Thursday, 28 December 2017

Why Some Questions Fail To Get Answered

Many of the big questions people ask are the same questions that they have debated to death for centuries, mostly with no resolution. If we've seen one thread on free will, God's existence, absolute morality, capital punishment, abortion, and questions of that nature, we've seen hundreds.

To my mind, the most probable reason why many of these questions linger is that the questions that are being asked are unreasonable ones. By 'unreasonable' I don't mean it's wrong to ask such questions, I mean they are probably being asked in the wrong way.

Here's a useful tip. Whenever you ask a question, you would be advised to consider whether that question can actually be reasonably asked in the way you are asking it. And as a corollary, you are also at the same time asking whether it can be answered. If the answer to the first part is 'no', the answer to the second part is going to be 'no' as well.

But how do you ascertain whether a question is being reasonably asked? Here's my tip on how you do it. If either or all of the answers you are considering in relation to a question would sit equally well with the reality you perceive, whereby each putative conclusion bears no change to the reality you perceive objectively, then your question cannot be reasonably asked.

Let me make that simpler by giving two examples of questions that cannot be reasonably asked, as per the above. Question 1: Did God cause X to happen? Question 2: Do we have free will?  Again, by that I don’t mean it’s unreasonable to speculate on these questions (and I have done), I mean they are questions where either answers leaves us in the same epistemological position. 

The question Did God cause X to happen? – must be followed by the question; is there any X in nature that can be explained by God that can’t be explained by nature, and vice versa? Empirically speaking, there is not. Similarly, the question Do we have free will? must be followed by the question; is there any action that can be explained by our free will that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred if we don't have free will? Again, there is not.

Over the years I've often found myself saying to antagonists that the answers they get will likely be as intelligent as the questions they ask, and that the rewards of what they get out of an enquiry will be roughly commensurate with the resources they put in. In cases like the above, though, we sometimes just have to remind ourselves that some questions are more interesting than answers, and that badly formulated questions will leave people on an endless treadmill of mediocre, unfruitful debate until they are executed properly.