A Philosopher's Blog

Why is the Universe the Way it Is?

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy, Science by Michael LaBossiere on April 30, 2014
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One of the fundamental questions shared by science, philosophy and theology is the question of why the universe is the way it is. Over the centuries, the answers have fallen into two broad camps. The first is that of teleology. This is the view that the universe is the way it is because it has a purpose, goal or end for which it aims. The second is the non-teleological camp, which is the denial of the teleological view. Members of this camp often embrace purposeless chance as the “reason” why things are as they are.

Both camps agree on many basic matters, such as the view that the universe seems to be finely tuned. Theorists vary a bit in their views on what a less finely tuned universe would be like. On some views, the universe would just be slightly different while on other views small differences would have significant results, such as an uninhabitable universe. Because of this apparent fine tuning, one main concern for philosophers and physicists is explaining why this is the case.

The dispute over this large question nicely mirrors the dispute over a smaller question, namely the question about why living creatures are the way they are. The division into camps follows the same pattern. On one side is the broad camp inhabited by those who embrace teleology and the other side dwell those who reject it. Interestingly, it might be possible to have different types of answers to these questions. For example, the universe could have been created by a deity (a teleological universe) who decides to let natural selection rather than design sort out life forms (non-teleological). That said, the smaller question does provide some interesting ways to answer the larger question.

As noted above, the teleological camp is very broad. In the United States, perhaps the best known form of teleology is Christian creationism. This view answers the large and the small question with God: He created the universe and the inhabitants. There are many other religious teleological views—the creation stories of various other cultures and faiths are examples of these. There are also non-religious views. Among these, probably the best known are those of Plato and Aristotle. For Plato, roughly put, the universe is the way it is because of the Forms (and behind them all is the Good). Aristotle does not put any god in charge of the universe, but he regarded reality as eminently teleological. Views that posit laws governing reality also seem, to some, to be within the teleological camp. As such, the main divisions in the teleological camp tends to be between the religious theories and the non-religious theories.

Obviously enough, teleological accounts have largely fallen out of favor in the sciences—the big switch took place during the Modern era as philosophy and science transitioned away from Aristotle (and Plato) towards a more mechanistic and materialistic view of reality.

The non-teleological camp is at least as varied as the teleological camp and as old. The pre-Socratic Greek philosophers considered the matter of what would now be called natural selection and the idea of a chance-based, purposeless universe is ancient.

One non-teleological way to answer the question of why the universe is the way it is would be to take an approach similar to Spinoza, only without God. This would be to claim that the universe is what it is as a matter of necessity: it could not be any different from what it is. However, this might be seen as unsatisfactory since one can easily ask about why it is necessarily the way it is.

The opposite approach is to reject necessity and embrace a random universe—it was just pure chance that the universe turned out as it did and things could have been very different. So, the answer to the question of why the universe is the way it is would be blind chance. The universe plays dice with itself.

Another approach is to take the view that the universe is the way it is and finely tuned because it has “settled” down into what seems to be a fine-tuned state. Crudely put, the universe worked things out without any guidance or purpose. To use an analogy, think of sticks and debris washed by a flood to form a stable “structure.” The universe could be like that—where the flood is the big bang or whatever got it going.

One variant on this would be to claim that the universe contains distinct zones—the zone we are in happened to be “naturally selected” to be stable and hospitable to life. Other zones could be rather different—perhaps so different that they are beyond our epistemic abilities. Or perhaps these zones “died” thus allowing an interesting possibility for fiction about the ghosts of dead zones haunting the cosmic night. Perhaps the fossils of dead universes drift around us, awaiting their discovery.

Another option is to expand things from there being just one universe to a multiverse. This allows a rather close comparison to natural selection: in place of a multitude of species, there is a multitude of universes. Some “survive” the selection while others do not. Just as we are supposed to be a species that has so far survived the natural selection of evolution, we live in a universe that has so far survived cosmic selection. If the model of evolution and natural selection is intellectually satisfying in biology, it would seem reasonable to accept cosmic selection as also being intellectually satisfying—although it will be radically different from natural selection in many obvious ways.


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12 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on April 30, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Whatever the answer is to this question, I suspect it will be written in the language of mathematics.


    • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      A miserable philosophy student u are and always have been, TJB, for metaphysics precedes math which is mere attribute or expression of quantity, given the preceding issue of substance (metaphysics) in first place. Math then merely helps show relation btwn and among the various attributes and substances once the basic questions of substance are understood.

  2. magus71 said, on April 30, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I’ve often noticed that on television shows supporting Darwinism, such as the Discovery channel, narrators will inadvertently make the teleological argument when describing the attribute of certain animals. “The giraffe has a long neck so that it can reach food that’s high on trees.”

    Though mocked since the beginning of the Enlightenment, the teleological view is making a comeback. New science is showing just how little we know, that Newtonian physics don’t apply everywhere, all the time.

    • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      “New science”?–u don’t demonstrate u understand science, in the first place, merely presuming, as always for u, magus, craven, abject worshipper of hereticalist “good” (subjectivism) above all, hence for practical purposes, those u consider “superiors” (ho ho ho), namely ZOG, fm whom u expect to receive goodies for ur obedience, which then is always expressed in bullying the public and the poor soldiers placed under ur supervision.

      “Newtonian physics”?–do u actually understand what that is? Ho ho ho

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:27 pm

      Newton was a teleologist, too. Science did not largely abandon teleology until atheism and agnosticism dominated academics. While some do get the distinction between religion and teleology, accepting a teleological account tends to get one accused of being a theist…and probably a creationist of the simplest sort.

      • apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:50 pm

        Mike, science NEVER abandoned teleology, ever, as it’s impossible, given the nature of teleology, namely determinism, simplest, most clear-cut teleology. Science is ALWAYS basically determinist, un-thinkable without it.

        Only thing that happened was subjectivism appropriated science/logic, the method/technique, and then arbitrarily rejected teleology/determinism–and subjectivism (Platonism) was ALWAYS around, necessary foundation/grounds of hereticalism, Pelagianism and “good.”

        Subjectivism got its new lease on life fm such as Bentham and Kant, that’s all, and it wasn’t long after them there came the moronic logical-positivists, et al., ho ho ho ho–only thing good fm logical positivists were they trained such as Monty Python for entertainment and satire, reviving the spirit of Aristophanes and “The Clouds” parody of Socrates.

  3. apollonian said, on April 30, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Key To Metaphysics Is Aristotle, Master Of Those Who Know

    An excellent subject-matter and creditable essay u pose, Mike, but note “teleology” is mere synonym for deterministic nature. Basic question/issue is objective reality or not?–Aristotle or Plato? (or Descartes or Kant, mere inferior clones of Plato), as always.

    For if reality is objective then it has identity, definite and distinct, thus is determined (teleologic). Everything/anything else is subjectivistic and cannot be understood in logical, scientific manner, anything goes, deuces wild.

    Objectivity is either-or, yes or no–MONISM–“multiverse” is mere subjectivist balderdash.

    “Religion” then is simply the integration of whatever notion or system thereof within an habitual mode which binds intellect with emotion or sentiment. Thus, for example, that Christian religion of TRUTH TRUTH TRUTH above all/any other ideals/precepts as only way to happiness (Gosp. JOHN 14:6) gives one most profound inner PEACE, thus Christ (Truth), the “Prince of Peace.” Thus science, logic, and reason are profoundly religious, no less than any idiotic mysticism or subjectivism.

    And there’s no such thing as “science” without teleology or determinism, for science by its nature is founded in objectivity, hence logical, determinist, and thus teleologic–as then is ethics, properly understood.

    Remember Mike: the project of satanic ZOG, for whom u’re working, unfortunately, is to so hopelessly confuse things for students, purpose being to keeping them befuddled, obedient servants/slaves–always begging to being seen as “good,” hence obedient–which all requires subjectivism and rejection of Aristotle, objectivity, determinism, and science/logic.

    Worst enemy of truth (objectivity) is, always has been, and always will be “good” (hence subjectivism, in which it’s necessarily founded), known to Christianity fm St. Augustine as Pelagian heresy (“good works”).

    Observe our colleagues here, including esp. “magus,” so desperately obsessed w. “good,” inferiority-complex, and approval thereof that he’s willing to swallow all of ZOG’s never-ending lies, like about al Qaeda and “terrorism,” etc.–u don’t want to end up like him, do u?

  4. ajmacdonaldjr said, on May 1, 2014 at 2:45 am

    Darwinism excludes teleology. Darwinism is atomism applied to biology. Darwin’s theory of biological evolution is a pseudo-scientific quasi-religious faith-based system, with a tons of anomalies. Evolution as a Religion: Strange Hopes and Stranger Fears – http://www.amazon.com/Evolution-Religion-Stranger-Routledge-Classics/dp/0415278333

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:27 am

      Darwinism for living creatures is consistent with teleology at other levels. For example, God could create a universe and then set up the system of natural selection. While the selection of natural selection would be teleological, the system itself would not. To use an analogy, if I roll a die, my choice to roll the die is teleological, but the roll itself is random.

      Naturally, it is a viable position to claim that if a non-teleological system is created purposefully, then it is (in a way) teleological.

  5. apollonian said, on May 1, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Yes AJ, someone told u that to be a good Christian u have to dis poor old Darwin–BUT do u even understand what Darwinism is?–I doubt it. “Atomism applied to biology”?–ho ho ho–so what’s that supposed to mean? Is ur citation about a book?–why not tell us what it’s about in reasonable brevity if u really understood it.

    But I will agree w. one thing: it does seem some go along w. Darwinism without understanding it. Jews and their sympathizers who hate Christianity seem to champion Darwinism, while those like u, AJ, who want to pretend u’re Christian denounce it, as we see.

    I myself, understand Darwinism as fairly reasonable theory, though there may be some problems, but which is perfectly comportable w. a God, u see, which cannot be dis-proven–as in logic one cannot prove a universal negative, as I understand. So if Darwinism exists and is true, it would be by God’s will.

  6. Mikey said, on May 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Reblogged this on If I Only Had A Brain….

  7. Lydia Her said, on December 18, 2016 at 8:39 am

    acai berry

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