Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bonnette on Brute Facts vs Sufficient Reason

Thomist philosopher Dennis Bonnette has written a number of articles that defend the tenets of Thomism in the face of modern science.  I previously addressed one of them here.  Bonnette places metaphysics above science, and explains away discrepancies between them by downplaying or ignoring the realities of physics.  In another article that focuses on the subject of brute facts and the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Bonnette presents a distorted view of science to make it seem compatible with his religious dogma.  This is precisely the kind propaganda that Thomists rely upon to justify the false belief that their Medieval philosophy is fully consistent with modern science.  But a more realistic view of science and reality would refute Bonnette's story.

He starts out by defining what he means by the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  It is a metaphysical principle, and it is universal.
every thing must have a sufficient reason for its being or coming-to-be.
But it's not universal at all.  Reasonable people can and do deny it.  I understand that this is a theistic concept that is used to justify their belief in the necessity of God.  If everything must have a cause for its existence, then there must be some thing that has no cause, but is the ultimate cause of all other things.  And to get around the obvious special pleading, they simply declare that God is his own reason for being (which is semantically meaningless), and this is how they can say that everything does have a reason.  If this is what the theist finds intellectually satisfying, so be it.  They can make that part of their dogma.  It doesn't mean I have to accept it.  Neither does it escape us that there is huge gap in this reasoning, because there are two logical choices for the uncaused thing.  One is a necessary being (or God), and the other is a brute fact (something that simply exists - without a reason).  The latter of those choices is not consistent with the PSR.

To garner support for the universality of the PSR, Bonnette tries to make the case that it is fully supported by science.
opponents claim that science works quite well by finding reasons for many things ... Does anyone seriously suggest that the driving force behind modern science is not the effort to “unlock the secrets of the universe?” ... If scientists did not hold the universal conviction that phenomena reveal the underlying reasons that manifest themselves through those phenomena, they would not even bother making observations at all. ... Thomism, common sense, and natural science concur in seeking reasons for all things.
Actually, science does not attempt to find reason for being.  Rather it seeks to discover how things work in the natural world.  It observes regularities of behavior and distills those into physical laws, which can then be used to explain or predict the behavior of things.  Science does not recognize any universal principle that everything must have a cause or reason.  In particular, we see that various quantum events are not known to have any cause, but they still do abide by the laws of physics.  Science does not demand that a cause be found where no cause is evident.  And if that is the case, it certainly doesn't put an end to scientific inquiry, as Bonnette claims.  But where something is caused, it is true that science seeks to learn the causal mechanism.  So Bonnette is overstating his case here.  Science observes and accepts that things may be uncaused, and that is certainly no impediment to further inquiry.  But Bonnette ignores that reality to help build his case.

He claims that it isn't even reasonable to think that something could exist without a reason.  In fact, he implies that the PSR is logically axiomatic, thus eliminating the logical option of the brute fact.
but existence of "brute facts" defies logic. ... they arbitrarily and illogically seek to protect the demand for reasons as they are needed for the rest of science. This is totally illogical and a case of special pleading, since they refuse to see that they have allegedly already ruined the intellectual foundations for their beloved science. ... a single exception to a rule refutes the rule ... it simply isn’t how science or the human mind actually works.
Bonnette wants us to think that the very idea that something could exist without a cause is logically incoherent, because the PSR is self-evident.  But in truth, the PSR isn't an axiom of logic.  Nor is it the intellectual foundation of science.  Bonnette is taking a dogmatic stance, based entirely on his religious belief.  He assumes the rule to be true, and then he claims anyone who thinks the universe exists without a reason is being illogical because they violate the rule.  Those atheistic physicists, he says, are engaging in special pleading, because they allow one single exception to the rule, which is the uncaused existence of the universe.  But in fact, all of quantum mechanics would violate the PSR, if it was an actual logical truth, which it isn't.  This isn't special pleading.  It is an outright denial of the PSR, based on observation of physical reality.  But this supposed logical incoherency is all part of Bonnette's argument for why the PSR must be true.  It is easy to see the circular reasoning on his part, as well as his blatant denial of the reality of modern physics, even if Bonnette himself is blind to these things.

Sticking to his guns, Bonnette goes on to argue that those who deny the PSR are not only illogical and unscientific, but psychotic.
Some are so deceived by their own alleged “logic” that they fail to realize that even if the experience of change is purely illusory, hallucinatory, subjective, based solely on mistaken neural patterns, and totally removed from any objective extramental order, it is still real in its own “psychotic,” delusional order. ... the mere fact that one can argue about what constitutes an adequate explanation again points to the ability and need for the human mind to seek intelligible reasons for things. ... What makes psychosis an “abnormal” condition is that the normal human mind does stay in contact with reality. ... since, by definition the entire human race cannot be abnormal or psychotic, it must be that the natural tendency of the human mind to demand reasons for all things is grounded in its natural ability to see the implications of the concept of being itself.
So entrenched in his religious dogmatic beliefs is Bonnette that he is utterly blind to the reality.  He tries to twist science into some kind of ideological machine that supports his theistic beliefs, when in fact it does not.  He pretends that his beloved PSR is not only logical, but axiomatic - self-evident and impossible to deny, even in the face of empirical evidence that flatly contradicts it.  And he would have us believe that one would have to be psychotic to deny it.  As I said earlier, this is propaganda, intended for consumption by his fellow Thomists.  It is out of touch with science and empirical observation.  It places Thomists inside a walled tower - a defensive fortress of belief, where they can live apart from the reality of the world, protected from the intrusion of external knowledge and logic.  And safely ensconced in their fortress, they stick their tongues out at the rest of us and proclaim, "You're crazy if you don't believe as we do."

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