Does the Universe Have a Purpose?


The Templeton Foundation placed a two-page ad in today's New York Times, with the opening paragraphs of essays that various academics wrote in response to the question, "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?" The full essays are available at the foundation's web site. The answers, of course, ranged across the spectrum, some saying "No", others saying "Yes", and still others taking uncertain positions somewhere in between. One of the answers I found interesting came from Owen Gingerich, who said (among other things):

In the deep mystery of God's vast creative experiment there may be many facets that we, in human terms, would relate to as purposes of the universe. I believe that, incredibly, this includes the creator's self-revelation though human intelligence and personalities. With God's experiment comes the freedom of choice, and I choose to believe in a purposeful universe.

My thoughtful atheistic friends who deny that the universe has any ultimate meaning are also men and women of faith. Perhaps intimidated by intimations of design, they seek to understand the universe in other ways. Ironically, they themselves may well be part of the purpose of the universe.

Elie Wiesel, as one can imagine, also gave an interesting answer, which included these words:
Man’s task is thus to liberate God, while freeing the forces of generosity in a world teetering more and more between curse and promise.
Ultimately, I do believe that the universe has a purpose; but that doesn't mean that every individual event that happens in the universe has a purpose. The Nazi holocaust had no purpose; global warming has no purpose; suicide bombings have no purpose. The overall purpose of the universe does not determine each event, perhaps because an important element of that overall purpose is the very free will that allows for purposeless events to take place. It seems paradoxical, but maybe that is the way it has to be.

The universe managed to evolve itself to the point where free, self-conscious creatures are able to ask themselves what the purpose of the universe is. And maybe that is a key to the purpose that we seek; maybe God sought to evoke a universe of conscious creatures, whose self-awareness represented a value in and of itself. And maybe it was part of God's purposes that these self-aware creatures could freely receive God's infinite unfolding love, and could also express love themselves.