Who can answer?

On page 39 of The Dawkins Delusion Alister McGrath quotes Peter Medawar as saying, in The Limits of Science:

That there is indeed a limit upon science is made very likely by the existence of questions that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer…I have in mind such questions as:

How did everything begin?
What are we all here for?
What is the point of living?

Doctrinaire positivism – now something of a period piece – dismissed all such questions as nonquestions or pseudo-questions…

So far so familiar. But what I really want to know is – who or what can answer the last two questions? (The first seems in principle a scientific question, even if science can’t in fact answer it.)

Who can answer those questions? What discipline can answer those questions? Plenty of people and some disciplines can offer answers, of course, but who can really answer them, in the sense of offering an answer that really is an answer?

As far as I know the answer is no person and no discipline. Does that make me a boringly out of date positivist? Or were the positivists maybe not quite so boring and out of date as people like to paint them? I don’t know, so I won’t belabor that. But I will belabor the first part. Those two questions are obviously subjective questions and as such not answerable in the normal way. It’s like asking ‘Does caviar taste good?’ There is no one answer to that, and there’s no one answer to Medawar’s questions, either.

Maybe what he meant was not so much ‘answer’ as ‘explore’ – but if so, then science can’t really be excluded after all. Science could perfectly well contribute to an exploration of those questions, as could many other disciplines. That’s especially true since for a lot of people the point of living is to find things out and what we are all here for is to increase human understanding.

I’m sure you already know that. I just felt like saying it.

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