Does the ‘Brute Fact’ Argument Explain Why is There Something, Rather Than Nothing?
Why is there anything at all?
What if the answer to the question, is that no answer is needed? That there is a brute fact within existence that explains all of existence and itself needs no explanation?
Before I outline the brute fact response to the fundamental question of existence, let’s quickly go over the theistic response. Specifically, the kalām cosmological argument revitalized by William Lane Craig who claims the only reasonable answer for existence is a personal creator of the universe who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.
The premises of the argument are…
1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (in this argument actual infinity, or an infinite set of causes can’t exist.)
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.
That’s the kalām argument in a nutshell. So, given the conclusion of it, Craig appends a further conclusion based upon an analysis of what caused the universe that goes like this:
4. The universe has a cause.
5. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists who without the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and enormously powerful.
6. Therefore, an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who sans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless, and infinitely powerful.
In other words, something exists (God) because there has to be an uncaused cause that is outside nature and the natural laws yet, could conceive of our universe and reality the way it is. God seems to be the only rational answer, as the traditional attributes and definition of the Judeo-Christian God fit the definition of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-benevolent personal creator.
One could argue back, yes, perhaps the laws of nature existed as such to allow our universe to be created or that our Universe is just one of infinite other universes many of which are inhabitable making ours not special.
However, what created the natural laws, or the infinite worlds? Again, the argument is that something outside of nature and the naturals had to give rise to them and had to be able to conceive of them somehow and be benevolent enough to go through with all that work.
So there are several ways to respond to this type of cosmological argument, but let’s go over the brute fact response which also explains why there something rather than nothing.
First, what is a brute fact? A brute fact is a fact that cannot be further explained or explains itself.
When we think of the brute fact response, we think of the English philosopher Bertrand Russell. But, Russell’s philosophy has its roots in the philosophy of the Scottish philosopher David Hume.
Hume was really the first to begin seriously attacking the cosmological arguments and that every contingent being had a cause of its existence.
Hume is known for noticing when one line of an argument makes an illogical, big leap to the next line of an argument. In the cause of the cosmological argument and contingency, he thought ‘everything we observe has a cause; thus the universe has a cause; is one of these too big leaps’. This is the same as saying that because all people have a father, the entire human race has a father.
More specifically, in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding he argued that we have no reason to think the Causal principle or the statement “every being that comes into existence has a cause” is true a priori, or as a fact we all accept independent from experience.
We start by analyzing familiar concepts within our world, but then start reaching to unobservable and understandable concepts beyond human experience which he thought was unwise and illogical to do.
Bertrand Russell, in his famous debate “Debate on the Existence of God,”
with Frederick Copleston in 1964, echoed Hume explaining that we can’t ask about the cause of something like the creation of the universe or all existence because we can’t experience it. He then stated, there’s no explanation needed and “the universe is just there, and that’s all.”
For Russell, the universe is a brute fact that needs no explanation. Why can’t the Universe just exist, he asks? After all, if theists are willing to accept the existence of God as the necessary being as a type of brute fact that either caused itself to exist or it doesn’t need a cause as in the case, why cannot an atheist accept the existence of the universe as a brute fact, as a necessary explanation for why anything at all exists?
A theist may argue back that since all the components of the universe are contingent, the universe itself is contingent. Russell replies that the move from the contingency of the components of the universe to the contingency of the universe commits the Fallacy of Composition, which mistakenly concludes that since the parts have a certain property, the whole likewise has that property. For example, a sculpture can create a work of art from many tiny pieces of metal that themselves may not be strong, but together the sculpture as a whole can be very sturdy.
But still, isn’t the job of metaphysics to continue to search for a final, solid solution to the unexplained or unexplainable. One could say Russell commits a Taxi-Cab Fallacy. (note, this isn’t an actual logical fallacy, just a metaphor, where one decides to jump out of the taxicab before the final destination is reached). In this case, Russell just abruptly shrugs off the argument or exits the taxicab before the cab reaches its destination.
However, there is a difference between looking to a brute fact as an explanans, and genuinely arriving at an unquestionable stopping point which makes no sense at the time to push further.
Why can’t the laws of nature perhaps be eternal, or outside time in some way as to not need an explanation as to why they exist?
Plus, wouldn’t the laws of nature, which we know exist be a simpler explanation for a brute fact that can exist without a cause, than having to invoke an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-benevolent personal creator? If we have to pick a brute fact, doesn’t the non-theistic answer seem a bit simpler and thus a better theory?
Or, maybe there’s actually an even better response to the fundamental question than the theistic or brute fact response to why does anything exist.
Let me know what you think of the arguments presented here.
Make sure to follow me on Medium as I’ll be exploring more responses to the fundamental question of existence coming up soon.
Part 1. Questioning the Question and Types of Responses:
Part 2. The Probabilistic Argument for Existence (Nozak & Van Inwagen): https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/the-probabilistic-argument-for-why-anything-exists-at-all-examined-van-inwagen-nozick-6fd7f209d11d
Part 3. Modal Realism and Probable Worlds Argument (David Lewis): https://medium.com/curious/does-modal-realism-explain-why-anything-at-all-exists-db3c43a45df9
Part 4. Necessitarian Theistic Argument (Leibniz & Craig) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/does-god-explain-why-there-is-something-rather-than-nothing-1ba79fd90639
Part 5. The Brute Fact Argument (Hume & Russell) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/does-the-brute-fact-argument-explain-why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-189eb0289aa9
Part 6. Axiological Arguments (Leslie, Rescher, Tegmark) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/do-abstract-objects-explain-why-anything-exists-at-all-axiological-arguments-for-existence-fc9b194a3af9
Part 7. Is the Question Meaningless? (Wittgenstein, Edwards, Positivism, Smith) https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/is-the-question-why-is-there-anything-at-all-actually-meaningless-1c8f2ce96703
Part 8. The Best Response: https://thinkingdeeply.medium.com/why-is-there-something-rather-than-nothing-the-best-answer-e568f468459a
Plus, Subscribe for Philosophy Videos on YouTube Via My Channel Here:
- All images appear from Wikimedia commons or Canva.com