Brute Facts and Sufficient Reasons

The most brute fact of all is learning that we will die, which we then cast about for an explanation that will sufficiently account for this fact: “As in, forever? Does someone will this death of mine?”

In our searching for a sufficient explanation, we immediately discover three grave difficulties to confident investigation:

(1) God is not talking.

(2) If God made us and lets us die for a purpose, it seems to be an opaque one, for we are quite belated, arriving late on the cosmic scene, an evolved primate adrift precariously on an unfriendly planet in a vast ocean of lifeless and empty space.

(3) Being evolved primates of limited intelligence with powerful instinctual desires and aversions–among them, the fear of death and a longing to live forever–we have trouble thinking clearly. (Orwell famously said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose requires a constant effort.” He said this precisely because it is so difficult to eliminate the static of our desires, aversions, biases, etc.)

Add to these difficulties the problem of seemingly senseless suffering, illustrated most vividly in the contemplation of evolution, the Holocaust, and tsunamis that can wash away 100,000 people in a single hour (240,000 people died in the Indian Ocean Christmas tsunami of 2004 alone).

So this is the great brute fact: we die, and we must face this in the presence of other facts: (1) the evolutionary cosmos is vast and old, and will go on quite fine without us; (2) there is great suffering; (3) our cognitive capacities are severely limited; and (4) God is not speaking. We search for a sufficient reason for our life and approaching death, and find the ones on offer deficient.

Maybe there is no ultimate or sufficient reason at all. What then?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Brute Facts and Sufficient Reasons

  1. What then?
    Accept that we die, and like every other species of life on this planet our species continues but the individuals do not. No matter how much we would like to live longer, until we manage to lengthen our lifespans we will continue to die. If there is a god that god did no care that we died at the average age of about 40 for most of our existence – did nothing to change that at all. We can conclude with a great amount of confidence that if there is a god it is not interested in us living longer for every stride toward longer life that has been made has been made by humans. We have so far doubled the life span of humans and we’re still working on making it longer. Our only hope of living longer lay not in the hands of the clerics but in the hands of scientists and doctors.

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