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.
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? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1952), 45–46.