Purposeless universe hypothesis

In theories, purposeless universe hypothesis is a model of the universe, which states, generally speaking, that the universe is godless and that there is no inherent purpose in the structure, dynamics, or movement of the universe. [1]

There are many promoters of this theory, all who seem to be in the Dawkins number range of 6-7, who include: Peter Atkins, Bertrand Russell (to some extent), Taner Edis, Steven Weinberg, Richard Feynman, James Watson, Richard Dawkins (to some extent) among others.

Early views
It is difficult to pin down exactly when the purposeless universe theory came into existence, but a good demarcation point might rightly be 1859 during which time the Origin of Species began to displace the Bible in regards to what defines the course of human movement, wherein the decades afterwards theories such as heat death, blind random chance, mutation theory, chaos, bifurcation theory, among others, began to take root in the now openly Godless universe landscape. One of the first noted advocators of the purposeless universe model was German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who was being noted for this view as early as 1910. [7]

In the early 1980s, English physical chemist Peter Atkins, began promoting a second law base purposeless universe model of human formation and existence. Atkins' first venture into this genre was his 1981 book Creation (revised as Creation Revisited, 1992), in which he uses physical chemist principles to argue, in what seems to be a physical chemistry stylized Darwinism, in outline, that elephants and men are evolved emergent types of "molecules equipped for competition, survival, and reproduction", albeit molecules that are "unimportant", "insignificant", and "without purpose." [4] In 1998, Atkins stated the following:

“There is not one jot of evidence for cosmic purpose. It’s a reverse engineering of the quest for god.”

The gist of Atkins’ effort seems to be a polemic to dispel the “creator view” of human existence and to replace it with a physical chemistry and or thermodynamic view of human existence, albeit the way he goes about this is through a very skewed way of looking at things: in particular he bends, distorts, and misrepresents they way in which chemical reactions actually occur in a way that leans towards support of his argument. In his 2011 book On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence, section 2.7 "A Universe Without Purpose", for example, he defines the “driving force” of all chemical reactions, human or otherwise, as “the natural tendency of matter and energy to disperse in disorder.” [5]

This, however, is a grand over-slanted laymanized interpretation of the chemical reaction driving force, that of free energy (which prior to 1882 was defined a chemical affinity). Correctly, the actual rigorously-defined “driving force” of chemical reactions, according to the defining textbook definition, that given by American physical chemist Gilbert Lewis (Thermodynamics, 1923), is of the tendency towards free energy decrease (see: Gibbs free energy change), which in pharmaceutical thermodynamics alone has shown that there are very discernible energetically-determined, quantifiable reaction paths (movements on free energy gradients) for all types of molecules and chemical species, atomic, drug-receptor molecules, or in extension: human molecules (people).

Where Atkins goes astray in his purposeless universe polemic, is that in his tunnel vision ideal of discarding the Biblical view of human existence, he subtly bends, twists, distorts, and over simplifies (dumbifies) the second law, and physical chemistry as a whole, in the name of disproof and agenda. The “pervading idea” of his argument, as he states, is entropy. In this end, where he goes astray in his application of entropy and the second law to evolution and in turn human existence is his over-use of the energy dispersal model of entropy: [4]

“Everything is driven by decay. Everything is driven by motiveless, purposeless decay. By [the term] ‘quality’, [we mean] the extent of its dispersal. High quality, useful energy is localized energy. Low quality, wasted energy, is chaotically diffuse energy. Things can get done when energy is localized; but energy loses its potency to motivate change when it has become dispersed. The degradation of quality is chaotic dispersal. Such dispersal is ultimately natural, motiveless, and purposeless. It occurs naturally and spontaneously, and when it occurs it causes change. When it is precipitate it destroys. When it is geared through chains of events it can produce civilizations.”

Correctly, if Atkins was speaking according to the correct physical chemistry definition, everything, in freely going, isothermal, isobaric, earth-bound reaction systems, is "driven" (see: driving force) by free energy change, not by decay as Atkins has laymanized things. In another vein, he rephrases this as:

“The tendency of energy to chaos is transformed into love or war through the agency of chemical reactions. All actions are chains of reactions. From thinking to doing, in simple thinking or in responding, the mechanism in action is chemical reaction.”

This is all good, in overall simplified premise, but his entire spiel, in core structure, is framed in a hugely-distorted view of the second law and of entropy. Nowhere in German physicist Rudolf Clausius’ defining textbook on thermodynamics, the 1875 The Mechanical Theory of Heat, is entropy or the second law defined as the “tendency of energy to chaos”, nor, hypocritically, does Atkins use this interpretation to define entropy or the second law in his standard muti-edition Physical Chemistry textbook, but when it comes to human affairs, he repeats this mantra ad nauseam throughout his polemic.

In the selfish-gene theory work of English zoologist Richard Dawkins, namely his The Selfish Gene (1976) and The Blind Watchmaker (1986), he extols on a mix of purposelessness and DNA-transmission based purpose, such as summarized in the following 1991 quote: [8]

“We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. That is exactly what we are here for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.”

Dawkin’s popular assertion, according to American science-religion scholar, theologian-physicist Ian Barbour, shows that the presence of chance indicates that this is a purposeless universe, whereby natural selection is a mechanism that makes highly improbable molecular combinations probable by the accumulation of many small adaptive improvements. [9]

One of the leading and oft-cited spokespersons for the view that universe has no purpose is American physicist Steven Weinberg who, in 1993 Dreams of a Final Theory: the Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature, famously commented that according to modern science: [2]

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more the universe seems pointless.”

(add discussion)

Another take on the purposeless universe model, occurred in a 1996 conversation between American biochemist James Watson, co-discover of DNA, and his friend English biologist Richard Dawkins, wherein Watson summarized his views on the religion-science conflict as follows: [3]

“Well I don’t think we’re here for anything. We’re just products of evolution. You can say, ‘Gee, your life must be pretty bleak if you don’t think there’s a purpose,’ But I’m anticipating having a good lunch.’

Watson, it seems, here is summarizing his methodology of existence to the effect that he exists for the here and now, led by his own intuitive guiding principle to seek that which is good possibly along the lines of the Epicurean guiding principle to seek the maximum total amount of pleasure. The following pages will address the issues underlying these conflicting sets of belief systems in the daylight of modern science.

Another outspoken purposeless universe advocator is Turkish-born American physicist Taner Edis, a physics professor at Truman State University, and author of three books on religion and science. His 2002 Ghost in the Universe trumpets out, nearly ad nauseam, that the universe is Godless (which is correct), that “the natural world contains no binding moral principles” (which is incorrect: chemical thermodynamics defines what is natural and unnatural), and that evolution and creativity in nature occur via “blind, purposeless trial and error” (which is incorrect: evolution, that which synthesized humans from hydrogens, is a process of coupled energy-driven chemical reactions, and chemical reactions do not occur via blind trial and error). He summarizes his view as such:

“Among believers of all stripes, it is a commonplace that science is unable to answer ultimate questions about human origins, meaning and destiny. I shall argue that we come from accidents, not design. Our lives have no cosmic meaning. Our destiny is dust, not immortality. Many find such answers unappealing. Nevertheless, I believe they are most likely correct.”

And nearly devotes the entirety of his 2002 book to the substantiation of this model.

The following are related quotes:

“The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.”
Bertrand Russell (c.1960), English mathematical philosopher

“Is it just a crazy, cosmic stroke of luck that we’re here at all? Or do humans have some larger, mysterious purpose?”
– Steve Paulson, Atoms & Eden (2010)

See also
‚óŹ Ontic openness

1. Thims, Libb. (2012). What’s Your Purpose? (In a Godless universe) (ch. 4: Purposeless Universe Hypothesis). 103-page unpublished manuscript (as of 2011). Publisher.
2. Weinberg, Steven. (1993). Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature. Publisher.
3. Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion (Watson, pg. 125-26). Mariner Books.
4. (a) Atkins, Peter. (1981). Creation. Publisher.
(b) Atkins, Peter. (1992). Creation Revisited. W.H. Freeman & Co.
5. (a) Atkins, Peter. (2011). On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence (thermodynamics, 6+ pgs). Oxford University Press.
(b) "On Being" by Peter Atkins (review), May 05, 2011 - Humanist4Science blog.
6. Edis, Taner. (2002). The Ghost in the Universe: God in the Light of Modern Science (pg. 16). Prometheus Books.
7. (a) Tunzelmann, Geroge. (1910). A Treatise on Electrical Theory and the Problem of the Universe (§The Place of Mind in the Universe, pg. 495). C. Griffin and Co.
(b) Ernst Haeckel – Wikipedia.
8. Dawkins, Richard. (1991). “The Ultraviolet Garden”, Royal Institute Christmas Lecture, No. 4.
9. Barbour, Ian G. (2000). When Science Meets Religion (pg. 155). Harper Collins.

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