The Fear of Answering “Why”

My grandson Jake is coming to that age when he is asking the most important question of his life, “Why?” Yes, he will soon find that repeating the question will cause great enjoyment while annoying his grandfather, but I encourage that most powerful question, “Why?”

Neuroscientist Beau Lotto made an interesting statement during his 2012 TED Conference presentation with 12-year old Amy O’Toole. Lotto was speaking to the ideals of good scientific inquiry and how a group of 10-year old students were able to devise a question not yet asked, delineate a thesis, design an experiment, discover the answer, and write a dissertation that was published in a peer review journal. He stated, “The question “Why?” is one of the most dangerous things you can do, because it takes you into uncertainty.”

Do those who believe the western religious philosophies (as well as all other earth bound mythologies) have a problem with asking “Why?” Have they lost their curiosity, lost the sense of wonder so they can no longer be an inquisitor? Do they simply fear the unknown, the uncertainty?

Lotto continued, “It’s easy for a scientist to go in and not have a clue what he’s doing, because that’s what we do in the lab…”

Scientists know intrinsically that to find the answer you must start with a clear mind. I tell my presentation participants that if you don’t know an answer, ask a five-year old. They have not been told that there is only one answer. A five-year old will create a lab from almost anything, like dirt in the backyard to determine how far one must dig to get to China.

So what lab does a Christian Apologist have? He does not have an original scripture to which to refer and there is no consensus in the biblical apologetic community on definitions, translations and reasons.  If apologists do believe there are errors in current versions of scripture because God has allowed man to make these errors in scripture, why would He do that?

“Because” is only an excuse, not an answer.

Lotto provided me with a particle direction.

The best questions are the ones that create the most uncertainty. They’re the ones that question the things we think to be true already.” “…but to question what you think to be true already is really stepping into that space.

If a Christian is uncertain of his or her own “truth,” then he or she cannot be a good Christian – or Jew or Muslim? I certainly hope not. I do hope they become more Humanist however.

This happened to me some eight years before I was asked to leave my position on the Board of Directors for a temple because of my “non-Jewish” beliefs and questioning the word of the Bible.

More than a few decades ago, when I was still of the Jewish faith (I am still a Jew by birth and tradition), I wished to marry a woman who was Southern Baptist. I asked for my rabbi’s blessing. He had met her and liked her. He told me no, he would not bless the marriage.

When I asked “Why can’t I marry her with your blessing,” my rabbi told me that doing so would expose me to non-Jewish beliefs which will cause me to break the continuity of the Jewish faith. If he blessed my marriage he would have to bless all inter-faith marriages and soon Judaism as we knew it would be destroyed.  This is when I started to question the teachings of all religions. not just Judaism.

This was a biased conclusion by a man of faith about his religion. How did he know that my Judaism would not be strengthened because of my questioning the faith? Divine intervention?

It is the same with those of any religious belief who claim that their scripture in inerrant and theirs is the only true faith. That the failure of their religion means a failure of all mankind.  Yet, their claims are only justified because they want their claims to be justified. To accomplish that, words and meaning are reinterpreted, changed and revamped to meet the expectations of the questioner, to protect the faith.

This is similar in rabbinical training and reading of the Jewish book of laws, the Talmud. One is encouraged to question the Talmud, but there are set questions with set answers. When I reread my biblical notes and books, I wonder why it took me so long to question the answers.

The other question important for self or scientific discovery is “How?” as in how did God decide on the Israelites as his chosen people instead of the more powerful and influential people of the time? How did God create a great flood?

The simple wanting to know the answers to How and Why seem to be something of a foreign concept to those who have a preconceived answer or solution.  If one does not understand the answer, then it is wrong and the true answer is “God did it,” abd the response to the question is somehow nullified.

In the words of my late uncle Seymour, sometimes that answer is there is no answer. Sometimes it is an answer you originally rejected or did not anticipate.  Sometimes the answer disproves your own thesis or beliefs. Simply knowing that one part hydrogen and two parts oxygen makes water because that is what you learned in school is okay, but the question “Why does this combination make water? How does it happen?” is harder to resolve.

To believe that Jesus of Nazareth walked on water because that is what you learned in church is okay. Yet the question of how Jesus walked on water is usually not asked or answered. And when asked, the answer is 1) one must have faith that it happened, and 2) its a miracle and God is the answer. Somehow physical science never enters the conversation. 

David Hume in his “An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding” defined a miracle as “a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of the Deity, or by the interposition of some invisible agent” (an emissary of God).   He concluded that a miracle can only be “achieved” through the cause and needs of religion, for Nature’s laws cannot be broken. From here it can be inferred that faith in God negates discovery in science and reason.

In his own analysis of Hume’s work, “Hume’s Abject Failure: The Argument Against Miracles,” John Earman wrote,

 . . . if a miracle is a violation of a law of nature, then whether or not the violation is due to the intervention of the Deity, a miracle is logically impossible since, whatever else a law of nature is, it is an exceptionless regularity.

Maybe it is simply that the difficulty to resolve the question “why” as it concerns biblical text is too much to endure. Maybe disproving one’s belief is too much to fathom. Maybe it is the fear of reprisal from God for questioning His (or Her) ways.

However, the “I always believed this way, therefore it is true” or “the Bible says so, therefore it is true” answers are not answers at all, but merely an excuse not to tackle the hard questions. In the communication world of rhetoric, persuasion and argument, this is called Avoidance. 

Brett Palmer’s YouTube video “Divine Inspiration & Biblical Inerrancy: The Failed Hypothesis” also does an excellent job of answering the Christian Apologists’ inability to simple look beyond their own preconceived position that their Bible is infallible. Palmer’s two-hour video suggests that Christians, especially Apologists, have a fear of answering the question “Why?” 

It is this fear of “why” that has me a bit confused. I have not received a logical answer to my own query as to why there are historical citation errors in the Holy texts, as well as the scientific, and factual errors? If God wanted all humans to conform to His teachings, then why has he not given each of us immediate access to His “truths?” If God is all powerful and all knowing, why didn’t He (or She) know that Eve would be convinced by a serpent to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? Couldn’t he have stopped her before taking a bite and prevent Adam from following suit?

Fear is a good thing. It keeps us from walking into oncoming traffic when crossing a street, from diving into the deep end of the pool when you cannot swim, or robbing a bank. The fear of punishment, injury and death are real, and can be proven beyond doubt. But why fear questioning one’s own faith, asking the questions “Why” and “How,” and excepting real answers.

Is it the fear the failure of a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument? The fear that what happened after was not caused by what happened before? That praying before a recovery from an illness did not cause the recovery? Is the truth that the complete failure of one’s faith in God and prayer to save a dying child or win a race or save a church, that hideous?

The simple failure of answering “Why” and “How” has and will continue to block the advancement of science, the understanding of human nature, and the further greatness of our species and planet. I do believe that the primary reason is religion’s fear of extinction is if these questions are permitted to be answered.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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