who expresses a more definitive response to the question is claiming access to
knowledge not based on empirical foundations. This remarkably persistent way of
thinking, common to most religions and some branches of philosophy, has failed
badly in past efforts to understand, and thereby predict the operations of the
universe and our place within it.
assert that the universe has a purpose implies the universe has intent. And
intent implies a desired outcome. But who would do the desiring? And what would
a desired outcome be? That carbon-based life is inevitable? Or that sentient
primates are life's neurological pinnacle? Are answers to these questions even
possible without expressing a profound bias of human sentiment? Of course
humans were not around to ask these questions for 99.9999% of cosmic history.
So if the purpose of the universe was to create humans then the cosmos was
embarrassingly inefficient about it.
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And if a
further purpose of the universe was to create a fertile cradle for life, then
our cosmic environment has got an odd way of showing it. Life on Earth, during
more than 3.5 billion years of existence, has been persistently assaulted by
natural sources of mayhem, death, and destruction. Ecological devastation
exacted by volcanoes, climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms,
pestilence, and especially killer asteroids have left extinct 99.9% of all
species that have ever lived here.
about human life itself? If you are religious, you might declare that the
purpose of life is to serve God. But if you're one of the 100 billion bacteria
living and working in a single centimeter of our lower intestine (rivaling, by
the way, the total number of humans who have ever been born) you would give an
entirely different answer. You might instead say that the purpose of human life
is to provide you with a dark, but idyllic, anaerobic habitat of fecal matter.
the absence of human hubris, and after we filter out the delusional assessments
it promotes within us, the universe looks more and more random. Whenever events
that are purported to occur in our best interest are as numerous as other
events that would just as soon kill us, then intent is hard, if not impossible,
to assert. So while I cannot claim to know for sure whether or not the universe
has a purpose, the case against it is strong, and visible to anyone who sees
the universe as it is rather than as they wish it to be.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and the Director of New York City's Hayden Planetarium.