Atheist Contradictions – Sam Harris and Brute Facts

 In a previous post on the ‘magical thinking’ of atheism, I quoted the philosopher Edward Feser’s description of atheist thinking regarding the ‘brute facts’ of nature. As Fester puts it, “it is very likely that an atheist has to hold that the operation of at least the fundamental laws that govern the universe is an “unintelligible brute fact…”” To do otherwise would be to open up the consideration that certain aspects of reality must have causes, and that exploration of the chain of causality would lead them back to something which is uncaused or non-contingent, i.e. God.

So as bulwark against such a consideration atheists simply have to accept that some things just are, without explanation. Almost as soon as I posted this I ran across an example of an atheist doing just this. In his second part of his post on the Mystery of Consciousness Harris writes this:

Many readers of my previous essay did not understand why the emergence of consciousness should pose a special problem to science. Every feature of the human mind and body emerges over the course development: Why is consciousness more perplexing than language or digestion? The problem, however, is that the distance between unconsciousness and consciousness must be traversed in a single stride, if traversed at all. Just as the appearance of something out of nothing cannot be explained by our saying that the first something was “very small,” the birth of consciousness is rendered no less mysterious by saying that the simplest minds have only a glimmer of it.

 This situation has been characterized as an “explanatory gap” and the “hard problem of consciousness,” and it is surely both. I am sympathetic with those who, like the philosopher Colin McGinn and the psychologist Steven Pinker, have judged the impasse to be total: Perhaps the emergence of consciousness is simply incomprehensible in human terms. Every chain of explanation must end somewhere—generally with a brute fact that neglects to explain itself. Consciousness might represent a terminus of this sort. Defying analysis, the mystery of inner life may one day cease to trouble us.

*emphasis mine*

In reality atheists accept many such ‘brute facts’. That an ordered universe can arise without guidance, that life can from non-living matter, that a life sustaining planet can arise according to ordinary processes. And those are just physical realities – as I have pointed out elsewhere they also accept as true that humans should be treated equally, that human rights exist, and that humans have inherent worth, even though such notions completely contradict the ‘science’ they say informs their decisions.

Ironically, in asserting certain realities as brute facts atheists are engaging in a sort of thinking they accuse theists of, namely that they their beliefs are informed by faith – or a blind acceptance of certain unprovable truths. This is even more ironic since this is not at all the Christian view of faith.

 Nonetheless it is important to note that when push comes to shove, atheists themselves acknowledge that many of their beliefs aren’t anymore grounded in ‘science’ than were those of the pre-Christian pagans of old.


6 Responses to Atheist Contradictions – Sam Harris and Brute Facts

  1. Robert says:

    When a tree falls in thye forest and no-one is there to hear it, I have Faith that it makes a sound! I hardly believe everything scientists claims to tout because it is a human pursuit and like religion is prone to human weaknesses. But I am even more skepticle of the religious who claim to speak for and interpret gods and find that they lack credibility do a greater degree than scientists! I suppose the lesser of two evils rule applies here!

  2. Matt says:

    It’s considered “scientific” to propose multiple universes as an explanation for our finely-tuned one…yet the idea that our universe could have been finely tuned by a Creator is often dismissed as religious wishful thinking.

    Great post, by the way.

  3. jackhudson says:

    Thanks Matt. I snuck over and took a look, it looks like you have a great start to your blog!

  4. kenetiks says:

    Nonetheless it is important to note that when push comes to shove, atheists themselves acknowledge that many of their beliefs aren’t anymore grounded in ‘science’ than were those of the pre-Christian pagans of old, Christians, Muslims, so on and so forth.


  5. jackhudson says:

    Hey, as long as you acknowledge the reality that atheistic beliefs are as dependent on faith-based beliefs as you claim those of the religious are, I am fine with that revision.

  6. […] point to science as the methodology that will free us from reliance on faith – but as I have pointed out previously, atheist have to take a number of aspects of reality by faith or simply as ‘brute […]

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