How vs. Why
How does it work. The intricacies, the explanations, the elements and consistencies. So many times we describe why something is by describing how it works. Well, why do you get hungry? Well your body balances the chemicals in yours system, and when a chemical is missing or imbalanced, another chemical is produced that creates a chemical reaction that travels up to your brain which tells it that hey, you are hungry! My description is an extremely over-simplified version, and one that is more fitting for young children. Scientists with more expertise could describe the same process in a whole dissertation using words with more than six syllables; some I know, some I do not. The point is not the description, but the fact that we use explanations to explain why. Does it truly explain why, or just how. Does explaining how signify why?
Any teacher could tell you that how Johnny got a bloody nose is not nearly as important as why Johnny has a bloody nose. How Johnny got a bloody nose is because Brian hit him in the nose. Why Johnny has a bloody nose is because he was teasing Brian. So we can know that how does not always tell us why, but can we say that how never tells us why? That is the question.
My true qualm in this area comes with another question; can we ask questions of Why to life questions, or science questions, or other such areas of reality. Suddenly the question of why does an apple fall has much more complexity. How the apple falls is because all objects have a degree of gravity and since the earth is such a large object, the force of gravity (acceleration) is about 9.8 meters per second squared. Thus when you throw an apple up, gravity pulls the apple toward the earth, slowing it’s upward trajectory until the apple comes to a stop and directly begins to fall at a growing speed towards the earth. That is HOW gravity works. How the apple falls to the earth. To know WHY the apple falls, that takes more understanding. Why was the apple moving in the first place? But even more important is a secondary level of questions that must be answered before the original question can be answered. The apple fell due to gravity (how), so to understand why, we must know why gravity works. Not how, why. Why is gravity 9.8 and not something else? It is a constant. Why? It is tied to the mass of an object, but why is it that specific ratio? What if it was some other ratio? What if the earth was the same mass, weight and size, but the gravity was different? Understand this is not questioning the mathematical equations of gravity, but questioning why the equation is the way it is.
Scientists have found that if the universal ratio of gravity (the equation) was slightly different, life in the universe would not exist. And this is merely fractions of a percent off. In the beginning... if the gravitational ratio was slightly heavier, mostly heavy elements would have been produced and none of the lesser elements (like the gases) and life would not exist. If it was slightly lighter, most of the heavier elements would not be strong enough to hold cohesive bonds and so would not have been produced meaning materials necessary for planets and moons, etc. would not have been produced. No planets, no life. (This is not an explanation of why, but more of an explanation of how things work). It seems like gravity was fine-tuned for life in the universe. Why that specific ratio?
Why are plants green? Plants are green because their cells have something called chlorophyll, which is a chemical used in photosynthesis (process of turning sugar and sunlight into energy). That is how. Why is the question of why green? Why not blue, or red, or some other color? Why are plants green? And why does chlorophyll act the way it does? etc.
The distinction between how and why is important because a naturalist has no answer to why. Only the how. To say it just is, or that it is random chance that it ended up being green ignores the seemingly direct, perfect conditions that are met in science, such as gravity. This is a difficult distinction and why is a difficult question, one that many scientists will either dismiss out of hand or get frustrated at because by today’s definition of science (must be observable), it cannot be answered. But if you define science as the study of reality then it does fit into the purview of science. (That’s how the Greeks did it.)
So here is a question, Why does life exist?