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Does the universe have a purpose?


The following is a rebuttal to the essays on the John Templeton Foundation website (http://www.templeton.org/purpose/) concerning the question, “Does the universe have a purpose?”, which implies, “Did God create the universe because he has a purpose for humans?”

Most of the articles responding to the question analyzed the physical nature of the universe, from sub-atomic particles to galaxies and concluded that the cosmos has no consciousness, intent or purpose. I agree, physical objects are not sentient and do not possess a purpose. However, there is more to be investigated.

Other papers claimed that the cosmos is such a grand design that only a god could have created it. Opposing arguments asserted these marvels are not evidence of intelligence, but the result of accidents or the product of a multiverse (infinite parallel universes) which could generate incredible wonders no matter how improbable. I have read elsewhere that the mathematical constants of the cosmos seem clumsy, as if chosen by a juvenile hacker of the universe, working on a school project. In any case, physical phenomena cannot prove intelligent creation, nor will they provide clues about any plans for humanity.

Additional essays proposed that if humans have a purpose, then so does the universe, because people are part of it. This assumes humans have a reason for existing, forming a circular argument that is invalid. Even if true, this thinking does not help determine a reason for this world.

To discover the purpose of the universe, a question must be asked that will permit a meaningful answer, i.e., “Does the universe influence humanity and what are the results?” I think it does and I propose a few examples of how our world guides humans.

The universe shapes humanity by generously rewarding people who work together towards a common goal. Consider a football competition, where a well coordinated team of eleven average players competes against another eleven average players who insist on operating as individuals. Obviously, the eleven man team will easily overpower each solitary opponent, one at a time. This illustrates that people who form teams and apply coordination, synchronization, collaboration and other social skills are rewarded with greater benefits than if they worked as individuals. More importantly, they are more likely to survive. This is a powerful natural law of our world that has selected honeybees and many other social species as evolutionary winners. Consequently, humans have become profoundly social.

Preferential treatment of teams should not be taken for granted. I can imagine conditions where teamwork would have little or no advantage. Consider a universe populated by omnipotent gods, where each individual has the power to create and do whatever he or she wants. Under these circumstances, working as a team would have no benefit and would probably be detrimental. Another example is humans climbing Mount Everest where people do not have the strength to help each other and must focus on self-preservation or die. An additional exception to the superiority of teams is stipulated by the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go with others.” However, the majority of human history has shown that working with a well organized team is more successful than working alone.

The universe is vast, powerful and destructive. At any moment, an asteroid could strike planet Earth and pulverize it into cosmic dust. This world treats humans as if they are insignificant and not entitled to anything. It challenges, threatens and demands that humans be respectful, humble, aware, intelligent, adaptive, progressive and self-reliant; encouraging specific character traits and discouraging others. Some consider this world to be too cruel, but I wonder if it is too gentle to teach humility and other qualities, or are we just slow learners?

The influences and demands this world places on humans are as obvious and inescapable as death, but that has not prevented people from ignoring these realities. Some may question whether this universe was created by a God or a hacker of the universe but it is undeniable that humanity has been put to the task of learning how to create peaceful societies – or perish.

Updated 1/12/2014


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