Saturday, December 2, 2017

Being Brutally Honest

Let's face it.  The only truly honest Christians are those who lack a sophisticated philosophical understanding of their faith.  I noted in my previous post that faith, as practiced by ordinary believers, requires a resistance to any evidence that would subvert belief, and those ordinary believers who aren't philosophically-minded generally agree with that.  But it is the apologists who insist that faith is based on evidence.  The apologists are lying.  It is intellectually dishonest to say that their faith is based on evidence, and at the same time, steadfastly refuse to critically examine evidence that refutes belief.  But they have painted themselves into a philosophical corner, so to speak.  They can't honestly admit that they reject evidence and still claim the intellectual high ground.  So they take the path of intellectual dishonesty, in the hopes that most people aren't astute enough to see the truth about their philosophical stance.  And they even manage to fool themselves into believing their own lies, because, after all, faith really does trump reason.

The more you examine the tenets of theistic belief, the more it becomes obvious that reason must be set aside whenever it comes into conflict with belief.  And in the age of modern science, it must be particularly difficult for intellectual theists to hang on to the outdated philosophical foundations of their faith.  There was a time, when theistic philosophy was built upon a scientifically ignorant understanding of the world, that the philosophical underpinnings of religious faith provided reasonable justification for belief.  But theistic philosophy is a house of cards.  If science now refutes some key philosophical tenet that is at the base of that house of cards, what kind of response should we expect to see?  One such foundational tenet is the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR).  Throughout most of history, it seemed to be well grounded in empirical observation.  But no longer.

I addressed the PSR in an earlier post.  It is the idea that everything must have a reason or explanation.  From the earliest days of philosophy, there was reason to doubt that this must be true.  The world itself seems to simply exist, with nothing to explain it.  It is a brute fact.  But theists had good reason to say that everything in the world has a cause.  It was an empirical claim.  Of course, to say that everything must have a cause would give them justification to say that the world itself must have a cause, and in their narrow view, there's only one possibility as to what that cause might be.  The problem with that is quickly seen: unlike all other things, God must not have a cause.  To avoid accusations of special pleading, they devised the PSR, which says that everything must have an explanation, and God's explanation is his own nature.  For everything else, its explanation is its cause, which is either God or something that God caused.  And that was a big step down the path of intellectual dishonesty.  First of all, they are still carving out a special case for God - the only thing that exists without a cause.  Second, the explanation they give for God is really not an explanation.  It would leave any child unsatisfied, but theists have to tell themselves that it works for them.

Having made the PSR a foundational tenet in their philosophical house of cards, theists now have to contend with a new scientific reality.  Newer empirical observation (specifically quantum mechanics) is shaking that foundation, threatening to bring the whole thing down.  Do they deal with this honestly, or do they bury their heads in the sand and deny the observed reality?  Did I mention that faith trumps reason?  In Catholic Answers, we see the denial of reality.  Karlo Broussard attempts to refute physicist Sean Carroll on five points, which I will address.

Double standards
Broussard is saying that it is disingenuous for atheists to even suggest that there could be a brute fact because they wouldn't allow theists to get away with making any such claim.  Really?  This is confused thinking.  Atheists have objected to the claim of the PSR that there can be no brute facts.  They don't say that it would be illogical to think that a brute fact might exist.  That's what theists say.  The illogic is in theists' special pleading to claim that God must be the one and only thing that exists without a cause.

The facts of ordinary life
This point is the idea that everything in our ordinary experience has an explanation, so why shouldn't we think the same is true of the universe?  And the answer is modern science.  We observe that things outside our ordinary experience (at the quantum level) happen without a cause.  That's what we observe empirically.  So the old rule that was based on observation turns out not to be true.  In fact, quantum mechanics is the basis of thinking that the universe can be uncaused.  So Broussard is denying modern science.

Can’t get out of the taxi
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.
Broussard calls this the "taxicab fallacy".  By contrast, he claims that the explanation of God, which is his own essence, is a logical conclusion.  That's disputable.  But there is nothing arbitrary or unreasonable about the laws of quantum mechanics.  The current theory postulates the creation of matter as a quantum event, and it is consistent with observed reality.  Broussard has his blinders on.  It is the postulation of God as a necessary being (whether or not it is logically coherent) that is not consistent with any observed reality.

Skepticism of the senses
The claim Broussard makes here is that if there isn't a reason for everything, then we have no reason to accept the validity of our personal experiences.  This point especially illustrates the illogic of the PSR.  As I noted, the PSR was created in the first place to get around the inescapable idea that God must have no cause.  So they substituted "reason" (or explanation) for "cause", and invented a reason.  And that feat of dishonesty now comes home to roost, as Broussard conflates "cause" with "reason".  In the world of our ordinary experience (as noted in his second point - not at the quantum level) things do have causes, and no atheist disagrees with this.  Things may exist without a reason, but our senses definitely have physical causes, and we have no reason to deny their validity simply because there might be brute facts.  Broussard is just grasping at straws.

No arguments allowed
The best is saved for last, and Broussard attributes this point to Ed Feser, who espouses logically incoherent Thomistic philosophy.  It is the notion that if the PSR isn't true, then logic and rationality don't exist.  In the parlance of poker, we might call this "going all-in without a pair".  Feser's thesis is "accept my theistic reasoning, or you must deny all reasoning".  This is the height of hubris.  Sorry, to disappoint Mr. Ed, but logic and rationality are not dependent on his own theistically distorted reasoning.  The world existed long before he did, and no matter how much he believes that God is behind it all, he could very well be wrong.  And that does not imply by any means that nothing makes any sense, or that we must all abandon our ability to think.  In fact, the abandonment of theism might just help considerably in our ability to see reality more clearly and understand how it works.

We have seen that the arguments employed by theists to defend the PSR are nothing more than a desperate measure to preserve their faith in the face of scientific information that directly contradicts one of their foundational beliefs.  The PSR was intellectually dishonest from the beginning, and their theistic house of cards is built on it.  They can't just back down and say "OK, we were wrong about that", because to do so would be the collapse of the house.  So they will continue to keep their heads in the sand, and dishonestly deny the very possibility of brute facts, as well as other realities of our world that are revealed to us by science.


  1. I think you're right in that certain QM findings might raise doubts about certain traditional arguments for God - like the cosmological one - but that argument never was so strong in the first place At best, it only provides for the existence of a kind of Aristotelian "unmoved mover" which need not be personal and shares little of the flavor of most theist's "God" concepts. Someone could quite easily believe in the necessity of an unmoved mover (of some kind) and remain an atheist.....

    Nor do the QM-based arguments, if accepted, demonstrate logically that there CAN'T BE a (personal) God, just that perhaps there doesn't NEED to be (i.e. if the cosmological arg can't be trusted). It's just no longer logically necessary from that perspective. The strength of those arguments either way shouldn't be overestimated.

    1. You make good points. But I think it's true that most Christians consider the PSR to be axiomatic. (I have never heard one tell me that it wasn't.) And depending on who you listen to, I suppose, the cosmological argument is a linchpin of belief in a necessary God. Certainly Catholics find it compelling. But I agree (as would many of them) that it neither entails nor rules out a personal God. They have other arguments for that (which I consider to be much less compelling).

    2. Yeah, I think there is something in what you say..... There's something in apologetics' attempts to philosophize and rationalize that maybe accommodates the (secular) world too much, esp. if Xians go back to early sources - to the time when they were a small, not-too-popular group - as might be hove them in a post-Xian society. But perhaps, as some think, something crucial was "lost" along the way anyway....

      At a time when Jews expect a miracle and Greeks seek enlightenment, we speak about God’s Anointed crucified! This is an offense to Jews, nonsense to the nations; but to those who have heard God’s call, both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed represents God’s power and God’s wisdom; because the folly of God is wiser than humans are and the weakness of God is stronger than humans are. —1 Cor 1: 22–251

      As this writer suggests, perhaps what highly rational apologists sometimes miss but "ordinary Christians" understand is that perhaps the real msg behind Xianity is emotional.....

      Like: "Your actions matter", as he says..

    3. There's something in apologetics' attempts to philosophize and rationalize that maybe accommodates the (secular) world too much

      - I'm not sure if is really accommodating the secular world, or (if it isn't the same thing) just an attempt to intellectualize something whose roots were not intellectual in the first place, to give an air of being a contender. I think Spufford is onto something.

  2. I'm rather reluctant to call someone 'dishonest', when it is more likely that they are just deluded. Fooling oneself is, perhaps, the easiest thing in the world to do.

    I would say that the apologists are committing intellectual malpractice.

    1. Perhaps you're right, but when I look at some of the things they say, and some of the arguments they contrive, it really does strike me as deliberate dishonesty. But maybe that's just the way I perceive it.

  3. Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen, and perhaps some other Christian philosophers, reject the PSR. The acceptance of the PSR is mostly only typical among theists who like very specific kinds of arguments for theism. e.g. contingency arguments, cosmological arguments, etc.

    1. That's interesting. Is there an article I can read that gives his thinking on this?

    2. Here is a start:

      There use to be some different links outlining van Inwagen's thoughts on the PSR, but I cannot find them at the moment.

    3. Here's someone who takes van Inwagen's argument seriously, put proposes rescuing the PSR by reformulating it.