Format Hardcover
Publication Date 03/05/24
ISBN 9781639365173
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 352

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What Evolution and Human Nature Imply about the Meaning of Our Existence

Samuel T. Wilkinson

By using principles from a variety of scientific disciplines, Yale Professor Samuel Wilkinson provides a framework for human evolution that reveals an overarching purpose to our existence.

Generations have been taught that evolution implies there is no overarching purpose to our existence, that life has no fundamental meaning. We are merely the accumulation of tens of thousands of intricate molecular accidents. Some scientists take this logic one step further, suggesting that evolution is intrinsically atheistic and goes against the concept of God.

But is this true?

By integrating emerging principles from a variety of scientific disciplines—ranging from evolutionary biology to psychology—Yale Professor Samuel Wilkinson provides a framework of evolution that implies not only that there is an overarching purpose to our existence, but what this purpose is.

With respect to our evolution, nature seems to have endowed us with competing dispositions, what Wilkinson calls the dual potential of human nature. We are pulled in different directions: selfishness and altruism, aggression and cooperation, lust and love. When we couple this with the observation that we possess a measure of free will, all this strongly implies there is a universal purpose to our existence.

This purpose, at least one of them, is to choose between the good and evil impulses that nature has created within us. Our life is a test. This is a truth, as old as history it seems, that has been espoused by so many of the world’s religions. From a certain framework, these aspects of human nature—including how evolution shaped us—are evidence for the existence of a God, not against it.

Closely related to this is meaning. What is the meaning of life? Based on the scientific data, it would seem that one such meaning is to develop deep and abiding relationships. At least that is what most people report are the most meaningful aspects of their lives. This is a function of our evolution. It is how we were created.

Samuel T. Wilkinson is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, where he also serves as Associate Director of the Yale Depression Research Program. He received his MD from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. His articles have been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. He has been the recipient of many awards, including Top Advancements & Breakthroughs from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation; Top Ten Psychiatry Papers by the New England Journal of Medicine, the Samuel Novey Writing Prize in Psychological Medicine (Johns Hopkins); the Thomas Detre Award (Yale University); and the Seymour Lustman Award (Yale University).

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Endorsements & Reviews

"An insightful explanation of evolution and human nature in which religion is neither excluded nor central." Kirkus Reviews
"Samuel Wilkinson brings his considerable expertise to questions of evolution, purpose and God. What results is an innovative approach which takes the science seriously both in what it can say and where it needs a wider context to give insights into what it means to be fully human." Reverend Professor David Wilkinson, Principal of St John’s College, Durham University
"In this lively, refreshing, and well-written book, Samuel Wilkinson thoughtfully explores the fascinating problems of evolution, freedom, meaning, and religion. Complex ideas are explained in simple and clear terms, and arguments on all sides are carefully scrutinized. Readers will enjoy engaging with this intelligent and humble mind. Anyone interested in the deep questions about human life will find this book a valuable and stimulating read."
Roy Baumeister, President-Elect, International Positive Psychology Association, and co-author of New York Times Bestseller, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength
"Psychiatrist Sam Wilkinson digs deeply into recent insights about how evolution has shaped the competing dispositions of human nature, and how these observations point to a Creator God who has a purpose for our existence. If you are one of many in our technological society who is troubled about whether science and faith can be harmonized, you will be reassured and inspired by this intellectually rigorous and spiritually compelling presentation.”

Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, Leader of the Human Genome Project, Author of The Language of God, and Founder of BioLogos
"An essential book by every measure. Beautifully written, superbly researched—and life changing. You will never think of your life, or the earth, or the purpose of each in the same way again!”
Greg McKeown, New York Times bestselling author of Effortless and Essentialism
"If you struggle to reconcile faith and reason, Sam Wilkinson’s profound book Purpose was written for you. You will be left with an understanding of the guiding forces behind human evolution and behavior.” Arthur C. Brooks, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, and #1 New York Times bestselling author
"Wilkinson makes the case that the evolutionary forces of individual selection and kin selection, operating simultaneously over eons, have produced the best and worst aspects of human nature. God’s use of evolution in the creation of humanity therefore sets the stage for life to truly test our willingness to choose good over evil as we respond to competing urges. Well-researched, insightful, and provocative." Laura C. Bridgewater, Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Brigham Young University
"Into the midst of the often contentious debate about evolution and the meaning of life, Purpose breathes a breath of fresh air. By taking seriously the notion that “everything that is evolved”, Wilkinson highlights how evolution must then be responsible not just for our genetic material, but also for the apparent dual nature of human nature—the tension between selfishness and altruism or between aggression and cooperation. These aspects of human nature suggest that, while the steps of evolution are random, the higher order principles that guide evolution have all the apparent hallmarks of having a clear purpose. I highly recommend this to those seeking a clear and hopeful perspective on how modern science can help us pursue a meaningful life.” Troy Van Voorhis, Professor at MIT and author of Certainty: Is Science All You Need?
"Dr. Wilkinson has given us a wonderfully—indeed masterfully—synthetic work on the biggest question of all. Bringing together insights drawn from the fields of biology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology, he puts a spotlight on the things that give human beings, over time and across cultures, a sense of purpose. His book is an intelligent person’s guide to the meaning of life.” Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University
“In Purpose, Wilkinson deftly explains how and why our most fundamental institutions—including marriage and family—play a crucial role in grounding and guiding our lives. This is a fascinating and important book.” Brad Wilcox, Sociology Professor and Director of the National Marriage Project, University of Virginia