That life evolves, and increases in complexity and in intelligence, is a fact. Why it does so is a theory, and natural selection is a very good one indeed. Life’s exploitation of nature is a fact. The way it may have begun doing so, sketched in Complexity, Intelligence And Evolution, is little more than speculation. While we can ignore theories and speculations (all we lose is a degree of understanding), if we ignore facts we may lose our species’ survival.
All life needs energy, and all life, wherever it exists throughout the universe, will be following the same steps; surviving if able to exploit an energy niche, dying if not, with survivors who possess the ability eventually moving out to exploit resources of neighbouring environments.
Life learns what it can about its environment in order to better exploit what is available. Increases in knowledge are accompanied by increases in the ability to control, a necessary feat if life is to extract all that is available from a declining resource. This results in what has occurred on this planet—life becomes more complex, and its problem-solving ability or “intelligence” develops. In retrospect, humans of past cultures appear primitive. So will we, when looked back upon by life in the distant future.
A million years, even a hundred million years, is nothing to life. It has already existed on this planet for more than three billion years; our sun will still be providing life-giving energy another four billion years from now. Life here and further out in the universe, appears to have all the time it needs to reach its full potential.
To reiterate; the possibility that life will eventually evolve into an omnipotent being is not life’s purpose (unless we return to imagining a god pre-designing the universe toward this end). Life needs no purpose to evolve; all it needs is the ability and freedom to exploit environmental resources. Nonetheless, possession of god-like or omnipotent abilities seems very likely to be life’s eventual outcome.
(We will be referring to the idea of life evolving to become an omnipotent Being several times. This entity needs some kind of name. [As noted in Learning And Purpose, footnote 3, de Chardin called a similar culmination to life’s evolution the Omega Point.] As an irreverent convenience, I’ll call it oB, short for omnipotent Being.)
It might be simpler to believe that a god existed before the universe began, that it started the universe and that its laws created all that we find within. By believing so, all our unknowns are rolled into one, and we feel less driven to find the evidence required to support such an assumption. It would also be especially comforting to believe that this god plays some ongoing part in humankind’s existence. However, miracles are rare and highly suspect to anyone with a logical mind. No rational person sits down and waits for a miracle to get them out of a predicament.
Furthermore, it is irrational to believe that solely one’s own religion, and no other, holds the truth. Humans have thought this way for long enough, and, after centuries of disagreement, culture clashes, fighting and wars, have ended up where we are today—amid much religious bitterness, baggage, and confusion.
We can make a fresh start. We can learn from and apply, rather than deny or distort, the scientific facts we have uncovered. We can start by being rational, just as people tried to be hundreds or thousands of years ago when founding the religions we have inherited. We can consider what evidence there is to support the proposed meta-purpose, the conjecture that life itself will evolve to possess omnipotent abilities. Those for whom the evidence is strong enough may, if they also think the suggestion has merit, adopt it as the purpose they use to guide collective decision making (possibly in the manner suggested in Determining Moral Behaviours).
That many, even most, of the world will continue to follow the dictates issued by their current religion is inevitable. It also matters little, and is not unwelcome. Rather, it is desirable, for individual freedom (in all actions that do not harm others) is essential to life’s vitality. The universal religion (whose development is touched upon in A Universal Religion) does not replace existing religions. It is best regarded as an “umbrella” doctrine whose principal use is to provide moral guidance relevant to the collective action of communities and nations when guidance is otherwise confused or non-existent. With careful development, the old and the new tenets need not compete; they can reinforce each other, with one lending a hand when the other calls for aid.