Debate: former atheist neurosurgeon vs former Christian activist
“Does God exist? On September 17, during an old-fashioned debate, a Christian neurosurgeon Michel Egnor and atheist broadcaster Matt Dillahunty debated the issue at Theology unleashed. We will cover this debate for you, including the transcripts and notes. First, each participant had the opportunity to indicate where they came from and why. Michael Egnor, representing the Yes camp, went first. How did a nurse, once an atheist, who opens people’s brains for a living, come to be sure that there is a God? And how did a fundamentalist Christian come to welcome The atheist experience?
Opening statement by Michael Egnor
Michel Egnor: I am a neurosurgeon in Stony Brook, New York. I am a Christian, I am 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’ve come to believe in God and believe in Christ for a whole bunch of reasons. I was brought up in a Protestant environment even though my family was not particularly religious. I was dragged to church from time to time. And by the time I got to college, I was really at least functionally atheist.
I never hated Christians. I always thought they were nice people, but what they believed didn’t make much sense. I thought it was just a fairy tale. I majored in biochemistry at university. I like science. I went 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 in particular or to believe in God in general, I basically had to leave my brain behind. That if I went to church, I couldn’t really be a thoughtful person. [00:02:00]
I’ve come to feel this very differently over time for a whole bunch of reasons. I had an experience on the road to Damascus linked to the illness of one of my children. But I also studied the questions about the existence of God in great detail. I have read a lot of Thomist philosophy. I have read and watched a lot of debates between Christians and atheists. And I have to say that, on several occasions, I have been amazed at how little atheists have to say on the question of the existence of God. I was actually shocked that the atheist arguments were as weak as they were. And that the arguments for the existence of God were remarkably strong. [00:02:30]
And so it certainly helped me a lot to believe in God, because it is a personal relationship that goes beyond simple reason in the same way that your love for your spouse goes beyond simple reason. There is no reason to doubt. You feel it. But there are very, very strong reasons for saying that God exists, and there has been a lot of writing about it. My personal opinion is that there are 10 reasons which are very solid, which are really compelling. This has been very important to my faith because I believe that genuine faith must have a rational component. And so that’s where I am. [00:03:00]
Opening statement by Matt Dillahunty
Matt Dillahunty: I’ve been running the Atheist Experience for 16 years, but I haven’t started there. I was brought up mainly a Southern Baptist. I’ve been to Pentecostal churches a few times, but we were pretty much Southern Baptists. And my mother’s family side was Catholic, but Catholics worshiped Mary, worshiped Saint, accepted evolution, drank people. And so it was forbidden to us. And yet, oddly enough, I always had a lot more fun and, and I spent more pleasant times with my Catholic parents. [00:04:30]
And at some point, that changed. I actually wonder – me being a former Baptist and Dr Egnor being a current Catholic – if this is going to cause more conflict in thoughts than whether or not I am an atheist. But I came down [00:05:00] the aisle when I was five when I woke up and accepted Jesus into my heart.
My parents told me later that they were worried. Could this really happen to a five year old? And so they talked to the pastor and everything. But I actively grew up in the church and there was just a guess or a statement in some cases that I was going to grow up to be a preacher. My mother told me, without telling me. I won’t go into the whole story, but eventually [00:05:30] I said I didn’t want to do this. And when I graduated from high school, I ran away and joined the Navy and served for eight and a half years. And I didn’t find my way, but I didn’t really care about my religious belief and I went out and started working in the tech industry.
And around 2000, 2001, I lost my job and it all fell apart. And I honestly thought it was God punishing me. And I thought, okay, God called you to be a preacher and I said no. And now he’s going after you. And so I spent a lot of time praying and studying seriously and talking with my 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 go to Heaven and God say, “Why is this guy you love like a brother burning in hell?” You haven’t done what you’re supposed to do. And so I started to try to find a way to convince an atheist. [00:06:30]
And I don’t even disagree with Dr. Egnor in that the arguments against the existence of God are generally weak. But that’s because if you haven’t established that you have met your burden of proof from a distance by claiming that there is a God. You don’t just have to do much other than say, “I don’t think you made your case. “
I didn’t have the Damascus road experience, but also contrary to what some would say, I never got mad at God. I never got mad at God. There was no how-dare-you-take-that-from-me? or whatever. It was – and I am perhaps weird – a purely intellectual exercise. There was also emotion, at different times. But I just realized that I didn’t have a good reason to believe. And as I started to look more and more, I couldn’t find anyone who did. I understood why people believed and understood why they looked at the right reasons and thought they were right, but I kept finding them flaws. And finally, it got me to host the Atheist Experience TV show and give lectures and debates. And we are here today. [00:07:30]
Two different lives. Two opposing views. And a debate!
Next: The 10 proofs of a neurosurgeon for the existence of God
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