May 19, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Prosociality and Cooperation: Evolution vs. Prayer

Cooperation exists in nature.  Does that mean it evolved?  Only if evolution is the sole mechanism in your toolkit.

According to a Florida State press release, a professor found that couples show more “prosocial” (i.e., constructive) behavior when one commits to pray for the other.  Frank D. Fincham, director of the Florida State University Family Institute, had this to say:

My previous research had shown that those who prayed for their partner reported more prosocial behavior toward their partner, but self-reports are subject to potential biased reporting,” Fincham said. “This set of studies is the very first to use objective indicators to show that prayer changed actual behavior, and that this behavior was apparent to the other partner, the subject of the prayer.

All kinds of good things turned up for those who prayed: forgiveness, cooperation, and positive feelings.  While the benefits appeared substantial, some warning flags should turn up for applying some “scientific method” to a study like this.  For one, participants were asked if they were comfortable with praying before the study began.  For another, there was no designation of the object of the prayers.  And finally, Dr. Fincham only measured the behavior of the praying partner, not whether there was any real answer to the prayer.  Can science study such things?

Until recently, social scientists have stayed away from studying religion, spirituality and especially prayer, Fincham said, despite the fact that some 5 billion people, or about 75 percent of the world’s population, profess some religious faith.

But those faiths include everything from Christianity to Buddhism to Islam, whose objects of prayer and patterns of prayer are very different and often contradictory.  While a Jew or Christian might “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” for instance, some Muslims might pray for its destruction.  Some pray earnestly with their minds; others empty their minds and repeat mechanical prayers.  Can the scientific method study sincerity?

Prisoner’s Dilemma – or Darwin’s

Some evolutionists rush in where angels fear to tread.  It’s become common these days to study the “evolution of cooperation” in everything from bacteria to humans.  The thinking is that humans are mere animals that, like yeast or bacteria, exhibit certain behaviors by natural selection. For example, one team found “survival of the fastest” among microbes.  Publishing in Current Biology, they used a favorite situation in evolutionary game theory called “Prisoner’s Dilemma” (see video demonstration on The Conversation) to discern how microbes either cooperate or defect as a population grows.  “We conclude that colony growth alone can promote cooperation and prevent defection in microbes,” they said, extrapolating the behavior of microbes without minds to humans with them: “Our results extend to other species with spatially restricted dispersal undergoing range expansion, including pathogens, invasive species, and humans.”  It shouldn’t be surprising to find humans in a list with pathogens and invasive species.  After all, some advocates of climate control see humans as a kind of pathogen on the planet.  But it seems silly to link cooperative, prosocial behavior merely to colony growth.  Depending on how it’s defined, cooperation was arguably more common in the frontier than in New York City.

The Evolution of Capitalism by Natural Selection

Another case of applied evolutionary game theory was published in PNAS (open access), “Coevolution of farming and private property during the early Holocene.”  Even though the authors, Bowles and Choi, deal with modern humans coming out of the hunting and gathering stage into agriculture, they speak of private property rights as a principle that “emerges” in the population under environmental pressures.  They could just as well be speaking of bird nesting sites or bacteria in a Petri dish.  Nowhere does their evolutionary model insert rational design into the equation as something human beings employed.  The paper is listed in the category of “evolutionary game theory.”

To see how seamlessly evolutionists move from bacteria to humans, consider a paper in Nature about bacterial microfilms.  In the same issue of Nature, Ute Römling reviewed the paper as a demonstration of “Bacterial communities as capitalist economies.”  Did we really need an Adam Smith to define the rational principles of capitalism?  It would seem that capitalism or communism are simply emergent properties, given the right environment.  If so, what are rational people to think of the talking heads in the news, the historians, the professors, making such a big deal over politics?  In Darwin’s world, biological entities simply self-organize according to natural selection.

These papers are illustrations of the radical scientism C. S. Lewis warned about, where the rampant application of evolutionary thinking to the human being would undermine all rationality and aesthetics (read The Magician’s Twin for documentation and elaboration).  You know the evolutionists are wrong, though, when you watch them exempt themselves from the power of evolution over them.  Tell your prof that he’s only teaching what he’s teaching because his evolutionary past makes him do it, and he will quickly get angry.  Call his anger an emergent property of selection pressure, and he will get angrier still.  No evolutionist can live with the implications of their own assumptions.  It is only by promoting themselves into the Yoda plane, where rationality matters, that they can speak their mind.  But the moment they do that, the moment they think of their pronouncements as anything beyond glorified monkey screeches or movements of bacteria in a dish, they are committing a technical foul.  That’s grounds for ousting them from their own evolutionary game, which vanishes in mist behind them.  Have they never considered that apparent cooperation in bacteria, yeast and animals are designed properties instilled into them for a purpose?  If not, why don’t they study the cooperation of rocks?

Regarding prayer, it goes without saying that God cannot be put in a test tube.  Any attempt to “scientifically” test the efficacy of prayer runs afoul of the sovereignty of God, who often delights in confounding the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor 1:18-29), and catching them in their own craftiness (Job 5:12-13, 2 Sam 22:26-27).  The God of Scripture, however, does invite testing by man on occasion.  In Malachi 3, after admonishing the Israelites for their sin of withholding prescribed Jewish tithes and offerings, the Lord offered them a test of His goodness: “put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”  Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the soul that takes refuge in Him.”  The Lord submitted to a test by fire, proposed by Elijah, against the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18).  And Isaiah pronounced to all the world that one can test the salvation of God: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).  As for why God is not a proper subject of scientific inquiry, He continues: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).




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