Charity? Chimps Dont Get It Nor Give It
The science news media took note of an experiment showing that chimpanzees don’t care to share, even when it costs them nothing (see the BBC News and Science Now, “Tightwad Primates”). Joan Silk and a team at UCLA created an apparatus where a chimp could pull one rope to get a treat for itself, or pull another to both get one and give one to another chimp in an adjacent cage. Even when the neighboring chimp begged for the reward, the chimps tested were no more likely to share than to be selfish. They could see it cost them nothing to pull the rope that shared the treats, but they didn’t seem to care; half the time they would pull the selfish rope, whether alone or with the hopeful neighbor. Humans, by contrast, will give to charities or donate blood to help people across the world they will never meet. National Geographic titled their report, “Uncaring Chimps May Shed Light on Humans, Study Says.”
It may shed light on humans, all right, but not in the way evolution-obsessed National Geographic wants. It underscores the difference between humans and animals. Even though the study was investigating the “evolution of primate behavior,” they had to admit that altruistic behavior appears to be a uniquely human trait.
We must not assume that the chimpanzees were acting selfishly, because that would require a moral sense. They were just acting like the beasts they are. Could we perform a mind-meld with a chimp during the experiment, we would probably be cognizant only of the instantaneous present. The body would react to whatever senses call most for attention at the moment. The memory would bring forth stored responses that brought pleasure, but there would be no planning for the future, no awareness of the mental state of the neighboring chimp squealing for a treat, and no sense of moral obligation – only a memory of what previous actions elicited pleasure, whether or not they benefited the other. That is the chimp’s mental state. It is not wrong for the chimp, just chimpy. We don’t expect more of the beasts. They cannot ascend to our nature, but humans can descend to theirs (look what Peter said).
We have many physical similarities to animals, especially to the apes. The image of God does not relate to our physical nature, but to our spiritual, moral and intellectual nature: the ability to think, love, create, communicate in abstract language, care for one another, contemplate our origin and destiny, and to have a personal relationship with God. Most animals care for their young and many form cooperative groups, but these are instinctive behaviors. You won’t see a chimpanzee sending a donation to disaster relief (see next story) or praying. Exercise your human nature – all of it – not just sharing a banana. (See David’s counsel.)