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Skeptic Magazine - What is the purpose of a Sponge? A Biologist Contemplates the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Skeptic is an American magazine that prompts scientific skepticism and was first published in 1992. In this article we look at the Vol 17 No. 1 2011 edition, which contains an article written by David Zeigler, entitled What is the purpose of a Sponge? A Biologist Contemplates the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Zeigler attacks the question of purpose in life by examining life at the extreme ends of the evolutionary process. It is theorized that most modern life evolved from sponges, and from Zeigler's reasoning, sponges have no purpose other than to perpetuate their individual genes into the next generation. He furthers this line of reasoning by examining Entameoba gingivalis, an Amoebozoa responsible for causing gingivitis in 90% of the world's population. This Amoebozoa purpose in life, other than to give people bad breath? None. He'd further conclude: Many scientists today would hold that there is no substantial evidence to suggest that the universe and nature have any purpose.


Zeigler also writes about how most religions around the world falsely place a special importance on homo sapiens.


If we could mature and move beyond the unfounded teleological question of what purpose nature serves, we could more appreciate nature for what it is—a spectacular 3.6 billion year old explosion of diversity, complexity, mystery, and beauty that has next to nothing to do with us, except that we humans are one of the very recent additions to that incomprehensible diversity. Even though we alone have the mental ability to understand much of nature and our meager place in it, our purpose apart from myth is no more obvious or real than that of a sponge.


Yet, if we, like sponges, have no purpose, does it mean we have to live meaningless lives? To answer this question, Zeigler suggests that it is perfectly acceptable, and even encouraged that we create our own meaning individual purposes that lead us to live meaningful lives. He states, Perhaps the most important and safe purpose we could adopt would be to simply live a life that improves the world in some way—leaving a positive rather than a negative legacy.


One of his final examples talks about algae, protists, and bacteria living on the columns of the Brooklyn Bridge and not being able to comprehend the larger world around them. Taking this line of reason one step further, perhaps, neither can we on our humble, unimportant little star (one ordinary start in a sea of trillions)perhaps we might also be unable to understand or even detect a grand purpose to it all.

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