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5 Reasons Why the Universe Can’t Be Merely a Brute Fact

Universe2

Can the universe be a mere brute fact? Can we say, “The universe just exists and that’s that—it has no explanation at all”?

Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, thinks so. In a recent interview at Salon.com, Carroll says, “There’s certainly no reason to think that there was something that ‘caused’ it; the universe can just be.”

Carroll is in good company with such an assertion. Bertrand Russell, the late British atheistic philosopher, argued the same thing in the famous 1948 BBC radio debate with Fr. Fredrick Copleston: “I should say that the universe is just there, and that’s all.”

Notice neither Carroll nor Russell says the universe is self-explanatory in that its existence belongs to its nature, which would be the sort of explanation for God’s existence. Nor are they saying we don’t know what the explanation of the universe is. They are saying there is no explanation for why the universe exists rather than not. In essence they are denying the principle of sufficient reason, which states, “Everything that is has a sufficient reason for existing.”

How should we respond? Are we to exchange brute fact for brute fact and say, “Things just need an explanation, and that’s that”? Or is there a way we can show the appeal to brute facts is unreasonable? I answer the latter.

There are several arguments one can employ when arguing against the brute fact view, but for the sake of brevity, I will offer only five.

Double Standards

First, I find it interesting how it’s permitted for an atheist to appeal to unintelligible brute facts but not the theist. If a theist were to say, “God is just a brute fact, there is no rhyme or reason to his existence,” then an atheist would feel justified in denying him membership among the intelligentsia. This is manifest when atheists such as Richard Dawkins object to theistic arguments with, “Who designed the designer?”, thinking theists arbitrarily posit God as the terminus of causal series. If theists aren’t allowed to play the “brute fact” card (which we don’t do anyway), then atheists shouldn’t be allowed to do so either.

The Facts of Ordinary Life

A second response is to point out that we don’t appeal to brute facts when dealing with things in ordinary life. For example, suppose a team of police officers come across a dead body on their shift and begin conjecturing possible explanations. “It’s murder,” one says. “No, I think this was a suicide,” the other officer responds. Another officer says, “No, I disagree, I think the cause is a heart attack.” The last officer says, “We’re wasting our time here—it’s just an unintelligible and inexplicable brute fact that this corpse is here. Let’s keep going.” What would we think of such a police officer? How about, “He’s not a good one!” I think his chief would concur.

So, why should an appeal to a brute fact when faced with the existence of the universe be reasonable when an appeal to a brute fact when faced with a dead body is not?

Can’t Get Out of the Taxi

Our atheist friend might object, “I’m not saying we should accept the police officer’s appeal to a brute fact. I acknowledge everything in the universe probably has an explanation for its existence. But there is no reason to think the universe has to have an explanation for its existence.”

Besides the fact this objection begs the question against the theist—if God exists then the universe would have an explanation for its existence—it commits what some philosophers have aptly called the “taxicab fallacy”; thus a third argument against the brute fact view. Why commit to the idea “Whatever exists has a reason for its existence” and then dismiss it like you dismiss a taxicab once you arrive at the universe as a whole? Such a move is arbitrary and thus unreasonable.

“But,” an atheist might say, “isn’t a theist guilty of the same fallacy in saying God doesn’t have a cause for his existence?” The answer is no, because the theist is not saying God is a brute fact, i.e., he has no reason or explanation for his existence. It is essential to classical theism that God’s existence, though not caused by another, is explained by his essence. His essence is existence itself—ipsum esse subsistens. This is not something theists arbitrarily assert but is the conclusion of deductive reasoning that starts with certain features of the world—motion (change), efficient causality, contingency, degrees of being, and final causality.  So the theist is not guilty of the taxicab fallacy.

Skepticism of the Senses

Another reason the brute fact view is unreasonable is because it entails radical skepticism about perception. As philosopher Alexander Pruss argues in his essay “The Leibnizian Cosmological Argument” (in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland), if things can exist without any sufficient reason, then there might be no reason for our perceptional experiences.

For example, according to this line of reasoning there might be no connection between your experience of reading this article on a computer and the actual article the computer is showing on its monitor. Your experience might just be a brute fact having nothing to do with any of the objective things with which we normally would associate your experience.

Do we want to go down that bleak road of skepticism and say all our sensory experiences are untrustworthy? There might be some radical skeptics who choose to walk that path (such skeptics can read this article). But for most reasonable people this is not a path that can be traveled, because such a path leads to the demise of science, which is something I assume Carroll wouldn’t endorse because he would be out of a job.

We need to be able to trust our sensory perceptions if we intend to discover truths about reality through empirical observation. So, unless one is willing to throw science out, one shouldn’t allow brute facts in the game.

No Arguments Allowed

The last argument I’ll offer for consideration comes from philosopher Edward Feser in his book Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. Feser argues the denial of the principle of sufficient reason is at the same time a denial of rational argumentation, including any argument for brute facts. Consider how when we accept the conclusion “Socrates is mortal,” we do so based on the premises “All men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man.” In other words, we recognize the conclusion as rational because the premises are true and the argument is logically valid.

But if brute facts are possible, and the principle of sufficient reason is false, then it follows that our conclusion “Socrates is mortal” might have nothing to do with the truth of the premises and their logical structure. It might also be possible our cognitive faculties themselves had no role to play in explaining why we came to that conclusion.

The bottom line is, if brute facts are possible, there might be no reason whatsoever we believe what we do, even the belief that we believe on rational grounds. This applies to any conclusion we might draw, even the conclusion “Things can exist without a reason for their existence.” But if the conclusion “Things, like the universe, can exist without a reason for their existence” might itself be a brute fact—namely, it has no connection to truth or logic—then we would have no reason to accept it as true. So to deny the principle of sufficient reason undercuts any ground one might have for doubting the principle. It’s self-refuting and thus unreasonable.

Conclusion

Sean Carroll is a brilliant man. He is courageous in taking on heavyweights of the likes of Dr. William Lane Craig. But why such a great mind can’t see the rational implications of denying the principle of sufficient reason, I do not know. Perhaps he just hasn’t thought it through. Or perhaps he just isn’t willing to open the door to a line of reasoning that leads to theism. Whatever may be the case, the appeal to brute facts is not a good parry when in the ring with a theist.

Karlo Broussard

Written by

After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Will

    Notice neither Carroll nor Russell says the universe is self-explanatory in that its existence belongs to its nature, which would be the sort of explanation for God’s existence.

    Both of these men are smart enough to avoid this. Saying existence belongs to it's nature is nothing short of begging the question. One could say existence belongs to the nature of the universe, but then what? You can't prove that's true anymore than you can be sure that existence is a property of the divine, you just claim it.

    In his book, Carroll doesn't say there is no explanation for the universe, he says there doesn't have to be one. There could be one that we haven't discovered yet, of course :)

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      That God's essence is to exist is not simply a claim. It is a proof. Specifically, ch. 22 of Contra gentiles.
      http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#22

      Whether you accept the proof or not, it is not merely a claim, but a line of reasoning.

  • Will

    The bottom line is, if brute facts are possible, there might be no reason whatsoever we believe what we do, even the belief that we believe on rational grounds. This applies to any conclusion we might draw, even the conclusion “Things can exist without a reason for their existence.” But if the conclusion “Things, like the universe, can exist without a reason for their existence” might itself be a brute fact—namely, it has no connection to truth or logic—then we would have no reason to accept it as true. So to deny the principle of sufficient reason undercuts any ground one might have for doubting the principle. It’s self-refuting and thus unreasonable.

    This makes no sense to me. Sure there can be explanatory chains that bottom out in brute facts. Why does matter warp space time to create what we call gravity? No current explanation, it just is. Of course, there may be an explanation, but that will result in a lower level that bottoms out in brute facts. I have no idea why God isn't a brute fact, the explanation that he "exists necessarily" isn't an explanation at all. Matter warps space-time necessarily. You see, that's not an explanation at all.

    Why all the emotionalism about "self-refuting". It's a completely nonsequitur....

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      But no physicist worth his salt will claim a priori that there is no explanation.

      • Will

        No argument there.

  • Will

    The first proponent of the PSR was Spinoza. He also show where there can only be one substance an idea called monism. All naturalists are monists.

    Proposition 1: A substance is prior in nature to its affections.

    Proposition 2: Two substances having different attributes have nothing in common with one another. (In other words, if two substances differ in nature, then they have nothing in common).

    Proposition 3: If things have nothing in common with one another, one of them cannot be the cause of the other.

    Proposition 4: Two or more distinct things are distinguished from one another, either by a difference in the attributes [i.e., the natures or essences] of the substances or by a difference in their affections [i.e., their accidental properties].

    Proposition 5: In nature, there cannot be two or more substances of the same nature or attribute.

    Proposition 6: One substance cannot be produced by another substance.

    Proposition 7: It pertains to the nature of a substance to exist.

    Proposition 8: Every substance is necessarily infinite.

    Proposition 9: The more reality or being each thing has, the more attributes belong to it.

    Proposition 10: Each attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.

    Proposition 11: God, or a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence, necessarily exists. (The proof of this proposition consists simply in the classic “ontological proof for God’s existence”. Spinoza writes that “if you deny this, conceive, if you can, that God does not exist. Therefore, by axiom 7 [‘If a thing can be conceived as not existing, its essence does not involve existence’], his essence does not involve existence. But this, by proposition 7, is absurd. Therefore, God necessarily exists, q.e.d.”)

    Proposition 12: No attribute of a substance can be truly conceived from which it follows that the substance can be divided.

    Proposition 13: A substance which is absolutely infinite is indivisible.

    Proposition 14: Except God, no substance can be or be conceived.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spinoza/#GodNatu

    I don't think the PSR hold up everywhere, but I like that fact that it encourages us to always look for an explanation even when it looks hopeless. Anything can be taken too far, of course.

  • Will

    It seems authors on this site read Salon.com quite a bit :) I prefer Scientific American myself, here is a short interview:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/godless-universe-a-physicist-searches-for-meaning-in-nature/

    • GuineaPigDan .

      Yeah, I was thinking that was kinda odd. Trent Horn already wrote an article responding to the same Salon interview with "Stephen Colbert's favorite atheist physicist" (SCFAP for short) that Broussard is covering. I guess SN just liked having two different Catholic perspectives on the same interview?

  • David Nickol

    But why such a great mind can’t see the rational implications of denying the principle of sufficient reason, I do not know. Perhaps he just hasn’t thought it through. Or perhaps he just isn’t willing to open the door to a line of
    reasoning that leads to theism. Whatever may be the case, the appeal to brute
    facts is not a good parry when in the ring with a theist.

    If Karlo Broussard wants to understand Sean Carroll better, I suggest he buckle down and read The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, which has been available now for two months.There is no need to rely on interviews in Salon when Carroll's own book is available. His discussion of the Principle of Sufficient Reason begins on page 40.

    • David Nickol

      Sean Carroll says on page 41 of The Big Picture:

      Our standards for promoting a commonsensical observation to a "metaphysical principle" should be very high indeed. As Scottish philosopher David Hume . . . pointed out, the Principle of Sufficient Reason doesn't seem to rise to that level. Hume noted that conceiving of effects without causes might seem unusual, but it does not lead to any inherent contradiction or logical impossibility.

      Why Karlo Broussard does not understand this, I do not know. Perhaps he just hasn't thought it through. Or perhaps he just needs to leave this door open for the sake of other theistic arguments.

      • Rob Abney

        You are right, Broussard must not have read Carroll's book or he wouldn't have made this statement where he assumes Carroll would not embrace such a skeptical position, "Do we want to go down that bleak road of skepticism and say all our sensory experiences are untrustworthy? There might be some radical skeptics who choose to walk that path (such skeptics can read this article). But for most reasonable people this is not a path that can be traveled, because such a path leads to the demise of science, which is something I assume Carroll wouldn’t endorse because he would be out of a job."
        As Hilary Putnam put it, realism is “the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success of science a miracle.”

      • "Hume noted that conceiving of effects without causes might seem unusual, but it does not lead to any inherent contradiction or logical impossibility."

        Of course, this view of Hume's has been refuted ad nauseum by theistic, atheistic, and agnostic scholars alike. A short response is that you cannot conceive of an effect without a cause. You may be able to conceive of an effect without also thinking of a cause, but this is not the same as conceiving of an effect that doesn't have a cause.

        (Thus the theist could easily turn your quote on its head and say, "Why David Nickol does not understand this, I do not know. Perhaps he just hasn't thought it through.")

        • David Nickol

          (Thus the theist could easily turn your quote on its head and say, "Why David Nickol does not understand this, I do not know. Perhaps he just hasn't thought it through.")

          I singled out Broussard's speculation about why Carroll "does not understand this" because it is a classic example of something that must have a name, although if it does, I do not know what it is! Why, oh, why, Broussard wonders, doesn't Sean Carroll agree with me. I see it so clearly. There must be something wrong with him! This reminds me of a favorite TED talk, of which this is the pertinent excerpt (starting at 9:54):

          Think for a moment about what it means to feel right. It means that you think that your beliefs just perfectly reflect reality. And when you feel that way, you've got a problem to solve, which is, how are you going to explain all of those people who disagree with you? It turns out, most of us explain those people the same way, by resorting to a series of unfortunate assumptions. The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they're ignorant. They don't have access to the same information that we do, and when we generously share that information with them, they're going to see the light and come on over to our team. When that doesn't work, when it turns out those people have all the same facts that we do and they still disagree with us, then we move on to a second assumption, which is that they're idiots (Laughter) They have all the right pieces of the puzzle,
          and they are too moronic to put them together correctly. And when that doesn't work, when it turns out that people who disagree with us have all the same facts we do
          and are actually pretty smart, then we move on to a third assumption: they know the truth, and they are deliberately distorting it for their own malevolent purposes. So this is a catastrophe.

          One possible reason why Sean Carroll disagrees with Karlo Broussard may be that Sean Carroll is right and Karlo Broussard is wrong. If Mr. Broussard thinks Sean Carroll hasn't thought things through sufficiently, he should make it clear what he thinks Sean Carroll hasn't thought of. And if he thinks Carroll "just isn’t willing to open the door to a line of reasoning that leads to theism," then Mr. Broussard should let us know whether he is attempting to psychoanalyze Sean Carroll or accusing him of being a fraud.

        • Doug Shaver

          A short response is that you cannot conceive of an effect without a cause.

          Yes, because if you call something an effect, then by the definition of "effect" you presuppose a cause. If the universe had no cause, then it is a mistake to call it an effect.

        • Will

          You may be able to conceive of an effect without also thinking of a cause, but this is not the same as conceiving of an effect that doesn't have a cause.

          Effect: Matter warps space-time to form gravity.
          Cause: ?

          At bottom, all forces in physics are like this, they seem to be brute facts. Radioactive decay is another obvious example. Of course, we can't prove that future physics will not have an explanation but there is excellent reason to doubt it.
          For any explanation, I can always come up with new questions about facts in the explanation and I can't see how you can't end up bottoming out in brute facts. Do you have a poll that shows the majority of philosophers/scientists accept the PSR? I'm skeptical of that claim.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Effect: Matter warps space-time to form gravity.
            Cause: ?

            You are not asking for a cause. You are asking for a mechanism. The cause here is "matter" and the effect is "gravity," which is shorthand for "the way things seem to mover about." How this happens is a different issue, one which like all "how?" questions lies within the bailiwick of physical science,

            As a matter of form, I understand that matter itself is a particular local state of the field of Ricci tensors.

            Besides, it is the principle of sufficient reason not the principle of sufficient metric efficient causes.

            And as for the radioactive decay, we can actually make that happen, that is, we can cause it to happen, via neutron bombardment. Would this be possible if radioactive decay were simply a divine miracle and the alpha, beta, or gamma particles merely "poofed" into existence? Most people who claim that the emission of an electron or other particle is uncaused are confusing "caused" with "predictable."

          • Will

            You are not asking for a cause. You are asking for a mechanism. The cause here is "matter" and the effect is "gravity," which is shorthand for "the way things seem to mover about." How this happens is a different issue, one which like all "how?" questions lies within the bailiwick of physical science,

            So matter causes matter to warp space-time? Of course that's saying it's self-caused which is essentially calling it a brute fact. We could also ask why entropy always increases in a closed system. The current answer for all of these is they just do, they are physical brute fact.
            Of course, some future discoveries could explain these phenomena, but they would likely bottom out in brute facts as well, unless one simply says "God wanted it that way".

            And as for the radioactive decay, we can actually make that happen, that is, we can cause it to happen, via neutron bombardment. Would this be possible if radioactive decay were simply a divine miracle and the alpha, beta, or gamma particles merely "poofed" into existence? Most people who claim that the emission of an electron or other particle is uncaused are confusing "caused" with "predictable."

            Just because you can force the decay, it does not mean their is a cause for the spontaneous decay. We know exactly what we are saying. As far as we know, the timing of spontaneous radioactive decay is uncaused. As far as we know, electron magnetism just is. We know what causes radioactive decay in general, but we do not know, and may never know, if or what causes it to decay this moment, over that. Of course, we could have a physics breakthrough tomorrow, we'll see :)

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            So matter causes matter to warp space-time? Of course that's saying it's self-caused which is essentially calling it a brute fact.

            Matter is not space-time, so if matter causes space and time, it is not self-causing. In particular, time is a measure of change in material being. It is not a thing in itself.

            As far as we know, the timing of spontaneous radioactive decay is uncaused. ... We know what causes radioactive decay in general, but we do not know, and may never know, if or what causes it to decay this moment, over that.

            That may be a consequence of mathematization: Time is not a variable in most of the equations. Newton's laws cannot predict which apple will fall from which tree when, either. But the average weight of an airline passenger, used to calculate lift-off speed, does not tell us which in-flight movies are preferred. Besides, causation does not require predictability. There are a series of murders in Phoenix currently all being caused by the same serial killer. But the fact that he is a cause does no mean we know or can know when he will strike next.

          • Will

            Matter is not space-time, so if matter causes space and time, it is not self-causing. In particular, time is a measure of change in material being. It is not a thing in itself.

            The point is there is a brute fact here, or there seems to be. What is the reason that matter causes space and time, assuming it does (which is debatable). What is the reason for electromagnetism. It seems brute facts are inescapable in physics. If we peel the onion of current brute facts, we are left with more. The idea that there are no brute facts at all seems deeply problematic here.

            Newton's laws cannot predict which apple will fall from which tree when, either.

            Actually, we could with sufficient information. Very key is the connection of the apple to the tree, and how much force it takes to pull it from the tree. Of course, this will vary over time as the tree weakens it's support of the apple, but I don't see how that's a problem in principle. When the break force becomes less than the weight of the apple + agitation from wind, the apple will fall. As far as we know, spontaneous decay timing is can't be calculated in principle. Cause of apple falling when it does: force on stem exceeds strength of stem. Cause of spontaneous decay: ? I hope that clarifies the difference.

            Besides, causation does not require predictability.

            I don't know how you can show causation if there is no predictability at all. Surely there is room for probabilistic predictability, but there must be some predictability. Otherwise I could say apples cause cancer, but you can't predict how often or when. To say something causes something else is to predict that if event A (cause) occurs, event X (effect) will occur afterward. Prediction seems a fundamental part of causation.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The point is there is a brute fact here, or there seems to be. What is the reason that matter causes space and time

            Matter is extended and changeable. Space and time are measures of extension and change. Let's not reify them as if they were things in themselves.

            It seems brute facts are inescapable in physics. If we peel the onion of current brute facts, we are left with more. The idea that there are no brute facts at a
            ll seems deeply problematic here.

            Let's not confuse 'brute fact' with 'I don't know the reason.' It's not an epistemological problem; i.e., a statement of what we don't know right now. It's a claim that there is no reason whatsoever for the existence of some thing. So science may as well throw in the towel.

            Newton's laws cannot predict which apple will fall from which tree when, either.

            Actually, we could with sufficient information.

            IOW, with sufficient reason? It may be impossible even in principle to measure all the relevant factors without at the same time altering those factors. Much easier to just shake the tree of your choice and get it over with. Yet in other circumstances, the inability of a particular set of equations to make a prediction (and the absence of t from the formulae) is taken as evidence that no causes are at play.

            I don't know how you can show causation if there is no predictability at all.

            The cause of a team is the choice of its final member. But this does not result in a prediction of when that final member will be chosen.

            Otherwise I could say apples cause cancer, but you can't predict how often or when.

            Then you would be an activist. Otherwise you would still have to provide a Sufficient Reason why it should be so.

            To say something causes something else is to predict that if event A (cause) occurs, event X (effect) will occur afterward. Prediction seems a fundamental part of causation.

            The principle of sufficient reason claims that given an explanandum like X, there must be an explanans A, even if we are currently ignorant of it. But the explanandum need not "occur" "afterward" in time. It could be concurrent with the explanans. For example, see the formation of a team noted above, or the conclusion of a syllogism being concurrent with the propositions in it. In the case of eternal beings, there is no before and after.

        • MNb

          "you cannot conceive of an effect without a cause."
          Effect: a radioactive atom decaying at moment X, not at moment Y.
          Cause: none according to Quantum Mechanics.
          Thanks for confirming that you reject Modern Physics.

    • "If Karlo Broussard wants to understand Sean Carroll better, I suggest he buckle down and read The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, which has been available now for two months.There is no need to rely on interviews in Salon when Carroll's own book is available. His discussion of the Principle of Sufficient Reason begins on page 40."

      I actually just finished my (way too long) review of The Big Picture today, after reading the book twice. My review is 10k+ words so I'll likely roll it out in parts over the next couple weeks.

      For what it's worth, Carroll offers no reason to doubt the PSR in his book and, disappointingly, he doesn't engage any arguments by serious philosophers who have defended it. He paints it as a common sensical position that people just take for granted without warrant. But if he really wants to doubt it, a position held by the majority of scientists, philosophers, and common men, he needs to, for example, consider the fine work of people like Alexander Pruss on the topic: https://www.amazon.com/Principle-Sufficient-Reason-Reassessment-Philosophy/dp/0521184398/?tag=ththve-20

      • David Nickol

        For what it's worth, Carroll offers no reason to doubt the PSR in his book and, disappointingly, he doesn't engage any
        arguments by serious philosophers who have defended it. He paints it as a common sensical position that people just take for granted without warrant.

        His discussion is very brief, and I have already quoted part of it, but I think you have misrepresented what he says. To quote again, "Our standards for promoting a commonsensical observation to a 'metaphysical principle' should be very high indeed." The principle of sufficient reason is a commonsensical position, and it makes perfect sense to take it for granted in our everyday lives. But elevating it to the position of bedrock metaphysical truth is what may be without warrant.

        I look forward to your review.

        • "To quote again, "Our standards for promoting a commonsensical observation to a 'metaphysical principle' should be very high indeed.""

          I agree.

          "The principle of sufficient reason is a commonsensical position, and it makes perfect sense to take it for granted in our everyday lives."

          I agree.

          "But elevating it to the position of bedrock metaphysical truth is what may be without warrant."

          It may be, and it may not be. Which is why we have to examine the particular reasons its strongest supporters give. Carroll does not do this in his book, and nor do pretty much any of the commenters here who question the PSR.

      • Doug Shaver

        But if he really wants to doubt it, a position held by the majority of scientists, philosophers, and common men, he needs to, for example, consider the fine work of people like Alexander Pruss on the topic: https://www.amazon.com/Princip...

        I just finished Part 1, in which he presents his argument for the PSR. I found a case for plausibility but not necessity (except for an argument that if it's true, then it's necessarily true). I'm going to read it again to see what I might have missed.

  • "I find it interesting how it’s permitted for an atheist to appeal to unintelligible brute facts but not the theist."

    It depends on what you are appealing to it for. If it were to justify belief in the thing, yes it is not permitted. Atheists do not justify belief in the universe on this basis, nor do theists justify their belief in gods on this basis.

    The issue arises in answer to the question "what caused ___" it is fair play for atheists to suggests the universe may be a brute fact or for theists to suggest that God may be and the universe is contingent.

    A double standard would arise if theists were to say that atheists cannot say the universe is a brute fact because everything must have a cause or an explanation outside of itself, but that God does not need a cause or explanation.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      The author covered that already. Philosophers like Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, or Jayanta Bhatta do not simply assert the existence of deity as a brute fact, but as the conclusion of a chain of reasoning starting from a variety of different premises.

      To put is another way, the theists have sufficient reason to assert that God is Existence Itself. The antitheists have produced no such reasons as yet. Remember, a "reason" is not necessarily an "efficient cause."

      Euclidean geometry builds up from a double handful of "brute facts": the five axioms and the five postulates. But the appeal to brute facts is too much like taking any new theorem that is difficult to prove and simply appending it as another "brute fact." The Greeks, being by some measures wiser than Moderns, actually spent much of their time trying to demonstrate that the fifth postulate was not a postulate at all, but provable from the other four. They failed, and it is now proven that no such proof is possible within Euclidean geometry. The best you can do is replace P5 with a modified P5, in which case you get a different geometry.

  • On "the facts of ordinary life", it is simply not a fair analogy. The difference is our background information. Given our background information, based on thousands of years of human experience, we know that generally people do not "just die". We have billions of examples of people dying from disease, trauma, or natural causes. Because of this it is not reasonable to ignore that evidence and say the body in that state is a brute fact.

    However, in terms of origins of universes, we have no background knowledge. This does not mean we do not look for causes or explanations. Indeed we have looked and Carrol is one of those looking. We haven't found anything and indeed we cannot conceive of any external cause or explanation. In this circumstance, it is not unreasonable to say, when asked, it could be a brute fact.

    The issue is not that atheists cannot prove the universe is a brute fact. Rather that the universe being contingent is a key premise in cosmological arguments for the existence of some god concepts. They must make the argument that it is impossible or unlikely that the universe is a brute fact, to help prove this premise. This argument does not assist them.

    • "However, in terms of origins of universes, we have no background knowledge. This does not mean we do not look for causes or explanations. Indeed we have looked and Carrol is one of those looking. We haven't found anything and indeed we cannot conceive of any external cause or explanation."

      I find this very interesting. Bracketing the unsupported claim that we can't conceive of an external cause or explanation (a couple billion theists would disagree with that), I wonder what sort of causes/explanations you suppose Carroll (and presumably other physicists) are searching for. Given the limitations of science, which can only legitimately probe the natural world (i.e., that which is measurable or observable within the universe), how could it ever in principle detect an external cause or explanation?

      To me it seems, if what you say is true (and I have reasons to doubt it), that scientists are looking for something they can never (not will never, but can never) find.

      • But theists do not conceive of an explanation. They have a label: God. They have vague attributes of this God such as transcendent and spiritual. But this is not an explanation. This is nothing I can conceive of. I cannot conceive of something that exits but has no dimension and no temporal persistence.

        I don't know perhaps science can find some other natural cause for this universe, which theists will again claim must be contingent and cannot be a brute fact.

        But my point here is that there has been no argument that the universe cannot or is unlikely to be a brute fact.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Actually, the attributes are fairly specific, and they follow as logical consequences from the existence theorems.

          If you can conceive of a geometrical point, then you can conceive of something that exists but has no dimension and no temporal duration. (There is no "time" variable in geometry.)

        • "I don't know perhaps science can find some other natural cause for this universe, which theists will again claim must be contingent and cannot be a brute fact."

          I'm curious, how are you defining "universe" here? Because it seems to me the only way you avoid circular reasoning here is by dramatically misunderstanding the word "universe."

          If by universe you mean--as almost every person does--the sum total of all space, time, matter, and energy (in short, all of nature), then there can't be a natural cause outside the universe! That would be like saying "maybe one day we'll discover some apple that caused all fruits".

          • I would define "universe" here as our local universe, as opposed to any other universes in any multiverse that may exist. I could also expand it to all matter and energy.

  • The "can't get out of the taxicab" is difficult to follow, but it is not the case that atheists would say "I believe everything in the universe has a cause for its existence, but not the universe itself" On the use of "existence" as existing as opposed to nothing, all matter and energy in the universe is understood to have existed for all time. Nothing has "begun to exist" in the universe, using exist in this way. So I think this is really a straw man argument.

    The author then states that theists do not believe that God is a brute fact. He excludes from his definition of "brute fact" as things that "though not caused by another, is explained by his essence. His essence is existence itself—ipsum esse subsistens."

    I would adopt this same exclusion for what I mean by "brute fact". In answer to theist questions about "what caused the big bang" or "what is the explanation for the universe" I would say "it need not be caused by another, it is its own explanation". Needless to say I do not know the explanation or how it need no cause, but I would be on the same page as the theist with God, except that we constantly observe the universe, and never observe God.

    [i do not understand this essence is existence comment, so I do not think I can adoopt it.]

    • "The "can't get out of the taxicab" is difficult to follow...."

      The taxi cab fallacy is committed when you "hop into" a worldview (e.g., skeptical free-thought) in an attempt to make a particular point (e.g., that blind faith and dogma are bad), but then arbitrarily jump out of the taxi (i.e. the worldview) when it suits your fancy (i.e., when it comes to big questions like, why does the universe exist?)

      To their credit, most skeptics are hungry for the truth and ask deep questions about meaning and origins. But when it comes to the greatest questions of all, such as "why does the universe exist?", many suddenly jump out of the taxi, shrug their shoulders, and dismiss the question with a casual, "Well, it just is..."

      It's an arbitrary rejection of the skeptical free-thought they rode for many miles.

      • George

        Are you saying most skeptics are these folks who shrug in such a non-self-aware manner?

      • For some questions there is simply insufficient information to draw conclusions. For example, if we find a puddle of water that we know was once a block of ice. But if we do not have any information on the shape of that block, we just can't piece it together from the water. We can try, we can learn what we ca about water. But if our investigation does not lead us to any way to make inferences about the shape of the block, it is entirely reasonable to say "I don't know".

        Fundamental to the skeptic free thought movement is to not make claims one cannot justify. This issue is one.

        But of course, the contingency premise is not a premise atheists rely on, it is one theists advance.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          If the puddle of water does not explain its own existence, then it is contingent upon something else to explain it. That is, if the essence of water puddles is just "to exist" then its sufficient reason would be itself and the true believer would be justified in saying "It Just IS!" in place of "God DID it!" But note that this would still be a sufficient reason.

    • "All matter and energy in the universe is understood to have existed for all time. Nothing has "begun to exist" in the universe, using exist in this way. So I think this is really a straw man argument."

      Sure, but time had a beginning; it doesn't extend eternally into the past. Which means all matter and energy came into existence at a particular t=0.

      "Nothing has "begun to exist" in the universe, using exist in this way."

      That's not true. In fact, just the opposite is true. Everything in the universe began to exist, roughly 13.7 billion years ago.

      • George

        How do you know the universe is contingent?

        • Mike

          it could've been different

      • Brandon you are not recognizing the strangeness of this singularity. Proposing that there was a time zero does not make sense. There could not have been a time zero when the universe did not exist, because this presumes a temporal framework for it to "begin" in. We do not know if there was a time zero as the dimension of time loses meaning in the very early universe as do spatial dimensions. The equations but them at infinite.

        You've just mistake with my second comment. It was that nothing has begun to exist IN the universe. If the universe "began" all of its energy and matter "began" along with it. Nothing began to exist in a universe that exists, other than, I understand these virtual particles.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          There could not have been a time zero when the universe did not exist

          Precisely. Because time itself is contingent upon the existence of matter. Brandon did not say that there was a time when the universe did not exist. He said that time had a beginning. You should think of t=0 as a lower bound, like 0 is the lower limit for the positive real numbers. There is no lowest positive real because you can always halve whatever number is proposed. But you can come arbitrarily close to 0 and can never go below it without entering the world of negative numbers.

    • "In answer to theist questions about "what caused the big bang" or "what is the explanation for the universe" I would say "it need not be caused by another, it is its own explanation". Needless to say I do not know the explanation or how it need no cause, but I would be on the same page as the theist with God, except that we constantly observe the universe, and never observe God."

      I think you're still confused on this point, Brian. Neither the Big Bang nor the universe can explain themselves because both are contingent. This has been explained to you many times in these comment boxes. If something is contingent, it cannot explain its own existence. There must be something outside itself which explains 1) why it exists, and 2) why it exists the way it does, and not some other way (or in the case of the Big Bang, why it happened the way it did and not some other way).

      The only alternative is to hold that the Big Bang and/or the universe exists necessarily and I don't know any serious philosophers or scientists who believe that. If you do, I'd be happy to explore your evidence.

      • i dont know it the universe is contingent or necessary. People have stated it is contingent many times and I have points out the flaws in their reasoning.

        Something that is contingent must be either caused or sustained by something other than itself. It has not been demonstrated that this is the case with the universe.

        I don't believe one way or the other. But I didn't write a piece providing 5 arguments in support of one side.

        Theists, as a premise in various arguments must justify that the universe is contingent. They don't do this, but claim it is, and put atheists to the burden of proof to show it is not contingent. But this is an unreasonable shifting of the burden of proof. It does not follow that if I cannot demonstrate it is a brute fact that it is not. It just means I don't know. The theist still needs to demonstrate its premise that it is contingent.

        • "I dont know it the universe is contingent or necessary."

          It is contingent because all the elements within it are contingent.

          "People have stated it is contingent many times and I have points out the flaws in their reasoning."

          Where? When? I've asked you several times to provide any reason to think the universe itself or any part of it is necessary and you've yet to provide any support.

          "Something that is contingent must be either caused or sustained by something other than itself."

          This isn't an accurate definition of contingent. To be contingent means a thing's existence depends on some other explanation, something that explains why a thing exists, why it is the way it is (and not some other way), or both.

          "It has not been demonstrated that this is the case with the universe."

          Every single thing within the universe is contingent. Thus, the universe is contingent. (And this is not an example of the fallacy of composition, as has been shown multiple times on this website.)

          At some point, Brian, we have to stop going round and round this circle. Theists here have provided strong support for thinking the universe is contingent. You never engage those arguments. You simply either 1) ignore them and claim they were never made, or 2) deny them without reason. Both reactions are intellectually irresponsible and, personally, just frustrating.

          • ""People have stated it is contingent many times and I have points out the flaws in their reasoning."

            Where? When? I've asked you several times to provide any reason to think the universe itself or any part of it is necessary and you've yet to provide any support."

            See above, I do not know or have beliefs on the necessity or contingency of the universe. Others have argued it is and this is unconvincing. E.g. it is ngent because all the elements within it are contingent. I do not agree with this premise. It would need to be established. What elements? Contingent in what way?

            "To be contingent means a thing's existence depends on some other explanation,"

            This doesn't make any sense. For example, the film the Big Lebowski is contingent on the Coen Brothers making it, among other things. I have just provided a partial explanation of the film's existence, but the film is in no way contingent on that explanation, or any other explanation. It is contingent on its causes.

            "Every single thing within the universe is contingent." I do not know that. Indeed, I do not see why the existence of every thing in the universe is necessary. The arrangement at any given point would be contingent on previous states, but that does not mean the existence of the whole is contingent.

            "You never engage those arguments." I disagree.

          • For example here is one place I engaged directly with the contingency argument. I even stated that I did not see any argument for the contingency of the universe and asked people to point out the argument.

            https://strangenotions.com/why-something-rather-nothing/

    • Stipulating the Universe extends infinitely back in time achieves nothing. Consider an infinite chain of dominoes falling on each other. There is no first domino that falls, so no first cause. But the question still exists as to why the chain of dominoes exists in the first place.

      So is the existence of the Universe a brute fact or not?

      • Yes, I am aware of the first cause argument. I do not know if the universe is a brute fact or not.

        • Mike

          do you mean like a buddhist interpretation of an eternal cyclical wheel of samsara universe? although even they say that the point is to try to escape the wheel i think.

      • Peter

        Dominoes are not a goof analogy because they are a material thing within the universe and are subject to the arrow of time. They will wear out.

        If the big bang is regarded as the point of lowest entropy within the universe, the arrow of time could, according to quantum time reversal, have begun to run in opposite directions, forward into the future and backwards into the past, as entropy grows in both directions. This gives way to an eternal universe which, from our point of view, eternally contracts from the past to the big bang and eternally expands into the future from the big bang.

        Such an eternal universe would be a brute fact since it would have no beginning. Depending on which side you were looking at it from, it would contract from/expand into an eternal realm of heat death. This realm would not only be eternal but also infinite as the universe eternally contracts from or expands into it. Such an infinite and eternal realm would require no explanation for its existence.

        • Not too long ago I considered the Universe *might* possibly be a
          brute fact. For example in a blog entry dated 5th Jan 2012 I say:

          "Can something come out of such absolute nothingness? I have no idea. Personally I suspect it's way beyond the intellectual capacity of human beings to answer such a question". From here:

          http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/changing-definitions-of-words-does-not.html

          OK, I confess I might be changing my mind.

          Consider a pint of beer standing on a table. Why doesn't it fall to
          the ground? Because the table is holding it up. But suppose the table doesn't have any legs? The table top is just sitting there suspended in mid-air. Now let's suppose it was claimed there is no reason whatsoever why the table top is suspended there in mid-air and ignoring gravity. It is just an unintelligible brute fact.

          But if there is no reason it hasn't fallen to the ground, but rather it's just an unintelligible brute fact, then, in turn, it cannot convey any reason for why the glass doesn't fall.

          Essentially I'm now starting to think the Universe cannot just be a brute fact, to have just sprung into existence for no reason at all, because it makes everything else unintelligible too.

          • Peter

            An eternal universe would not have sprung into existence at all. It would have always existed. The question of why it exists instead of not existing would be meaningless.

            Asking why the universe exists is asking why it began to exist, and it did not begin to exist. Asking why it exists is asking why it did something that it did not do. There are no reasons for it to have done something that it did not do.

          • I already addressed the point about an eternal UNiverse with the infinite chain of falling dominoes.

            Suppose we observe a chain of toppling dominoes. Which would be the best explanation for why they are all falling over?

            a) The very first domino just fell over all by itself without any cause whatsoever.
            b) The chain of dominoes is infinitely long so no first cause is required.
            c) An external agent pushed the very first one over.

            "a" is to give up on rational explanations. If the first domino falls all by itself, then why can't all the other dominoes just fall by themselves?

            "b" simply leaves unanswered as to why an infinite chain of dominoes exists. It either exists without a cause i.e their existence is an unintelligible brute fact-- in which case
            again we have to give up on rational explanations -- or they were caused by some type of external agent.

            Now if the infinite chain of falling dominoes exists without a cause, then the situation is exactly the same as in "a". It's to give up on rational explanations.

          • Peter

            As I said before, dominoes are not a good analogy because, being material things in our universe, they are subject to the arrow of time and will eventually wear out. It is impossible to use any material thing within our universe as an analogy for infinity because everything is subject to increasing entropy.

            Dominoes are subject to increasing entropy. There must have been a point when their entropy began and where their arrow of time starts. This means that the dominoes must have had a beginning and, again because of entropy, will have an end. Dominoes with a beginning and an end cannot constitute an eternal and infinite chain.

            On the other hand a universe which is time-reversed at the quantum level has entropy growing, and the arrow of time pointing, in opposite directions. This gives the appearance of eternity as explained above. It has no discernible beginning from our point of view. It did not begin to exist and therefore no explanations are necessary for what it didn't do.

          • You don't understand the word analogy!

            Forget about your physics, entropy, things wearing out. This is philosophy.

          • George

            And your intelligent agent just ends up being an intelligent domino, raising the same questions.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            No, it indicates that the agent is not itself one of the dominoes, but rather something outside the dominoes that made the arrangement of dominoes in the first place, and its manner of acting is not that of toppling, but of arranging.

          • Peter

            In order to derive any genuine philosophical meaning from an analogy, the analogy must be realistic. The notion of infinity simply does not exist within the universe. My point is that an analogy of any kind of infinite series is meaningless, just pointless mental gymnastics. Any conclusions drawn from it are irrelevant, no matter how elegant or subtle the reasoning may appear.

            In order to understand infinity and eternity we must look at models which are at least theoretically possible, such as the time-reversed universe. Although there is no evidence of such a universe, the construction of such a model does not contradict the known laws of nature. Once we are on solid theoretical ground, we can move on.

            From our point of view, a time-reversed universe contracts from eternity to a point of minimum entropy and then expands into eternity. Observers in the contracting universe will see theirs as expanding and ours as contracting. To both sets of observers, the universe is eternal in the past and in the future, without a beginning or an end.

            This is the modern version of an eternal universe adopted by atheists such as Sean Carroll. It takes the big bang into account by calling it the point of lowest entropy where quantum forces prevail permitting time-reversal. The notion of an eternal universe as a brute fact has existed for many centuries and, despite the discovery of the big bang, still continues to do so.

          • No, the analogy does not need to be something which could actually obtain. It's merely a device in order to get someone to understand something. In this case it's failed to get you to understand. So no further purpose is served in continued communication.

          • Peter

            I do understand, but I do not accept the conclusions because the premises are unrealistic.

          • The notion it has to be physically realistic is dimwitted in the extreme. An infinite chain of falling dominoes is metaphysically possible.

          • Peter

            You can live in a metaphysical world; I prefer to live in a real one.

          • Will

            Just because something is "metaphysically possible" doesn't mean it is actually possible. Personally I'm generally more concerned with what is actually possible.
            Science has taught us well that our intuitions about what is possible or likely are often quite wrong. Too many any philosophy still hold that our intuition should hold some special place as metaphysical truth, but that seems to be a form of denialism or simply a complete lack of scientific knowledge. The best philosophers that I have read are also pretty knowledgeable in science. Carroll is a scientist, but he is also a philosopher (minored in it). This blend is ideal for approaching big questions.
            WRT your domino analogy, there might be a first cause, but there is no reason to suppose it is minded or has agency without the fine tuning argument which has it's own problems. There is also an inherent problem in comparing universes to things inside our universe. If anything exists outside of our universe, it could follow radically different rules that we may be unable to even comprehend.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            An eternal universe would not have sprung into existence at all. It would have always existed.

            Asking why X exists is not asking why it began to exist. Imagine an eternal beach in the sand of which is planted an Eternal Foot. Beneath the Foot is the Eternal Footprint. The cause of the Footprint is the Foot, even though both have always existed.

            In a lot of these discussions, there is an assumption of temporality in causes. This may be often the case, but is not necessarily the case. Just as t=0 in Big Bang cosmology, there may be boundary values at which things differ. Suppose you choose up sides for a pick-up baseball game. The team exists as soon as the ninth player is chosen. There is no time lag between the choosing of the ninth player and the completion of the team. Cause and effect are simultaneous.

          • Peter

            Imagine an eternal beach in the sand of which is planted an Eternal Foot. Beneath the Foot is the Eternal Footprint.

            This analogy is meaningless to me because an eternal beach simply cannot exist in our universe, nor can an eternal foot. Eternal beaches and feet are theoretically impossible. The causes and effects they portray have little realistic value.

            An eternal universe on the other hand, is not theoretically impossible. Granted, there is no evidence of it, but it does not contradict the laws of nature as your above analogy does, and is therefore worthy of more serious consideration.

            There is no time lag between the choosing of the ninth player and the completion of the team.

            I do not believe that the process of choosing the ninth player involves zero time. It could take a second, a minute, an hour or a day. Only when that process is complete does the team exist, just as when the last brick is laid the building is finished, but the laying of the brick takes time.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            This analogy is meaningless to me because an eternal beach simply cannot exist in our universe,

            An excessive literalism often underlies a failure of imagination. Of course, the eternal does not exist within the material universe, something overlooked by those who claim the universe is eternal. Matter is the principle of change. That's why time is contingent on matter.

            The purpose of the analogy is simply to show that a thing may have a cause without having a beginning at all, and so to specify a sufficient reason for something need not be to specify a metric efficient cause, let alone a beginning-to-be, as some here have contended.

            I do not believe that the process of choosing the ninth player involves zero time.

            Perhaps not; but the team does not exist as such until the ninth player is chosen, however long it may take you to decide to choose him. Once you have chosen him, you have your team. While you are dithering over the choice, you do not have your team.

          • Peter

            The purpose of the analogy is simply to show that a thing may have a cause without having a beginning at all....

            If you are arguing that something without a beginning must have a cause, then in the eyes of many non-believers or potential believers, you are arguing that an eternal God must have a cause. Many, indeed most, people are not blessed with either the ability or the patience to comprehend the extreme subtleties of scholastic thought which describe a God whose nature it is to exist.

            What they imagine is an eternal God with no beginning and therefore no need for an explanation. If you insist that anything with no beginning still needs an explanation, you are, in the eyes of many, insisting that God needs an explanation. This encourages those who deny God's existence to keep asking the same question, what explains God?

            God created all human beings to know him, and not just the few who are capable of the mental gymnastics of scholastic philosophy. The simplest, straightest, surest way to understand God is that he has existed forever and is beyond explanation, indeed that he is a brute fact.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If you are arguing that something without a beginning must have a cause,

            I'm not. I wrote "a thing may have a cause without having a beginning," This is because some folks here had confused having-a-cause with some sort of temporal process. But the order of causation is not the same as the order of time. For example, A may precede B without being a cause of B. In similar fashion A may cause B without preceding B in time.

            then ...you are arguing that an eternal God must have a cause.

            What part of uncaused cause is too subtle to understand?

            Many, indeed most, people are not blessed with the ability to comprehend the extreme subtleties of scholastic thought

            Nor the subtleties of nuclear physics, nor the subtleties of art criticism, nor even the subtleties of haute cuisine. That's life. Most people lack either the time, the skill, or the interest to delve too deeply into any subject other than the one(s) that fascinate them. In all other matters, they have faith that the folks telling them stuff are speaking sooth.

          • Peter

            "a thing may have a cause without having a beginning,"

            Therefore, just as a universe without beginning may have a cause, so too may an eternal God.

            What part of uncaused cause is too subtle to understand?

            There are plenty of people here and elsewhere who find it too subtle either to understand or to accept. That is not to say that I personally do not accept it. I do accept it, though not because of its subtlety. I accept it because I believe an eternal God to be a brute fact and therefore an uncaused cause.
            Even though an eternal universe is a theoretical possibility as a brute fact in its own right, I still regard God as the fundamental brute fact behind the universe. The progressive disclosure by science of an ever harmonious cosmos is evidence enough in my eyes that it is the product of a supreme mind. This revelation trumps any debate on whether the universe is eternal or not.

            "Many, indeed most, people are not blessed with the ability to comprehend the extreme subtleties of scholastic thought"

            Nor the subtleties of nuclear physics, nor the subtleties of art criticism, nor even the subtleties of haute cuisine. That's life.

            I don't think you can make the comparison. God made us to know him, not least for our own salvation. It should be possible for all to know God, not just an elite few with the ability, patience and time to unravel the complexities of metaphysics. An eternal God without a beginning and beyond explanation fits that bill.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Therefore, just as a universe without beginning may have a cause, so too may an eternal God.

            You can say 'may' but you ought to show reason why a thing is so and not simply assert it. A potato "may" be an intelligent creature, but one needs some basis on which to build the conclusion.

            There are plenty of people here and elsewhere who find [uncaused cause] too subtle either to understand or t o accept .

            .
            That may be because your thinking is too materialistic.

            In the second way, St. Thomas seeks to prove the existence of a first uncaused cause. "[A] cause is a positive principle upon which something really depends for its existence. And so when St. Thomas proves there is a certain first uncaused cause, he is showing there is some being who only gives existence, and receives existence from no other. But this is to say nothing other than this being has the source of its existence within itself. To speak of a first uncaused cause it to speak of a being who could say, in real truth, I AM WHO AM (i.e. I am my own existence)." -- Chastek, https://thomism.wordpress.com/2006/06/15/what-does-st-thomas-claim-all-call-god-in-his-five-ways/

            I don't think you can make the comparison [among things people do not have the time, skills, or interests to delve into]. God made us to know him, not least for our own salvation. It should be possible for all to know God, not just an elite few with the ability, patience and time to unravel the complexities of metaphysics.

            Ooh, "elite," the Late Modern curse word! But certainly. That's why there is revelation as well. Except in the Modern Ages, people started getting all sorts of personal revelations without collegiality and outside the traditions, and we wound up with hundreds if not thousands of sects. It was hard enough even when we had a calibration lab. Now we have people who think God has a material body and lives on another planet and a variety of other logical absurdities. That's what we get for no longer teaching logic.

          • Peter

            Let's be clear, I do not for one moment deny St Thomas proofs. That's not my aim. My aim is to highlight that they are not available to the vast bulk of humanity. As you say, revelation which was an available means of knowing God has been subject to diverse and conflicting interpretation causing even greater confusion.

            Perhaps now, through scientific discovery, a third way is opening up. The more we discover about the universe, the more it appears to be the product of a great mind. This is very significant. Not too long ago, science was meant to turn humanity permanently away from God. Every new discovery was expected with utter confidence to be another fatal blow against theism. Yet, most shockingly for those who anticipated this, the reality turned out to be quite different.

            Scientific discovery has revealed an intelligible universe of impossibly fine-tuning, of elegance, harmony and widespread fertility, a universe with the appearance of being the product of considerable thought. This is the very opposite of a universe predicted with great confidence not long ago to be utterly godless..

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Perhaps now, through scientific discovery, a third way is opening up.

            Science discovers only the metrical properties of physical matter. These can be useful, say foe medicines and nerve gasses, but as its uses indicate, it is morally neutered.

            The more we discover about the universe, the more it appears to be the product of a great mind.

            That was Aquinas' Fifth Way, which you say is inaccessible to the hoi polloi.

            This is very significant.Not too long ago, science was meant to turn humanity permanently away from God.

            Modern Science was never "meant" to do anything except discover the metrical properties of physical bodies and use them to produce profitable products. (cf. F. Bacon, R. Descartes). Individual scientists must have meant to do their own thing, whatever that may have been; and perhaps some thought that a careful analysis of chord progressions and vibrating strings could do away with the need for a composer or pianist. But major discoveries that shaped modern science were made by religious folk who thought otherwise. Copernicus was a canon of Frauenburg Cathedral once short-listed for the bishop's seat; Riccioli (who first measured acceleration due to gravity) was a Jesuit; Gregor Mendel, who solved genetic inheritance, was an Augustinian monk; Georges Lemaitre, of Big Bang fame, was a diocesan priest in Belgium. Not to mention devout Presbyterians like Maxwell or heterodox loonies like Kepler or Newton. Clearly, they thought science was meant for something else.

            The idea that God can be found revealed in the "Book of Nature" is a mefieval one that the Early Moderns forgot.m (cf. R. Bacon, R. Grosseteste, et al.) But its like any other aesthetic judgment. One man can look at Mona Lisa and appreciate the artistry of DaVinci

          • Peter

            Still, science drove men to look the other way from God.

            "As science seemed to establish itself on an impregnable basis of experimentally verified fact, doubt and confusion eventually gave way to self-confidence, THE BELIEF THAT THE UNKNOWN WAS MERELY THE UNDISCOVERED, and the general assumption–unprecedented in the Christian era–that man was to a great extent the master of his own destiny"
            (my capitals)
            Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment 1968, p.35

          • Rob Abney

            science drove men to look the other way from God

            That started long before science was around, in fact it started with the first humans.

          • Doug Shaver

            Matter is the principle of change.

            Not on my reading of the scientific literature. You may, of course, read that literature differently than I do.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Matter is the principle of change.
            Not on my reading of the scientific literature.

            Science does not dig into its own presuppositions, so you won't find a discussion in the scientific literature. Science takes it a given that matter is changeable. Personally, I'd be astonished if uranium did not change into lead, or sodium and chlorine did not change into salt or that ponderable matter did not fall toward the point of lowest gravitational potential. Basic matter is potentially anything, what Heisenberg called 'mass-energy' and equated with Aristotles 'prime matter.'

          • Doug Shaver

            Science does not dig into its own presuppositions

            Science is an abstraction. It can't do anything with presuppositions. I assume you mean to say that scientists don't dig into their own presuppositions?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Sure.

          • Doug Shaver

            Digging into presuppositions is something philosophers do, and most scientists are not philosophers. I think I'm pretty well read (for a non-professional) in the philosophy of science, and I haven't come across a writer on the subject yet who claimed that scientists presuppose that matter is the principle of change.

  • "if things can exist without any sufficient reason, then there might be no reason for our perceptional experiences."

    Correct!, But it also "might" be the case that the reason for our perceptual experiences is that these events did occur. You need more than possibility to argue one way or the other. We can reach no conclusions from the fact that radical skepticism may be true.

    There is no argument here that if the universe is a brute fact, it is unlikely that there is no reason for our perceptual experiences. If the universe is a brute fact it would be an ideal explanation and reason for these things. It would just be the case that there is not "ultimate" reason.

    So what?

    • "We can reach no conclusions from the fact that radical skepticism may be true."

      Of course we can. This is a technique known as reductio ad absurdum. If we both agree that radical skepticism is untenable--and it seems we do--then any argument that necessitates it should be discounted, especially if there are more reasonable alternatives that don't end in radical skepticism.

      • But no one has advanced that radical skepticism is tenable or not. No one has advance a premise that necessitates radical skepticism being true. The fact advanced in this piece is that radical skepticism might be true. It might. It might not.

        The point is that the truth of radical skepticism has nothing to do with whether the principle of sufficient reason is true or whether the universe is a brute fact.

        radical skepticism may be false and the universe may be contingent, but we can still not have enough information to justify beleiving in either.

        • Doug Shaver

          But no one has advanced that radical skepticism is tenable or not

          Then it's time someone did. Radical skepticism entails that we cannot know anything. But, it is intuitively obvious that we do know some things. Therefore, at least intuitively, radical skepticism is false.

          Will that work for you?

          • I agree with that, but this doesn't mean it might not be true, which is all Karlo is threatening. Not are the case, and neither tells us anything about whether the universe is a brute fact.

          • Doug Shaver

            I agree with that, but this doesn't mean it might not be true,

            Possibility is not probability. The universe either is or is not a brute fact, regardless of whether or with how much certainty we can know one way or the other. The only thing we can sensibly debate is what we're justified in believing and with what degree of confidence. If radical skepticism is true, then the entire discussion is just a waste of our time. But if we justifiably believe it's not true, then we're entitled to just ignore it, never minding whether anybody has proved it or disproved it to a mathematical certainty.

          • Again, no disagreement with anything you said. Which is why my initial comment was: "You need more than possibility to argue one way or the other. We can
            reach no conclusions from the fact that radical skepticism may be true."

            The point being that what Karlo said is that an effect of believing the universe is a brute fact is that radical skepticism "might" be true. Implying that this effect would be something that a naturalist would not be able to accept and therefore must accept PSR and the contingency of the universe.

            My point was that I already accept that radical skepticism "might" be true, so this is not a barrier to my disbelieving PSR or the brute fact of the universe.

          • Doug Shaver

            I get it now. Thanks for your patience.

  • "The bottom line is, if brute facts are possible, there might be no
    reason whatsoever we believe what we do, even the belief that we believe
    on rational grounds."

    Actually it is equally true if brute facts are impossible. I would dispute though that the laws of logic would be in question in that case as they are self-attesting. Arguments would still be completely valid, we just might no be able to prove any premises. Yes, this is the case.

    I can find no argument in this piece for why the universe cannot be a brute fact. Indeed, the best it gets to is if the principle of sufficient reason is not true, then we may not be able to justify belief in anything empirical.

    Well, that was the case even if the principle of sufficient reason is true, so this gets us nowhere.

    • "I can find no argument in this piece for why the universe cannot be a brute fact."

      Did you read the article? He gave five.

      You might disagree with those arguments, and if so, you should show why. But to say you can't find any arguments means you either didn't read the article or you're being disingenuous.

  • GCBill

    I'm sorry to say that I disagree with most of this article, though I still appreciate the opportunity to discuss it. I'll try to keep my comment reasonably brief:

    With regard to Broussard's 1st objection, theists are allowed to appeal to brute facts, and in (non-brute) fact some do. This review of Swinburne's Is There a God? implies that the author makes such an argument (disclaimer: I have not read this work). I actually think an argument from brute fact consolidation is one that more theists should explore more. Perhaps they could use it in conjunction with the classical lines of argument so that theism comes out looking good regardless of what the proper stance on brute facts turns out to be? That seems a better strategy than betting everything on the PSR.

    The 2nd and 3rd objections don't take into account the fact that, as the Scholastics frequently remind us, God isn't the same type of "thing" as anything in the created order. Why would our ordinary rules of inference apply in that case?

    WRT objection 4: the fact that others share the same perceptual experiences under the same conditions suggests that should their underpinnings be brute, they are at the very least lawlike. That's certainly good enough for meaningful "worldly" action.

    I'm honestly not sure what is meant by objection 5. How does the possibility that some things could simply be true without further explanation undermine all syllogistic reasoning and other forms of rational argumentation?

    As a more general comment, I am also confused as to what "explaining" something entails here. I have a naive concept, but I don't want to misattribute to Broussard an idea that he doesn't share. Furthermore, I wouldn't be surprised if explaining explanation were a thorny philosophical issue in itself.

    EDIT: grammar and punctuation

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    I am a firm believer in the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). That said, I don't think any of the points Karlo brings up here will be at all convincing to anyone who doesn't already accept the PSR. Let me say why:

    Double Standards: Carroll's position, and the position of most PSR skeptics is not that the universe is a brute fact. It's that they don't know whether the universe is a brute fact or not. Maybe it is, and maybe it's not. If the universe does have an explanation outside itself, then maybe that explanation is a brute fact, or maybe it's not. Each fact can be explored individually to determine whether it is a brute fact. Which gets to...

    The Facts of Ordinary Life: The fact that most things have an explanation is not by itself a good reason to think that everything has an explanation. That all swans I've seen are white is not sufficient cause to believe that there cannot possibly exist black swans. What many PSR believers often do is even worse! They apply the white swan principle to things that aren't swans. Sure, maybe human bodies have explanations for why they are dead, but that doesn't mean universes (which are not human bodies or anything much like human bodies) need to have explanations for why they started.

    Can’t Get Out of the Taxi: Well, for the reasons above, I think there is quite a bit of room to get out of the taxi. We might notice a rule for most things in existence, cars, trees, rocks. They slow down and eventually stop after you push them. Everything that stays in motion needs something or someone pushing it. So we apply this rule to absolutely everything. Like planets and stars. They need movers too. So we have gods or angels, unmoved movers, pushing the planets and stars. Only, that's not the way planets and stars work. We know that everything in our everyday experience has a beginning, at least as far as we've seen. That's not good enough reason to think that absolutely everything has a beginning. Same for explanations. Lots of things happening to have explanations is not a sufficient reason for absolutely everything requiring an explanation.

    Skepticism of the Senses: This is a good point Pruss makes, but it's a good point regardless of whether the PSR is true or false. If the PSR isn't universally true, maybe our senses actually do have no good explanation. If on the other hand the PSR is universally true, our senses have to have a good explanation. Maybe the will of a wicked demon is that good explanation. In that case, there will still be no prima facia reason to think that our senses are reliable. In other words, the PSR does not solve the problem of hard solipsism, and so hard solipsism is not a good objection to those who reject the PSR.

    We end with what I think is Karlo's worst argument (which unfortunately might be Feser's best):

    No Arguments Allowed: Just because not everything has an explanation doesn't mean nothing has an explanation. If we have a good explanation for something, that by definition justifies our accepting it. Otherwise, it's not an explanation. Something may not have an explanation, say, that a particular atom decays at a particular moment, that may not have a full explanation for why that moment and not another moment. That doesn't invalidate all of nuclear physics. Or there may not be a fully satisfying explanation that completely explains why I chose to eat Cheerios instead of Raisin Bran this morning. That doesn't mean all my decisions are irrational.

    In other words, as someone who believes in the PSR, I wouldn't try to convince the PSR skeptics using these reasons. These will only be convincing to people who already accept the PSR. They shouldn't cause PSR skeptics to rethink the PSR. The reasons offered here for the PSR don't meet the high standards of the PSR: they are insufficient reasons.

    • David Nickol

      This is remarkably clear, to the point, and persuasive!

  • Doug Shaver

    God’s existence, though not caused by another, is explained by his essence.

    Is that a brute fact?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      No.

    • "Is that a brute fact?"

      No, as Ye Olde Statistician so economically noted. A brute fact has no explanation. God does have an explanation: his nature, which is to exist.

      • Doug Shaver

        You're answering a question I didn't mean to ask. If I say of any entity E that it has such-and-such a nature, is it a brute fact that E has that nature and not some other nature?

        • "You're answering a question I didn't mean to ask. If I say of any entity E that it has such-and-such a nature, is it a brute fact that E has that nature and not some other nature?"

          Ah, sorry for misunderstanding. My fault! I think I see now. You're asking whether the statement (God’s existence, though not caused by another, is explained by his essence) is a brute fact.

          The answer would again be no. It is the conclusion of a philosophical argument.

          As "Ye Olde Statistician" has noted elsewhere in this thread:

          That God's essence is to exist is not simply a claim. It is a proof. Specifically, ch. 22 of Contra gentiles.

          http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles1.htm#22

          Whether you accept the proof or not, it is not merely a claim, but a line of reasoning.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. Thank you for the clarification.

    • Peter

      The subtleties of scholastic thought aside, God can only be regarded by the bulk of humanity as a brute fact. This puts him in direct competition with an eternal universe as a brute fact. It's the same old battle that's been going on for centuries, with the development of science changing the odds between one and the other.

      The discovery of the big bang which shows the universe has a beginning has not altered the odds in favour of an eternal God. Despite the big bang, the idea that the universe is eternal still remains a theoretical possibility which does not contradict natural laws. We must look elsewhere for God. We will not find him by proving the finitude of what he is deemed to have created.

      In this respect we can still rely on science, not to ascertain that the universe is finite but to reveal the workings of the universe to be the handiwork of a great mind. The question of the universe having a beginning or not is no longer the battleground in determining the likelihood of God. Instead, God is gradually revealed by the progressive discoveries of science pointing increasingly to a universe so harmonious that it could not have been the product of either chance or necessity.

  • Doug Shaver

    First, I find it interesting how it’s permitted for an atheist to appeal to unintelligible brute facts but not the theist.

    No argument is invalidated by the hypocrisy of whoever makes it. Its invalidity has to be demonstrated independently of any reference to the character flaws of the person using it.

    A second response is to point out that we don’t appeal to brute facts when dealing with things in ordinary life.

    The universe makes ordinary life possible. The universe’s origin is hardly a part of ordinary life. We have no reason to simply assume that whatever we can say about ordinary life must also be true of the universe’s origins.

    So, why should an appeal to a brute fact when faced with the existence of the universe be reasonable when an appeal to a brute fact when faced with a dead body is not?

    What we believe about dead bodies is based on thousands of years of experience with millions of dead bodies, both human and nonhuman. We have no analogous experience with entire universes.

    commits what some philosophers have aptly called the “taxicab fallacy”

    In this particular context, to call it a fallacy is to commit another fallacy that most philosophers call the fallacy of composition—the assumption that whatever is true the constituents of some entity must be true of the entire entity.

    Of course, an argument from composition is not necessarily a fallacy. There could be good reason to believe that some property of the constituents must also be a property of the entirety. But this must be demonstrated, not assumed.

    Another reason the brute fact view is unreasonable is because it entails radical skepticism about perception.

    No, it doesn’t.

    As philosopher Alexander Pruss argues . . . if things can exist without any sufficient reason, then there might be no reason for our perceptional experiences.

    Right: “might be.” A sensible epistemology has to allow for probabilities, but possibility does not entail any probability except something other than zero. We have good reasons for thinking it highly probable that our perceptional experiences, in general and in ordinary situations, are reliable. Philosophers are just doing their job if they ask “What if we’re wrong?” and explore whatever consequences they can imagine, but until they get some answers that are anything but the products of their imaginations, the rest of us are justified in ignoring them.

    Do we want to go down that bleak road of skepticism and say all our sensory experiences are untrustworthy?

    Logic will not lead us down that road from the fact, if it should be a fact, that the universe has no cause.

    Feser argues the denial of the principle of sufficient reason is at the same time a denial of rational argumentation

    I can’t analyze his argument until I’ve seen his argument, and I’m not going to buy his book just so I can score a debating point.

    But if brute facts are possible, and the principle of sufficient reason is false, then it follows that our conclusion “Socrates is mortal” might have nothing to do with the truth of the premises and their logical structure.

    Is this what Feser actually says? It looks like a non sequitur to me. Maybe Feser includes the sequitur in his book, but if so, it should have been included with the post.

    I cannot avoid the suspicion that this is just a Catholic version of the presuppositionalism advocated by some Protestant evangelicals. According to them, if we can’t believe in God—and much more particularly, what they say about God—then we can’t believe in anything at all. This is Ken Ham’s position. I don’t doubt that Feser’s argument is quite a bit more sophisticated than Ham’s, and if I should discover that it is valid in a way that Ham’s isn’t, then I’ll admit my error. Pending that discovery, though, I can’t see any way to deduce a justified mistrust of basic logic from a denial of the PSR.

    • "I can’t analyze his argument until I’ve seen his argument, and I’m not going to buy his book just so I can score a debating point."

      I think this comment is very telling about your motives here. It seems you think the only benefit of reading someone's book, or considering their argument, would be to "score a debating point." But perhaps there are other good reasons, such as finding the truth?

      "I don’t doubt that Feser’s argument is quite a bit more sophisticated than Ham’s, and if I should discover that it is valid in a way that Ham’s isn’t, then I’ll admit my error."

      But of course you seem unwilling to consider Feser's actual argument, so it's likely you'll never admit your error.

      • Doug Shaver

        It seems you think the only benefit of reading someone's book, or consider their argument, would be to "score a debating point." But perhaps there are other good reasons, such as finding the truth?

        To affirm "If A then B" is not to affirm A. If I had good reason to believe that Feser would show me a truth that had previously eluded my attention, then of course it would be worthwhile to get his book and read it. But I have already read enough of his work to have a reasonable expectation of the kind of argument he would offer in defense of the proposition that "denial of the principle of sufficient reason is at the same time a denial of rational argumentation." Perhaps you or someone else here can show me why that expectation is not as reasonable as I think it is. But until then, I have no basis, other than my previous experience with him, on which to judge the likelihood that reading his book will be worth the expenditure of my time and financial resources.

        But of course you seem unwilling to consider Feser's actual argument, so it's likely you'll never admit your error.

        If anyone can summarize his argument in this forum, I will consider it. I am not trying to avoid encountering new ideas, even if they are inconsistent with my present worldview. But I am an old man, and I'm trying to avoid wasting what little time remains of my life.

        • Rob Abney

          Here's an explanation by Feser that might explain the issue, hopefully you can read it and still have some time remaining in your life!
          http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/hume-science-and-religion.html

          • Doug Shaver

            Thank you for the link. I have given it a quick read. I will read it again more carefully and be back again with my analysis.

            My concern is not with the impact on the rest of my life of reading one more book. It is with the impact of acquiescing to every person I meet who says, "You are wrong about X, and if you read this book written by this authority, you will see why you are wrong." I actually have, in recent years, purchased and read a few books solely at the urging of Christian apologists who assured me that those authors had soundly defeated the objections I was raising against Christianity.

          • Doug Shaver

            PSR defined: "Everything that is the case must have a reason why it is the case. Necessarily, every true or at least every contingent true proposition has an explanation. Every event has a cause." (Alexander R. Pruss, The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 3. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10130436.)

            I am defending my rejection of the following proposition, attributed to Feser: “denial of the principle of sufficient reason is at the same time a denial of rational argumentation.” (https://strangenotions.com/5-reasons-why-the-universe-cant-be-merely-a-brute-fact/). I am told that Feser defends this proposition in his essay “Hume, Science, and Religion” (http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/06/hume-science-and-religion.html).

            Now, the PSR is a universal affirmation: Everything has a cause. But Hume is making a universal denial: Nothing has a cause. Obviously, if Hume is right, then the PSR is false, but the converse fails. Logically, one can deny the PSR without claiming, as Hume seems to claim, that causation does not even exist. To deny that the PSR is necessarily true, we need affirm only that there is possibly at least one exception to it. But then a defense of the PSR must demonstrate that some uncaused state of affairs is not even a possibility.

            The particular claim at issue here is whether a denial of the PSR leads to a denial of rational argumentation. I agree that it does, but only if it is a necessary truth. In my epistemology, any proposition expresses a necessary truth if and only if its negation asserts or entails a contradiction. If the PSR is a necessary truth in that sense, then its denial entails a contradiction, and to affirm any contradiction is to deny rational argumentation. We must see then whether, in his refutation of Hume, Feser establishes inter alia the necessary truth of the PSR.

            Feser presents two interpretations of Hume, which we might call (following his lead) radical skepticism and skeptical realism. I will stipulate, for the sake of discussion, Feser’s assertion that radical skepticism “would undermine almost every claim to knowledge.” As for skeptical realism, Feser summarizes it thus:

            The idea would then be that Hume’s view that our belief in objective causal relations is impervious to rational criticism anyway, since we can’t help but cling to it given our nature, also entails that the science we base upon this belief is something we can hardly bring ourselves consistently to doubt. Yet if causation might in fact have an objective basis even if we can’t know or understand it, so too would science. Hence we need not dismiss science, any more than causation, as an illusion. We may be unable either to justify it (rationally speaking) or to doubt it (psychologically speaking), but it doesn’t follow that a Humean has to regard our belief in it as either false or strictly meaningless.

            He then claims that such a view is not “plausible or even coherent all things considered, either as an interpretation of Hume or as a defensible position in its own right,” but plausibility is often in the eye of the beholder.

            I don’t much care whether Hume himself would say, “Yes, that is just what I meant,” because we skeptics are not obliged to agree with everything that any of our authorities say. But I do find skeptical realism, as presented by Feser in his own words, consistent with those portions of Hume’s comments about causation that I do agree with.

            But then Feser goes on to remark that according to this Humean view, “despite its being rationally unjustifiable, science is OK; and natural theology would be OK too if only it were good science.” It is true that Hume seems to have despaired of finding a rational justification for science. He apparently concluded that the problem of induction is unsolvable, and many philosophers to this day seem to agree with him. But not all philosophers. Some of us think the problem has a solution, provided only that we give up the quest for perfect certainty regarding any empirical issue. Real science can never say, about any empirical statement, “This cannot be wrong.” Science must admit at least a hypothetical possibility that we could be mistaken in our belief, e,g., not only that the sun will rise tomorrow, but that it has always risen in the past or, for that matter, that it has ever risen.

            Science is about probable truths, and the mere assertion that something is possible is to say no more than that its probability is not zero. Reason has never dictated that we ought to believe nothing except what it is certainly true. And neither does the usual definition of knowledge imply that we can know nothing except what we can believe with provable infallibility. We cannot know what is actually false, but we can know anything that is actually true if we just have a good enough reason to believe it, and this is regardless of any ongoing debates about what makes our reasons good enough.

            But Feser then seems to concede that none of this really matters. Science may or may not be justified, but even if, or in whatever sense, it could be justified, “as I show in TLS (and I am hardly the first person to show it), the classical First Cause arguments are not empirical quasi-scientific “God of the gaps” arguments at all, but rather attempts at metaphysical demonstration.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if it’s bad science, because it’s not supposed to be any kind of science in the first place.

            Feser then offers a precis of that metaphysical demonstration:

            And the relevant metaphysics is the Aristotelian kind, which claims precisely to be doing nothing more than extending what we already take ourselves to know in common life. In particular, Aristotelian-Thomistic First Cause arguments attempt to show that the existence of a First Cause is a necessary precondition of there being anything like what common sense understands as “causation” in the first place. So, if for the Humean (or “New Humean”) our “common life” beliefs about causation (a) may well be correct, and (b) are legitimately held by us despite their rationally unjustifiable status, why may we not also accept the conclusion of such First Cause arguments? We are back once again to asking: If science is OK, why not natural theology?

            Why not, indeed?

            Because, it seems to me, Aristotelian metaphysics presupposes a kind of infallibility for certain of our intuitions that I see no reason to think are infallible. For just one instance, Aristotle apparently believed that any word we use must have one particular objectively true meaning that can and must be discovered only by the proper exercise of reason. That is a common intuition, and perhaps Aristotle had no good reason to question it. But we do. In the centuries since Aristotle’s time, we have learned that the words of any natural language are defined by all of the people who use the usage and not by anything else. We learn what a word means by learning, one way or another, what other people mean when they use that word, and if they use it in many ways, then it has many meanings. As individuals, we might prefer one meaning and use the word only in that way. If we do this, we risk being frequently misunderstood, but there is else wrong with it. Language has no function but communication, which is the transfer of information from one human mind to another.

            A bit later, Feser says,

            to reject those [First Cause] arguments entails rejecting after all the idea that common sense is right even about the very possibility of objective causal connections – which means in turn rejecting even an “animal faith” justification of our commitment to science.

            To agree with Hume, or to be any other kind of modern empiricist, is not to claim that common sense is never right or should be routinely ignored. It is simply to accept the demonstrable fact that common sense is not infallible. Common sense told Aristotle and many of his contemporaries that some people were slaves by their nature. It was no doubt also common sense that told him heavy objects had to fall faster than light objects. If common sense tells us X, we don’t either accept or reject X just because common sense says it. We subject X to various tests. If it passes them, then we accept it. If it fails, we don’t say, “We’ll never trust common sense again.” What we say is, “Common sense was mistaken with regard to X.” And from that observation we might infer, “Common sense is perhaps usually reliable, but it’s not infallible.” I would argue furthermore that any metaphysical view that selected some common-sense observations and treated them as if they were infallible is rationally indefensible.

            I need not even know what common sense says about causal connections. I can justifiably affirm their existence without affirming the necessary truth of the PSR and its consequent First Cause.

            If we are really to take “common life” seriously, then, we have to take seriously the metaphysics which makes it even minimally intelligible, namely something like A-T metaphysics.

            I don’t know what Feser means by intelligibility, but if I correctly perceive what most people mean by that word, then common life is entirely intelligible to me without anything like A-T metaphysics.

            And that returns us yet again to the question we started out with: How can a Humean consistently accept science and yet reject First Cause arguments for the existence of God? The unavoidable answer seems to be: He can’t.

            What a Humean can or cannot do is irrelevant. His philosophy is not the only alternative to theism. I disagree with some of Hume’s claims. That does not compel me to accept the PSR, and neither is there anything in Feser’s essay that compels me to accept it. He does not demonstrate that its denial entails any contradiction.

          • Rob Abney

            Doug, that’s quite a reply, I’m glad you read the Feser article, but I don’t think you addressed his main point. But please clarify a couple of points for me if you don’t mind,

            What is the basis for this statement?

            “Aristotle apparently believed that any word we use must have one particular objectively true meaning that can and must be discovered only by the proper exercise of reason.”

            and, Does Feser or any specific theist take this following position that you argue against?

            “I would argue furthermore that any metaphysical view that selected some common-sense observations and treated them as if they were infallible is rationally indefensible”

          • Doug Shaver

            but I don’t think you addressed his main point.

            It sometimes happens that I fail to notice what an author's main point is. If you tell me what you think Feser's main point was, I'll address it now.

            What is the basis for this statement?

            “Aristotle apparently believed that any word we use must have one particular objectively true meaning that can and must be discovered only by the proper exercise of reason.”

            Something I read in one of his works a long time ago. It would probably take me several hours to find it again. If anyone thoroughly familiar with his writings wants to claim he never said any such thing, I won't argue the point at this time.

            Does Feser or any specific theist take this following position that you argue against?

            “I would argue furthermore that any metaphysical view that selected some common-sense observations and treated them as if they were infallible is rationally indefensible”

            I wouldn't expect anyone to say it in so many words, but it's the sort of thing we all do on some occasions. The study of critical thinking is about, among other things, learning to notice when one is doing it.
            It's the kind of mistake that is usually much easier to see when someone else makes it, but we all do make it.

            [Edited for typo.]

          • Rob Abney

            Did you address this? How can someone consistently accept science despite skepticism about the existence of a sufficient reason for everything and yet reject First Cause arguments for the existence of God?

          • Doug Shaver

            Did you address this?

            I thought I did.

            How can someone consistently accept science despite skepticism about the existence of a sufficient reason for everything and yet reject First Cause arguments for the existence of God?

            Insofar as Feser's article attempted to prove the inconsistency, I attempted to show that his proof was unsound.

  • Peter

    There's certainly no reason to think that there was something that 'caused' it; the universe can just be.

    In his 2005 paper with Jennifer Chen, Sean Carroll claims that the big bang was the point of lowest entropy in a quantum time-reversed universe. At that point entropy, and thus time, would have grown in two directions, forwards into the future as our universe and backwards into the past as a time-reversed universe.

    This in another way of saying that the universe is eternal, since our universe would grow infinitely into future and the time-reversed universe would grow infinitely into the past. There would have been a bounce event 13.8 billion years ago when the time-reversed universe, eternally contracting from our point of view, reached a point of lowest entropy and began expanding as our own universe.

    Nothing has changed from centuries past. Over that time godless philosophers and scientists have taken an eternal universe as a brute fact in place of God as a brute fact, on the grounds that there is no sign of God. And they still continue to do so.
    In the 20th century, scientists such as Svante Arrhenius did so and so did philosophers such as Bertrand Russel. Now, in the 21st century, self-styled philosopher-scientists such as Sean Carroll are doing the same. Nothing has changed

    http://www.gravityresearchfoundation.org/pdf/awarded/2005/Carroll_Chen_SECOND_2005.pdf

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Interesting that no one in the comments has yet raised the following point.

    1. The universe is not a thing, but the mereological sum of things: dark matter, hydrogen, stars, planets, etc. That is, "the set of everything that physically exists."

    2. As such the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe is the existence of the elements that comprise it, much as a sports team's existence is contingent upon the existence of its players.

    3. To say that the universe is a brute fact then is to assert that at least one element that makes up the universe must itself be a brute fact: perhaps stars or planets or atoms or something. But which of these has no reason for its being?

    A couple of additional points:

    4. If by "the universe" we mean instead "the space-time continuum" and if we overlook the question of its non-mathematical existence, we still have the conclusion of general relativity that both space and time are contingent on the existence of matter. That is, both metaphysical properties (space and time) are effects whose sufficient reason in current physics is the presence of matter. There is no "empty room" in which matter somehow appears.

    5. A set of things does not require a reason for existence above and beyond the reasons of the existence of the things. For example, if I define a collection consisting of Brandon Vogt, William Davis, a two-tone 55 Chevy Bel-Aire, and a can of Pepsi and call this the Branwillchevypep, there is no particular reason to account for the Branwillchevypep other than the individual reasons that account for each of its members.

    6. For a thing to have a reason for its being is not the same as for that thing to have a reason for its beginning. They may be the same, but if the thing is eternal as Aquinas assumed the universe to be -- he did not know of modern relativity theory and so had no philosophical reason to reject the eternity of the world -- then it has no beginning.
    ++++

    A. There also seems to be a confusion in the thread between "sufficient reason" and "sufficient metric efficient cause." Not all reasons are efficient causes, let alone metrical one. The toppling dominoes mentioned in some comments is an example. The efficient cause of the fall of Domino X+1 is that Domino X hit it. But there is also a formal cause: viz., the arrangement of the dominoes is a pattern such that they strike one another.

    B. Ockham's Razor tells us that we should not multiply "brute facts" beyond a minimalist set. The brute facts in plane Euclidean geometry are the five axioms and the five postulates. But the Greeks spent considerable effort trying to show that the Fifth Postulate could be proven from the other four. (We now know that no such proof is possible.) That is, they tried to reduce the number of brute facts, not expand them to cover their nakedness like metaphysical fig leaves. (Phig leaves?)

    C. Theist philosophers do not assert God or any of his attributes as "brute facts." Rather they assert sufficient reasons for their existence. You may buy those reasons or not, but you cannot say they aren't offered.

    D. Given that common experience is that "things have causes" it is not enough to merely assert that we cannot promote this experience to a metaphysical principle. Such radical skepticism undermines the grounds of science. But we ought to be able to supply reasons why the principle does not hold in some particular case (e.g., axioms, definitions, etc.)

    • David Nickol

      Interesting that no one in the comments has yet raised the following point.

      I was just about to write an almost identical message, but you beat me to it. If only I had not put off posting here to set my DVR to record Mr. Robot tonight.

    • Excellent points, as always Michael!

    • Will

      1. The universe is not a thing, but the mereological sum of things: dark matter, hydrogen, stars, planets, etc. That is, "the set of everything that physically exists."

      Aren't sets things? If not, human beings aren't things. After all, we are composed of billions of cells, multiple organs, ect.
      Interestingly enough, everything seems to be energy. We can use sufficient energy to create any particle during mass creation (though an antiparticle is also created) thus it can be argued that particles (or more accurately the quantum fields) are composed of energy. So energy is the root of all that exists, as far as we know...a single "thing". Is this thing God? Maybe, but I don't think this kind of God is a person not Christianity proposes.
      If the universe started as a singularity, wasn't that a single thing? Of course, it has split up into separate things, but this is just another way saying the universe isn't a "thing" doesn't seem to hold up, in my mind. Space can potentially complicate things, but it's not clear that space has an existence independent of mass-energy. Out of curiosity, do Thomists hold that existence is a property of space?

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Aren't sets things?

        No. The Greek word is ousia; the Latin is substantia. A set has intellective existence, but not substantive existence.

        If not, human beings aren't things. After all, we are composed of billions of cells, multiple organs, ect.

        All extended bodies have parts, and sometimes components. But they are not always merely mereological sums of those parts. A human being is not formed by taking spleens, hearts, lungs, bones, et al. and forcing them together. Rather, the parts grow naturally from the organism, which has a natural unity that an artifact or an arbitrary collection of things do not have. For example, a natural thing like a sodium atom is indeed composed of parts: protons, neutrons, electrons. And what distinguishes it from another thing like a chlorine atom is the number and arrangement of those parts, its form. But the thing to note is that the electron in the valence orbit of an atom does not behave like a free electron, but as a part of the whole. It is this holistic character that subordinates the parts to the whole that characterizes natural things or substances. Sodium is a substance, William Davis is a substance.

        If the universe started as a singularity, wasn't that a single thing?

        It is unclear if a mathematical singularity can have physical existence. Heinseberg even questioned whether electrons and protons had real existence and thought they were more like Aristotelian potencies than actual things. My cosmologist friend says that if your mathematical model predicts a singularity, it's a sign that your model is deficient.

        Space can potentially complicate things, but it's not clear that space has an existence independent of mass-energy.

        No, space is a consequence of matter. To see how this can happen imagine that there are two atoms in existence: a positive nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negative potential. (If your prefer, a cluster of protons bulked up with some neutrons to make the weight come out right, surrounded by a fleet of electrons whirling in various shells.) This unlikely assemblage somehow holds together. Positive charges repel one another, so the nucleus would fly apart -- unless there were a "strong" (nuclear) force to counteract the electric force. Similarly, positive charges attract negative charges, so the electrons should be pulled into the nucleus -- unless there is a "weak" (radiative) force that pushes the electrons away. So space exists because the electroweak force keeps the negative charge from collapsing into the nucleus in a sort of mutual suicide pact. Further, two atoms cannot approach each other too closely because their outer shells repel each other and create space between them.

        Out of curiosity, do Thomists hold that existence is a property of space?

        Not sure. I think they might hold that space is a property of existence.

        • Will

          My cosmologist friend says that if your mathematical model predicts a singularity, it's a sign that your model is deficient.

          Most cosmologists think General relativity does break down, or reach it's limits, as it approaches t=0. This could be a deficiency of GR, but it's certainly the least deficient classical theory that is currently known.

          Comparing it to the human body, one could easily argue the universe is a substance in the same way. Why? Gravity relates everything in the universe together. Take one galaxy out, and the gravitation of the entire universe changes. Of course, as far as we know this is impossible (consistent with thermodynamics) so all of the underlying substance in the universe is bound together by the fact that it must exist, there is no way to make it stop, only change it's form. Human beings change form all the time. We age, we get diseases, we lose limbs. Salt can change phase and go into solution which actually does alter it's form, but we still call it salt based on a chemical definition. All of these concepts are actually quite fuzzy, though useful. Reality seems to resist our mental attempts to box it into grand rules.

          “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.”- Bertrand Russell.

          Universes might very well have their own rules that are inaccessible to minds inside universes, leaving us all to read what we chose into the fuzz.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Salt can change phase and go into solution which actually does alter it's form, but we still call it salt

            I would have a strong inclination to call it "salt water."

            Human beings change form all the time. We age, we get diseases, we lose limbs.

            Which leads us to the distinction between essential forms and accidental forms. One must take care with accidental forms or you risk concluding that black-skinned people are not really human. This is a risk for materialism, which tends to be overly-concerned with accidents.

            But if Jason loses a hand (cf. http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2015/08/bruce-jenner-rene-descartes-and-stolen.html) he remains the same Jason as before. That is, there has been trans-form-ation, but not trans-substanti-ation, a change in (accidental) form but not in (substantial) form. The same is not true of an artifact: a thing whose parts do not have a natural tendency to come together for form a single entity. If you change out the parts of an artifact, you so not actually have the same artifact as before. If you take the tatters of Julius Caesar's toga and reweave them, replacing what is missing, the result will not be the actual toga C. Julius Caesar wore.

            There is a difference between a collection of essentially similar units relating to one another in a single (or a few) ways and one in which the units differ drastically and relate in many ways. (Where in fact the way this unit relates to that unit is as important as the units themselves.) The old mathematical methods of Early Modern science do not apply -- there are too many units. We can't solve gravitational systems mathematically even for a three-body problem, let alone the gazillion-body problem.

            In the former case, one may replace data on individual units with the mean value and apply statistical methods. But that won't work in the latter case. You can't take a legitimate mean value from heterogeneous data; so we must fall back on modeling.

            At sufficient scale, the galaxies can be regarded as units being chivied about by one another's gravity. Cosmologists call this "the cosmological fluid." This does not make a collection of galaxies a single thing. You may have a case with calling a galaxy a thing.

        • Will

          So space exists because the electroweak force keeps the negative charge from collapsing into the nucleus in a sort of mutual suicide pact.

          Just fyi, I don't believe this is correct. Here is a good article that explains why electrons do not collapse into the nucleus, and here is an article on electroweak interaction (not force) which is a theoretical unification of electromagnetism and weak interaction, nothing to do with keeping electrons out of the nucleus.
          Even if electrons did collapse into the nucleus, atoms would just be nuclei, there still could be space between atoms as far as I know. Inflation of space could be sufficient. I would grant that space doesn't make much sense unless there is something there to measure against. Would a universe of pure empty space have physics? If so, you could have an infinite number of "nothing" universes with different laws...assuming space is nothing, but that depends on how you define nothing.
          Of course, if vacuum energy exists then empty space has energy independent of matter.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_energy

          Something must exist to have energy...I would think...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Even if electrons did collapse into the nucleus, atoms would just be nuclei, there still could be space between atoms as far as I know.

            Yes, the protons would still repulse one another.

            I am intrigued that forces are now called interactions. Science marches on.

            The empty universe is called IIRC DeSitter Space, and is a mathematical solution to the field equations. But I think it is an unstable solution and so cannot persist. In any case, it reifies the abstractions of space and time. If there are no extended bodies, there can be no space. If they do not change, there can be no time. That's why Einstein regarded both as "metaphysical intrusions" into what ought to be an empirical science.
            [T]here are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis, by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality.
            -- Albert Einstein, "Explanation of the Movement of Mercury's Perihelion on the Basis of the General Theory of Relativity," 1915

            Now if you re-introduce the aether, as Einstein did in 1920, you don't have the same problem. OTOH, you don't have 'empty' space, either. You have one stuffed with aether (or dark matter or quantum vacuum or whatever you want to call it. Aristotle called it 'prime matter' or pure potency.)

    • Will

      Just fyi, Andrew G points out that point 3 involves the fallacy of composition. Up to you if you would like to quibble with him over it, but it's an interesting point.

      Didn't take long for the explicit fallacy of composition to show up (from YOS):

      https://strangenotions.com/...

      3. To say that the universe is a brute fact then is to assert that at
      least one element that makes up the universe must itself be a brute fact
      The nonempty set of all points at which a tangent vector field on a topological sphere is discontinuous or vanishing is a necessary fact, and yet all of the actual points in it are contingent facts (contingent on the specific values of the vector field). This shows that the contingency of a set is not a necessary consequence of the contingency of all of its members.

      http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com/2016/07/estranged-notions-5-reasons-why.html#comment-2781419378

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        But he doesn't give an example of things, rather one of pure Platonic forms. He is not using the terms necessary and contingent in the correct context in his example. He seems to be using "contingent" to mean "uncertain," and is reifying abstractions.

        Composition is a material fallacy, not a formal fallacy. (Remember matter and form? Shows up here, too.) A formal fallacy is always invalid: Even if the conclusion is true, the argument doesn't get you there. But a material fallacy depends on the subject matter under discussion. That is, it may be valid or invalid, depending.

        • Great response. Dr. Edward Feser has a whole article rebutting the "fallacy of composition" charge ("Legos, God, and the Fallacy of Composition") yet it keeps coming up.

          • Doug Shaver

            A few observations on the Legos essay:

            Both critics and defenders of arguments for the existence of God as an Uncaused Cause often assume that such arguments are essentially concerned to explain the universe considered as a whole.

            If an apologist seems to be using God to explain the universe as a whole, and I respond accordingly, it is up to the apologist to say, “That is not what I meant.”

            Any old thing will do—a stone, a jar of peanut butter, your left shoe, whatever. The existence of any one of these things even for an instant involves the actualization of potencies here and now, which in turn presupposes the activity of a purely actual actualizer here and now. It involves the conjoining of an essence to an act of existence here and now, which presupposes a sustaining cause whose essence and existence are identical.

            An argument resting on Aristotelian metaphysics needs first to establish the truth of Aristotelian metaphysics. If the apologist shows me a proof of Aristotle, then I can critique it. Until I see that proof, I am as epistemically free to say “Aristotle was wrong” as he is to say, “Aristotle was right.”

            If A and B are of the same color, putting them side by side is not going to give us a whole with a color different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of color.

            That would follow from Aristotle’s understanding of the nature of color. Science has given us a different understanding. A and B are both made of atoms, which have no color. What we perceive as color is a result of the interactions of photons with large numbers of atoms, including something called reflection, and the interaction of reflected photons with atoms in our retinas, and subsequent electrochemical events in nerves attached to our retinas and ultimately certain regions of our brains to which those retinas are connected. Aristotle had no idea about any of that.

            If A and B are both contingent, does putting them together give us something that is necessary?

            The origin of the universe, however it happened, was not effected by any putting-together of its constituents. The constituents of any assembled whole must exist before the whole can be assembled, but the constituents of the universe cannot have existed before the universe itself.

            the burden of proof is surely on the critic of such an argument to show that the universe as a whole is somehow non-contingent

            That depends on what the critic is actually asserting. If he asserts, “The universe exists necessarily,” then yes, he has to prove it. But I don’t have to prove “X is false” if all I am claiming is, “You have not proved that X is true.”

          • Rob Abney

            "If A and B are of the same color, putting them side by side is not going to give us a whole with a color different from those of A and B themselves. That just follows from the nature of color.
            That would follow from Aristotle’s understanding of the nature of color. Science has given us a different understanding. A and B are both made of atoms, which have no color. What we perceive as color is a result of the interactions of photons with large numbers of atoms, including something called reflection, and the interaction of reflected photons with atoms in our retinas, and subsequent electrochemical events in nerves attached to our retinas and ultimately certain regions of our brains to which those retinas are connected. Aristotle had no idea about any of that."
            Doug, this has nothing to do with color, its an analogy about contingency and necessity.

          • Doug Shaver

            Doug, this has nothing to do with color, its an analogy about contingency and necessity.

            The purpose of the analogy was to present an instance in which an argument from composition was not fallacious. Feser was comparing contingency to color, asserting that contingency, like color, is of such a nature that anything made of contingent parts must be contingent for the same reason that anything made of parts of a single color must have that same color.

  • Steve Brown

    I have one observation that has never, to my mind been pointed out.
    If there is no necessary being, then there are only contingent beings or elements.
    If the Universe were exclusively a collection of contingent elements wouldn't they all be subject to change/time.
    I don't see, then, how a Universe of soley contingent beings or elements can be eternal without a necessary eternal being.
    If there is no beginning, then we could not have arrived at a present.

  • David Nickol

    Here's the problem. Karlo Broussard writes a piece in which the Principle of Sufficient Reason is taken as a "metaphysical fact." Then somebody like me points out that Sean Carroll says it should not be taken as a fact. And then we get somebody else arguing against Sean Carroll and citing The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A Reassessment by Alexander Pruss. So then people so inclined (like myself) do some investigating and find that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy begins its entry on PSR as follows:

    The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial
    philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason
    or cause. This simple demand for thoroughgoing intelligibility yields
    some of the boldest and most challenging theses in the history of
    metaphysics and epistemology. . . .

    Hmmm. Controversial.

    And then going further, we find that Peter van Inwagen, in Metaphysics, Fourth Edition, argues at length against PSR on a number of grounds including that if accepted, determinism is true, and there can be no free will. Then, those of us who are really crazy order a copy of van Inwagen's An Essay on Free Will, which it is highly doubtful that we will ever actually read, since we realize we could devote the rest of our lives to arguments over the Principle of Sufficient Reason if we wanted to, and then we wouldn't even have time for the (alleged) proofs of the existence of God (or the next season of Game of Thrones).

    So the problem is—or at least, appears to me to be—that we are covering well trod ground, and brilliant as Edward Feser and Ye Old Statistician (and others) seem to be, we can always find someone equally brilliant who disagrees with them.

    Of course, this should come as no surprise, because it is the very nature of philosophy. Of course, this does not mean that I and others might not read something that we find convincing. But it does mean that there can really be no end to a discussion of whether the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a "metaphysical truth" or just a commonsense principle that applies to everyday life but not to discussions about the origin of the universe.

    • Rob Abney

      Maybe this is why, from the Wisdom of Solomon 8:18
      and in friendship with her, pure delight,
      and in the labors of her hands, unfailing wealth,
      and in the experience of her company, understanding,
      and renown in sharing her words,
      I went about seeking how to get her for myself

    • Doug Shaver

      Of course, this should come as no surprise, because it is the very nature of philosophy.

      One of the best lessons I learned from studying philosophy was also the least congenial to my ego: Just because someone disagrees with me doesn't mean either that they're being illogical or that they ignoring something important that is obviously true.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Just the other day (true story), I was dismayed to find some freshly posted "No Trespassing for Any Reason" signs out on one of my favorite running trails in the woods. In the days since then, I have been ignoring the signs and have run past them with my mind occupied by rationalizations and justifications should anyone stop me. I am thinking that, if apprehended, I will simply say that I am not trespassing for any reason. I am rather, through an act of free will, trespassing for no reason whatsoever.

      So for my part, I hope this PSR stuff gets sorted soon, as it could be an important issue in my legal defense. Of course, it will probably be a less consequential issue if the land owner decides to defend his property rights with a shotgun. Still, it would be nice for posterity to be able to sort out my culpability.

      • Lazarus

        You could point out to the owner that if no reason would suffice, then it's perfectly unreasonable of him to ask you to give a reason. Look at him condescendingly, tell him it's ok, then run. Fast.

      • David Nickol

        This reminds me a bit of something I read by Terry Eagleton in which he told the story of a man who was before a judge, having been arrested for smoking in a gas station. The man pointed out that the signage in the gas station said NO SMOKING PERMITTED. This, he said, meant that you were permitted not to smoke if you chose not to. Eagleton also discussed signs in the London underground saying "Dogs Must Be Carried on Escalators." This raises the question of whether people who are not carrying dogs should be allowed to ride the escalators. I have had a minor problem with signs I see occasionally in Manhattan eateries that say "All Baking Done on Premises." Is there a better way to say it? Clearly it means something like, "All the baked goods we sell here were baked here."

  • MNb

    "His essence is existence itself"
    And how is that not a brute fact? This answer

    "the conclusion of deductive reasoning that starts with certain features of the world—motion (change), efficient causality, contingency, degrees of being, and final causality."

    leads to circularity.

    1. Features: motion (change), efficient causality, contingency, degrees of being, and final causality.
    2. Conclusion: god is the first cause is not a brute fact.
    3. God causes those features.
    4. Back to 1.

    Dawkin's point is that we still just as well can replace "god" by "the Universe". Of course Russell explains it much better in his History of the Western World. As I'm too lazy to look it up I paraphraze: when you search for causes you must begin at some point. You must accept one cause and stop asking what its cause was. And we're back at where we began: will we stop at "The Universe" or at "God"? And why?
    Nothing in your article addresses that.

    But it still gets worse for you.

    Modern Physics is probabilistic. It postulates that there is no cause for a radioactive atom decaying (which is a change) at moment X instead of Y. It postulates that there is only a probability for that radioactive atom decaying in a given time interval. It postulates that that is the core feature of our Universe.
    If "God created our Universe" (whatever "to create means" - apologists are remarkably vague about this) is to be consistent with Modern Physics then god is a gambling god. Anyone who thinks the Cosmological Argument a valid one should reconvert to pastafarianism (the only religion which is OK with a gambling creator) or admit that he/she rejects Modern Science.

    One ultimate explanation of our Universe proposed by Modern Physics (it's my favouorite) is quantum fields.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/quantum-field-theory/

    It seems to correctly describe how come that there is a Universe - ie it offers an explanation. Of course its totally probabilistic.
    Here we're back at where we started: should we stop here or should we take one further step and postulate "God created quantum fields"? There is a Bible reference for the latter. "Let there be light" can be interpreted this way as photons are the bearers of light, the photon is one of the elementary particles and hence have there own quantum field. "Let there be light" becomes "Let there be the quantum field that accurately describes photons".
    Quantum fields attach probabilities to all points in spacetime. So a god who created those quantum fields is a gambling god. This is the only way to formulate the Cosmological Argument in a way that's consistent with this concept.
    Are you going to reject a scientific concept because philosophy? You would stand in a proud tradition of smart people making this very error.