Would the universe’s purpose be such a candidate? The short answer is, no, because we know of no such purpose. The universe exists and functions and we can explain and predict much of what we observe. Nothing known to us requires its operation to be subject to the constraints of some purpose.
A number of writers have suggested that God, or some god equivalent, could have programmed the universe before it began, before the initiating singularity existed. This god could have bestowed the initial parameters and laws that would force it to ultimately achieve a precisely predetermined purpose. This, these writers state, would explain why everything is “just right” for us to be here.
Borrow and Tipler, two eminent scientists, have attempted to prove this proposition. In The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, they provide their rationale for stating that this universe was designed to produce intelligent life. Further, they try to show that Homo sapiens is the only form of intelligent life that can exist within this universe, and that our descendants have a specific task to perform (to regulate all matter contained within the universe). Their book makes interesting (although complex) reading.
If we want we can choose to adopt the assumption that a god predetermined a purpose for our universe and the life that it spawned. However, when doing so we should remember that this is just what was done several thousands of years ago, and those assumptions led to today’s religious beliefs. Implementing current knowledge to resurrect the same assumption ends up reintroducing the same god of old. This doesn’t help us tackle current moral questions because these questions were never asked, and so never answered, in times when our current religious texts were written. We just don’t know how prophets of old might have replied, so any statement made today is necessarily an extrapolation from what was reportedly said in the past—as such, it is simply an interpretation, and thus sure to be disputed by one religion or another.
If we are unable to know what a designing god wants, then there is little point in thinking about the possibility that a god existed (or exists) and had (or has) a purpose in its mind. This is primarily because, in our lack of knowledge, there are no bounds to what we could imagine. For example, the god could have been (or is) a spiteful monster (and a world-destroying comet could be right now on its way, because we are not turning out to be as malicious as he intended us to be . . . ). Whatever we conjure up will be drawn by the pencil of our desires and fears, and limited only by the scope of our imaginations. We gain nothing by postulating the existence of a “designer” god as Borrow and Tipler have done. We allege several gods already, and different religions’ interpretations of what each one wants seems to be adding to current confusions, not helping us rise above them.
If looking to the universe’s past to find a purpose leaves us empty-handed, what about looking to its future? We know that the universe changes. It has evolved since its time and point of origin from the very simplest that such a thing could be, to what we see today—something vast and complex. Might this change be purpose-directed?
Again, no, it does not appear to be, or at least leading authorities find no reason to think so. As far as can be determined, the contents of the universe are simply obeying known laws of physics when they change from one form to another. These laws control matter-energy interchanges, and force certain physical properties to be conserved during interactions (see Gödel’s Theorem, General Systems Theory, and The Conservation Laws). As a result, the universe unfolds in a strictly rational manner, predictable effect following deducible cause every time. (Predictable, that is, in the sense that actuaries can accurately calculate insurance risks. For instance, we can predict that life will experience more catastrophes, such as the extinctions it has endured in the past, but we cannot say exactly what will happen, nor when it will occur. Predictions can become certainties if the number of variables are reduced—for instance, I can predict that my computer will show an “a” on its monitor when I depress the “A” key.)
The changes that do occur throughout the universe are not directed toward any purpose that can be discovered from within. From analyzing the universe’s overall behaviour, we can expect only one of two outcomes. Either gravitational attraction between its contents will slow, stop, then reverse its current expansion, and everything will be pulled back again to ultimately disappear into one tiny, hot hole; or, as recent observations suggest, our universe will continue to expand forever, eventually fading into a vast, black, dead frigidity.
Thus, the answer remains no; there is no purpose to be found by examining the universe’s past, or its future. And it doesn’t help to imagine that the universe was designed before its beginning with a purpose in an external god’s mind, because we have no way of finding out what this god had in mind at the time.
No; unfortunately, the physical universe, although meeting the conditions of being virtually infinite and everlasting, seems devoid of the kind of purpose we seek.
The next obvious arena to examine is the biological universe. Let’s take a look at life itself, and ask if its presence or behaviour suggests the existence of any kind of purpose.
- This would still allow much variety. Control exerted solely by general laws of physics allows limitless unscripted scenarios to unfold between programmed birth and targeted death. (See Creativity, Free Will, And A Revelation.)
- Mathematical physicists have shown that, if any of several physical constants (for example, the charge of an electron) were different by even the smallest fraction, then the resulting universe would be uninhabitable for life as we know it. Of course, this does not prove that a God existed. It does not mean that the universe was precisely designed to enable life to begin and eventually evolve to produce humans. The fact that we are here means only that we are here—as this universe developed, conditions arose that were and are right for life forms such as ours to evolve. If the universe existed in another form, then either our equivalents would exist in a different form, or no beings would be present asking questions such as these.
The most powerful argument against the proposition that the universe was designed solely to cause humanity to evolve, is that our universe might be only one of an infinite number of universes, many of which would have started with parameters that do not permit life to evolve, and just some, such as ours, that do. We do not know what exists outside of our own universe, and so cannot say whether or not this argument carries any weight.
- John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).
- But see also the discussion on Creativity, Free Will, And A Revelation for additional discussions on this point.