I’ve been listening to comedian Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird recently. A point of interest relevant to this blog is that Pete ends each episode with an exploration of his guest’s religious or atheistic beliefs. Most often his guest is a fellow comedian, a trade that fosters atheism almost as readily as scientific fields. Speaking of which, he’s had on scientists like Brian Green and Bill Nye as well as less scientifically literate types such as Deepak Chopra (that was a hard episode for me to get through even though it was about half the usual two hour length.) Pete himself is a lapsed fundamental Christian who still holds various spiritual beliefs while being sympathetic to the secular. I tell you all this to both encourage you to check out his show and to introduce a concept Pete often brings up--that science answers the “what”s and “how”s of the universe but offers little in terms of “why.”
The big “why”s were the last related questions I found of value as I left theism--most notably “why is there something rather than nothing?” Atheists don’t have a definitive answer to this and perhaps never will. Theists can answer it, but only with their go-to guess. They essentially answer “because God.” They then immediately stop asking questions, considering “because God” becomes more absurd when the question is “why is there God rather than no God?”
The only thing more frustrating than an empirical God of the Gaps argument is a philosophical God of the Gaps argument, which is what we have here. Pete is filling a gap with an assumption, as he has been conditioned to by his upbringing. While we should try to discover answers to every “why,” the problem with the question is that it eventually creates an unknown in any body of knowledge. When a “why” question is answered, a new “why” question applies. The result? A gap that keeps on giving. The better question may be this: with what degree of reductionism are you comfortable?
To illustrate this, here is another favorite comedian of mine, Louis CK, talking about kids.