Format Hardcover
Publication Date 10/03/23
ISBN 9781639365173
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 356

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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 implies 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: “The fact of evolution [is] inherently atheistic. It goes against the notion that there is a 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 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
"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
“Anyone who wants to know how a scientific understanding of reality and the notion of purpose for human existence can go together, will be richly inspired by this book.” Dirk Evers, Professor of Theology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
“Wilkinson has done something extraordinary: He has provided a science-based answer to the world’s most intractable philosophical question. And he has done it in elegant, entertaining prose that any thoughtful person can enjoy. This book will change your life. It tells us not just how to live, but why. It is especially inspiring to young people struggling to find purpose in an uncertain age. This book is for anyone who wonders about the meaning of life." John Morley, Yale 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
“Wilkinson makes a powerful argument for how human nature, with all its complexity, suggests there is a purpose to our existence. Drawing upon the profound insights of evolutionary biology, this successful effort to reconcile sometimes competing worldviews gives a reasoned explanation that our existence is not accidental. Wilkinson demonstrates that what we have learned so recently about human nature from our evolutionary history confirms what we have known so long from the humanities: that the boundary between good and evil runs through every heart. That Wilkinson makes his case in a way that is accessible to the layperson will broaden and deepen the impact of this important contribution to understanding who we are and what we should be about.” Thomas B. Griffith, former federal judge of the United State Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
"Samuel Wilkinson challenges conventional wisdom with Purpose, his passionately argued book that seeks the essence of our existence by envisioning direction in evolution, not only randomness, and virtues in human nature, not only vices. Wilkinson, a psychiatrist specializing in depression, finds purpose in Purpose: to restore faith and bring meaning to many. An unabashed proponent of theistic evolution, Wilkinson argues that a purpose of our existence is to choose between the good and evil inherent within us—life is a test, he says—and he offers a framework to help us choose our better natures, maximize our individual well-being, and thus live the Good Life. While some (including me) may not entirely agree, all should at least consent that this debate sits at the heart of the human condition.” Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Creator and Host of "Closer To Truth"