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Foundation Footnotes: Book Review: The Meaning of Human Existence

Dr. Edward O. Wilson delivers a speech at the GTF graduation ceremony in 2010

Dr. Edward O. Wilson delivers a speech at the GTF graduation ceremony in 2010

Review by John H. Morgan

The Meaning of Human Existence by E. O. Wilson

(published by W.W. Norton on October 6, 2014)

E. O. Wilson, the most celebrated scientist since Einstein and the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes in Literature (and most likely a third one for this present book) is the creator of sociobiology and the father of biodiversity and has received the highest recognition in the world of science by winning the Crafoord Prize (one of the world’s most prestigious scientific prizes) in 1990 for his theory of island biogeography and research on species diversity. Having received honorary doctorates from Harvard and Oxford Universities, among many others, he is presently the professor emeritus at Harvard University.

An eminent world-class biologist philosophizing about the meaning of human existence is no little thing and whether one is pleased with his conclusions, one would be less than wise to disregard his assessment of our place in the world and the challenges which lie ahead. Wilson explains at the outset that “in ordinary usage the word ‘meaning’ implies intention, intention implies design, and design implies a designer….this is the heart of the philosophical worldview of organized religions. …There is a second, broader way the word ‘meaning’ is used,” he continues, “and a very different worldview implied.   It is that the accidents of history, not the intentions of a designer, are the source of meaning. There is no advance design, but instead overlapping networks of physical cause and effect. The unfolding of history is obedient only to the general laws of the Universe. …Humanity, I argue, arose entirely on its own through an accumulated series of events during evolution. We are not predestined to reach any goal, nor are we answerable to any power but our own. Only wisdom based on self-understanding, not piety, will save us.” This book is the noble effort of an eminent scientist to address the fundamental issues of human existence which the religious community is perpetually pondering.

In 2010, Wilson was made an Honorary Fellow of the GTF and was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of his distinguished scientific contribution to the field of sociobiology.

One Response to Foundation Footnotes: Book Review: The Meaning of Human Existence

  • Fred Schott says:

    We may understand “meaning” as imposed from above or beyond by a “designer” – or we may understanding “meaning” as something we discover as we ponder the “overlapping networks of cause and effect” and the “accidents of history”. Is the meaning implicit in the phenomenon we ponder or is it created in our mental processes and ponderings? The overlapping workings of cause and effect and the accidents of history may create meaning as they evolve – even as they create order that we discover; or the meaning and order may be our own contribution. In either case is does not mean the the meaning – nor the order – is not true, is not real.