This is one of the most significant questions of our existence and thus it has perhaps been the most asked question in human history. Did the universe come about by chance or by purpose? If it came about by chance, then we can choose to live our lives anyhow knowing fully well that everything happens by chance. And if it came about by purpose, then there’s Someone, an Intelligent Force, that created the universe. A piece of furniture is not intelligent but it is made by an intelligent being for a purpose. Is the universe a piece of furniture too?
We want to know how we came here perhaps it will tell us something about ourselves and how we should conduct ourselves. Two aspects of human endeavour have tried to answer this age-long question — science and religion. Thousands of books and articles have arisen from both sides to answer the question and I won’t bother you with what so many authors on either side of the divide have said.
Religion is unequivocal on the matter: the universe came about by purpose! And of course, since there’s a purpose, there has to be an Intelligent Creator whose intention is the purpose for the universe. This is the view of the Abrahamic literature (Bible, Quran, and the Talmud) which describe different versions of a Creator God and the Garden of Eden. Other theistic religions in human history and across cultures also boast of purposeful creation with creator Gods.
Science on the other hand isn’t set up to answer that question even though, answers can be gleaned from the evidence provided. This is the view of leading scientists like Lawrence Krauss, Neil de Grasse Tyson, and Stephen Hawkins who declare that science has answered the question and that the answer is a resounding ‘No! There’s no purpose to Existence!’ Of course, there’s a pseudoscientific endeavour called Intelligent Design which tries to use religion-motivated science-lookalike to prove the purpose in creation but it has remained a majorly fringe idea with nothing convincing. Leaders of this movement like Ken Ham have tried their best but there is no country in the world as I speak that allows intelligent design into its science curriculum. Since it’s been restricted to the pages of religious literature like the Jehovah Witnesses’ Awake and not in official scientific literature, it is better categorized as religion. So this section of this paragraph should’ve been with the penultimate one talking about religion? Perhaps.
The third field is philosophy. I didn’t list it initially because there has not been a clear answer in philosophy. There are theist philosophers and atheist philosophers and everybody has argued for his own side of the coin. Because philosophy deals with arguments and not revelation (like religion) or objective evidence (like science), it has not successfully maintained the same voice. But the beauty of philosophy is that even though it may not be unanimous, it’s the most appealing to everybody. You need to have either read widely or been an expert to understand science’s answer to this question and dogmas of religion can be irritating to you but the common sense of philosophy is accessible to everybody including the most illiterate.
Again science has enemies. So many of them. Conspiracies abound as to how allegedly some atheistically motivated people are the ones distorting scientific processes to produce anti-god theories and evidence. I’ve heard people say that science is of the devil and thus its opinion concerning God (and existence) shouldn’t be trusted. And the general tendency to use scientifically illiterate intuition to interpret science also won’t let people understand things clearly. An example of this cognitive error is when people ask questions like: ‘What is the universe expanding into?’
So as I said earlier, I won’t bring up science or religion here. In this article, I will try to answer this question just from a pure common sense approach. You may call it philosophy if you wish but I feel simply comfortable with that approach this time around. After all, you won’t bring up conspiracies or the devil fallacy as a rebuttal to my argument. So let’s start.
The keyword in my argument here is ‘chance’. And next is ‘purpose’. Just like I love to do, we will consult the Concise Oxford English Dictionary for this. Two definitions of the word ‘chance’ are relevant to this discussion
1 a possibility of something happening.
2 the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause.
When some scientists say the universe came by chance, it is in relation to the first sense of the word. What if the universe didn’t exist? Would we have known? Is that a possibility? Yes, it is. Could it have existed like it eventually did? Yes, another possibility. However from the knowledge available to us via physics, the universe couldn’t but have existed. If the universe is the totality of existence, then it would be purely oxymoronic to say the totality of existence couldn’t have existed. It seemed there was only one possibility — the universe coming to existence. If chance could be defined as the possibility of something happening and the universe couldn’t have but existed, then the universe came about by chance.
I think the bone of contention is the second sense of the word. Does the universe exist by the intentions of an Intelligent Being or not? What are the supposed proofs that the universe came about by purpose?
One, nothing can exist without being created. Unfortunately, if God can exist without being created, then the universe too can exist without being created. Scientifically, the universe didn’t begin from nothing. It began from something called the singularity which is perhaps the product of a previous phase of the collapse of the universe. And this cycle is eternal. If God could be eternal, the universe can also exist in eternal cycles. And yes, time collapses with space (‘spacetime’) and so one time could’ve ended with the formation of a singularity and our own time right now could’ve started from our own Big Bang. These are possibilities.
Two, the universe was beautifully created in an orderly manner. Well, for you to conclude that a living room is dirty, you need to have seen clean living rooms. Till you see another universe, you can’t conclude if this one is orderly. In other words, we can speak of the orderliness or chaos of this universe only in relative, not absolute terms. Meanwhile, an orderly universe shouldn’t be filled with so much evil — microbes, radiations, space rocks, earthquakes, etc, that want to kill us. And no, earthquakes aren’t due to our sins or the sins of Adam. If they were due to sins, why don’t they happen in West Africa?
OK. The universe has a purpose. What is even this purpose? Why did God create this universe? For what purpose? Ask someone beside you and the answer depends on their religion. Some folks would say something like ‘So that God could have people to fellowship with.’ The follow-up questions are ‘Was he feeling lonely before creating the universe?’ and ‘Why didn’t he just create the humans alone? Why create billions of the matter-filled light years of space?’ Well, the answer typically goes ‘God can do anything and he can’t be questioned.’ Game over even though the questions are yet to be answered! No matter how you turn it, the purpose hypothesis creates more questions than answers.
In another light, the question ‘Does the universe exist by chance or purpose?’ is a dubious question. It’s a question that already suggests an answer. It’s a question that originated from a preconception about the creator. Since chance in this context is defined as ‘not purpose’, the question is asking whether the universe exists by purpose or not. The universe must be by chance or purpose. Nothing else. What about the universe existing neither by chance nor by purpose? What about the universe existing by nothing? What about the universe existed by the mistake of a creator God rather than by his purpose? The question originated from man’s dubious attempt to force on the universe an attribute that doesn’t belong to it.
Well, none of such words as ‘come about’, ‘chance’, and ‘purpose’ can be used for the universe which is outside the confines of humanity. Those words are human words. Humans with their purpose-or-chance dichotomous reasoning came to existence billions of years after the universe began to exist but they want to conscript the whole universe into their tiny view. How funny! We’re limited and we need to adapt to our environment. So we’re concerned about things that are useful for our survival. Thus we classify everything into beneficial or not, something that has a purpose or doesn’t, etc. In fact, we define things by their purpose. What is a chair? A chair is something for sitting on. What is food? Something that we consume for nutrition. What is education? Something that we acquire for the purpose of enlightenment. And so on.
We define things by the purpose we attach to them. That was how the universe too got caught in the fallacy of ‘purposeful’ and ‘not purposeful’. Thus the universe too must be for a purpose. But unknown to us, the universe which is the totality of existence is too transcendent to be classified as purposeful or not. And it’s funny how we don’t even care about how other entities perceive the universe. Do goats, snakes, earthworms, bacteria, and molecules ‘see’ the universe the same way as we do? No. It doesn’t matter. We’re the only ones that matter and thus it’s our ‘purpose’ view of the universe that must be official.
Picture the world of ants kept in some kind of coop whose basic essence is just to feed. So they classify every object as food or not-food. Then one day they start thinking about the coop and they want to classify it. A rowdy argument erupts amongst them about whether it’s food or not-food. How stupid are they? Of course, since they see everything as either food or not-food and because they have never seen anything else outside the coop, they are not aware that things can exist that can’t be conscripted into the food-or-not-food dichotomy.
Another one. Picture we were in 2040 and by then, all pictures were for either Instagram or Facebook. Every single picture on earth belonged to either Instagram or Facebook. Then a group of teenagers came across a picture that was taken in 1956. They didn’t know in what decade Instagram and Facebook started and thus they began to argue whether that picture was taken for Instagram or Facebook. And they were sure the picture was either for Instagram or Facebook or nothing. No third option. Would you blame them?
If you’re a Nigerian and you could endure reading this write-up up till here, you’re a superhuman. I know in a country where we’ve not finished sorting out three square meals a day, what does it matter how the universe came about? Folks just wanna get along. Well, being bothered about the universe is a sign of a developed society. Developing societies keep bothering themselves only about food and shelter (similar to farm animals) while developed societies start engaging their minds about the Whole. However this write-up is for the few people who have some spare space in their brains for discussions like this.
What is the moral of the whole story? And why did I write this long essay? It’s very simple. There’s no transcendental purpose to our existence except the one we give it ourselves. What we’ve done over time is to create this purpose and slam the ‘God’ tag on it. No! I consider that approach unnecessary. The universe doesn’t appear like it works by purpose. There’s no evidence to that claim. It’s we humans who deal in purpose: the currency called ‘purpose’ belongs to our trade. We can ascribe it to our existence with the assurance that it’s our purpose and not that of the Gods.