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How to determine the specific purpose of the universe

November 4, 2014

Last week, I cited the fine tuning argument to conclude that the universe does have a purpose, for it is nearly impossible for its features to be the result of purposeless randomness. Just as a rational but ignorant alien who comes across a human book will conclude that it has a purpose, we too are compelled by the same reasoning to conclude that the universe has a purpose.

The fine-tuning argument will get its own series of articles in the future. But for now, here's the basics: the universe has certain fundamental parameters which must fall within exceedingly narrow values for life to have evolved in it. These values are so narrowly determined, and the probability of a random process generating these values so low, that it would be simply called "impossible" in any ordinary situations. That is to say, a purposeless process would almost certainly not have created our universe.

This allows us to firmly conclude that the universe did not come about randomly, that it really does have a purpose. But what is that purpose? The fine-tuning argument only mentions life, so how do we go from that to the biblical claim of the universe being made by and for Christ? How do we know that the universe was not made for cats, or bacteria? In light of the many different life forms in existence, is it not merely human hubris to say that humanity, and especially one particular human, is the reason for the existence of the universe?

As before, we will approach this question using Bayesian inference, and start by tackling an easier, analogous question: that of an alien considering a book. How could our alien conclude that the purpose of this book was to convey information? After all, couldn't the book also serve as a paperweight, or kindling for a fire? How does the alien go from "this object has a purpose" to "that purpose is to convey information"?

Once again, Bayesian inference gives our alien the answer: look for features that could be anticipated, predicted, or explained by each of these purposes. These features then serve as evidence for the purpose which best predicts them. So, the thin paper pages of the book serves as evidence for both the "kindling" and the "information" hypothesis: both can explain why the book has thin paper pages. However, only the "information" hypothesis can explain why the pages contain symbolic markings, and this then decides the question in favor of the "information" hypothesis.

Note that the alien's conclusion would be greatly strengthened by a knowledge of the language in the book. If he did not know the language, he may only tentatively infer that the markings in the book had meaning. But knowing the language brings with it a much greater certainty that the content of these markings are highly unlikely to have come about by chance. If you are ignorant of English, the word "meaning" looks like a random sequence of letters, and you may decide that it was just randomly put together. But as someone who understands English, you know that this sequence of letters is not likely to be the result of chance. When applied to the text in our book, this low probability then serves as strong evidence that the book's purpose really is to convey information.

Once again, it all comes down to probability. The true purpose of the book is that which best explains the least probable feature of the book. Since the least probable feature of the book is its text, its true purpose is that which explains that text: the book exists to transmit information. Reaching this conclusion is greatly aided by the knowledge of the language. This is extendable to all objects: the true purpose of a given object is that which best explains the least probable features of that object, whose recognition is greatly assisted by some prior knowledge.

Now that we've considered this hypothetical book, let's apply the same reasoning to the purpose of the universe: the universe is designed for life, as per the fine-tuning argument, but this does not distinguish between humans, cats, or bacteria being that purpose. If we consider only fine-tuning, we cannot tell whether cats exist to make us laugh or we exist to serve cats. Or perhaps we both exist to serve bacteria. However, this equivalence is broken upon considering other features of the universe, such as human civilization. Only the primacy of humans can explain why humans have achieved civilization while cats and bacteria have not: the other hypotheses cannot explain why this highly unlikely feature should exist for humanity.

Note that this conclusion is likely to be reached by someone with some prior knowledge of human civilization, who understands that civilization is not something that could have come about by chance. A random pile of matter - even a random pile of matter put together by humans - is unlikely to result in civilization. So only by being ignorant of human civilization - only by failing to recognize its low probability starting from randomness - can one claim that the purpose of the universe is to generate cats or bacteria. Those who recognize civilization therefore rightly conclude that its low probability is firm evidence for placing humans at the apex of the purpose of the universe.

It again comes down to probabilities. Humans are the most complex life-forms, and we're the only ones to have achieved an advanced civilization. Both complexity and civilization are low-probability events: therefore among the life-forms we are the least likely to have randomly evolved. And among the humans, Jesus was the least likely person to have ever lived: one does not just randomly fulfill messianic prophecies, then randomly say the things that Jesus said about himself, then randomly lead a morally perfect life, then randomly rise from the dead. But if Jesus really is the incarnate God for whom the universe was created, then everything is explained.

That is how you go from merely stating that universe has a purpose, to specifying that purpose. That is how you narrow down from the purpose existing, to it being life, to humanity, and finally to Jesus. The purpose of the universe is that which explains the least probable features of the universe: and as the least likely member of the least likely species in our improbable universe, Jesus Christ was that purpose. And to all who acknowledged him, he gives them the ability to become the children of God.


You may next want to read:
The dialogue between two aliens who found a book on Earth
The biblical timeline of the universe
Isn't the universe too big to have humans as its purpose?
Another post, from the table of contents

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