I missed this by a few months, but better late than never. Edge.org again asked some of the world’s preeminent thinkers a question and put up the responses. See the responses here.
Sample excerpt from Sean Carrol (physicist) – The Pointless Universe:
Human beings like to insist that there are reasons why things happen. The death of a child, the crash of an airplane, or a random shooting must be explained in terms of the workings of a hidden plan. When Pat Robertson suggested that Hurricane Katrina was caused in part by God’s anger at America’s failing morals, he was attempting to provide an explanatory context for a seemingly inexplicable event.
Nature teaches us otherwise. Things happen because the laws of nature say they will — because they are the consequences of the state of the universe and the path of its evolution. Life on Earth doesn’t arise in fulfillment of a grand scheme, but rather as a byproduct of the increase of entropy in an environment very far from equilibrium. Our impressive brains don’t develop because life is guided toward greater levels of complexity and intelligence, but from the mechanical interactions between genes, organisms, and their surroundings.
None of which is to say that life is devoid of purpose and meaning. Only that these are things we create, not things we discover out there in the fundamental architecture of the world. The world keeps happening, in accordance with its rules; it’s up to us to make sense of it and give it value.