In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett provides this quotation from an anonymous source:
Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.
Having taught philosophy in college, I have observed that many students express a dissatisfaction with philosophy, because it doesn’t provide clear-cut answers. Instead, it poses various questions that may never be answered, various problems that may never be resolved, and various controversies that may never end. In many other subjects, there are right and wrong answers, but in philosophy, students are often left not knowing what the right answers are. Many are left feeling uncomfortable about this.
Religion usually deals in answers to the big questions philosophy poses, such as what is morality, what is our place in the universe, how should we live our lives, all answered by God Himself. When religious people feel they have the right answers, they often become intolerant of anyone who would question their answers. Here’s an example that was posted to my YouTube channel:
It’s a crime for you to question what Jesus did for you on the cross. How shameful for you to question it! — SwordandShield7
This attitude has been typical of religious people for centuries. The Inquisition was all about punishing people for questioning the answers and authority of the Catholic church. The Crusades were about killing people who did not accept the answers and authority of the Catholic Church. Protestants got in on this too. John Calvin murdered Michael Servetus. Queen Elizabeth I murdered many Catholics. The Puritans in Salem persecuted people for Witchcraft. In recent times, Muslims have been persecuting unbelievers, and this practice goes back to Mohammed himself, who would have people murdered for questioning him. Pagans have also murdered people for disagreeing with them. The Romans are known for feeding Christians to lions. And Socrates, the father of western philosophy, was put to death by the people of Athens for questioning their beliefs and authority.
Plato wrote several dialogues featuring Socrates as the protagonist. In these dialogues, there is usually someone who believes he has the answers to some question. Socrates comes along and begins questioning him about what he believes. It normally turns out that he can’t answer all of Socrates’ questions, and Socrates’ search for wisdom continues, because he didn’t find the answers he was seeking from the person he spoke with. Socrates may be contrasted with various religious teachers. The religious teachers normally come along and say something to the effect of, “Here, I have the answers, all provided to me by God, the supreme and final authority.” Instead of coming with answers, Socrates came with questions.
People may prefer answers to questions, but when so many people profess to have different answers, all from the unassailable authority of God, the question arises, “Who is right?” They can’t all be right. Muslims and Christians cannot both be right. Protestants and Catholics cannot both be right. Presbyterians and Methodists cannot both be right. And so on, ad nauseam. With such a glut of different answers available, we need some way to sort through them. Even if we can’t know which is the correct answer, it would help to be able to toss aside answers that just won’t do. This is where questions come in. It may be preferable to have answers rather than questions, but we must ask questions if we are to ever find correct answers. Without questions, lies become enshrined as unquestionable orthodoxy. As preferable as answers may be, having the wrong answers is much worse than having unanswered questions, and questions are a necessary tool in any intellectually honest quest for truth.
Note how the word quest is related to the word question. The quest for truth is not about following someone who tells you he has the answers. The quest for truth is about seeking answers on your own by asking questions, by seeking their answers, and by questioning the answers you find. The questions may often go unanswered, but sometimes there are answers. Scientific progress has come about by people asking questions. The technological advances we enjoy today came about because people asked questions. If everyone had just accepted authority, we would still be living in the dark ages. You may not find all the answers to all your questions in your lifetime, but you may make some progress, and the progress you make may help others in their quests for truth. Also, asking questions keeps us from getting stuck in dead ends. When people try to tell you what to believe, you should ask questions. Question what you’re told and see whether it stands up. If it doesn’t, move on. It is always better to leave with questions than it is to settle on wrong answers. And if you don’t question what you’re told, odds are extremely good that you will settle on the wrong answers. So question.
But perhaps you worry that questioning is wrong and that you will suffer eternal punishment if you question. If there is a God, that God is reasonable. If there is a God, he understands that it is wrong to expect people to believe unquestioningly without evidence of any kind. If there is a God, he wants us to search for the truth, not just settle on wrong answers. So I do not believe in any God who would punish people for asking reasonable questions. I cannot tell you that there is a God. The question of God’s existence hasn’t been answered to my satisfaction. But I can say something about what God must be like if there is a God. If there is an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent being whom we may call God, he knows what it is reasonable to expect of people, and he would never damn anyone for asking honest questions. I know that much to be true even if I don’t know whether there is a God. So seek truth, quest after it, and ask questions. Whether or not we find answers to all our questions, asking questions steers us better in life than unquestioningly accepting the answers provided to us.