Michael Egnor's "8 Questions Atheists Must Answer"

Via Larry Moran at Sandwalk and Tristan D. Vick at Advocatus Atheist, I've caught wind of Michael Egnor of the *shudder* Discovery Institute posing eight questions to atheists. He says he's doing this to get a better sense of what atheists actually believe. I don't really buy that – I think, like most of these kinds of things, they're supposed to be profound questions that can only be answered with an argument from ignorance – "Golly, I can't explain that, therefor God must have done it! I'm converted!" So, because I'm a team player, I'm gonna take a stab at them.

1) Why is there anything?

Isn't that question by its nature unanswerable? After all, there's no particular reason that God should escape that question. Why shouldn't there be anything? At some point, you have to concede that certain things simply ARE. You can stop at the universe, and say that the universe simply IS. The laws of physics do not require the universe to have come from anything. If you want to say God made everything, it begs the question: why is there a God?

2) What caused the Universe?

Only theists say the universe was caused. Physicists know better. Besides, it doesn't even make sense – "causality" is a concept of physics derived from the observed universe we inhabit. If the universe does not exist, neither does causality. Or, if you're going to be one of those twits like William Lane Craig and argue that there's such a thing as "metaphysical causality", then I think the burden is on you to prove that it exists and explain exactly how it works. Causality obeys the laws of the universe. If there's no universe, what laws would causality obey such that it can even be a coherent concept?

3) Why is there regularity (Law) in nature?

I don't think it requires an explanation. It simply IS. That would be like asking a Christian, "Why is God omnibenevolent?" or "Why is God omniscient?" "Well," I'm sure they'd say, "He just is!" That's the thing about the universe and its laws. There's no need to presume that its mere existence or fundamental properties require an explanation at all. The laws of physics allow the universe to be self-contained, with no beginning or end. It can simply BE.

4) Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

I'm not familiar with Aristotle's "four causes", but he was a philosopher, not a scientist. Whenever it's asked whether something is "real", we can look to Stephen Hawking's concept of model-dependent realism. That is, we do not know what is real. There's no absolute reality to compare our experiences to. What we can do is construct scientific models that both account for our observations and make accurate predictions about future observations. If a model does that, we take it to be a valid approximation of reality.

5) Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

I'm not sure I understand the question. Our consciousness is a composite interpretation of sensory information. Being individuals, subjective states are a prerequisite. Objectivity is derived from independently verified observation.   

6) Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

They have to be. Consciousness is a composite interpretation of sensory input. If there's no sensory input, there's no consciousness.

7) Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

There's no such thing as "Moral Law". "Morality" is a sociocultural outgrowth of evolutionarily selected group behavior traits.

8) Why is there evil?

Evil is not a thing. It's a concept. Please see use-mention error.


  1. Your answers are much more thought out than mine. lol. But then again, I was just being a sarcastic smart-ass.

    The thing I find strange is that Christians want to ask atheists these questions at all--considering they already believe themselves to be in possession of all the answers anyway.

    Either they are doing to it proselytize, or else their modernity has got them having doubts, whether they realize it or not. In all likelihood they may be attempting to confront their own rationale by learning the basics so they can find new ways to continue to rationalize away their doubts and harmonize their faith with the modern world.

  2. I totally agree, and I think most of the answers have been sarcastic for just that reason. We see through these kinds of ploys, because the people at DI have been immune to evidence and reason for a long time.

    If he really cared what people think, he would have allowed them to comment on his own blog.

  3. Hey There Mike!

    Just thought I'd drop a note to let you know I have been here. My Ole' Pal Tristan had a link to this page on his blog and knowing him to be a trustworthy character I followed it.

    I suppose these are perrenial questions that some people have asked for untold generations and probably will for generations to come. In truth, I sometimes envy people who are able to believe the answers to some of theses questions that are provided by religious authorities and the comfort and security that I imagine that assurance might provide, but alas!, for me it cannot be.

    My thinking is much in accord with your own in how you have addressed these questions, so there is no contention to be raised.

    Interesting to learn that the fellow who posed these questions did not allow for responses at his blog. I suppose one should not be surprised.


    El SteveO

  4. Awesome, thanks for the feedback. I definitely know where you're coming from with your second paragraph. Always nice to know someone's actually reading this crap I write!

  5. Hello Mike,

    My name is Jason.

    I want to let you know I follow your blog almost daily and really appreciate your contributions to rational thought and to my own sanity. Steve describes very well how I feel about christianity...it's a mixed bag of emotions for sure....wanting to have that security/certainty of knowing what this life is all about but realizing that the answers christianity gives are so often dishonest and shallow. The cognitive disonance I have witnessed over the years is crazy and invitations from christians to join in on the madness has almost been enough to drive me insane.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say keep up the good work Mike and keep writing. I appreciate reading what you have to say.

    Regards from Calgary, Canada.

    Jason R.

  6. Jason, thanks so much for the feedback. Comments like that are what make the time and effort worth it.


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