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Scientists “driven” to teleological view of the cosmos

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Hubble Ultra-Deep Field/NASA

From Harvard astrophysicist Howard A. Smith at Nautilus:

Almost in spite of themselves, scientists are driven to a teleological view of the cosmos.

As a research astrophysicist, I can say without exaggeration that a day never goes by when I am not impressed by the amazing explanatory power of modern science. But I am also trained to be open to the world as it presents itself, not just as I would like it to be. So it is worth calling attention to two recent discoveries that suggest our place in the cosmos needs reconsideration. We might not be ordinary at all.

Voice from crowd: Guy might have a point. If we are so ordinary, where are all the others?

The remarkable discovery of exoplanets has not increased the chances for finding aliens. Because so many of the known exoplanets are much more complicated than previously imagined, and are complex in ways seemingly detrimental to their evolving intelligence, all the previously rough estimates of the chances for producing intelligence are reduced even further. For all practical purposes we could be alone, with no one to talk to, for a long time.

The point here is that if some process—perhaps quantum mechanics but maybe something else—steers the universe toward producing intelligence, then we humans are representatives of that teleological endpoint. It suggests that we play some cosmic role. I hope this is an eye-opener for you. It certainly was for me when I first read [John] Wheeler’s paper, and it has become even more pressing today, as we learn more about exoplanets and fine-tuning. Modern philosophers have chimed in too: Thomas Nagel puts it this way in his 2012 book, Mind and Cosmos: “We have not observed life anywhere but on earth, but no natural fact is cosmologically more significant.” More.

John Wheeler
John Wheeler (1911-2008)

John Wheeler

was an eminent American theoretical physicist, perhaps best known for having initially coined the terms “black hole”, “wormhole” and several other colourful phrases. In the 1930s, he developed the important “S-matrix” in particle physics and worked with Niels Bohr to explain nuclear fission in terms of quantum physics. Later, he developed the equation of state for cold, dead stars, helped popularize the study of general relativity in the mainstream of theoretical physics, and to firm up the theory and evidence for black holes. He also collaborated with Albert Einstein in his search for a Grand Unified Theory of physics.

He asked, can the universe exist if there is no consciousness around to observe it?

See also: Copernicus, you are not going to believe who is using your name. Or how.


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One of the strongest arguments in favor teleology (design or purpose) is the overwhelming evidence for what is commonly termed the fine tuning of the universe. Theists like myself argue that an intelligent Creator (God) is the ultimate explanation behind this apparent teleology. Ironically even some atheists are willing to concede that God is a possible explanation for the for the universes apparent fine-tuning. For example, in 2007 while making observations at the Keck observatory in Hawaii, Sandra Faber, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told science writer Anil Ananthaswamy, 'that there were only two possible explanations for fine-tuning. "One is that there is a God and that God made it that way…" But for Faber, an atheist, divine intervention is not the answer. “The only other approach that makes any sense is to argue that there really is an infinite, or a very big, ensemble of universes out there and we are in one,” she said. 'This ensemble would be the multiverse. In a multiverse, the laws of physics and the values of physical parameters like dark energy would be different in each universe, each the outcome of some random pull on the cosmic slot machine. We just happened to luck into a universe that is conducive to life. After all, if our corner of the multiverse were hostile to life, Faber and I wouldn’t be around to ponder these questions under stars.' Other atheists agree that God counts as a rational explanation. In a debate with Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, California Institute of Technology physicist, Sean Carrol said, “I’m very happy to admit right off the bat – [that God fine-tuning the universe] is the best argument that the theists have when it comes to cosmology.” However, Carroll then deftly takes away with the left hand what he had just offered with his right. “I am by no means convinced that there is a fine-tuning problem,” he told Craig. Oh? Is Carrol speaking for everyone? Is an airy wave of the hand all that is needed to solve the fine tuning problem. Other prominent physicists and astrophysicists would disagree, among them Sir Martin Rees, Paul Davies, Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark, Andrei Linde and Alexander Vilenkin to name a few. All these men, as far as I know, reject traditional theism. Nevertheless, they see fine-tuning as being a real problem in need of an explanation. Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/god-and-cosmology-the-existence-of-god-in-light-of-contemporary-cosmology#ixzz3RlJRmO29 For the theist fine tuning is a problem that has an easy answer. For us an eternally existing transcendent mind (God) is a sufficient explanation for the universe’s fine tuning. What is the non-theists explanation? The most popular, at the present, is the one given by Faber, an ensemble of universes—the so-called multiverse. However, at present there is no proof or evidence for such a view. So then, are we simply supposed to believe it by faith? john_a_designer
Whoever created this world, be it the Intelligent designer, God or some wave-function, I wish they would have been kind enough to at least hint us on the purpose of that exercise…
Within that desire you express, is a beginning of the answer. Seeking to know. Learning - yes, finding hints. All of that indicates movement, progress, direction - towards. None of us here, religious, atheist or other, has all the answers. But notice the commonality. We're all seeking, building ... filling up. If we discover that the ultimate source of the knowledge that we're all moving towards, is the designer of our capability for knowledge -- then we'll know where we're moving towards. And this explains purpose. Silver Asiatic
Eugene @ 3: He gave us more than a hint. He gave us the Incarnation. Truth Will Set You Free
Eugene @3:
Whoever created this world, be it the Intelligent designer, God or some wave-function, I wish they would have been kind enough to at least hint us on the purpose of that exercise…
Hmm... that's a very interesting point which may raise a few questions: How could that happen? Any suggestions? Maybe... E-mail? Facebook? Twitter? SMS (txt msg)? Phone call? YouTube? Video? Skype? Webinar? Conference call? Cable TV? Satellite TV? Regular mail (a.k.a. s-mail)? Also, in which language? English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, German, Portuguese, Polish, Greek, Latin, other? When? Long ago? recently? Last year? Yesterday? Today? Tomorrow? Next year? Another time? How often? Once? Recurrently (how frequent)? On demand? Or maybe just coming directly to us? how? When? Where? Whatever way one may suggest, why would it be better than someone else's suggestion? Whose preference would have higher priority? Should that be decided in a referendum? BTW, maybe it happened but we just didn't get the memo? Or even worse, could get it but didn't care much (or at all) about it? [emphasis added] :) Dionisio
Whoever created this world, be it the Intelligent designer, God or some wave-function, I wish they would have been kind enough to at least hint us on the purpose of that exercise… Eugene
as to this comment from the article: "Matter is composed of wave functions of probability that only become “real entities” when they are measured by a conscious observer." And what is the 'sufficient cause' for wave function collapse?
Double Slit, Quantum-Electrodynamics, and Christian Theism – video https://www.facebook.com/philip.cunningham.73/videos/vb.100000088262100/1127450170601248/?type=2&theater
Funny! He just can't bring himself to bring up the option of God, although that is perhaps the best explanation for the data. Saying "best" is an opinion, but certainly it is undeniable that the option of a Creator to explain this is certainly valid. tjguy

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