Intention: an Impression

In college I took to attending debates that pitted a Christian against an atheist. The Christian always asserted, among other things, that he knew exactly what the point of the universe was. The atheist was certain the universe had no point. The two got along terribly.

It seemed to me that both were mistaken. The Christian seemed ignorant of the possibility that the universe was not a finished product but still changing, meaning he could gain no credibility with his opponent by wondering about the past and future evolution of man.[1]

The atheist, unwilling to ignore modern human discoveries, had run so far in the other direction that not only did he believe the universe to be pointless but he was actually glad.

And this struck me as odd: not that the universe isn’t a pointless place, a compelling enough argument can be made for that, but why should anyone prefer it that way?

Most people seem drawn to being a part of something larger than one’s self such as a family or community; or to contribute our talents to work that will outlive us. Doesn’t a universe undergirded by intention mean an opportunity to be part of the largest family? To contribute to the most lasting of works?

A intentional universe that was driving toward something would mean a chance to glimpse what the universe means to accomplish with all this time and energy, and the chance to join our intentions with it.

Which isn’t to say that a pointless universe would be without meaning β€” humans seem able to find their own meaning without any (conscious) notion of an overarching purpose to the cosmos. It’s just that all our personal meaning would be made against a backdrop of meaninglessness, in a universe that was on the whole meaningless. Meaning the sum total meaning available to us would decrease.

In other words, the primary drawback of a pointless universe is that it can never be as meaningful as an intentional universe can be. And though the universe may indeed be a pointless place I don’t see why any healthy mind should actually hope for that.

So is the universe an intentional place driving in a direction toward a goal? I don’t know. I have no proof that the universe has sprung forth and continues to swirl into increasingly magnificent shapes driven by cosmic intention. It, like it’s opposite, is unprovable.

But we don’t need a proof in order to be convinced. Preferably, by having the fullest human experience possible β€” science and poetry and love and work β€” all of which will lead to an impression (that’s all!) of what the universe is, if anything, about.

[1] I know there are more broadminded Christians and less strident atheists. Unfortunately, a great many of these debates are sanctioned by organizations seeking to polarize a clear-thinking us against dangerous them. However when I forgo the media and such events I get the impression that there are a great many sensible people wary of either camp who seem the minority because they have nowhere to rally.