absence of evidence, the only reason to suppose that it does is sentimental
wishful thinking and sentimental wishful thinking, which underlies all
religion, is an unreliable tool for the discovery of truth of any kind.
extension of analogies is another tool that accompanies wishful thinking in the
toolboxes of the credulous. That an intricate mechanism, such as an engine or
even a spoon, is commonly associated with a purpose cannot be taken to be
evidence that the universe as a whole is associated with a purpose, any more
than the existence of a cheetah implies that it has been designed with a
purpose in mind. Cheetahs have evolved by the bloody, directionless, unguided
processes of evolution: they have not been provided for the purpose of killing
antelopes. Similarly, the universe has evolved over its 14 billion years of
current existence by the directionless, unguided processes that are
manifestations of the working out of physical laws: it has not been made for
the purpose of providing platforms to enable cheetahs to stalk their prey or
humans to generate great art or to entertain delusions. That we do not yet understand
anything about the inception of the universe should not mean that we need to
ascribe to its inception a supernatural cause, a creator, and therefore to
associate with that creator's inscrutable mind a purpose, whether it be divine,
malign, or even whimsically capricious.
typically focus on questions that they have invented for their own puzzlement.
Some theologians are perplexed by the nature of life after death, a notion they
have invented without a scrap of evidence.
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mystified by the existence of evil in a world created by an infinitely loving
God, another notion that theologians have invented but which dissolves into
nothing once it is realized that there is no God. The question of cosmic
purpose is likewise an invented notion, wholly without evidential foundation,
and equally dismissible as patently absurd. We should not regard as great the
questions that have been invented solely for the sake of eliciting puzzlement.
the existence of this extraordinary universe as having a wonderful, awesome
grandeur. It hangs there in all its glory, wholly and completely useless. To
project onto it our human-inspired notion of purpose would, to my mind, sully
and diminish it.
Peter William Atkins is a Fellow and professor of chemistry at Lincoln College, Oxford.