Many theists appeal to certain facts about the world (objectivity of morality, laws of nature, existence of the universe) and infer that these facts must be grounded in God. One response that I found common to atheists is to argue that these facts are rather brute and need no explanation beyond themselves. My question then is this: What makes a particular fact a brute fact? To put it more specifically, are there any criteria for what would make a certain fact brute and also for what would make a certain fact necessarily grounded on something else?

As I understand it, the distinction between brute facts and other facts is that a brute fact has no explanation (not simply an explanation we fail to know) whereas any other fact has an explanation (even if we don't know the explanation).

Contingent facts could have been otherwise: they could have failed to be facts. Noncontingent facts couldn't have been otherwise: they couldn't have failed to be facts. Given the history of scientific explanation, I see no reason to accept the existence of brute contingent facts. Many contingent facts that seemed to resist explanation were later explained. I see no reason to think that many of the facts that now seem to resist explanation won't themselves later be explained.

One way for every contingent fact to have an explanation is for there to be an endless regress of contingent facts. I see nothing wrong with such a regress. Assuming that the existence and nature of our universe are both contingent, they would be explained by an endless regress of contingent facts, none of them brute. What explains the existence of the entire set of such facts? Either that question is ill-posed, or else it's already answered by the facts in the regress. Traditional theism tries to explain the existence and nature of the universe by appealing to God's libertarian (i.e., undetermined) free choice. Even if libertarian free choice is a coherent idea, which I doubt, this theistic explanation leaves at least one brute contingent fact, namely, God's free choice to make the universe this way rather than some other way.

I'm not as sure that an endless regress will work for noncontingent facts. What explains the law of noncontradiction, the noncontingent fact that a proposition and its negation can't possibly both be true? My sense is that any explanation of that fact will eventually repeat the fact being explained, making the explanation circular. So if, for example, some objective moral principles are noncontingently true, their explanation might eventually include a noncontingent fact that's brute because it has no (noncircular) explanation. Here, though, I think that the brute noncontingent facts will make no reference to God, just as philosophers Wes Morriston and Erik Wielenberg have argued.

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