Atheists Say Darwinism Means Life is Meaningless, But Their Behavior Shows They Know Better

By Richard Weikart Published on April 4, 2016

In a YouTube video the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne said science has shown that “the universe and life are pointless … in the sense that there is no externally imposed purpose or point in the universe. As atheists this is something that is manifestly true to us. We make our own meaning and purpose.”

He added, “Evolution is the greatest killer of belief that has ever happened on this planet because it showed that some of the best evidence for God, which was the design of animals and plants that so wonderfully matched their environment could be the result of this naturalistic, blind materialistic process of natural selection.”

Coyne is by no means alone in his claim that Darwinism, with its insistence that all living organisms have arisen through chance events (mutations) without any plan or purpose, leads logically to the position that human life has no meaning or purpose.

In my new book The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life, I provide many examples of evolutionary biologists and other intellectuals arguing that Darwinism sweeps away any notion of meaning to human life. Evolutionary biologist William Provine, for example, insisted in a 1994 debate with Phillip Johnson (a leading figure in the Intelligent Design movement), “No ultimate foundations for ethics exist, no ultimate meaning in life exists, and free will is merely a human myth. These are all conclusions to which Darwin came quite clearly.”

However, as I also explain in detail in my new book, many Darwinists are unable to live in real accord with their own philosophy. For instance, Coyne has blogged that evolution “says that there is no special purpose for your life, because it is a naturalistic philosophy. We have no more extrinsic purpose than a squirrel or an armadillo.” But in another blog post, Coyne waxes indignant at those who have blamed mass shootings, such as those at Columbine, on Darwinism. (Coyne will likely be enraged that in The Death of Humanity I explain Eric Harris’s Darwinian motivations.) Why does Coyne care so much about these students if their lives have no meaning or purpose? It seems that Coyne recognizes that the lives of those teenagers gunned down at Columbine did have some point or purpose greater than squirrels or armadillos.

Duke University philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg shows the same inconsistency. He co-authored an article in 2003, “Darwin’s Nihilistic Idea: Evolution and the Meaninglessness of Life,” in which he dismissed morality as an illusion. However, Rosenberg assured us that moral meaninglessness has no effect on our behavior, because “Most of us just couldn’t persistently be mean, even if we tried.” Rosenberg needs to take some of my history courses — or just read the news — if he doesn’t think many people could be mean to each other.

Further, in a 2013 debate with William Lane Craig, Rosenberg objected to some of Craig’s arguments as “morally offensive,” because some of his relatives were murdered in the Holocaust. But if life is meaningless and morality is an illusion, why does it matter if Hitler killed millions? This would be just another meaningless event in the meaningless flow of history.

Rosenberg apparently knows better. Despite what they may say, Darwinists in general know better. No matter how loudly they deny it, they’re fully aware that human lives truly do have meaning and purpose.


Richard Weikart is professor of history at California State University, Stanislaus, and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book, The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life, was just released.

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