Are How and Why Questions In Different Domains?

John Anderson at Hesed we ’emet thinks they are. I had planned to leave some of this as a comment on John’s site where it would have perhaps been more appropriate but for reasons I cannot fully articulate I decided to address John’s post here.
John writes,

Must science and religion be inimical to one another? By no means. I think it is feasible to speak of each as having a specific role and addressing very specific questions that the other does not. This is an approach that, near as I am aware, is ‘unique’ to Baylor. To clarify, on the topic of creation . . .
Science can answer the question how and how long.
Religion can answer the question who and why.

Please read John’s whole post to make sure this quotation and my comments aren’t so out of context as to misrepresent his position.
But, John’s (and Baylor’s) position only works if who and why are interrogatives in well-formed questions in exactly the context he suggests. And even then, the correct answers may be “no one” and “no reason.” In other words, in this and other contexts the who and the why may well be null sets. The assumed requirement of a who and a why is an article of faith. It is neither an analytic (if there are such things) nor an empirical truth. Even then, there is nothing wrong with negative answers to well-formed questions. Barring evidence to the contrary, a negative answer to such a question is the most parsimonious. That doesn’t make such answers correct. It only makes them the default position. At least it does in nearly all areas of inquiry. Who made a specific leaf fall from our ash tree in the exact way it did and land in the exact position it did? “No one” is the rather obvious default answer. I’ll provide a “why” example later. Theology appears to have reserved for itself an exception to this norm and to have hidden that exception within what theologians call faith. And they take faith to be a positive thing; a thing that trumps all else, even the notion that in many contexts questions of who and why are meaningless or have negative answers.
If I weren’t so lazy, I might have at this point discussed the problem of who and why and even in some cases how in the unfolding of stochastic processes. At least one stochastic process is certainly an important element in what John calls “creation”. But this is way too much work for a Sunday evening.
My dad often used, “Why is a horse?” as the prototypical example of an absurd question. As a child, I asked a lot of why questions some more absurd than others. I guess I still do. Not all why questions are absurd. But some sure are. They are not absurd when they are questions of causality. But, it is exactly in this case that they tend to conflate with “how” questions. Likewise, who questions, when well-formed, are generally causal question. And causal questions are exactly in the domain of evidence-based science rather than faith-based religion. That doesn’t mean that all causal questions can be answered; many cannot. Over the years, I have become increasingly content with many questions likely having no answer and some being demonstrably unanswerable. The answer “God” or “the gods” is surely not the default answer to such questions. Ignorance, properly understood, must be the default answer. It is in the context of all those unanswered and unanswerable questions that I rejoice in answers to other questions that at least approximate the fact of some matter to a reasonable order of certainty.
John also writes, “Not everyone will be happy with this proposal.” On this point, he is completely correct. My response doesn’t answer John’s basic question, “Must science and religion be inimical to one another?” While I think the answer is “they are very likely inimical to one another but not certainly so,” my comments only address the approach to the question that John suggests. To answer John’s basic question we need universally available evidence. Evidence that so far no one has been able to adduce. So, for now, as long as proposed answers don’t point in some wrong direction, I consider it an unimportant question. I’d much rather work on answerable questions.
I will also note that this “Baylor” position of John’s has extremely loud echoes from Stephen Jay Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” (Natural History, 1997, 106 [March], 16-22, and Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life, New York: Ballantine Books, 2002). Or does Gould’s position echo the Baylor position? I think the Gould position fails and fails badly on both metaphysical and epistemological grounds. But that is another story.
Rereading this I see several significant leaps of logic but I don’t think I broke any world records.

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