Recourse to Brute Fact is Rejection of the Principle of Sufficient Reason

A brute fact that is not logically necessary might be otherwise than it is. So it must be caused to be what it is. But qua brute, its causes cannot be ascertained, by any mind. It just is, and – apart from tracing its consequences – there is nothing more about it that might be said.

There is for it then no sufficient reason. It is an incidence of unreason; of chaos.

Despite appearances then, any explanatory scheme that hangs upon any such brute fact is eo ipso unsupported, and must fall.

31 thoughts on “Recourse to Brute Fact is Rejection of the Principle of Sufficient Reason

  1. Perhaps this explains the line with which Kurtz ended his pamphlet in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “Exterminate all the Brutes!” It’s a curious word that, when applied to man, denotes what St. Paul called the flesh or the members. It is that low and skulking thing that is always trying, like Cain, to murder the spirit.

    I will confess that I have a fantasy with which I beguile myself during tedious meetings. Many fantasies, as a matter of fact. But the one I am thinking about is my establishing an organization called the American Society for the Restoration of Brutal Practices, and then devoting my life to removing the stigma from brutality. I normally dislike brutality, but when I am confronted with what passes for its opposite . . .

  2. I’m not following this point, Kristor. I’m going to try and muddle through it below but if I’ve lost the trail, could you please lead me back?

    I take “brute fact” to be an unobjectionable observation about reality: “The sky is blue”. This follows from the idea of “brute force”–a raw, unfiltered application of force; applying force by hand instead of through a machine. So a brute fact would be a raw, unfiltered observation of reality.

    Recourse to this kind of fact then is this kind of argument: “Sure you’ve made that argument but consider this: The sky is blue. QED.”

    So you are saying that in trying to circumvent argumentation by appealing to observable reality, inherently dismisses questions of cause, because nature cannot stand for itself, it must be caused. Thus “Blue sky, QED” is a kind of begging the question, rather than an argument for anything.

    Do I have this right? Thank you, as always!

    • There are facts, and then there are brute facts. Now, all facts that could have been otherwise must be caused to be as they are. This is the PSR.

      Brute facts are putatively uncaused, so there is no point in trying to explain them; to wonder about their explanation is to operate under a category error. This at least is how atheists and naturalists generally use the term. E.g., “that there is something rather than nothing is just a brute fact.” Or, “the laws of physics are a brute fact.”

      When our atheist interlocutors say that a fact is brute, they mean to indicate that no further worry or deliberation or discussion about its origin is warranted. “Nothing to see here, move along.”

      If there were such a thing as a brute fact, the PSR would be false, and knowledge would not be possible: it would not be possible, even in principle, to complete the process of understanding or knowing anything.

      So reliance upon brute facts anywhere in your explanatory scheme is a poison pill.

  3. It seems clear to me that PSR is false and that God could have created the world differently than He did. At least, many facts about the universe seem contingent, as if they could have been otherwise, which is why we must learn them by observation, experiment, and consulting the records of the past. At least, it would take a strong argument to override this ubiquitous impression about the world.

    • The PSR does not imply that God cannot create differently, but rather only that however he does create, he has sufficient reasons for so doing. It agrees, i.e., with Christian orthodoxy, and disagrees with al Ghazali. Likewise, the PSR does not imply that the universe is not contingent, or that it is predetermined, but rather that, however it turns out, there are reasons why it turns out as it does (in no other way could our empirical investigations yield knowledge).

      It seems prima facie that the PSR might be a problem for freedom, whether of God or man or anything else. But not so. The PSR does not insist that the sufficient reasons for events must obtain ex ante, so that those events are by those reasons forced to happen. It is amenable to ex post facto reasons, that can be ascertained only a posteriori.

      Then the riddle of freedom in an ontological order in which there is sufficient reason for everything that happens (this being a requirement of order per se) is not too hard to solve. There are indeed sufficient reasons for all our free acts, e.g., but because our acts do not actually exist so as to have properties of any sort – including reasons – until they are completely enacted, their reasons cannot wholly constrain our acts ex ante. Only what is already fully in act can have sufficient reasons. Becoming then is radically free and undetermined, because it is not yet fully in act.

      • “The PSR does not imply that God cannot create differently, but rather only that however he does create, he has sufficient reasons for so doing.”

        Depending on what one means by “sufficient”, it might imply this. In the standard Leibniz/Spinoza form, PSR probably does. Say God may create X or Y. There may be reasons to recommend either one, but if there is a sufficient reason for the fact “God creates X rather than Y”, then there should be a determinative reason why the reasons for X will override those for Y (e.g. X but not Y is part of the best possible world). If there is no such reason, then God’s choice for X can be considered a brute fact.

        Your solution is to make logical properties like necessity time-dependent, or perhaps observer-dependent, but I’m not convinced that this makes sense. If there is a sufficient reason why X happens at time T, that reason surely must be operative in all its determinative power at time T. If X is not necessary when it occurs at T, what can it mean for it subsequently to be be case that “X happened necessarily at time T”? [Of course, it will necessarily be true that X happened at T (since we know it did), but that is not the same thing as saying that it happened necessarily.] This seems straightforwardly contradictory.

      • Maybe we should rename the PSR to “the PSE” for “principle of sufficient explanation” because Peter Geach distinguishes among reasons, motives, and causes. For him, a reason is what you deduce a conclusion from in an argument, use to explain some event. Even if there’s no God, the PSR or the PSE if you prefer, every contingent state of affairs may still have an explanation, even if there’s no one to intending to do that thing. Even if atheism is true, there’s still natural teleology. People, animals, plants, and other objects still tend naturally to do some things. The PSR may not presuppose theism.

      • Bonald, thanks for the push back. Composing what follows in response has taught me a few more things; a happy adventure.

        Sorry for its length; counterintuitive accounts take a while to explain.

        … if there is a sufficient reason for the fact “God creates X rather than Y,” then there should be a determinative reason why the reasons for X will override those for Y (e.g., X but not Y is part of the best possible world). If there is no such reason, then God’s choice for X can be considered a brute fact.

        It is natural that as complex creatures we should introduce to our analysis of God some complexities, and so for example distinguish between God’s act and his reasons; as if there were in God a sequence beginning with a bunch of reasons to do X or Y, which he then parsed so as then finally to enact X rather than Y.

        But God is simple. He is his entire sufficient reason for enacting X; which enaction is integral with his own act of being.

        He is also necessary and eternal, so that it is impossible to explain him. The only way it is possible to explain something is to adduce factors antecedent or transcendent thereto, and that’s impossible in respect to a necessary eternal being. But then, in respect to an eternal necessity, explanation is inapposite.

        That he cannot be explained, or his reasons adduced as factors of his act, does not however mean that God is a brute fact. Brute facts have no reasons, and so are absolutely unintelligible. God is throughly reasonable and intelligible, at least in principle (even if only to himself). We can be sure that this is so, because if the Ultimate and our Creator were at all unreasonable – if, to be clear, he was in some respect inconsistent, and so not God, properly speaking – then nothing else that was in any way derived from him could be consistent, either; for what is Ultimate and the foundation of all being cannot confer consistency upon other beings that he does not himself exemplify. Nor likewise might any other being partake consistency from him, that is not there to be partaken. In that case, nothing could be intelligible. Things are, we find, intelligible (at least a bit), which is to say among other things that they are consistent; so, we may conclude that their source is intelligible and consistent, and thus exemplifies the PSR.

        Anyway, God’s act is not determined by prior reasons, because nothing could be prior (whether in the order of time or the order of logic, or in any other order whatever) to his eternal ultimate act. Rather, his act determines his reasons; they are manifest in his act; in his character and nature.

        Thus the logical and modal properties of God are not time dependent. It goes the other way: time is dependent upon the logical and modal properties of God.

        If there is a sufficient reason why X happens at time T, that reason surely must be operative in all its determinative power at time T. If X is not necessary when it occurs at T, what can it mean for it subsequently to be the case that “X happened necessarily at time T”?

        Here’s where Whitehead’s analysis of becoming generates ROI of the labor required to understand it. On that analysis, a novel occasion of becoming X is not yet completely actual, and thus has not yet any definite properties (such as causal relations or reasons), until it has finished its process of becoming and is thenceforth forever fixed in being at last just precisely what it actually is. Until X achieves that final satisfaction it is only potentially what it ends up being actually. At that point only are its causal relations to its factors (whether antecedent or transcendent) first real, and thus really obtinent. Only then, with its causal relations fully nailed down, can X be located in an extensive continuum (of however many dimensions) W at a time T thereof. Until T, it does not actually exist in its world, and is inapprehensible thereto; it rather exists therein only potentially.

        At this point only does the PSR come into play. In order for X to fit into W consistently and without logical error or contradiction, it has to be logically compossible with W. This logical compossibility goes all the way down – Leibniz insisted that it was infinitary. In order for X to be at T of W, it must meet the criteria of the PSR obtinent at T.

        But it turns out that there are lots and lots of ways to be compossible with a complex world. That’s how you can get lots of new and quite disparate actual events occurring in W at T. And what is more, the character of W at T, and thus the criteria of the PSR at T, are not defined ex ante; for, T itself is defined entirely by the relations of its constituent occasions, each of which has completed its process of becoming only as of T. T of W thus comes into being only with X and its cohort. Prior to T, the criteria of the PSR at T of W do not yet exist. What is even more, the PSR criteria at T of W cannot therefore even be measured or ascertained until all of the events of T have finished becoming. In other words, they cannot be measured or ascertained by any event of or prior to T. And this means that the PSR criteria at T of W can have no predeterminative causal effect upon the events of T.

        The spooky thing is that all those novel events in W at T turn out to be mutually compossible. Ex ante, that’s absurdly improbable; for, ex ante, none of them could have had any notion what any of the rest of them were about to make of themselves, or thus how W would turn out at T, so that X and its cohort of contemporaries could fit themselves together instantaneously into a coherent T of W – into an instant of a coherent history of W.

        It doesn’t really matter, for only such novel actualities as are truly compossible at T can end up parts of W at T. The MWI suggests that novelties incompossible at T of W might end up in some other W’; but perhaps they are ontological sports, and end up in no W at all. The latter seems more likely, for the likelihood that any congeries of events incompossible with W are going to be compossible with each other in some alternate coherent W’ looks infinitesimal, prima facie. It looks then as though natural selection might be at work not just biologically but ontologically: the MWI then looks about as credible as the notion that all possible species exist together in one ecological volume of one W.

        Raising the spookiness to a higher power, we find that X and its cohort must be perfectly compossible not just with their cosmic past, and not just with each other, but with a cosmic future that extends with perfect coherence all the way out to the eschaton. That smells of backward causation, but really it’s just Providence. X and all its contemporaries are coming into being at T in W, after all, from an extramundane source, that is transtemporal.

        Summing up, its sufficient reasons under the PSR do not determine the final character of X, but vice versa. We may say then without too much violence to English that X chooses its sufficient reasons for being what it is. Examining our own choices, we find that their sources are at bottom mysterious even to us. We choose what we want because it’s what we want. Whence our want? It looks awefully like a brute fact, no?

        Notice that in this respect our want is an image of the apparent brutality of the Primordial Godhead. But, as with God, our mysterious wants are like him only apparently brutal. Because we are his images, and thus more or less like him, the sufficient reasons of our acts can likewise be understood only when they are already existentially complete: when they are, i.e., fully in act. Those sufficient reasons are not dependent upon time or upon observers then, but upon achieved actuality: a process that occurs extratemporally and unobservably. It turns out that the dependence goes the other way: observation and time, & thus the ascertainable, measurable, causally effectual sufficient reasons of things, depend upon and are posterior features (more than prior factors) of their actuality.

        I am satisfied that this account of becoming supports the truth of the PSR – and, thus, the logical coherence of all that is, so that there can be such things as worlds, beings, God, acts, agency and so forth – without forcing us into Spinozan necessitarianism.

        Which is good, because under Spinozan necessitarianism, none of those things can actually exist. And since they do actually exist, Spinozan necessitarianism must be a misprision. So, we get both freedom and cosmic order, and we needn’t jettison either of them.

      • Thank you for the extended reply, Kristor. I suspect we mean different things by the Principle of Sufficient Reason, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around yours.

        You’re certainly right that thinking of God choosing between options by making up His mind that the reasons for one outweigh the reasons for another is a bad model. However, invoking divine simplicity actually makes God’s freedom to choose among possible creations much more difficult to understand. His being, as you say, eternal (meaning, I assume, atemporal) and necessary makes it difficult even to apply your temporal model whereby events acquire their sufficient reasons post facto.

        “But it turns out that there are lots and lots of ways to be compossible with a complex world…” This and the following discussion seem to be a straightforward repudiation of PSR as I understand it. My understanding of PSR is that all that exists and happens does so by logical necessity (either because it is analytic or as a deduction of the divine nature). I think we both agree that this version of PSR is wrong, and a defensible version must be a weakened one. I am skeptical of Whitehead’s talk about past events retroactively acquiring different properties, so I’d like to try to make sense of your version of PSR without it. I believe your meaning has more to do with the coherence of individual possible worlds. Given that we live in W, all is as it must be, although we can’t say which particular possible world we live in until, perhaps, the end of time. To avoid tautology, W must not include all its events within its definition, so one might say that given a proper subset (which one might call a “defining” subset or a “generating” subset) of events in W, all the rest are determined. I’m not sure, though, how close this gets to your meaning.

      • If the PSR entails necessitarianism, then I certainly do repudiate it. But as I’ve probably made clear, I don’t think that it does: sufficiency does not seem to me to entail logical necessity.

        [God] being, as you say, eternal (meaning, I assume, atemporal) and necessary makes it difficult even to apply your temporal model whereby events acquire their sufficient reasons post facto.

        I emphasize again that I take determination to be dependent, not upon time, but upon actuality. An actuality can be temporal in character, but it might also be aeviternal or eternal. I cannot for the life of me see how what is not actual could have properties. Indeed, it seems to me that in his insistence that adding existence to the specification of a thing adds nothing thereto, Kant got it precisely backward: existence is that sine qua non in virtue of which a thing is at all specifiable in the first place, so that in its absence, there is (literally) nothing to talk about.

        Prima facie, there does seem to be a contradiction between the necessity of God and his freedom to act as he does in creation. But not so: God’s act of being is not conditioned by anything, and since it is at one with his act of creation, so likewise for his act of creation. God’s being and creation are radically free, even though he is necessary. And in practice it is pretty easy to see that many different worlds might comport with God’s nature, so that no contradiction would arise in him in virtue of their creation.

        I am skeptical of Whitehead’s talk about past events retroactively acquiring different properties …

        They don’t. They rather have properties at all only insofar as they are actual. This is not due to some retroaction.

        It is of course certainly true that subsequent events can make of their predecessors more or less what they will, so that the character of an event’s total effect upon subsequent history is (in part) a function of that subsequent history, rather than of the event itself. But in and for itself, and disregarding what subsequents make of it, and so disregarding its ultimate causal effects, the properties of an event are defined by its own condition at its completion.

        To avoid tautology, W must not include all its events within its definition, so one might say that given a proper subset (which one might call a “defining” subset or a “generating” subset) of events in W, all the rest are determined.

        As with its constituent events, the definition of W can’t be completed until W is completed.

        What is the meaning of a man’s life? How might anyone tell, before that life was done? So with a civilization, a species, or a world.

        This follows directly if the events of W enjoy the slightest degree of freedom – if, i.e., necessitarianism is even the least bit false. The incipient seed – the logos spermatikos – of W defines the solution space of W. This is to say that it defines the general character of a divinely acceptable cosmic solution of W, without defining the one exact solution that W must attain at its eschaton – or, a fortiori, the stochastic path that W traverses from its inception to that eschaton, and so to its final solution that approximates (closely enough to suffice) to the stokhos set down for it at its inception, in and by the Lógos.

        Presumably, the omnipotent Lógos of all things can handle a creaturely approximation to his ideal eschaton of W that is good enough – i.e., sufficient (per the minima of adequacy set by the PSR).

        So, while the bound of its solution space – defined by the characterological bounds of any fitting and proper solution – sets (admittedly fuzzy) parameters for the evolution of W, the path W actually traverses within that space is not ab initio constrained by the space (it is thus constrained only in the event that it tries to wander outside those bounds: a metaphysical impossibility).

        The generating subset of events in W are going to be bootless in the absence of such a bound, set by the definition of its solution space. Throw a bunch of initial events at the wall; what is there to be made of them, if nobody has any idea what to make of them, or a fortiori what *ought* and *rightly* to be made of them? How then to proceed from them, toward any final end? In the utter absence of any such bound, any such events must be utterly meaningless, utterly disordered, and so without possible causal effect.

        A word about the stokhos. Hamartia – missing the mark altogether, aka sin – happens only if the stake is missed entirely. In the final analysis it matters but little whether the arrow hits the dead center of the stake, or strikes it a bit to either side of dead center.

      • This is an exciting thread — though a confusing one. Kristor, as I read your Whiteheadian explanation, I visualized a (non-competitive, Ungame-y) game of musical chairs. When the music stops — that’s our moment (T) — all the children find their places given certain rules (arrangement of chairs), their previous moment (in the trajectory around the chairs), and some mysterious movement whereby each child aims for one of the nearest chairs. Some initial aims are thwarted and are then adjusted (as the kids scramble for their seats). The world is the arrangement of children in the chairs (W). Only after everyone is seated can we begin to explain how Sarah ended up in the red chair. Perhaps, I step awkwardly and unmusically with this image.

        Mr. McEnaney, below you bring up chance, and Kristor responds “So, yes: on Thomist metaphysics, divine omniscience is compatible with creaturely freedom. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t compatible with truly chance events, that have no reason or cause.”

        In Aristotle’s Physics, we find a fun discussion of chance and luck. Aristotle gives an example of chance (if I remember the details right) of a fellow who owes another man money. Both men go to the market one day for their own reasons (to buy something). Yet, when the debtor sees the other, he is able to pay him — as they’re there together and as the debtor has money on him. The debtor did not go to the market to pay his lender — it was a chance encounter. Now, that doesn’t mean that it was without reason. We can see intention and purpose in the acts of the two men — but the particular intersection of their acts wasn’t foreseen or intended by either. Instead of rational agents, we can throw in natural occurrences, interacting among themselves or with men in the scene. We can see the same type of experience — an earthquake causes a man’s house to catch on fire, and he then seeks water to douse the flames. The earthquake has likewise fractured a dam up a hill from his home, and a resulting stream conveniently passes his house so that he has ready access to water. Again — a sequence of events that shows natural occurrences’ occurring and man’s reacting according to his interests . . . but the scene as a whole is a chance meeting of these various entic arrows (The Two Towers imagery has influenced my choice of words here). From a synoptic view, though — one that considers reality as a whole rather from the perspective of its multiple beings’ many adventures, what does chance mean? For the materialist, it means unintelligible metaphysical goo (“have no reason or cause”). For us, though, chance simply describes our epistemic limitations.

      • Our epistemic limits are such that we cannot ever see quite how all the children manage to find their proper chairs, so that nothing is left over, nothing left to chance. It is not chance. It is, rather, karma, synchronicity, fortune, luck, Providence. It is the Tao.

  4. No one can explain a brute fact, even in principle. So there’s no way, even in principle, to discover that any fact is a brute one, since a way to do that would presuppose an explanation.

      • Hi, Kristor. I’m happy to hear that you agree with me because God blessed you with much more philosophical talent than I’ll ever have.

        I wonder why Bonald doubts the PSR. Maybe he believes that something could merely happen to exist. But if it can do that, how can I know whether it has a cause science can’t discover? How can I know, for example, that there’s existential inertia? It seems that atheistic scientists talk about inertia because they don’t believe God sustains what supposedly has it.

      • Bill McEnaney,

        Remember, PSR asserts something stronger than that all contingent events have causes. It asserts that a reason can be given that is sufficient to explain why the cause had to have acted as it did and not otherwise. Otherwise, the action of the cause is a “brute fact”, or–more polemically–“irrational” and “capricious”.

      • Then I need to learn more about the PSR because I’ve always thought it said that each contingent state of affairs has an explanation. Some explanations are non-causal. For example, God’s necessary existence has a non-causal explanation, partly because self-causation implies self-contradiction. It seems to me that each contingent event has a cause, even if that event has always existed. Even if the universe has always existed, it still requires God to conserve or sustain it. Divine conservation is even a kind of creation from nothing. So if there are uncaused contingent states of affairs, please give me an example of one.

      • Indeed, the strongest versions of the PSR assert that even necessary truths have sufficient reasons. NB though that the reasons of necessary truths cannot be prior to those truths, for necessities are eternal necessarily, so that nothing can be to them prior. The necessary truths and their reasons – which we might as well call their relations – come along as an integral package deal.

      • The PSR is beginning to confuse me because I seem to remember that St. Thomas believes that his theology is compatible with chance events. In a logic course, another student asked our atheistic professor whether God can foresee our free choices. My friend Eleonore Stump believes that since each earthly event is what she calls ET-simultaneous with God’s simplicity and his immutability, he can’t foreknow anything. It’s as though he watches everything helicopter without coercing anyone. From our perspective, there are past, present, and future events. That confuses me because Ludwig Ott writes, “By knowledge of vision (scientia visionis) God also foresees the future free acts of rational creatures with infallible certainty. (De fide.)” (Ott 41).

        Ott, Ludwig. “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.” Ed. James Canon Bastible, D.D. Trans. Patrick Lynch, Ph.D. Charlotte: Tan Books, 1974.

      • Both Stump and Ott are right, but from different perspectives. Stump is right: from God’s perspective under the aspect of eternity, he doesn’t foreknow anything, because sub specie aeternitatis there is no before or after, but only now. Ott is right: from our perspective under the aspect of time, God has known from before all worlds – i.e., from before all temporal orders – everything that happens within them.

        So, yes: on Thomist metaphysics, divine omniscience is compatible with creaturely freedom. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t compatible with truly chance events, that have no reason or cause.

      • Hi BM,

        “I’ve always thought it said that each contingent state of affairs has an explanation.” That is indeed what it says. What I meant was not to deny that there are non-causal explanations, but that in causal explanations, according to PSR, the effect is necessary given the cause. Otherwise, there is no explanation for why the cause produced this effect rather than that. One can imagine a weaker principle that says that contingent beings must have causes. Therefore, the universe can only exist if God creates it. A stronger principle, more like the classical PSR, would say that there must be an explanation for why God made this universe rather than that universe.

        Even here, one can imagine a weaker and a stronger version. Suppose I have a choice between buying a blue shirt and buying a green shirt. I like both blue and green. I randomly choose the blue shirt. Is there an explanation for this? Well, since I’m a rational being, one can point to my motives–I need a shirt, and I do like blue. So my action is not utterly unreasonable, but, supposing my choice between blue and green really was arbitrary, part of it does remain unexplainable, since nothing explains my particular choice among equally viable ones. The strongest version of PSR would deny that arbitrary acts even of this sort ever actually happen. There must be an explanation, even if it is hidden in my unconscious psychology.

        The weakest principle above is all one needs to make the cosmological argument for the existence of God work. A moderate enhancement, that God’s acts have at least “insufficient” explanations, also seems plausible. One assumes, from God’s benevolence, that He would only create a world He saw much good in. The strongest principle would insist on sufficient, i.e. necessary and determinative, reasons, and would eliminate any freedom in God’s choice of which world to create. I don’t believe libertarian theories of free will applied to humans, so this might not be an issue for me in itself, but the contingency of the world seems obvious to me. This does not seem to be a uniquely best possible world, for example.

  5. Of course, the Mother of All Brute Facts is, for the atheist, “Existence Exists.” Sez the atheist, “There ain’t no reason fer it, it just be.”

    Problem is, ya can’t make ’em see their brutishness.

    • To a Thomist like me, that sounds like saying that God only happens to exist. But that possibility(?) contradicts classical theism.

  6. Oops, I forgot to something Feser points out in “Aquinas for Beginners” when he describes what Hume says about causes and events that always happen together. I’ll use my example to show you what Feser thinks.

    Suppose that while I’m in my room listening to my favorite Natailie Dessay CD, my best friend Tim sneaks into my home, sets up a new computer on my desk, and leaves, locking the back door behind him. Since I’m enjoying the mad scenes, I have no idea that anyone dropped by.

    Rolling my wheelchair into my room, I find the new machine. My first question will be, “How did that get here?” I won’t say, “Wow, it’s uncaused.” For all I know, the Enterprise could have beamed it into my room. Someone might have delivered it last night while I slept on the couch. I’d have no way to tell the difference between an uncaused event and an event with a cause no one can discover.

    Though I have no idea how the computer reached my desk, I’m sure someone or something actualized a possibility because the computer wasn’t there a day ago. St. Thomas Aquinas seems right to me when he teaches that for something to go from possibly having a property to actually having it, something already actual needs to make that happen. Think about a hierarchical causal series. You want a cause with built-in, underived causal ability because you hope to know why anything in the series exists now, even if it has always existed. Mr. Roebuck calls existence the atheist’s mother of all brute facts, and we’d like to know why anything exists.

  7. Bonald, I wonder why you scare-quoted “brute fact,” my friend. If I’ve argued soundly against brute facts, they’re fictional. What do you think of necessity of origin? Would your parents have conceived you with a different sperm and a different egg? It seems that since a new human person begins to live when a sperm fertilizes an egg, God would know what soul he creates when those two cells unite. God won’t think, “To turn Bill into someone else, I’ll replace his soul with a new one.” My body is mine if and only if my soul organizes that body’s matter. When I die, my body will change substantially into a corpse. My body and my corpse belong to different kinds. For St. Thomas and me, I won’t be my corpse. Since we believe a constituent ontology, we think I’ll live as my disembodied soul, though I’m more than that.

  8. Bonald, my friend, maybe we need to distinguish among kinds of necessity and among kinds of sufficiency. Even if the PSR is necessarily true, another necessity may still explain what caused an event. That necessity could be metaphysical, physical, or medical, say. Necessarily, each contingent event requires a cause. But I’m not sure that if the PSR is necessarily true, each caused event happens necessarily. If I say that, maybe I’m committing the modal fallacy. Would you tell me, “Bill, necessarily, God knows everything, so He knows everything necessarily?”

    What would it mean to say that God explains something insufficiently? Suppose St. Thomas’s metaphysics is true. Then some might say that God isn’t enough to cause natural events when they haven’t learned the difference between primary causes and secondary ones. But they’re still familiar with it in practice. For example, they know that for a train to move on the tracks, the engine needs to pull them because they can’t propel themselves. If classical theism is true, then God is the first cause, the one everyone else and everything else depend on to exist. In that sense, every other cause is secondary because if atheism were true, there would no one and nothing at all.

    Even if you can choose arbitrarily between a blue shirt and a green one, God has to sustain you, them, and your ability to choose either shirt, both shirts, or neither of them.

    BTW, please don’t allude to metabolic waste when you greet me. 🙂

  9. Pingback: CCLVIII – Best Possible Worlds – Times-Dispatch of Vichy Earth

  10. Not sure I understand the entirety of the arguments in the comments, but it has always struck me how ‘modern’ people manage to ‘explain’ things using such notions as ‘coincidence’, ‘randomness’ etc. As usual, arrogance, followed by pretense for knowledge; yet they fail at their own rules. It’s mesmerizing to observe.

    • Yes. Our naturalist interlocutors often recur to the argument that, given enough time and enough random disordered iterations, everything is bound to happen sooner or later – the 747 will eventually appear from the whirlwind roiling the junk yard – and that this suffices to an explanation of order. It is a particularly egregious example of the sort of “explanation” you notice. It’s really only a way of saying that order is not really order at all, and that there is nothing therefore to explain.

      “Order is nothing of the sort.” But they never want to state the plain consequence of their notions so forthrightly. Is not this sort of Sophist unreason utterly characteristic? It takes an amazing amount of chutzpah – or bad faith – to do it with a straight face.

    • A big eye-opener for me was the (what should have been) realization that the “randomness” often alluded to is not *ontologically* random–such a thing is probably not even a coherent idea. It generally, when you get down to it, means, caused by a series of factors that I do not understand or are too complex for us to figure out.

      The thought first came from a Zippy Catholic article on evolution, but it applies to a heck of a lot. What G.K. Chesterton said about instinct applies here too: to say that an migrating bird navigates by instinct is just to say that we do not know how the migrating bird navigates. Ditto for literally everything scientifically attributed to “chance.”


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