Why? It’s a question that comes up in everything we do. It’s something that can consume us and something that can drive us, sometimes backwards and sometimes forwards. We have this insatiable quest for understanding the reason behind things. It starts as early as we can speak. I field the question on a constant basis about everything with my toddler. “Don’t hit the cat.” “Why, mommy?” “Don’t put your fork in your nose.” “Why, mommy?” So sometimes I don’t feel the question “why” really even needs to be answered. But still, he wants to know the reason behind the imperative. Then again, I find myself as the mom often asking the child that: why did you hit your brother? Why did you tear the pages out of your book? Sometimes those questions we may not really want to know the reason behind it, yet we still find ourselves needing to ask it.
How did we come to be such curious creatures? I think we must first determine if we are the only creatures with this kind of curiosity. The old adage says that “curiosity killed the cat” but mankind’s curiosity goes much deeper than just an inquisitive moment of an animal. The cat may want to know why there’s a spot of light on the wall, but the human mind is going to want to know why that plastic device can bring forth light, why that light is a ray and a particle, why the light looks that color, why the light cannot operate indefinitely, or why the light reaches the wall faster than the sound of our laughter. But then we’ll also ask ourselves why the cat is chasing that light and why we are so amused by it.
The human search for answering why is something completely unique in the animal kingdom. Lions don’t investigate why the gazelle comes to the river to drink; the lion just knows that it does. The cow doesn’t research why the grass grows when there is more rain; the cow just knows it has plenty to eat. The dog may know it is cooler in the shade than in the sun, but it doesn’t understand why, nor does it really care. Therefore this can’t be some evolutionary advancement. Evolution doesn’t require the organism to understand the reason behind things, just whether they are better suited to survive.
But humans have this drive for understanding why. It is that quest for “why” that leads us to discover: why do plants grow in the sun? It’s what pushes us to explore and research: why are the pyramids here? Why does the sun move across the sky? But mostly, it shows our drive to understand the rest of mankind. This quest for why has generated entire fields of study in philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology. Why do we do the things we do? Why do we behave the way we behave? The one question asked at the end of a relationship: why? The one question asked to people risking their lives to climb Mt. Everest: why? The one question we want answered when convicting a killer of his crimes: why? The one question we demand from God in the face of tragedy: why?
Should we then stop to consider, why do we ask why? What is it about mankind that compels us to understand the reason behind things? We want to discover more about the world around us. We want to explore what is beyond us in the universe. We want to understand where we have our beginnings. But why? Because it is what makes us uniquely human. Nature itself cannot account for the existence of this inquisitive feature. This quest for understanding why must come from somewhere outside of nature because nature doesn’t care why. People do.
We have philosophers and theoretical thinking, things that have no use in an evolutionary sense. Evolution is only concerned with survival, not theorizing about the cosmos or mathematics. Evolution would not drive our desire to discover reason. The very fact that we’re pondering why we ponder things goes to show that there is something more to us than an evolved set of rearranged matter. Something outside of us, outside of nature, must have given us that feature. It gave us this drive to discover, to explore, and to create so that we would have tasks to go accomplish above the simple nature of survival. We could dream things to do and invent and imagine. But then, not only were we as humans given this unique quest for why, but we were placed here with so many different why’s to explore. We were given this amazing earth with vastly different landscapes, more variety than any other planet. We have oceans with amazing creatures and snow-capped mountains with their own atmosphere. We have deserts, tropics, plains, and icebergs. We have huge mammals and microscopic bacteria. We’re comprised of complicated organic molecules, proteins and enzymes, organized into systems. The earth is uniquely placed so that we are able to see beyond our galaxy and send devices to explore the solar system and the universe. We’re able to seek for the whys in the cosmos and in microbiology. We have a need to discover and we have things given for us to discover.
Evolution could not suddenly generate this kind of awareness and theoretical thinking on its own. Something cannot arise from nothing. If in the beginning there were only particles, the spirit for discovery could never have arisen. If in the beginning there were a Divine Mind, then we can explain the existence of particles and mind. Ironically, many people want to use the quest for knowledge in their effort to disprove God. But, the very quest for knowledge itself cannot be explained apart from the existence of God.