Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

Life is full of big questions. And one of the most common is this: Does the universe have a purpose?

In 2012 the Templeton Foundation asked this timeless question to astrophysicist and popular science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson. In the video below, he explains his answer while a hand-drawn animated video illustrated his ideas.

So does the universe have a purpose? According to Tyson, he’s “not sure” but he says “anyone who expresses a more definitive response to the question is claiming access to knowledge not based upon empirical foundations.” Yet at the end of the video he asserts that “the case against it [having a purpose] is strong and visible to anyone who sees the universe as it is rather than as they wish it to be.”

I hope you’ll find my response to Tyson’s video helpful as you engage with others who hold a similar view. I think his answer to the question shows convoluted logic and selective reasoning (fallacy of stacking the deck). Here’s how.

Three Examples of Convoluted Reasoning

First, while Tyson says he isn’t completely sure that the universe has a purpose, he nevertheless presents a purposeful case for why he thinks it likely that the universe has no purpose. In other words, if the universe is indeed purposeless, then how is Tyson able to rise above that cosmic purposelessness and make such a purposeful case (a presentation reflecting purpose and meaning)? C. S. Lewis reasoned in his book Mere Christianity that meaningless (or purposeless) creatures would never know or discover that they are meaningless (or purposeless) because such a discovery would be profoundly meaningful (or purposeful).1

Second, Tyson seems to imply that it is arrogant and misguided to trust sources not based on or grounded in science (“empirical foundations”). But the necessary assumptions upon which science depends—like the truth and reliability of logic and mathematics—are not empirically derived. In other words, science itself depends upon nonscientific truths.

Third, Tyson asserts that it is obvious to anyone without a worldview agenda that the universe is purposeless. But Tyson does not come from an objective and neutral position in order to make such a claim because he also carries a worldview agenda.

Three Examples of Selective Reasoning

Selective reasoning (also known as the fallacy of stacking the deck) takes place when an arguer appeals only to evidence that favors his or her position and ignores counterevidence.

First, Tyson says that religious worldviews have been wrong about cosmological questions. But he ignores or is unaware that the Christian worldview historically birthed the prized scientific enterprise and that the philosophical assumptions that science is based on fit well in the Judeo-Christian worldview.

Second, Tyson ignores or is unaware that Christian theism possesses greater explanatory power and scope than does atheistic naturalism. Contrary to atheistic naturalism, Christian theism provides a plausible explanation for life, beauty, logic, mathematics, consciousness, morality, the human enigma, the universe’s beginning and intelligibility, and more.

Third, Tyson mentions the seemingly chaotic and inhospitable aspects of the cosmos that would appear to validate purposelessness. However, he ignores the elegant, aesthetic mathematical elements of the universe and the exquisitely fine-tuned constants of physics that are surprisingly intelligible to the human mind.

A Takeaway

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s case for doubting that the universe has a purpose reflects convoluted logic and selective reasoning. All people, regardless of their station in life, must subject their thinking to the universal laws of logic. While Tyson holds specialized training in science, his reasoning reflects glaring weaknesses in logic, philosophy, and worldview thinking.  

Reflections: Your Turn 

Have you watched Tyson’s video? If so, what did you think about his reasoning?

Endnotes

  1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1952), 45–46.

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  One thought on “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

    • July 9, 2019 at 11:30 am

      Thanks for the link.

      Ken Samples

  1. July 9, 2019 at 11:27 am

    It appears that Tyson worships at the altar of Scientism. It’s surprising how religious they can be with the materialistic worldview. Great response, Ken.

    • July 9, 2019 at 11:31 am

      Thanks, Jaime.

      Ken Samples

  2. July 9, 2019 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks for another “shot” of deep-thinking Kenneth. I’m looking forward to sitting down and getting deeper into thought with yours and Fuz Rana’s new book!

    The first thing that strikes me when seeing a presentation like Tyson’s is thankfulness that God removed from my eyes and mind the blinders and chains caused by my sin. If not for His grace, I too would be lost in a vicious circle of inconsistent and tortuous logic, desperately trying to convince myself and justify things that are not true. Instead, I can see and grasp the simple yet awesome and infinite truths of this universe and its purpose (while I fight internally with myself to not giggle at Tyson’s efforts, and to have pity and pray for him, and to think of ways to reach people who think the same way as him).

    Regarding my specific observations about this presentation, I agree with you that Tyson’s logic wants to have things both ways. He equates human consciousness and awareness with the desires of microbes in our gut, yet he clearly thinks of himself much more highly than as a microbe, and demonstrates it through his very profession. Then he posits if human beings are the purpose of the cosmos then the cosmos is very inefficient because human beings have occupied such a minuscule part of time in this cosmos. So he approaches that issue also with a presupposed worldview agenda that nothing can be eternal and only a human timescale is relevant. Being an Old Earth Creationist I have no problem with the universe being 14+ billion years old; it shows among other things that our Creator is meticulous and patient, and an eternal being who operates outside of time and loses nothing by waiting billions of human years for His plan to save His finite image-bearers for Himself to come to fruition, delighting in the whole process.

    • July 9, 2019 at 1:01 pm

      Thanks, MFD.

      Ken Samples

  3. Brendon Biggs
    July 9, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    Good article. I have watched a number of Tyson’s videos where he weighs in on God. It seems he builds strawman arguments. He says in one video that there was a church in Europe that fell in and some people were killed so that means there can’t be a God. He basically believes that if there is a God than no one would be hurt (especially His believers) and the world would sort of be like a cartoon world. Since that world doesn’t exist , then God must not exist. He doesn’t address the fact that the God of the Bible explains why there is evil and suffering but He applies his logic to the God of the Bible unfairly. I know he is smart enough to understand if he really made the effort but he gets a lot of applause from his secular audiences when he makes his popular arguments.

    • July 9, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Thanks, Brendon

      Ken Samples

  4. Tim
    July 9, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    I wonder how the Large Hadron Collider would stand up to Tyson’s scrutiny considering how much time, money, and energy has been dedicated to attending to such a small matter as a boson.

    • July 9, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Appreciate your comment, Tim.

      Ken Samples

  5. Bob Abel
    July 10, 2019 at 2:26 pm

    It’s highly doubtful that Tyson will ever be considered for the Templeton prize with these glaring deficiencies.

    • July 10, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks, Bob.

      Ken Samples

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