Imagine a book about God with no pronouns for the deity. No mention of Jesus, heaven, hell, or salvation. Is it an atheist's dream? Not really. It's a debut trade book by a psychiatrist who embraces the science of evolution with an asterisk*. The * is that evolution is actually God in action—creating humans right down to their very DNA to know and love God and each other—says Samuel T. Wilkinson, the author of Purpose: What Evolution and Human Nature Imply About the Meaning of Our Existence (Pegasus Books, Mar.)
Wilkinson is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, where he also serves as associate director of the Yale Depression Research Program and has won awards for academic writings in his field. His viewpoint in the book, however, was shaped by his medical studies, his own struggle to reconcile science, the faith instilled in him as a follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and his life as the married father of five children. Yet no specific religious denomination or philosophy, East or West, and no theological stance gets mentioned in his book. Everyone fits in.
"I didn't want to leave anyone out," he tells PW. "The primary audience for the book is people who think there is something more in life — whether that is a specific belief in the New Testament God or a sense that we are not here by accident." He expresses in the book that he has observed a pervading climate of distrust, fear, cynicism, and disconnection among people, which he attributes to "a loss of faith in a benevolent God. A loss of faith in the goodness of humanity. A loss of faith in an absolute purpose and meaning to our existence," he writes.
This spurred him to present the idea that "a proper understanding of how we were created may also help us better comprehend human nature, how we can be happier, and how we can form societies that bring out the better angels of our nature," he tells PW. His book delves into numerous disciplines, including evolutionary biology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, for evidence that "evolution was not a random process." Instead, it was "constrained and guided by higher-order principles," he says.
Confronting the confounding contradictions of human nature, Wilkinson points out in his book, is possible because, he writes, humanity is encoded with the ability "to choose between the good and evil impulses that nature has created within us. This life is a test." And this test, he proclaims in the book is "strong evidence for the existence of a God, not against it." To survive and to discover our "divinely ordained purpose" he writes, God-guided evolution embued humans with a built-in drive to form deep friendships and families, which Wilkinson tells PW, provide "life's most profound joys."
Pegasus Books deputy publisher Jessica Case says that while Purpose is grouped with their science titles right now, they see it as widening their door for the publisher to do more books that deal with spirituality. "Think of all the titles out there reflecting the search for purpose and the epidemic of loneliness that has followed the pandemic. Sam is tapping into the zeitgeist with this book. His proposal was so fascinating that anyone who trusts science or has faith, no matter what religion it is, can see how he reconciles belief in God with science and the concept of guided evolution."
In marketing the book, Pegasus includes blurbs from famous scientists-of-faith such as Francis Collins, the former director of the National Institutes, and it is promoting the book to science, humanist, and traditional religious media. It will be on the Next Big Idea Book Club's March list of "must-read titles," says Panio Gianopoulos, co-founder & editorial director of the club, which highlights challenging new books in the science and humanities. In April, the club's curators will select two winning titles for their late summer club shipment.