William Lane Craig and others contend that if God does not exist, the universe has no purpose. When we die then, we end along with (eventually) all matter in a grand splutter: a candle burned through to the very bottom. The next chapters are written without light, without energy; an emphatic cooling that lacks a redeeming creator.
I naturally take issue with this. Do we think it honestly follows that if God did create the universe, the universe automatically has any purpose? Consider that the universe could have come to be after God had a magnificent sneeze. There is no reason to suppose, given any deity, that this universe is anything more than an accidental byproduct of an uncaring creator. No Law states that the act of creation confers any special meaning on the created.
But maybe some think the universe can ONLY have purpose with God?
How so? Take a wing which came to be through natural selection. The purpose (a major one at least for flying birds) of a wing is simply to enable flight. The purpose of an eye is to see, etc. What’s more, these features are in no way limited to such purposes! They may have, in fact, already been repurposed by evolution and come about as fantastic byproducts. But let me make one thing crystal clear: that’s not to say evolution itself has any purpose in mind – it has neither mind nor intention. It is not a designer which calculatingly crafts its products. That’s not how it works, and yet the products of this process still have a function which natural selection could not have foreseen or intended.
Perhaps purpose comes through the Bible? Unfortunately, there are too many pitfalls there. Certainly, you could throw away the bad and keep the good – but do you need to believe in a deity in order to do that? Anyone can weed through the Bible – why have God at all then? Shouldn’t the Bible contain perfect morality from a perfectly moral being? If his morality is at any time imperfect, what of his purpose? And why should we consider only the Christian god? There are and have been a multitude of gods throughout history. It’s problematic.
Or maybe purpose comes through promised immortality? Do trees serve no purpose then? Do bugs? Does Heaven contain spots for roses? Things come and go as they have always done. Living forever does not change that. Heaven is not the place for staying the same anyway. Whether in Heaven or on Earth, you, and all that you are, change and end. Yet you still have purpose.
So what’s the purpose of the universe? It doesn’t have or need one. The universe is. That is sufficient.
So how did the universe come to be if not for God? There are many hypotheses on this, but not a definitive answer. It’s being worked on. Nevertheless, I would caution anyone from assuming that since science does not know for certain then the answer must be God. Otherwise, once we find the answer, the only thing left for God to do is shrink and evaporate to nothing.
For all this, we still have both personal and functional purpose without a deity. The universe is and that is, for the time being, sufficient. And the universe as we know it will only be for a time, just the same as you, and birds, and goats, and mountains, and slime, and all manner of all things. Your existence is short, but profound; fleeting, but precious; small, but grand: for this is it – there are no do-overs or exchanges or trading. We have this time, now.
Where is it you get your purpose without divinity? Where does the cuckoo’s nestling find the drive to evict its step-siblings? Where does the bee get its passion of self-sacrifice? Where do we find the need to love? These things come to be from a universe that is, over a gobbling sea of time – slowly, slowly, slowly – coming to be. Purpose may come in many shapes and sizes, many thoughts and manners, and may it be in ways for good (we need not behave like the cuckoo). If that thought seems strange, keep in mind that no deity gives us clear-defined strictures on purpose – you need theology to extricate and form these. Purpose, in perhaps its simplest form, can be: to be. I am because I am. I don’t need a god to provide a purpose for being for the same reason I don’t need one to threaten me with hell fire so that I might desire to do good. We can all desire to exist and to do good and to make our own purpose because this universe houses such capacities – that’s just a fact. The universe doesn’t need its own purpose in order to allow us our own.
I’m always wary of ascribing purpose to the results of evolution; because ultimately evolution is just what works. It’s almost an inevitable consequence of life, kind of like a chemical reaction. Put oxygen and hydrogen together and you get water. Put a bunch of life on a rock without enough resources to sustain them all and you get natural selection.
We don’t look at the water that results for such reactions as purposeful, so why should we think the same of wings?
Yes, I think that’s a good point. Wings don’t have “divine purpose” or “Purpose” at all. I think the author is saying this: the fact that natural selection didn’t design tongues so that people could enjoy fine wine doesn’t preclude you from putting it to that very purpose. Why demand any more purpose than the purpose we create? We can observe and even enjoy the irony that we owe our purpose to something very much without purpose itself.
A twig has no purpose, but we can use it as kindling to keep warm. The universe has no purpose, but we can take advantage of its hospitality for now and make our own.
On that point I completely agree. It just seems that many people go looking for purpose in evolution; and that’s the wrong place to be looking.