Does human life have any meaning? Does the question even make sense today? For centuries, the question of the meaning or purpose of human life was assumed by scholars and theologians to have a religious answer: life has meaning because humans were made in the image of a good god. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution changed everything, however, and the human organism was seen to be more machine than spirit. Ever since, with the rise of science and decline of religious belief, there has been growing interest––and growing doubt––about whether human life really does have meaning. If it does, where might we find it?
Historian and philosopher of science Michael Ruse investigates this question in his new book A Meaning to Life
(Oxford University Press, 2019) asking whether we can find a new meaning to life within Darwinian views of human nature. Rather than promoting a bleak nihilism, many Darwinians think we can convert Darwin into a form of secular humanism. Ruse explains, in a tradition going back to the time of Darwin himself, positive meaning is found in continuing and supporting the upwards path of life provided by the process of evolution itself. However, this is a false turn, he argues, because there is no real progress in the evolutionary process. Rather, meaning in the Darwinian age can be found if we turn to a kind of Darwinian existentialism, seeing our evolved human nature as the source of all meaning, both in the intellectual and social worlds. Ruse argues that it is only by accepting our true nature, evolved over millennia, that humankind can truly find what is meaningful.
is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy
and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Program at Florida State University. He has written or edited more than fifty books, including Darwinism as Religion
, The Philosophy of Human Evolution
, The Darwinian Revolution
, and On Purpose
Carrie Lynn Evans is a PhD student at Université Laval in Quebec City.