NOTE: This post was revised and corrected from its original form on 2009.09.17.

PART I
Lately I have been watching a lot of documentaries on space, the planets, black holes, and the like. I am overwhelmed by the vastness of space—the extreme distances between the planets and stars—as well as the immense amount of energy being spent or transformed by the Universe. Of course, there is also the inconceivable amount of time that has transpired within the Universe, and the infinite future that lies before it. It seems impossible to wrap one’s mind around it.

While I have no theistic tendencies, I can’t help but wonder what it is all for. Theists of course pretend to have the answers. They simply make up whatever nonsense they want to make up and pretend that their lives have a purpose: to serve the whims of a creator who has a cosmic plan.

Outside of embracing mumbo jumbo, what are to think of, or about, the Universe we see? What is the purpose of it all? Why does it go to so much trouble doing what it does?

Consider the fact that a million trillion miles away there are galaxies being born, stars dying and exploding into super novae, planets coalescing, and a whole host of other natural phenomena—but there is no one there to see it, study it, acknowledge it, record it, or even be concerned about it.

So why does it bother? Can inanimate matter have a purpose or goal? And does any of it matter if there is no conscious life around to witness it, or take part in it?


PART II
Human life will go extinct. It is inevitable. Everything is transitory; everything will fade. If we don’t destroy ourselves, then something else will. The number of threats to our planet are numerous, and all are potential possibilities—with some being more inevitable than others. For example, our sun will turn into a red giant, and then collapse into a white dwarf one day, as all yellow giants do. Alternately, our molten iron core will cool one day, and when it does the magnetic field that protects the earth from the solar winds will disappear, too. Either situation means the end of all life on earth.

The only known witnesses to the passage of time and the unfolding of the Universe, and we will be gone—no one to care that we were here, and no one to acknowledge our existence; all our accomplishments, and everything that defines us—simply gone.

So what’s it all for?

I know that sounds like a theistic question, but it isn’t really. It is a human question.

Earth is the only place in the Universe that we know of in which chemical and organic life has combined in such as way to create consciousness. Surely, the extraordinary importance (and improbability) of that fact is lost on no one here.

From a cosmic point of view, it seems like such a shame to lose it.


PART III
Keeping in mind what I have said so far, I want to pose these questions:

Being that we are the only life forms in this chaotic cosmic drama, do we have a purpose, and do we have a destiny as a species? Whether it is a destiny imposed upon us by the demands of DNA, or a destiny freely chosen and defined by us, do we have one?

In other words: Do we have a cosmic obligation to reach some goal? And if we don’t already, should we create one?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions here. Please choose the ones you think you’d like to respond to and share your opinions below.

Tags: destiny, humanity, humans, life, life on earth, people, the universe

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Replies to This Discussion

Heat death is the ultimate fate of the universe.

In a recent show they said it would probably end in ice, not fire. As energy spends itself, and as stars grow further and further apart, the Universe is supposed to get colder.
I think, maybe, we are both right? Collapse, as in a many black holes swallowing up everything while heat death occurs...at least that's the way I took this article
@Kirk: Correct about the sun. I misspoke. It will end up as a white dwarf, not a super nova. I need to correct that. Thanks.
I feel we are just a blip on the cosmic radar. The result of a random chemical reaction. I also do not think there is a "cosmic goal" for humanity, or any puspose to it at all. This is what makes life all the more precious for the atheist! Knowing that we must make the best of our time because one day it will be over.
This is what makes life all the more precious for the atheist!

A cosmic purpose does not necessarily imply a theist once.
I never implied that it did. But on the other hand a "purpose" for humanity is a foundation in the theistic argument. A cosmic purpose, I don't know if this can be logically determined. Who would determine the purpose? Would it be us? That may be an egocentric position to hold. Would it be some silicon based life form a billion light years away and far more ancient than us? This might be a bit too speculative for rational thought. Definitely the stuff of great acid trips! LOL!
But on the other hand a "purpose" for humanity is a foundation in the theistic argument.

Very true.

Who would determine the purpose? Would it be us?

Dunno!
You know, these are all very deep issues and there is no one right way to answer the questions they raise. I brought up the acid trip scenario because when I was in my late teens I had a small circle of friends and we would eat acid and talk about these things! LOL. We never did come to any solid conclusions but had a grand time trying!

It safe to assume that nearly all atheists think about these things. It is in our nature. If we accepted the path of the ignorant we would never question anything!

I like the fact that you do not claim to know the answers in any definitive fashion because this would contradict rational thinking. All your questions lead to an endless stream of ever deeper questions! Truly food for the philosopher in all of us!
You know, these are all very deep issues and there is no one right way to answer the questions they raise.

Agreed.

All your questions lead to an endless stream of ever deeper questions!

To paraphrase Dawkins: Even if we have proof, or decide that a divine being was the creator of all things, it still raises the question of who created the creator.
I wanted to reply to this without reading what others have said so far, just to speak in my own words as it were.

My take...

As you said Dallas... I know of only one predictable destiny for humanity that will eventually come true unless something is done to change it. One day (possibly soon in cosmological time) humanity will become extinct, some massive disaster will sometime in the next million+ years, will most likely kill us off. If we want to break the earth based extinction cycle, we need to get off this planet and become at the very least a two planet species. Despite all our technology, we are and will be at the mercy of the universe and its multitude of events, for the foreseeable future.

As a species we really are still in our infancy if you look a how long we have existed on this planet. If you took the complete timeline of life on earth and put it to a 24 hour clock, we probably only came into existence in the last minute on that 24 hour clock.

Human's don't have a manifest destiny, that is to say there is no goal for humanity to strive for that belongs to us simply because we exist, in the here and now. We are not greater or able to supersede reality, no matter how much I or anyone else wishes it was so. However I do believe that humanity could manufacture a destiny for ourselves, we have the ability to strive to be something more then our animal heritage. As a species we are unique in the universe as far as I know (right now), we are able to affect our environment in unique (sometimes destructive) ways that no other life form on this planet has mastered to the degree we have.

Getting off planet is the only way to ensure that as a species we are able to be something more then we are, something that could truly be considered a breaking of the cycle. However in order to make this big leap as a species we need to mature, and understand and appreciate our place in the universe. The problem with the universe is that it is so big, we cannot really wrap our minds around it. We break it up into stuff we know and stuff we don't know.

Let me give you a number for example...

10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Thats a google 1+100 zeros... as a starting point it still doesn't come close to representing the number of objects out in the universe right now, that we know absolutely nothing about. Infinity comes closer, but infinity is even a more difficult idea to grasp, because with infinity ... the zero's never really stop. The only way to really explore the universe is to get out there and do it, we might never make it that far, but I think it is something to strive for, curiosity and exploration that could be a destiny we make for ourselves. The nice thing is once we start exploring the universe around us, it is an exploration that never has to end, should we be able to get to that point, there will always be something more to learn.
Thanks for your input Jay.

The nice thing is once we start exploring the universe around us, it is an exploration that never has to end, should we be able to get to that point, there will always be something more to learn.

Yeah, that's what makes life so interesting. Self-awareness and curiosity.There is always something to learn.
If you took the complete timeline of life on earth and put it to a 24 hour clock, we probably only came into existence in the last minute on that 24 hour clock.

If by 'we' you mean the Homo Sapiens, make that minute less than 5 seconds.

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