Darwinism Remains Bankrupt Explaining Human Kindness
They call it prosociality or altruism. They know it exists. They admire it. They just can’t evolve it.
The following hinges on the reputation of Keith Jensen (U of Manchester Health Sciences), who wrote a primer for Current Biology on the subject of Prosociality. His evolutionary view seems in line with previous papers reviewed here; to the degree his article represents current evolutionary thinking, then certain conclusions can be drawn about Darwinian explanations for this uniquely human trait: helping others at high cost to oneself, with no apparent benefit in personal fitness or survival.
Animals may self-sacrifice, but they do it for the local population (the beehive, the herd). Why would a medical missionary cross the world to give sight or walking ability to people he or she doesn’t know? The ultimate is giving one’s life for another. Why would a soldier throw himself on a grenade to save buddies that are not his relatives? How does that score fitness-wise? Humans also care for other animals and for the whole biosphere. They will devote their lives to the study and care of endangered species that cannot possibly benefit them. Jensen does his best to approach human prosociality in the Darwinian terms of fitness, but comes up empty.
Whether animals other than humans are prosocial is a topic of debate. Examples from observed behaviours in nature are tantalising. However, the question is whether the effects on others are intended. Animals have to be able to recognise a need in others and the ways to help others achieve those goals. And they have to be motivated to see those goals fulfilled. Additionally, for helping behaviours, the animals should recognise intentions in others, that other individuals have goals. A squirrel dropping a nut on the forest floor does not intend that the hedgehog underneath eat it, it is not motivated to act on the hedgehog’s behalf, and it is unlikely to derive satisfaction from the hedgehog’s good fortune.
The great apes provide the acid test for Darwinian origins of prosociality. There, too, the evidence is lacking. Researchers hoping to see tantalizing hints of prosociality can easily anthropomorphize the apes, reading things into their behavior that they have planted with reward cues. Apes will groom each other, a behavior known as direct reciprocity, but that’s not prosociality per se. The best experiments and the best observations in the wild fail to see true unselfish behavior.
When faced between a prosocial outcome and a spiteful one (namely by pulling food away from a partner) there is again no preference. Evidence for sharing in chimpanzees and other great apes is scant….
While evidence for prosociality in chimpanzees has not been robust, other, perhaps less competitive species might be better candidates. Yet, to date, there has been no clear evidence for prosociality in experiments on bonobos, the more socially tolerant of the two Pan species.
For humans, prosocial behavior seems innate, even for children. How is this unprecedented leap in behavior to be explained within a Darwinian paradigm? Evolutionists look to mutation and natural selection to explain everything. Those causes seem to fail here. The best that Jensen seems to come up with in the end is bootstrapping from cooperation to altruism. Jensen ends with no solution. Prosociality appears uniquely human:
Humans, while not always prosocial, have a concern for the welfare of others. Other species, while sometimes acting for the benefit of others, may not rely on homologous mechanisms. The intention to help others, with an understanding of the consequences of the actions and the means to identify with the needs of others, may be uniquely human. While our closest living relatives can recognise something of the intentions of others, they do not appear to care so much. If so, it is possible that direct reciprocity springs from a concern for the welfare of others, and that motivational rather than cognitive factors account for the limited evidence for reciprocal altruism in other animals. Prosociality will have evolved from mechanisms seen in other species — perhaps emotional contagion, parental attachment or ownership — but somewhere after the split from Pan, a concern for the welfare of others, including non-kin, allowed for our species to engage in large-scale cooperation. So, while intuitively obvious, prosociality is not as widespread as one would expect and is surprisingly difficult to distinguish from look-alikes.
Intention, concern, welfare, understanding, caring — these are words indicative of personhood. Jensen remains convinced that prosociality “evolved from mechanisms” that are blind, uncaring, and undirected. But he cannot find evidence for that conviction. Would a mechanistic process lead him to care enough to write about it?
You might enjoy reading Doug Axe’s new book Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. Given that Axe is a staff researcher with the Discovery Institute’s Biologic Institute, it is classified as an intelligent design book. But this time, Axe does not shrink away from mentioning God. Axe’s approach is all the more powerful because, as a biochemist, he first cogently undermines the Darwinian mechanism of any power to create. Darwinism is demolished before he even begins to consider the logical alternative.
While the book doesn’t preach or promote a Biblical view of God, Axe testifies to being a Christian. What we want to point out here, though, is his emphasis on personhood as a human distinctive. Persons intend. Persons care. Persons understand. Persons create. Axe envisions a new generation of scientists unshackled from the raw materialism that cannot explain a protein, let alone a prosocial human. A return to personhood may be the key to opening up conversations long quenched by materialists. It’s about time. You can see it for yourself above; when it comes to things nearest and dearest to our hearts, the Darwinian materialists are bankrupt.