Brute Facts are not Reasons

Education, philosophy Leave a reply

Unlike a lot of my friends, I don’t find articles written by Christians to be completely stupid, or ignorant, or “unscientific”. The problems with them are those of basic reasoning, and this problems are not limited to Christians. In any case, I find them to be extremely useful to explaining reasoning, and how to articulate arguments, usually by pointing out how the article in question has failed.

In this case, I’d like to point you at “7 Things That Prove God is Real“. Take a moment to read over it, and I’ll meet ye beneath the fold.

So an argument, at the bare minimum, should be of the following form:

  1. Premise 1
  2. Premise 2
  3. Conclusion

We can call this form a ‘syllogism‘. One of the oldest forms is the Aristotelian Syllogism:

  1. All women are mortal.
  2. Hypatia of Alexandria is a woman.
  3. Therefore, Hypatia is mortal.

Notice from here that while one of our premises is a fact (“Hypatia of Alexandria is a woman”), the first isn’t necessarily a fact: it’s an axiom, a principle, definition, or some other thing of that kind. The important thing to note is that it’s the bridge between the fact and the conclusion. We could generalise in the following way:

  1. All A’s are B’s
  2. C is an A
  3. Conclusion: C is a B

There are various other forms of syllogisms, but the important thing to note is that there must be at least one bridge between the facts and the conclusion: facts alone do not get you to a conclusion beyond the facts. So if we take Grady’s first “thing that proves God is real”, we get the following:

  1. [Nothing]
  2. Babies exist.
  3. Therefore God is real

So this isn’t just a case of crappy writing, but also of crappy reasoning. But to try to help out, I can fill in a premise. I’m modifying this premise from an argument that William Lane Craig (he who has argued that genocide, if ordered by the Christian God, is moral) made in UBC in 2008:

  1. If God does not exist, then babies do not exist.
  2. Babies exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Unfortunately, it’s premise 1 here that’s doing all the work in the argument, and premise 1 is (at best) questionable. Moreover, it’s pretty much assuming that god exists. What do I mean? Well, let me rewrite it:

  1. If God does not exist, then pens do not exist.
  2. Pens exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

It can be generalised as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, then [things that I know exist] do not exist.
  2. [Those things] exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

The problem here is that no explanation has been offered: sure, I do not disagree with Grady that Babies, Thunderstorms, Flowers, the Bible, or The Global Spread of Christianity are real things that actually exist. I accept the existence of these objects. What Grady is leaving unspoken (as to most all Christian debaters) is the hard work of explaining the connection between these facts, and the conclusion which they wish to assert. They simply assume (probably correctly) that their audience are simply going to nod along and agree that those dumb atheists clearly don’t believe that babies exist.

In short, good analytical or persuasive writing needs to join the dots and explain how the “facts” become “explanations”. Failing to do that is just crappy writing, and any decent high school writing class will fail you (or they will in Ireland. I can’t speak to the US or Canada).

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Points 6 & 7 from that article are discussed in A “Personal Relationship” With Jesus.

[Edit: it’s been helpfully pointed out to me that “brute fact” is not part of the vernacular. I’m using the term a little more casually than the wikipedia discusses.

A “brute fact” is a basic fact about the world that requires no further explanation (or cannot be ‘explained’ as such). An example would be “I have 5 fingers”. The mechanism by which I happened to have 5 fingers is something else entirely.

To contrast:

“Bob’s heart is not beating” is (arguably) a brute fact. “Bob was murdered” is definitely not a brute fact, as murder implies a certain method of death, which can be explained.]




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