Biological Theory

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 296–311 | Cite as

Darwinism and Meaning

  • Lonnie W. AarssenEmail author


Darwinism presents a paradox. It discredits the notion that one’s life has any intrinsic meaning, yet it predicts that we are designed by Darwinian natural selection to generally insist that it must—and so necessarily designed to misunderstand and doubt Darwinism. The implications of this paradox are explored here, including the question of where then does the Darwinist find meaning in life? The main source, it is proposed, is from cognitive domains for meaning inherited from sentient ancestors—domains that reveal our evolved human nature as the fool that it is: given to distractions and delusions of many kinds, designed by natural selection primarily for one essential purpose—to allay our instinctual fear of failed legacy, rooted in our uniquely human awareness that we are not immortal. Darwinism, however, also teaches that genuine legacy is a fate enjoyed only by individual genes. Accordingly, as argued here, those genes with the grandest legacy—and hence rampant within us—are of two types: “legacy-drive” genes delude us into thinking that the legacy can be individually and personally ours; and “leisure-drive” genes distract us from the agonizing truth that it can never be. The most rudimental delusion of legacy is the perception of offspring as vehicles for memetic legacy—the transmission of resident memes from one’s mind to the minds and behaviors of offspring—thus also ensuring genetic legacy: the transmission of resident genes, including importantly, genes inherited from ancestors that influence both legacy and leisure drives. Today, legacy- and leisure-drive genes reveal their phenotypes across a wide range of human affairs, and together with the phenotypes of survival- and sex-drive genes, they provide a foundation for a novel view of the Darwinian roots of cultural evolution.


culture delusions distractions human nature immortality legacy leisure memes religion 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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