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Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

October 08, 2007

Templeton_logo_sm Don't know how many of you saw the two-page Templeton Foundation spread in the Week in Review section of yesterday's New York Times (print edition only), but I was struck by both its subject matter and what it must have cost. It's not unusual to see an ad purchased by a global oil company or large multinational displayed prominently within the op-ed/commentary section of the Times, but I can't ever recall seeing a two-page spread from a private foundation -- let alone one devoted to a discussion of metaphysics. As for cost, based on figures that surfaced after last month's MoveOn.org/"General Betray Us" controversy, I'm guessing the Templeton folks spent upwards of $250,000 on the ad -- not a lot for ExxonMobil, perhaps, but a good chunk of change all the same.

The ad presents excerpts from what it calls a series of conversations about the "big questions" -- everything from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity. In 54-point type, it poses the question, "Does the universe have a purpose?" and then presents the wide-ranging views of leading scientists and scholars -- people like Elie Wiesel, Jane Goodall, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the essayist and computer scientist David Gelertner, and the cosmologist Paul Davies. In an age increasingly characterized by reductionist views of complex problems, it's a heartfelt and strangely old-fashioned attempt to promote dialogue and understanding between two seemingly irreconcilable world views, science and religion.

Oh, and if you're keeping score, the dozen essayists responded to the question with three "yeses," two "no's," an "unlikely," a "very likely," one "certainly," one "not sure," an "indeed," a "perhaps," and one "I hope so."

To read the essays in their entirety and/or to learn more about the authors, go here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Matt  |   October 08, 2007 at 05:34 PM

An interesting question, and the answers that these thinkers provide provoke more thought. Regardless of how much the foundation spent, its goal of spurring this type of discussion outside a classroom or bar is noble and worth examining. There is value to thought and debate.

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