no mistake and prove the existence of God scientifically according to laws of nature which have never been observed to be violated.

    JAC: This 2600-word comment (which contains a video)has been severely truncated on the grounds of logorrhea. Doesn’t anybody read the Roolz any more?

  24. KD
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Let’s assume the Five Ways are correct.

    There is an “uncaused cause” that is the source of the universe, and it is “simple” (without parts) and “impassible” (not affected by other entities).

    What possible benefit could come from devotional prayer’s to such an entity?

    • eric
      Posted March 18, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      But you have to remember Aquinas’ incrontrovertible final point: “this [the prime mover], everyone understands to be God.”

      Blaise Pascal used the same approach; when his critics of the time pointed out that his wager didn’t tell you which God to worship, he basically punted and said that obviously men of reason and intelligence need not bother considering all those inferior religions.

  25. James Walker
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Everything may have a cause, but not all causes are agentive. The first cause could also be (and likely was) a mindless event.

  26. Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Maybe Egner has selected PCC(E) to replace the Fourth Horseman, Christopher Hitchens.

  27. Roger
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Aquinas was so silly that Thomists (I think) will say that he wasn’t out to “prove” anything, he was out to “argue” stuff. Hopefully I’m not putting words in their mouths because they like yelling a lot so I wouldn’t want to make them mad.

  28. Posted March 18, 2020 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Using reason to debate those who think unreasonably is a painful exercise. Humour is an effective alternative. Thanks for all your efforts Jerry.

    rz

  29. eric
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Egnor is obsessed with attacking me, and I’m convinced it’s because Intelligent Design has failed to catch on as its advocates promised, and so they resort to pushing a theological agenda and ignoring the indubitable evidence for evolution.

    I’m a bit more cynical; he’s trolling you for clicks. You’re a famous evolutionary scientist, he’s a nobody, every time you respond to him it gives him press he couldn’t buy even if he wanted to. Probably the same reason unknown writers love to attack people like Dawkins; their name won’t bring in the readers, but his will.

    …and irrefutable logic (the reality of potency and act, and the law of non-contradiction). We are more scientifically certain of God’s existence than we are of quantum mechanics…

    That’s amusing. He mentions the theory that undermines his ‘irrefutable logic’ in the same paragraph as his irrefutable logic. “There is no animal with a single horn sticking out of it’s head! We are more scientifically certain of that than the existence of narwhals!”

    For example, as I noted above, we can validly infer the existence of the Big Bang singularity (which is not a part of nature) from natural evidence and logic. The Big Bang singularity and black holes are not in the natural world—they are undefined singularities in gravitational field equations—but we can know of their existence using evidence and the methods of natural science.

    That’s another howler. AFAIK, most physicists don’t infer either. He needs to look up the ‘ultraviolet catastrophe’ problem. We’ve had theories imply mathematical discontinuities before; the standard thinking about these things is that the theory is wrong but we’re not sure how to fix it – not that the discontinuity is real.

  30. Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    These are great refutations of the Prime Mover argument. Here’s one more (or maybe it’s part of point b). As Sean Carroll points out in his minutephysics video “do cause and effect really exist” – cause and effect only exist on intermediate scales. They don’t apply to individual fundamental particles/fields, and they don’t apply to complete states of the whole universe. In both of those cases, the time-symmetric determinism of the natural laws prohibits putting one time on a pedestal and calling it “the cause” while the other is a mere “effect”. So Egnor is overgeneralizing from his evidence base, positing a more universal cause-and-effect than science can support.

    Egnor is substituting his intuitive ideas about causality for scientific ones. That’s a problem. (And one that unfortunately is not confined to theists … but that’s a topic for another day.)

  31. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I kept waiting for Egnor to stop arguing empty theology and start arguing science as the title of his text promise. It can be amusing but tiring to tease apart his emptiness as done here, so I’ll just note that his ideas of cause-effect are pre-scientific and his ideas of induction are 19th century theology.

    Classical cause-effect can be useful if identified, but we know that nature consist of processes obeying causality. If I drop a stone, say, it is the processes of biochemistry of my body and gravity from the nearby large mass of Earth playing out.

    And the mettle of empiricism is testing, which can be shoehorned into a pre-science deductive frame.

    Egnor’s argument on science is this small bit:

    “While it is true that much of the essence of supernatural reality is beyond our comprehension, we can validly infer the existence of supernatural reality. For example, as I noted above, we can validly infer the existence of the Big Bang singularity (which is not a part of nature) from natural evidence and logic. The Big Bang singularity and black holes are not in the natural world—they are undefined singularities in gravitational field equations—but we can know of their existence using evidence and the methods of natural science. In just the same way, we can know of God’s existence using evidence and the methods of natural science.”

    First, magic is not behind our comprehension, we know perfectly well that religious prayer magic does not work. We also know that since the standard model or particles work, religious soul magic does not work. And, I would argue, since the current LCDM cosmology is thermodynamically as well as general relativistioc closed, it is all natural – religious god magic does not work.

    Second, Egnor has not kept up with cosmology of the last generation. Big bang is not what he thinks it is and specifically there is no singularity or other observed beginning. This video explains that as if he was five: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1Q8tS-9hYo . That black holes ate not natural objects would be news to astronomers, we have imaged them: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/news/2019/4/19/how-scientists-captured-the-first-image-of-a-black-hole/ . (They likely contain no singularities either, since that would mean a breakdown of physics that we see avoided elsewhere over and over, c.f. how quantum field theory removed singularities of classical field theory. One such modern singularity free model of black holes is that they are objects of dark energy.)

    To sum up, it is Egnor that can do nothing on science, but uselessly pray for deliverance.

  32. deadweasel
    Posted March 18, 2020 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Aquinas’ arguments, and all apologetics for God’s existence, fail for a very simple reason: they conclude “God exists” without actually arguing that for existence.

    The arguments are all non-sequiturs: they conclude what is never actually argued for. Terms in a conclusion cannot appear from nowhere; they must be argued for in the presentation of the facts.

    Aquinas, and all natural theologians, do exactly that. They begin by bringing up an irrelevant topic, make assertions about it unsupported by fact, fail to connect God to any of it, then produce God from nowhere, like a rabbit from a magician’s hat.

    If Aquinas, or Egnor, tried arguing God’s existence to a jury this way, the jury would find against them in twenty minutes, then kick them in the shins on the way out for wasting their time.

  33. John Reynolds
    Posted March 19, 2020 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Always thought the first cause argument was a classical physics answer to a quantum mechanics
    question. Quaint, but not relevant.

    • Posted March 19, 2020 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Pretty much, although it’s more of an Aristotelian physics (pre-classical) answer to a relativity-and-quantum question. Even Newtonian mechanics, with its idea that momentum is conserved *unless* a force intervenes, torpedoes the need for a prime mover.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted March 20, 2020 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        Good point!


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