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.

A Takeaway

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.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe

  1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1952), 45–46.


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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