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Purpose: What Evolution and Human Nature Imply about the Meaning of Our Existence (Hardcover)

Purpose: What Evolution and Human Nature Imply about the Meaning of Our Existence By Samuel T. Wilkinson Cover Image
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A Next Big Idea Club Must-Read

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.

About the Author

Samuel T. Wilkinson is Associate 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).

Praise For…

"A clear and fascinating case for a broadly theistic conception of evolution that considers the “dual potential of human nature” — our propensity for both altruism and selfishness, or, put another way, good and evil — to be both a result of the way evolution shaped us and a key to what gives life meaning."
National Review

"Wilkinson, like so many 19th- and early-20th-century philosophers and scientists, is attempting to bridge the seeming gulf between reason and faith—and he does an admirable job. Wilkinson performs a service by making them more accessible to lay readers. Wilkinson’s description of our nature deserves a hearing: In order to inspire and protect meaningful relationships, human beings have to negotiate their 'dual potentials' carefully. We don’t have to be perfect, but we do, on balance, have to make the right decisions day after day, year after year. Every world religion, every great spiritual or wisdom tradition, has this idea stitched into its moral fabric. If Wilkinson is right, it’s also part of our very flesh and blood."
The American Scholar

"An insightful explanation of evolution and human nature in which religion is neither excluded nor central."
Kirkus Reviews

“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

"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

"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?

Product Details
ISBN: 9781639365173
ISBN-10: 1639365176
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: March 5th, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English