January 23, 2021

The Council

A modern day council!

It has been a constant objection in presuppositionalist conversations and it should be. When engaging in epistemology these questions pop up. The topic of brute facts has even been brought up to Dr. Greg Bahnsen:

Question from the Bahnsen-Stein debate:
Why is it necessary for the abstract universal laws to be decided from the transcendental nature of God, or derived from the transcendental of God.  Why not assume the transcendental nature of logic?

Dr. Bahnsen’s response:
Somebody who wrote the question is good in that you’ve studied some of these philosophical issues.  The answer may not be meaningful to everybody in the audience, but very briefly, is that I do believe in the transcendental nature of the laws of logic.  However, the laws of logic do not justify themselves.  Just because they are transcendental, that isn’t a precondition of intelligibility.  I mean, why isn’t it just sound and fury signifying nothing?  That’s a possibility too.

So the laws of logic do have a transcendental necessity about them, but it seems to me you need to have a world-view in which the laws of logic are meaningful.  Especially when you consider such possible antinomies as the laws of logic being universal, categorizing things in that way.  And yet, we have novelties in our experience.  Universal, categorizing things in that way.  and yet we have novelties in our experience. 

I mean, the world of empirical observation isn’t set rigidly by uniformity and by sameness as it were.  There isn’t a continuity in experience in that way, as there is a necessary continuity in the laws of logic.  How can the laws of logic then be utilized when it comes to matters of personal experience in the world?  We have a contingent changing world, and unchanging invariant laws of logic.  How can these two be brought together?  You need a world-view in which that transcendental necessity of logic can be made sense of in terms of my human experience.  And I believe that Christianity provides that, and I just can’t find any other one that competes with it that way.

That leaves some good philosophers thinking that Dr. Bahnsen didn’t answer the question. Take, for example, Dr. Greg Welty:

Second, we must ask whether Bahnsen has cogently (i.e., non-arbitrarily) decided the issue in the “battle of the brute facts” (logic vs. God). Bahnsen counters the secularist’s own supposition of logic (or induction, or ethics) as a brute fact by positing God as the brute fact which then explains logic.[23] But the question still remains: why does the unbeliever need to account for logic, but the believer doesn’t need to similarly account for God? Isn’t there a disparity in epistemic responsibility between the Christian and the secularist? Consider the formal (not substantive) similarity between this type of transcendental argument, and the traditional theistic arguments (from existence, design, morality, etc.)

A brute fact is an uninterpreted fact that has no further justification or account. God isn’t a brute fact and there are no brute facts in a Christian worldview. God’s explanation is intrinsic to him and not because he has some external source of reference. We still hold to some form of the principle of sufficient reason. The point Dr. Bahnsen was trying to establish is that the foundationalist that thinks they can start with axioms or brute facts are inherently arbitrary. Why can’t we simply presuppose that it is a brute fact that Christianity is true? The consequences of that go from being merely arbitrary to having an underdetermination problem. The fact is then the scheme the atheist has provided becomes indistinguishable from whether Christianity is true. But if we can’t demarcate which worldview is true and false then we end up with further problems. The fact of the matter is that he is obligated to show that reality is in such a way that it is rational to even propose a brute fact. We know certain kinds of realities are incompatible with intelligibility(Parmenides and Heraclitus). They become fideist and the issue with being a fideist is that once arbitrary faith is sufficient to justify his beliefs those beliefs reduce to subjectivism. That is because many people can just arbitrarily believe any propositions or set of propositions that they choose. From that relativism follows because nobody then is a place to say one arbitrary faith-based system is better than another. If objective criterion exists for what constitutes a brute fact then we would need someone to demonstrate that there is an objective criterion. The issue is that person’s epistemology would need to justify those criteria. The very activity the person that appeals to brute facts refuses to do. The quest of philosophy is to provide a comprehensive explanation for the features of the world. Take what Dr. James Anderson has said:

Similarly, he is remarkably philosophically incurious. Most philosophers have sought ultimate unifying explanations for the phenomena of human experience. What ultimately “accounts” for the uniformity of nature and the orderliness of the universe? What ultimately “accounts” for our ability to reason inductively, to gain empirical knowledge, to know “a priori” truths, etc.? Your atheist friend is apparently content to ignore those questions altogether and not to seek ultimate explanations. But then he misses the force of the theistic argument: the theist’s worldview can offer a “coherent unifying explanation” for these phenomena in a way that the atheist’s worldview (e.g., naturalism) cannot. For that very reason, theism is rationally superior to atheism.
To elaborate on this last point: the atheist has to simply resort to positing a lot of brute facts –both unexplained and unconnected. It’s just a brute fact that the universe is orderly. It’s just a brute fact that human sense organs are reliable. It’s just a brute fact that there are objective moral values. It’s just a brute fact that the universe exists at all. The atheist can offer no overarching and unifying explanation for these facts; he can offer no cogent account of them. In contrast, the theist has a worldview that can straightforwardly account for “all” of them. Clearly, a worldview that can offer such an account is philosophically superior to one that cannot. The atheist resorts to sheer fideism whereas the theist resorts to reasoned metaphysical explanation.


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