What is the
purpose of life?

In Purpose, Yale Professor Samuel Wilkinson tells the story of how recent discoveries from a variety of scientific disciplines—ranging from evolutionary biology to cognitive psychology—suggest there is an overall purpose for human existence. At the same time, Purpose summarizes the latest science from these fields in an attempt to answer some of the deep questions about human nature: Are we ultimately selfish or altruistic? Do we have free will? What is at the root of human happiness? How can a society simultaneously maximize individual happiness and communal well-being? Purpose makes the case that our innate desire to seek for meaning, purpose, and ultimately God, is not at odds with science and evolution.

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The purpose of life is to find meaning and fulfillment. We all seek out our own individual paths in life, whether it be through work, relationships, spiritual practices, or any number of other endeavors. Everyone's journey is unique, but the ultimate goal is often to feel satisfied and happy with one's life and accomplishments. Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a fulfilled life, so it is important to take the time to explore your values and interests to determine what brings you true joy and satisfaction.
About the book

Science & Faith

What is the purpose of life? Does science have any claim to this question? For generations, many have concluded that evolution implies there is no overarching purpose to our existence. 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.

The Dual Potential of
Human Nature.

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 that 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 built within us. This 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 perspective, these aspects of human nature, including how evolution shaped us, are evidence for the existence of a God, not against it.

The Meaning of Life

Closely related to purpose 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’s what most people report are the most meaningful aspects of their lives. And our relationships that are most meaningful are those with our families, those with whom we share our genes. This is a function of our evolution. It is how we were created.

Praise for Purpose

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

“If you struggle to reconcile faith and reason, Sam Wilkinson’s profound book Purpose was written for you.”

Arthur C. Brooks

Professor, Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, #1 New York Times Bestselling author

“Well-researched, insightful, and provocative. ”

Laura Bridgewater

Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology, Brigham Young 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

“Into the midst of the often contentious debate about evolution and the meaning of life, Purpose breathes a breath of fresh air. 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

Haslam and Dewey Professor of Chemistry, Massachussets Institute of Technology

“Dr. Wilkinson has given us a wonderfully—indeed masterfully—synthetic work on the biggest question of all. His book is an intelligent person’s guide to the meaning of life.”

Robert P. George

McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence,

Princeton University

“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.”

John Morley

Professor, Yale Law School

“Wilkinson makes a powerful argument for how human nature, with all its complexity, suggests there is a purpose to our existence.”

Thomas B. Griffith

Former Federal Judge of U. S. Court of Appeals

“In Purpose, Wilkinson deftly explains how and why most fundamental institutions—including marriage and family—play a crucial role in grounding and guiding our lives.”

Brad Wilcox

Professor and Director of the National Marriage Project, University of Virginia

“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.”

Robert Lawrence Kuhn

Creator and Host of the PBS Series, Closer to Truth

“Lively, refreshing, and well-written…. 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 Co-author of New York Times Bestseller, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Strength

“Samuel Wilkinson brings his considerable expertise … in medicine 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

“An insightful explanation of evolution and human nature”

Kirkus Reviews

“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 Collins, MD, PhD

Leader of the Human Genome Project, Author of New York Times Bestseller The Language of God

About the author​

Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD

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.