This is a very good question … a question often directed to religious people … and a question directed to me, a Christian, recently that gave me serious pause. Do I believe or even think much about the question? Do I even have an answer to the question?
The serious atheists flings such a question at one of faith as if it were a lethal spear, intended to inflict much harm.
Here is a small selection of thoughts from several very prominent scientists who have given the question much thought. The question of any of them being atheist is but a side issue to the very personal question for me … Does The Universe Have A Purpose?
“Does the universe have a purpose? I’m not sure, But anyone who expresses a more definitive response to the question is claiming access to knowledge not based in empirical foundations. This remarkably persistent way of thinking, common to most religions and some branches of philosophy, has failed badly in past efforts to understand and thereby predict the operations of the universe and our place within in.” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
“We don’t know what’s driving 96% of the universe,” Tyson said. “Everybody you know and love and heard of and think about and see in the night sky through a telescope: four percent of the universe.” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
[I respect Tyson’s agnostic stance here in cautioning against claiming access to knowledge not based on empirical foundations, but it should be extended to the Atheistic Materialistic/Naturalistic world view as well.]
“I am not religious because I do not think the universe has any single purpose. Instead, I believe that ‘purpose’ itself is left up to an intelligent mind to impose upon reality, which is rightfully unconscious, which is why justice is arbitrary, freedom is imagined and nobody can solve the infinity problems in the arrow of time; because there was no beginning for a superhuman agency to have intervened in.” Internet Blogger
“The universe itself doesn’t have a purpose, nor is there one inherent in the fundamental laws of physics. But teleology (movement toward a goal) can plausibly be a useful concept when we invent the best description of higher-level phenomena, and at the human level there are purposes we can create for ourselves.” Physicist Sean Carroll
“The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.” ― Carl Sagan
Part of my message is that we’re not central to the purpose of the Cosmos. What happened to me makes us all seem very small. Carl Sagan,
After having given the question some serious thought in recent days, here is my thinking on the question as a Bible believing Christian.
I believe the Bible when in the very first words it proclaims “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Have I proved the existence of God, or have I discovered someone who has unequivocally proven with touchable, smellable, visible proof that you and I can walk down the block and see for ourselves? No … no … no! Bottom line is that it is a matter of faith … informed faith, but nevertheless – faith.
But so is the proclamation from another prominent modern day scientist
“ … tiny quantum fluctuations in the very early universe became the seeds from which galaxies, stars, and ultimately human life emerged” Stephen Hawking
Both statements are statements of faith, and as far as I know neither rises to what would be conclusive truth, as is humanly possible to perceive, either as science or as proof beyond the shadow of doubt in the courtroom.
So given my faith position, how do I answer the question Does The Universe Have A Purpose?
My answer is – the universe does indeed have a purpose. Further, the purpose of the universe is: personally, specifically and individually aimed directly at me … little old me living ‘somewhere between immensity and eternity in my tiny planetary home.’
Further along in the book of Genesis, we see the creation accounts of specific things in the heavens and the earth, in particular we see the creation of mankind. We also see that mankind was created with free-will. I can choose to do one thing or the other … I can choose to do good things or I can choose to do bad things – even terribly awful things, it’s my free choice and it’s called liberty but it can be abused. I can even choose to believe in the God of the Bible, or any of a large number of gods, or I can choose to believe in no gods. It’s my choice.
In choosing the God of the Bible as indeed the one and only creator God of the universe, we close in on why I see that the purpose of the universe is personally directed towards me.
A few of Bible verses sets the cosmological stage here:
The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Psalm 19:1
For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:18)
I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. Psalm 139:14
He answered [speaking of Jesus]: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27
… because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse … Romans 1:19-20
By freely choosing this God of the Bible – the God described from Genesis thru Revelation, the full scope and breadth of this God opens up before me and draws me to Him … the one who created the heavens and the earth.
If I am in the high Sierra Nevada mountains on a clear night and look up at the infinite but countable stars, planets, galaxies and constellations, I see them not as just an awesome and spectacular array in the night sky begging for exploration and explanation, but I am able to experience the night sky as did King David in saying “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.” I see them as directed personally towards me individually so as to draw me towards, and show me, a creator that could have done so magnificent a thing. The night sky draws me to a strong desire to one day meet that creator when I will behold Him … face to face. That’s not to say that others who don’t believe as I do don’t also see and sense the same grandeur … the same majesty. Indeed they do, but are they able to see it as if it is all directed specifically to them?
When I study the modern day findings of biological and cellular science, I again see at the very smallest level of life that, again as King David said “… I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” That this miracle of life that has been remarkably and wonderfully made I can now see for myself … thanks to the creative mind of created man, and I can see it as pointed specifically, personally and individually to me. I can see this in a variety of ways … in the embryonic development of a chicken egg where the full body plan of the chicken is shown after just two days of development … followed by the twenty some days till the bird escapes and becomes the chicken. This remarkable development tells me – no … it shows me, that contained within the very first second of the fertilization of the egg, that the egg contains not only a type of blueprint of that life to follow, but the very mechanism of its manufacture.
A few years back I wrote on what I labeled The Problem of “Massively Complex Synchronicity.” In that essay I tried to capture the sheer magnitude of life and its complexity and design. Since then I continue to find amazing findings and discoveries from the world of the life sciences. A good place to start is with a set of wall charts produced by Roche, a large biotech company. These charts, Biochemical Pathways, “provide a graphical overview of the most important biochemical pathways all in one place.”
I don’t presume to say that Roche takes a particular position on evolution/creation/Intelligent design; I don’t know and I suspect they are silent on the matter. I use the wall charts here as sort of an umbrella under which one could reasonable infer design at the cellular level (i.e. life itself). One who has commented about the charts is Don McLeroy at To My Listening Ear.
So what else have I found under this umbrella?
Look at and consider the following video:
“I’ve grown accustomed to your face . . . ” — headlining a comment by ayearningforpublius to pose the question of origin of a significant case of FSCO/I . . . functionally specific, complex organization and/or associated information | Uncommon Descent
And the following pictorial caught my eye recently from Why Greta Christina’s critique of God-guided evolution misses the mark | Uncommon Descent
In looking at the above pictorial and mentally stepping through the steps involved in translation, my mind came back to those days when I was directly involved in the software process of detecting a message embedded in a stream of data entering our system. The message(s) occupied only a percentage of the available bandwidth, so what we had was a mixed stream of random bits with periods of ‘system specific’ messages.
The technique of extracting these messages is quite similar to that described in the RNA Translation wherein the detecting system looks for a sync pattern – a predetermined specific bit pattern (e.g. x’0E0E0E0E’),and then starts clocking in the following bits until it encounters a predetermined pattern of stop bits, at which point it terminates the message and passes it to data storage for use by downstream processes. Alternatively, the message processing could terminate after a predetermined fixed number of bits.
And, as in nature, this process of message detection was but the beginning of a chain of events producing a useful and desired product of providing visual products used by combat aircrews in training for their mission of defending against adversaries.
So here again, it seems we have an analogy between a design in nature and a design at the hands (and minds) of human Intelligent Designers.
There is much more, but these are a few that have caught my attention in recent months. They caught my attention because of the scientific research presented, and in keeping with the main thought of this essay, they point the arrow of the purpose of the universe to me individually and specifically – because “I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” Psalm 139:14
In the physical and materialistic sense of the Cosmos, to paraphrase Carl Sagan: Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity in my tiny planetary home … I indeed am an insignificant piece of dust, and indeed will return to dust when my earthly life is done.
But when I seek God, and seek his perspective of who I am in this vast Cosmos, I find something quite different. I find a god who singles me out in this vast universe … I find a god who created me in his own image … I find a god who is concerned about me, a lonely individual in a very large and scary place … I find a god who advocates for me individually when I am enslaved and oppressed … I find a god who cares for me if I am a widow or an orphan … I find a god who tells me that I am my brothers keeper and I should be concerned for and help others! … I find a god who holds me personally accountable when I wrong others.
Throughout this essay I have been talking about me, the big “I”, and how I have been singled out … and perhaps you are aghast at the arrogance of such a stance. You should be, so now let me complete my thoughts here and expand this “singling out” to others.
I said at the beginning of this essay that mankind was created with free will, and we can either choose or reject the God of the Bible as the one true creative god among so many to choose from. I freely chose this path many years ago after a considerable amount of struggle.
Like many, I wandered in, around and through the many religious, cultural and philosophical ideas that present themselves in any generation. I had very little religious upbringing, but being American was raised in a culture that had a fundamental Christian underpinning. I briefly studied Catholicism when first dating my, then future, wife. I succumbed to the then popular atheist teachings of men like Bertrand Russell, and read the many then popular “debunking’s” of Christianity such as The Passover Plot. I was captured by the hedonistic Playboy Philosophy of Hugh Heffner which tantalized me with an offer of my own Playmate of the Month … each month? I dabbled in drugs … marijuana, which mainly depressed me … and mescaline which resulted in the absolutely most frightening experience of my life. I found my self on the road to alcoholism, although I don’t know how close or far I was away from that destination – but I knew I was on that road. I found myself married with two children, a couple of cars, a nice house, a good job, a loving wife … but I had no real or deep interest in any of that – I was just wanting to get through the next day.
But then at age 36 I found myself in an unexpected place … a place that at once was a place of new direction and at the same time a place of confusion. I came under the influence and teaching of Biblical end-times prophesy, in particular the writings of Hal Lindsey of The Late Great Planet Earth fame. This book and others by Lindsey compelled me into a study that I then and now would characterize as “Is this guy crazy? How can any of that be true? He’s a nut”
My study expanded from Lindsey into the Bible itself, Gideon hotel bibles including one I actually stole. I needed to know more, and the truth source for me was ironically, the Bible. Actually the Bible, Lindsey’s books and current events as they unfolded from front pages and newscasts. I began to see the correlations that Lindsey talked about.
“He answered [speaking of Jesus]: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Cutting to the chase here and getting to the bottom line, I was drawn to a local church with a very good teacher/pastor and a very supportive and loving congregation. Over the next several years, the verse above became clearer and clearer, and I began to see that it was speaking to all of me as a person; heart-soul-strength-mind. The mind part is especially important because it taught me that understanding and believing the Bible and seeking God is a continual intellectual as well as spiritual effort and one that does not require “blind faith” in the words of ancient and ignorant “goat herders.” Thus my citing of the many recent scientific and technical discoveries I’ve noted above.
So have I been “singled out” as the one for whom the universe has purpose? No indeed, I understand now that each and every person now living, or who has ever lived on this small and lonely blue dot has been singled out and can claim, as I have, that the universe has purpose, and that purpose is specifically me – no matter who I am, no matter where I live – no matter the circumstances of my life.
It’s a matter of free will choice!
I’ve answered the question “Does The Universe Have A Purpose?” for me personally, but each person ultimately must answer that question as a matter of their own free will choice. My hope is that this essay of mine will offer a few things to think about for others as they ponder the choice.
Don Johnson – Sept 2104