A couple of years ago a friend sent me an article about rattlesnakes and hogs. Supposedly hogs love to eat rattlesnakes, and when they hear a rattle they converge upon it with great enthusiasm. As a result, the writer warned, rattlesnakes have learned not to rattle, and now they are more dangerous than ever.
Really? How did that happen? Did the dead rattlesnakes somehow tell the living rattlesnakes what had happened to them, and caution them to stay silent? Or, more likely, did a rattlesnake observe a friend being attacked by pigs, and figure out that to stay alive it must lay low? And then did the snake slither off to counsel every other snake it could find?
Those are the only explanations for the education of rattlers I can think up. Maybe you can come up with a better one.
I have a different theory, much more plausible, presuming the story itself is true: Not all rattlesnakes rattle. Maybe the propensity to rattle is genetic. Anyway, the noisy snakes who live near pigs are no longer having noisy babies, because they are not having any babies, because they all got eaten!
The part of the folksy story that doesn’t work is the notion that snakes figured out that rattling was dangerous and they stopped on purpose—i.e. that snakes form intentions based on inductive inference. But it is a common human fallacy to believe that things happen because the world chose a carefully considered action.
Not everything that happens in the world happens because someone or something had a thought-out purpose. Beware of teleological thinking. Phenomena have causes, but they don’t necessarily have reasons. There might be no thought-out purpose for the appendix. And whose idea was it for my hair to be thinning to the point of disappearing? Does that have some profound rationale? Maybe to keep hat makers in business? But then we can ask, what is the purpose of keeping hat makers in business? At some point that silly regress has to stop, because it gets ridiculous.
But hold on a second. There are many people who say everything happens for a reason. It is impossible to convince those people otherwise, so if you want to stop reading now, I don’t mind.
Does everything happen for a reason? If so, then some reasons are known only to God. But God is God, infinite, all knowing, all seeing, all powerful, and His reasons for things are far beyond our understanding.
As far as explanatory value is concerned, there is no difference between saying “Some things just exist for no purpose known to us,” and “Everything has a reason, but only God knows what that is.”
Human beings are makers. We just are. In prehistory our creative nature helped us survive and it still does, but it also helps us kill each other and lay waste to our world. We have no comprehensible reason for that. Making paintings springs from that same source. Creativity is an important part of being human and we all have those impulses; we just don’t express them in the same way.
So why do we paint? We can answer the question either of two ways:
We paint because we are just made that way, or
We paint because it pleases God, Who has His ineffable reasons.
Either way, we now know that if we feel like painting we can go ahead and paint without worrying that we are missing the real underlying reason for it. There is no reason that we will ever know.
Same for writing.