Those sneaky rascals at the Templeton Foundation have asked one of those ridiculous questions that gets some otherwise rational people stumbling over themselves to give an inoffensive answer: does the universe have a purpose? Of course, the irrational people have no trouble piping up with a happy “Yes!”, which should clue everyone in, as Larry notes, that it’s a gimmick question designed to provoke a range of waffly answers … and waffles, especially the tepid, limp kind, are the stock-in-trade of the Templeton House of Waffles.

I’d say “no, there is no evidence of universal purpose and no reason to assume one,” and be done with it. Except, perhaps, to ask those who say “yes” to specify exactly what that purpose is, and how they know it.

Near as I can tell, the primary purposes of the universe as discerned from the casual expressions of religion’s proponents are 1) to bias victory in local football games, and 2) to regulate the appropriate orifices into which certain people are allowed to place their penises. How the creation of Betelgeuse, the concentration of planetary material in our solar system in one body which we can’t reach and which is uninhabitable to us, and the ubiquity and success of bacteria all play into these purposes is unknown to me … it must be one of God’s mysteries.


  1. #1 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 19, 2007

    what is the average golf handicap for a cow?

    Well, first consider a spherical cow…

    Speaking of considering, to consider a purpose to the universe is related to the question “why is there something instead of nothing” with the correct answer “why not”. Both alternatives, “why/why not”, is as uninformative, in the absence of studying empirical evidence.

    Looking at empirical evidence we find that “purpose” and “nothing” are hypothesized events outside the distribution of observed events. No laws or initial conditions have been found to have “purpose” or describe “nothing”. There is nothing we can say in such cases.

    Except mu.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    October 20, 2007

    A reformulation, then, might be, “What purpose do we serve in this universe; what am I doing here; what effect do I have on the world around me; how am I affecting the lives of others?”
    That, to me, internalizes the question and, rather than implying the universe needs to justify itself to me, suggests that I need to figure out what my meaning and place are instead. To me, that’s a much more interesting and worthy question.

    To me, it seems to confuse two questions. “What purpose do we serve in this universe” means “what for do we exist”, “we exist in order to do or be what”, right? Or am I having problems with English?

    Because if not, “what am I doing here” is a completely different question; “what purpose do I have” does instead mean “what ought I be doing here”.

  3. #3 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    October 21, 2007

    Cuttlefish: Aha! You are a dude! … well…I presume…heh, heh…

    I suspected that, since otherwise the tag may have been cuddlefish. … well…I presume.

    we don’t know whether P=NP

    Though P != NP seems awfully likely, since otherwise computer science (CS) complexity hierarchies collapse. (And we would in principle be able to understand anything with ease. Which I don’t seem to do. :-P)

    In the light of its likelihood and apparent difficulty to be shown from first principles, CS expert Scott Aaronson has suggested that we should take it as a law of nature analogous to 2LOT. (Entropy increase, an observation made to Law.)