Anyone who reads about science versus religion sees this claim all the time: “Science can tell us about the natural world, but it can’t answer the Big Questions.” This goes along, of course, with the claim that the Big Questions can be answered only by religion. I plan to deal with this in a future talk, and have discussed this back in June, but right now I’m trying to compile a list of the Big Questions that supposedly stymie science. Here, for example, is a list given by John Haught in his book Deeper Than Darwin (p. 133):
“It is the main business of religion to answer the big questions. . .
- What’s going on in the universe? *
- Is there any point to it all?
- Why are we here?
- How should we live?
- Why be moral?
- Why is there evil?*
- Does God exist?
- Where did the universe come from? *
- Why does anything exist at all? *
- Why is there so much suffering? *
- Why do we die? *
- Do we live on after death?
- How can we find release from suffering and sadness?
- What can we hope for?”
Now my claim is twofold. First, science can answer some of the big questions (the ones with asterisks above), though believers may not like the answers. Second, insofar as the Big Questions are moral or philosophical, religions can give answers, but different religions give different answers—so there is no general “answer” at all. For instance, “do we live on after death” will be answered differently by Christians, Buddhists, and Jews.
In other words, while religion proffers answers to many questions, they are personal answers that don’t apply even to all members of a given faith, much less to members of different faiths. And, I further claim, for questions related to “how to live”, there is no answer that religion can give that is better than one philosophy can provide.
I have more questions on my own list (e.g., “what is the meaning of life?”, “how do we know the difference between right and wrong”), but here I’m crowdsourcing not just more Big Questions, but reactions to the list above and, especially, to the claim that religion answers the Big Questions.