In the long-running debate about science and what it can do, and what it can explain, the sceptic has frequently resorted to this ultimate gambit: “But science can’t answer the question of why. Above all, it can’t answer why the universe exists in the first place.” QED.
But this isn’t a very good argument. The point is, that science – or, in practice, a large number of contemporary scientists – do have an answer to this question. The answer is as follows: the universe is purposeless.
I can easily imagine the howls of dissatisfaction at this answer, but it is a perfectly reasonable reply. The universe just “is” – there is no requirement to look further.
If, in answer to, “have you stopped beating your wife” I say yes or no, I have accepted the premise that I HAVE been beating my wife. But what if I haven’t? (Ariel will be the final, authoritative source on this). If I haven’t, the appropriate response is – “I don’t beat my wife, and I’ve never beaten my wife.”
To take another example: “Why is there a green man made of cheese on the moon?” I can’t answer this directly, within the question’s terms, if there is NO green man on the moon. So the correct answer is: “I’m afraid there is no green man made of cheese on the moon.”
So, the “why is there a universe?” is a wife-beating, green man on the moon, question. The appropriate answer is that there is no purpose, design or intention behind the universe. In this sense, the universe blindly proceeds with no goal. It just is. That is a perfectly good answer to a question with a false assumption contained within it. The false, built-in assumption, is that everything has to have a purpose.
The question, as posed, is also clearly human-centric – on the basis that when WE do something, a lot of the time, at least, we act with a purpose or intention. But the universe, in its totality, isn’t a human being. It doesn’t have to behave like a human.
The “why does the universe exist?” gambit fails as a “gotcha” against science. Science has answered it.