Why do human beings ask why? Does this driving curiosity simply reflect humans’ intellectual superiority? According to evolutionary theory, the distinctions between humans and other species are matters of degree, not of kind. What does careful observation reveal?
Even the most curious of animals are prone to explore their immediate environments, including nearby objects (or animals) roughly similar to their own body size. Humans, by contrast, explore and analyze the full range of physical reality from the very smallest part (such as subatomic particles) to the very largest (such as clusters of superclusters of galaxies), not to mention every living thing and every part of every living thing they encounter.
Other animals’ curiosity extends little, if any, past the immediate moment. Even when creatures “store up” for the season or “prepare” for a coming event, such as a birth, they function in patterned ways according to their survival instinct. Humans, on the other hand, want to know about the earliest moments of life, of cosmic existence, and of the furthest reaches of the future. Particle physicists today spend billions of dollars to learn about cosmic conditions when the universe was only a fraction of a second old; other astronomers spend billions to learn more about what the universe will be like in a trillion trillion trillion years. Human curiosity extends even to a realm beyond time.
While animals attempt to explore and understand things and creatures in their habitat that can keep them and their offspring alive, human beings seek out the most desolate and even dangerous places on and in Earth-or beyond Earth-for the sheer adventure and pleasure of exploration, or as part of their undying quest to unlock the mysteries of their existence. While cats may be content to play with string and stones and bouncing crickets, humans want to understand everything there is to know about the string, stones, and crickets. Birds look to the star patterns in the night sky to guide them in their life-essential migrations, but humans seek to make sense of the patterns and understand starlight itself.
If the difference between human and other animals’ curiosity were simply a matter of higher intelligence (a presumed survival benefit), one would expect to see this higher curiosity emerging gradually in the most intelligent and communicative animal species. Instead we observe only modest increases in the degree of curiosity among such animals. Dolphins learn tricks and solve puzzles. Chimps take simple things apart and put them back together.
Humans ask, What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it? Where did the universe and its life forms come from? Why is everything the way it is?1 Humans are the only animals to ask such questions, and some individuals invest (or risk) their lives to gain answers. The evolutionist must explain what feature in any other animal gave rise to such curiosity.
The willingness to risk all for the sake of curiosity would seem to contradict the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest. From a biblical (creation model) perspective, however, human curiosity makes sense. God made people so intensely curious that in their drive to study all aspects of the cosmos, including their own minds and hearts, they would discover clues pointing unmistakably to Him.2
- Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 171.
- See Psa. 19:1-4, 50:6, 97:6.