Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

When people ask the question in the post’s title, or the roughly equivalent question, “What is the meaning of life?” my reply is that I don’t understand what is being asked. They both seem like category errors to me; universes don’t have purposes and lives don’t have meanings. If I were to attempt to give an answer, without any regard for whether the answer were true, I would have no idea what to say.

Perhaps there is some guidance to be gained from the answers others give. One answer I have heard is that the meaning of life is to glorify God in word, thought and deed. But that sounds like providing a meaning entails describing the sorts of things one ought to do in life. In that case my answer is that the meaning of life is to pursue those things that give you happiness and satisfaction, with some obvious deference to the rights of others, of course. Where’s the mystery?

So when I noticed this article over at HuffPo, entitled, “The Purpose of the Universe” and written by Rabbi David Wolpe, I perked up.

Here’s the setup:

In Puebla Mexico, the newly dubbed Ciudad de las ideas, (City of Ideas) the third annual Festival Internacional de Mentes Brillantes (International Festival of Great Minds) took place this past weekend. Along with two other theologians, I was assigned a daunting and fascinating task: to argue about whether the universe has a purpose. On one side stood Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley and Michael Shermer — respectively, the biologist and scourge of religion, the science writer and the editor of Skeptic magazine. In my corner of the sky were William Lane Craig, scholar and author, and Doug Geivatt, author and professor at Biola University. We said yes, they said no.

Now, you might be thinking the proper answer is “no one can know.” That might be so, but none of us was willing to let it rest there. At first glance we could all agree that the universe has a purpose the way the kitchen has a meal — it offers the ingredients. You can make purpose in your life from the raw materials that the universe gives you. But the question was not plural — not does the universe contains purposes, but does the universe have a purpose?

To judge from the rosters on the respective sides, it would seem, “Does the universe have a purpose?” really just means, “Does God exist?”

So how does Wolpe answer the question?

My own argument was first: The universe is delicately poised on nothingness; change one of many cosmological constants by just a fraction and our world could not exist. In other words, it is extravagantly improbable for everything to be balanced perfectly for existence and yet it is so. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Moreover, it is astonishing that the universe has laws we can actually grasp. Indeed, the very practice of science presupposes there is some purpose, aim or meaning to all this. How can we investigate or understand nonsense or meaninglessness? I also argued that reason is not the only tool for investigation of reality. Our most basic beliefs are the rock upon which our reason is built, not the product of it.

Standard stuff. To judge from his answer, Wolpe construes the question to be equivalent to “Was the universe created by an intelligent agent?” But even if I grant there is a God, strictly for the sake of argument of course, I would still want to know what his purpose was in creating the universe. And then I would want to know why His purposes should necessarily be mine.

My compatriots, Craig and Geivett, hammered home the point that if there is a God the universe has a meaning, but if not, we would agree with our opponents that it was empty and doomed. They also carefully marshaled arguments for why God was the best explanation of the phenomenon of life. These included everything from the mystery of consciousness (how do you get self awareness if everything is just matter, stuff, the same as a rock) to C.S. Lewis’ claim that if we have yearnings that are not satisfied in this world, it is possible that is because this world is not the only one.

More standard stuff. Apparently “not having a meaning” (is meaning equivalent to purpose?) is equivalent to being “empty and doomed.” Whatever.

I don’t really care much about the fate of the universe, at least not during those moments when I am thinking about the meaning and purpose of my life. My concerns are far more localized in both time and space, and mostly involve non-eternity-directed activities that nonetheless seem plenty meaningful to me.

Comments

  1. #1 Uncle Bob
    December 1, 2010

    if this is going to be your method of easing back into blogging, answering all the silly posts at hufpo…..you have a loooot of work to do!

    One amusing bit worth checking out, Victor Stenger actually got an article on quantum mechanics posted in the “living” section today (thats where Deepak Chopra dictates from his castle in the clouds). Truly amazing and amusing at the same time. The comments are quite confusing. They have never seen critical thinking before.

  2. #2 yogi-one
    December 1, 2010

    Does the Universe have a purpose?

    Of course! It’s to throw obstacles at you and try to trip you up all day long, every day!

    It’s the same reason God exists, too, as far as I can tell!

    That was easy! Next!

  3. #3 MikeN
    December 1, 2010

    I’m reminded of the great early SF work “The Star-Maker” by Olaf Stapledon, when at the End of Time, all Life in the Universe has emerged into One Cosmic Mind (Stapledon gets you thinking in Capitals)and realises its glorious destiny is to unite with the Star-Maker who created the Cosmos, at which point the youn apprentice Star-Maker says roughly “Damn, I thought this particular work of art was going to turn out better. Oh well, dump it in the trash can and back to the drawing board.”

  4. #4 MikeN
    December 1, 2010

    Does that Lewis quote mean that if my yearnings for Jessica Alba are not satisfied in this world, that’s evidence that there’s another one where they are true? I’m a Believer!

  5. #5 MacTurk
    December 1, 2010

    “..if there is a God the universe has a meaning, but if not, we would agree with our opponents that it was empty and doomed”. First, when/where did the opponents say that a god-free universe is empty and doomed? Second, how does removing a non-existent thing from the universe render it empty and doomed?

    Apparently, if the universe is not told its “purpose”, it will have to commit suicide. This means that the universe is mentally very fragile, possibly due to the trauma of the Big Bang, or maybe due to being toilet trained badly by Dog.

    We are a sentient species, living on a small planet at the end of one arm of an unexceptional galaxy far removed from the centre of anything. Why the god-botherers keep on trying to assign universal significane to us, our location or their particular belief system is a source of continual bemusement to me.

  6. #6 Richard Wein
    December 1, 2010

    Did my parents conceive me for a purpose? If not, I guess that means my life is empty and doomed.

  7. #7 Ashley Moore
    December 1, 2010

    These arguments basically boil down to:
    “Nothing is worth doing unless it is to impress an alpha male.”

  8. #8 Peter Gluck
    December 1, 2010

    It seems the purpose of the Universe is infinite interestingness, but I am not able to interpret this further.
    peter

  9. #9 david
    December 1, 2010

    Right, category errors. The old sentence that talks of cutting an atom with a knife applies, also called “levels of thought.”

    I would surmise that at the bottom of this argument is the belief that the (or a) universe centers on us, which is the same belief as the prayer-request beliefs, which is developmentally juvenile. ‘But Zeus did not hear their prayer and struck their spears with lightning at the top of the wall.”

  10. #10 david
    December 1, 2010

    Ashley—

    After thinking about it, my fault to wait, your insight is much more profound, and multi-layered, than I realized right away.

  11. #11 eric
    December 1, 2010

    If the purpose of a sneeze is to expel stuff, and the purpose of reproductive organs is to reproduce, then by analogy the purpose of our universe is obvious: to expand.

  12. #12 Craig
    December 1, 2010

    Hello,

    It is my opinion that an individual’s answer to such questions as does the universe have a purpose and what is the meaning of life, are no different than how an individual might define art… there is no right or wrong answer. The answer is simply an expression of self, of identity and who we are, and will vary depending on many factors; including culture, education, level of consciousness, level of interest, and so forth. It is also my opinion the a learned and cultivated person will, withing their lives, develop their own definition of what art is – starting with what they are taught, then modifying it from their experiences of what they like and don’t like. The same is true with the meaning of life and the purpose of the universe.

    What I think is most important, however, is to understand that not all humans are at the same level of self awareness. I think it is a great mistake in the perception of our own evolution that we lump all humans together and think that we all must evolve together, at the same time. I also think that it is important that those of us who think we are at the forefront (do you see the depth of my arrogance? ;P) be gentle and nurture the others forward, respecting their position and circumstances, and not try to bludgeon them forward.

    Or something like that… Have a good day.
    Craig

  13. #13 NewEnglandBob
    December 1, 2010

    Rabbi Wolpe is never worth bothering with. He just slimeballs his answers. One might as well ask what is the purpose of the color blue.

  14. #14 cwfong
    December 1, 2010

    The universe may have no purpose but for that it has its reasons.

  15. #15 AL
    December 1, 2010

    My compatriots, Craig and Geivett, hammered home the point that if there is a God the universe has a meaning, but if not, we would agree with our opponents that it was empty and doomed.

    But honestly now, did your opponents really “agree” that it was empty and doomed, or is that just your caricaturization of their view?

  16. #17 Pete
    December 1, 2010

    There is genious at work in the Universe – and it’s not man’s. Look at the Human brain. Who’s idea was that? Was it created without intelligence in its design?

    Can Man start from scratch and make something similar to the brain with his bare hands without duplicating, copying or using the same biological matter that already exists? The answer is no. And even if he could it would take a great deal of thought for something cannot be created without thought.

  17. #18 ppnl
    December 1, 2010

    Good news: The universe does have a purpose.

    Bad news: We aren’t it. We are an unintended side effect that is allowed to continue only for as long as we don’t interfere with the real purpose.

    Well that’s what I tell christians anyway.

  18. #19 david
    December 1, 2010

    It’s fun to switch the syntax around on questions like this, produces new lines of insight.

    Does a purpose have the universe?

    Is the purpose equal to the universe?

    Is there a universe on (whose) purpose?

    Is there a purpose on purpose?

    If there is a purpose, how did we find it out and who said so?

    Of these few I would go with number four. Any purpose we find is our own construct and entirely human, as are thoughts about purpose. As Ashley points out, the wishes, and desires for purpose, of an alpha male are in that construct somewhere.

  19. #20 Jim Thomerson
    December 1, 2010

    The universe is, in a sense, evolving. It will be different billions of years in the future, just as it was different billions of years ago, compared to now. Is this something just happening, like water running downhill, or is the universe designed to reach a certain goal (are there ditches and culverts?) I don’t see any way to do more than idle speculation.

  20. #21 Cornelius
    December 1, 2010

    Is there such a thing as nothingness?

  21. #22 Peter Kinnon
    December 1, 2010

    ppnl remarks:
    Good news: The universe does have a purpose.
    Bad news: We aren’t it. We are an unintended side effect that is allowed to continue only for as long as we don’t interfere with the real purpose.

    Jim Thomerson remarks:
    “The universe is, in a sense, evolving. It will be different billions of years in the future, just as it was different billions of years ago, compared to now. Is this something just happening, like water running downhill, or is the universe designed to reach a certain goal (are there ditches and culverts?”

    While the notion of “purpose” is best considered as just a spurious reflection of of the workings of our own minds, there are strong indications of directionality in evolutionary processes occurring both within and outside the biological domain.

    Evidence for this can be found from stellar nucleosynthesis right through to the observed exponential development of technology.

    And ppnl would appear to be not far wrong with his assertion regarding our species being a mere side-effect of nature’s on-going machinery.

    This kind of interpretation of observed all-pervading and very persistent patterns is the central theme of my newly published work “The Goldilocks Effect” and, rather less explicitly, in my previous book “Unusual Perspectives”. (The latter is available for free download(

    More to be found at my website:
    http://www.unusual-perspectives.net

  22. #23 g724
    December 1, 2010

    “The universe has a meaning as a kitchen has a meal: it provides the ingredients.” Excellent answer.

    But here we have potential for a teachable moment.

    We can ask in reply, “does the universe have the color blue?” and then explain that the universe has various frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, some of which we perceive as light, and some of which interact with our eyes and brains to produce the experience of seeing something blue.

    Then we can explain that there is an area of the brain (the temporal lobe in the nonverbal hemisphere) that appears to mediate the sense of “deeply-felt personal meaning in relation to the greater whole,” and that this is relevant to the desire for knowledge and wisdom and beauty, in the sciences, the arts, and religion.

    That area of the brain goes to work on various sensory and cognitive inputs: what we perceive in the world around us and in the universe at-large (either directly or via instruments). The output is what we understand as a sense of meaning.

    By using an explanation such as above, we can build a bridge to a rational understanding of the question for those who may not initially be inclined toward rationalism.

  23. #24 david
    December 2, 2010

    This may seem like a shunt but think about it, it’s not.

    Assange in Time magazine:

    But, he said, “when people write political commentary on blogs or other social media, it is my experience that it is not, with some exceptions, their goal to expose the truth. Rather, it is their goal to position themselves amongst their peers on whatever the issue of the day is. The most effective, the most economical way to do that, is simply to take the story that’s going around, [which] has already created a marketable audience for itself, and say whether they’re in favor of that interpretation or not.

  24. #25 kosmodisk
    December 2, 2010

    It will be different billions of years in the future, just as it was different billions of years ago, compared to now.

  25. #26 eric
    December 2, 2010

    There is genious at work in the Universe – and it’s not man’s.

    Evidently that genious really likes a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter at approximately 3 kelvin, since that is what 99.9999(keep adding nines)% of the universe is.

    Look at the Human brain. Who’s idea was that? Was it created without intelligence in its design?

    Yes. The fact that memory is relational rather than being stored like bits on a hard drive is clearly unintelligent.

    And it doesn’t have the capacity to grow. What sort of idiot designs a memory storage unit that is expected to input data for about ten decades but does not allow modular additions?

    And why ten decades anyway? Why not build it to last for a million years? Surely any designer capable of building humans from scratch could design a memory system more robust than, say, a CD.

  26. #27 AL
    December 3, 2010

    There is genious at work in the Universe – and it’s not man’s. Look at the Human brain. Who’s idea was that? Was it created without intelligence in its design?

    You know, you can observe a brain form from an embryonic neural tube. Now, you tell us where in this development process “intelligence” intervened.

  27. #28 SLC
    December 3, 2010

    Re Eric @ #26

    Evidently that genious really likes a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter at approximately 3 kelvin, since that is what 99.9999(keep adding nines)% of the universe is.

    Actually, it’s only about 5% of the universe. The other 95% is either dark matter or dark energy.

  28. #29 eric
    December 3, 2010

    SLC: Actually, it’s only about 5% of the universe. The other 95% is either dark matter or dark energy.

    I acknowledge your correction, but feel the need to point out that it adds a mere one or two orders of magnitude more creationism ridiculousness to the very-many-orders-of-magnitude creationism ridiculousness I already cited. :)

  29. #30 johnny
    December 3, 2010

    If there is no purpose in life why even bother exploring nature and what it has to offer. Take for example some of the great minds of our time and the past (insert any names you wish in this list). I wonder if you asked them if life was purposeful or purposeless, what would they say? I will be honest in saying that it is a highly attractive choice to choose that one does not have a purpose in life. The mentality on this side of the argument comes down to this, do what you want to do in life because there is no purpose, no rewards, no consequences, no accountability of our actions. This does make me wonder though where we, as humans, came up with law and government. Those two entities are present in nearly every civilization to some extent.

    If life is purposeless then why bother? There are many sects that would disagree on what to what end this purposed filled life looks like, but in the end there is a search for purpose. If we were created without purpose then where does this concept of purpose come from? Is it a negative byproduct of evolution? Is it a defect? Consciousness is a curious thing. It is what separates us from everything else in the universe, but one also must ask concerning consciousness, where did it come from? I believe the concepts of consciousness and purposefulness are tied together, because who would convincingly argue that my dog has a purpose?

  30. #31 Mike Haubrich
    December 4, 2010

    The mentality on this side of the argument comes down to this, do what you want to do in life because there is no purpose, no rewards, no consequences, no accountability of our actions. This does make me wonder though where we, as humans, came up with law and government.

    What do you mean by “no rewards, no consequences, no accountability of our actions?” Are you referring to a lack of societal restrictions and consequences for actions? That is clearly not the case in human society, it is not even the case in the wild. Stupidity and laziness have consequences.

    Or are you referring to eternal “no rewards, no consequences, no accountability of our actions?” Like what happens to us sinners who haven’t shown the proper obeisance to Cthulhu/Jehovah?

    Christianity, for example, is a religion which doesn’t ultimately punish nor reward based on your earthly, mortal actions. Jesus died to atone for you, right? All you need to do is say “I accept your sacrifice to yourself” and Bam! you are saved and go to Heaven. Doesn’t seem like much in the way of personal responsibility to me.

    So, to what are you referring?

  31. #32 Anton Mates
    December 4, 2010

    If there is no purpose in life why even bother exploring nature and what it has to offer.

    I will be honest in saying that it is a highly attractive choice to choose that one does not have a purpose in life. The mentality on this side of the argument comes down to this, do what you want to do in life because there is no purpose, no rewards, no consequences, no accountability of our actions.

    …so then why not bother exploring nature? If you’re going to do what you want to do in life, and you want to do science, then do science. That’s more or less how it works anyway.

  32. #33 Johnny
    December 4, 2010

    In response to comment #31

    I think you have been misguided in the understanding of Christianity especially in regards to salvation and Heaven. First, I would like to say in regards to Christ’s atoning work on the cross that He took our place and was “condemned” on our behalf. Romans 8:1 says, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

    Also to your comment about confessing “‘I accept your sacrifice to yourself’ and Bam! you are saved and go to Heaven.” is partially correct. It is, as Romans 10:1 says, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”. It takes more than saying a “magical” phrase.

    You are right in a sense that there won’t be a “punishment” in Heaven, but there are definite rewards as spelled out in the New Testament specifically. I will not copy and paste the whole of these verses, but will list them for you to look at later. Here are the just a handful of verses which speak of definite rewards in Heaven based on what one does here on earth:

    Matthew 10:40-42
    Luke 6:23
    *1 Corinthians 3:13-15

    The 1 Corinthians passage tells of both reward and loss of rewards in Heaven for the believer. This is by no means even close to an exhaustive list on this subject matter of rewards in Heaven, but it is a good starting point. There are also a superfluity of Biblical references to accountability and responsibilities of the Christian here on earth. It is not as you so simply put it “Bam! And you’re saved”. Sadly enough though there are many ministers who preach that and do not cover the atoning work of Christ on the cross adequately.

  33. #34 darwinsdog
    December 5, 2010

    The universe is, in a sense, evolving. It will be different billions of years in the future, just as it was different billions of years ago, compared to now.

    Except perhaps in a very trivial sense, evolution =/= to mere change over time. Evolution is a property of populations that become modified according to the constraints of the environment over generations. An individual universe can’t in any meaningful sense be said to evolve, unless it is somehow spawning offspring universes that vary from it and are selected for further reproductive success by some hyper-cosmic process. Perhaps matter disappearing beyond the event horizons of black holes is spawning offspring universes with varying physical laws or parameters, and those whose laws & parameters can’t sustain expansion are selected against. If this is the case then universes can be said to evolve but our universe changing over time isn’t a case of evolution occurring.

  34. #35 Mike Haubrich
    December 5, 2010

    As a former believing Christian, I am familiar enough with it to know that it is not a religion in which I should place much stock. It found favor in the Roman Empire under Constantine because it was useful politically, and that is the reason that it is so widespread today.

    It tells people that God created us, but because he was blindsided by Adam and Eve to the idea that free choice could lead to sin (imagine!) we all need to have a stand-in, a surrogate, a scapegoat if you will in order to cleans us of that sin so that we have a chance to get to Heaven when we die. We are taught that we are not worthy of our Creator, but he is kind enough to find a convenient way to get us into Heaven anyway. So, this eternal being suffers a day of excruciating pain and we are shown forgiveness, if we want it. Is that about it?

    We are lowly sinners, sinners in the hands of an angry God, and our purpose is to die and worship him in heaven for eternity. I am not so crazy on that and it doesn’t portend much joy for my future, and I would not likely join the “saints” who would want to spend their time witnessing the agony of the unbelievers.

    No, I don’t think that the universe itself has “purpose.” Things happen according to regular rules and laws, and humans draw inspiration and awe in learning about them, but it has no overriding purpose to explain why we are here on Earth.

  35. #36 Johnny
    December 5, 2010

    In response to #35

    God was not “blindsided” as you say he was because if he was then he must not be omniscient. If he is not omniscient then you could also call into question of all the other claims about God (i.e. his omnipotence, omnipresence, etc…). As the “scapegoat” reference I believe a more accurate description was that Jesus was a “propitiation”, diverting God’s wrath from humans onto himself, for our sins. Next, if we are not worthy of God then why would he bother sending his son to “stand in the gap” for us paying the price for our sin not his. For it does say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” If you truly love someone you will count them worthy automatically. It is a package deal. Think also about this illustration from the viewpoint of creator and the created: Picasso painted/created some marvelous masterpieces, but he also created some that are just plain odd to the normal non-art lover. Those “odd” paintings still are worth millions of dollars, or close to it, not because they “look good”, but because of the one who made them, Picasso himself. The charcoal, paints, and paper have no value in themselves, but in the hands of a renowned they have nearly infinite value. I will close my response with a Scripture reference from 2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

  36. #37 Darth Dog
    December 6, 2010

    In response to Johnny @36

    “…because if he was then he must not be omniscient. If he is not omniscient then you could also call into question of all the other claims about God (i.e. his omnipotence, omnipresence, etc…).”

    By golly, I think that you are finally onto something Johnny!

  37. #38 Mike Haubrich
    December 6, 2010

    @Johnny #35

    God also “so loved the world” that he sent a flood to destroy everything and everyone except for Noah’s family, seven of every “clean” kind and 2 of every “unclean” kind whatever the hell that means. And when Noah lands, he turns out to be a drunkard, cursing all the blacks because Ham was dark. Nice, loving guy, your God.

    He also told the Israelites to commit genocide to clear land, he told their armies to spare none in the lands they conquered. Wait! Wrong Testament. But, same God, right? He was jealous of people building towers so he confused languages.

    Yes, he sent his “son” but his son was himself, so in essence he was appeasing himself by setting up the Jews to be labeled “Christ-Killers” throughout the long, peaceful European Christian rule.

    If he is omniscient, then he knew what Adam and Eve were going to do, and he cursed them for doing it. Then, He so loved the world that he waited 4004 years to come to earth and use himself for atonement. Meantime all those poor unsaved sinners went to Hell for eternity, unaware of why they were being burned in a lake of fire. Then they had to wait for Paul to come along and explain how this whole salvation thing works, and salvation was limited to the Mediterranean until Constantine came along and explained it at the tip of the sword. Woo-hoo! Romans get to go to heaven, until Martin Luther figured out that the Romans had it all wrong and he set us straight, while in the meantime setting up the very lucrative business plan of creating all kinds of new Christianities, all based on the same “Nice Testament” so lovingly interpreted by councils of Bishops.

    He loved us so much that he taught us the crime of blasphemy, whereby if we hurt His feelings, the good people are allowed to torture and maim us with Holy Devices meant to replicate the torture he endured. He taught us to hate the Jews, or to lovingly force them to convert. Those that didn’t were murdered and accused of different sorts of blasphemies.

    Yes, some Picasso you worship there.

    I was a Christian until I thought about what your religion teaches underneath.

    It teaches the morality that humans are to be the instruments of God’s punishment for immorality, that humans get to tell other humans who they can marry, how to treat slaves, that we shouldn’t have retail stores open on one of the Sabbaths (while the other Sabbaths are not so protected.)

    He taught us to clear out the previous religions by killing and torturing their witches.

    It that is Purpose, no thanks. Your God’s love is nearly indistinguishable from Cthulhu.

  38. #39 eric
    December 6, 2010

    Your God’s love is nearly indistinguishable from Cthulhu.

    “Abrahamic monotheism: all of the armageddon, 50% less tentacles.”

  39. #40 Mark
    December 6, 2010

    Does the universe have a purpose? Yes, indeed the universe does have a purpose. It’s purpose serves as the platform in which God makes his purpose known. The universe has a purpose, but again, it’s to serve another purpose; a higher purpose. God created man in his own image. God made man so that man would glorify (worship) God and bring honor to Him. You and I were created by God and for God. Our purpose is to glorify God. We turn away from our sin and place our faith in Him.

  40. #41 Jim Thomerson
    December 8, 2010

    I’ve just finished reading, as if it were a novel, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow’s “The Grand Design” which gives their answers to these questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? and Why this particular set of laws and not some other? It is well and interestingly written and a pleasure to read. I am now going to go back and read some sections for comprehension. I may end up with rejecting some points because of incredulity, but at least I will understand, as best I can, what a couple of the best minds have to say on the questions.

  41. #42 Lenoxuss
    December 9, 2010

    When people ask this content-free question, what they mean by it is something like “Why bother?”

    Their assumption is that “No, the universe does not have a purpose” is equal to saying “We may as well kill ourselves by starvation” or “There is no reason to act for anything more than our own short-term interests.” Not great advice…

    Of course, answering “Yes” doesn’t give much guidance, not without extra, explicit detailing, such as “Yes, the purpose is to reduce suffering.”

    (And while I think that’s an honorable answer, it’s an honorable answer to a completely different question, namely, “What should we do?”. It’s almost certainly not the case that the universe exists for the purpose of reducing suffering!)

    For this reason, I tend to say “Sure, the universe has a purpose — or rather, many purposes”. In which case I seem to agree with David Wolpe’s “at first glance” in the quoted section. I get his objection to that, but don’t feel it’s nearly strong enough, especially if the “unified” purpose is to obey God. What if God were evil? Would it still be our purpose to obey — or is there some “higher still” purpose that God-being-honorable is contingent on? And if we can judge God by certain standards, than don’t those standard become what-it’s-all-about?

    … or, to keep things simpler, I say the answer to the ultimate question is forty-three. Because it’s always fun to one-up Douglas Adams.

  42. #43 Thales Naturalist Griggsy
    December 19, 2010

    ” Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning. No God or future state can validate it!’ Inquiring Lynn