I recently discovered an insightful video from a BBC series entitled The Atheism Tapes in which English Theologian Denys Turner defends the legitimacy of asking certain kinds of questions. Turner (quoting Marx) claims that intellectual eras tend only to ask the kinds of questions they think they can answer. Case in point was the era in which logical positivism dominated the academia earlier in the 20th Century: positivism ruled out as nonsense any questions or claims to do with metaphysics, i.e. any domain of knowledge not strictly deducible through empirical means. It’s not that these claims were said to be false. Rather, these claims were thought to have no meaningful content! Thus, when confronted with the question “why is there something rather than nothing?” the positivist would rule that question out of court as having no meaning at all. In this video, Turner does not mention positivism specifically but he does defend the legitimacy of our experience of wonder at the utter contingency of the cosmos – and by extension, the legitimacy of the question as to why there is anything at all (note: the question lies at the heart of most versions of the cosmological argument for the existence of God).
Turner’s evaluation of atheism and his answer to the problem of contingency need refinement (and perhaps a good dose of possible worlds semantics!), but he seems to be onto something. I’ve included a video of the interview below for you viewing enjoyment.