A psychiatrist presents a compelling argument for how human purpose and caring emerged in a spontaneous and unguided universe.
Can there be purpose without God? This book is about how human purpose and caring, like consciousness and absolutely everything else in existence, could plausibly have emerged and evolved unguided, bottom-up, in a spontaneous universe.
A random world--which according to all the scientific evidence and despite our intuitions is the actual world we live in--is too often misconstrued as nihilistic, demotivating, or devoid of morality and meaning. Drawing on years of wide-ranging, intensive clinical experience as a psychiatrist, and his own family experience with cancer, Dr. Lewis helps readers understand how people cope with random adversity without relying on supernatural belief. In fact, as he explains, although coming to terms with randomness is often frightening, it can be liberating and empowering too.
Written for those who desire a scientifically sound yet humanistic view of the world, Lewis's book examines science's inroads into the big questions that occupy religion and philosophy. He shows how our sense of purpose and meaning is entangled with mistaken intuitions that events in our lives happen for some intended cosmic reason and that the universe itself has inherent purpose. Dispelling this illusion, and integrating the findings of numerous scientific fields, he shows how not only the universe, life, and consciousness but also purpose, morality, and meaning could, in fact, have emerged and evolved spontaneously and unguided. There is persuasive evidence that these qualities evolved naturally and without mystery, biologically and culturally, in humans as conscious, goal-directed social animals.
While acknowledging the social and psychological value of progressive forms of religion, the author respectfully critiques even the most sophisticated theistic arguments for a purposeful universe. Instead, he offers an evidence-based, realistic yet optimistic and empathetic perspective. This book will help people to see the scientific worldview of an unguided, spontaneous universe as awe-inspiring and foundational to building a more compassionate society.
About the Author
Ralph Lewis, MD, is a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada; an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto; and a psycho-oncology consultant at the Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto. Dr. Lewis writes a popular blog series, Finding Purpose, hosted and promoted by his hospital (http://health.sunnybrook.ca/finding-purpose/). He has published articles on a psychiatric understanding of belief and purpose in Skeptic magazine and the Human Prospect, and he has delivered presentations on these topics at the James Randi Educational Foundation's TAM conference, Institute for Science and Human Values, and Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. Dr. Lewis helps people who are seeking meaning in the face of severe and tragic adversity, in addition to his extensive experience with complex and subtle psychiatric and psychological conditions. He is interested in the unreliability of intuition and subjective perception in shaping our explanations and beliefs, and the neural basis of motivation and purposiveness.
“Ralph Lewis asks and then answers some very big questions in this fine book. How are we to understand the world as it is, and how have we arrived at these insights in our long journey from the primordial swamp? Drawing from disparate disciplines, he skillfully weighs up competing scientific and religious theories. The result is an informative, highly readable tour de force, the modern person’s guide for the perplexed.”
—Anthony Feinstein, professor of psychiatry, University of Toronto
“In Finding Purpose in a Godless World, psychiatrist Ralph Lewis presents an interdisciplinary view of how our purpose, morality and meaning evolved. With recent ethno-sectarian conflicts seemingly on the rise throughout the world, whether for religious or other ideological reasons, a more global, humanistic vision is sorely needed. This is where the richness of his book shines through, since Dr. Lewis exemplifies an abiding respect for humans in their individual, complicated journeys through life, but is never patronizing. On behalf of reason—and purpose—secular humanists, too, would do well to become emissaries for compassion and understanding.”
—Toni Van Pelt, president of the Institute for Science and Human Values, and president of the National Organization for Women
“This book is a brilliant refutation of transcendence. Ralph Lewis convincingly shows that since we are biological organisms in a natural environment, purpose simply cannot fall from ‘on high.’ Purpose is bottom-up, not top-down; evolved, not bestowed.”
—Dan Barker, author of Life Driven Purpose: How an Atheist Finds Meaning
“Lewis’s personal life experiences, combined with his professional career as a psychiatrist, have given us a unique insight into the wonder, beauty, and splendor that comes from an indifferent but truly magnificent universe. Drawing heavily upon evolutionary science and psychiatry, Dr. Lewis provides a pragmatically sound argument demonstrating how, precisely, humans have evolved to develop values, care, and purpose in a universe that does not.”
—Christopher DiCarlo, PhD, philosopher, past visiting research scholar at Harvard University, principal of Critical Thinking Solutions, and author of How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions
“The question of life’s purpose is probably the main reason believers cannot bring themselves to reevaluate and reject the antiquated religions they’ve been indoctrinated to believe. Prompted by a personal crisis, Dr. Lewis has written a definitive answer to this question, one that I hope gains a substantial audience.”
—John W. Loftus, author of Why I Became an Atheist and editor of The Christian Delusion
“All my life, I’ve been torn between the burning pull of great purpose and the gnawing angst of demythologizing doubt. Finding Purpose in a Godless World is for all so troubled. I’ve hoped for transcendence, my PhD is in anatomy/brain research, and still I find in this book a sweeping journey of ultimate discovery and a hidden mirror for intimate self-reflection. I remain passionately agnostic.”
—Robert Lawrence Kuhn, creator and host, Closer to Truth
“In an age where medicine, neuroscience and psychiatry have become increasingly more narrow and reductionistic, Dr. Lewis is one of those few ‘renaissance psychiatrists’ who engages the reader by integrating his rich clinical experience, neurobiology and philosophy in order to take on the really big question: How do we as humans create meaning in a time when religion is no longer the dominant force that it once was?”
—Ari Zaretsky, MD, FRCPC, Chief of the Department of Psychiatry and Vice President of Education, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto.
FROM THE FOREWORD:
"Like other grand synthesizers and interdisciplinary thinkers—Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, and Yuval Noah Harari come to mind—Lewis employs evolutionary theory, complexity theory, cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and other fields to review the best evidence we have for why consciousness evolved out of primitive brains; where goal-directedness and will come from and how they drive us to strive for more meaning than other animals; and where our moral sense comes from and why we care about others, even those not related to us.”