I was eating lunch a few weeks ago with some friends from work. We had been discussing religion a few days prior—specifically, questions of origin.
One friend was eating a Waldorf salad and commented, “I wonder who thought of putting apples, grapes, walnuts, and mayonnaise together.” As an avid fan of Good Eats with Alton Brown, I was able to reply, “I think it was the concierge of the Waldorf Hotel in New York” (turns out it was the maitre d’hotel, Oscar Tschirky). To this, my friend replied, “You know, you have all the answers to the small questions in life and no answers to the big questions.”
I have previously encountered similar statements, and they always irk me. It reminds me of an interaction I saw between Richard Dawkins and Ted Haggard, during which Haggard called Dawkins’ atheism “arrogant.” I find that ironic because it is those like Haggard who feel they know all the right answers to what are, in my view, unanswerable questions.
Without the appropriate technology (hot tub time machine), none of us can know the answer to questions of origin, the afterlife, and so on. My response to statements like those of my friend is to freely admit that I don’t know the answer to those questions, and neither do you. Just because someone has an answer, doesn’t imply its correctness. All I do is recognize the epistemic limitations of others and myself.
No one can answer the big questions.