Evolution Cannot Do Justice to Morality
Jargon-rich theories to explain altruism in Darwinian terms melt in the light of justice.
To Darwinians, morality is just a game. Literally. Evolutionists have long turned to game theory and other tricks to try to explain humans’ propensity to care for others. Altruism has been a conundrum for natural selection ever since Darwin considered it. Evolutionists have come up with possibilities like kin selection (the notion that caring for one’s kin increases the fitness of the family), group selection (expanding the target of selection to populations), and reciprocal altruism (“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”), but those notions fail to explain many examples of self-sacrifice, including human altruism. People will send money around the world to help those in need that they will likely never meet, and risk their lives to rescue strangers. How did that evolve?
Darwinists have fought among themselves over competing hypotheses for the evolution of altruism. Those fights, however, are usually kept out of public view. Current Biology, an expensive Darwin-Only paywall journal, published a series of open-access articles last week on the evolution of altruism as if to hold an open house. “No controversy here,” the articles proclaim. “Darwin our champion can still take on all comers.” But do the game theorists succeed in connecting their toy models to reality? Let’s take a look.
The evolution of human cooperation (Apicella and Silk, Current Biology 3 June, 2019). The opening article in the series begins with Darwin Daddy wearing a worried face, but his disciples wearing happy faces as they tackle this highly perplexing challenge to their belief system. The strategy? Turn up the perhapsimaybecouldness dial.
Darwin viewed cooperation as a perplexing challenge to his theory of natural selection. Natural selection generally favors the evolution of behaviors that enhance the fitness of individuals. Cooperative behavior, which increases the fitness of a recipient at the expense of the donor, contradicts this logic. William D. Hamilton helped to solve the puzzle when he showed that cooperation can evolve if cooperators direct benefits selectively to other cooperators (i.e. assortment). Kinship, group selection and the previous behavior of social partners all provide mechanisms for assortment (Figure 1), and kin selection and reciprocal altruism are the foundation of the kinds of cooperative behavior observed in many animals. Humans also bias cooperation in favor of kin and reciprocating partners, but the scope, scale, and variability of human cooperation greatly exceed that of other animals. Here, we introduce derived features of human cooperation in the context in which they originally evolved, and discuss the processes that may have shaped the evolution of our remarkable capacity for cooperation. We argue that culturally-evolved norms that specify how people should behave provide an evolutionarily novel mechanism for assortment, and play an important role in sustaining derived properties of cooperation in human groups.
A problem with this secular, amoral view that treats humans as a special case of animals will be seen repeatedly in the articles. If cooperative behaviors are mere strategies that can become evolutionarily stable in a given population, they are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Nobody, therefore, could ever tell one culture that they were wrong to kill millions of their neighbors in gas chambers. If the strategy helped their own population increase in fitness (i.e., survival), that was “good” for them. Mustn’t judge. Not only that, but any differences between cooperators (let’s say, Nazi loyalists) and defectors (let’s say, those hiding Jews) become academic. The labels could switch depending on the ratio of one group to the other.
Kin selection and altruism (Kay, Lehman and Keller, Current Biology, 3 June 2019). You can tell where this paper is going from the first two words.
Natural selection is predicated on the ‘struggle for existence’: life is short, cruel and, whether through predation, disease or starvation, often ends traumatically. It would seem that in such a dog-eat-dog world, organisms ought to act selfishly, and avoid reducing their fitness (expected survival and reproductive success) by expending time and energy helping others. Put another way, alleles that increase the probability of altruism — a behavior whose expression increases the fitness of recipients while decreasing that of the actor — should decrease in frequency across generations and ultimately disappear.
Natural selection must not be allowed to lose! To increase the drama, the authors play up the odds in the game:
The notion of self-sacrifice to help others has long attracted attention. It is extolled by all major religions (for example, “thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need”, Deuteronomy 15:8) and discussed by eminent philosophers: lauded by some (for example, “the moral law causes the people to follow [their leader] regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.”, Sun Tzu) while derided by others (for example, “to choose instinctively, what is harmful to yourself, to be tempted by ‘disinterested’ motives, this is practically the formula for decadence… people are done for when they become altruistic”, Nietzsche). The same notion has perplexed both economists and biologists. Darwin was aware of the problem that the existence of sterile workers posed to natural selection, terming them his “one special difficulty”. He devoted significant time to documenting altruistic behaviors and, with remarkable prescience, noted that: “the difficulty, though appearing insuperable, is lessened, or as I believe disappears when it is remembered that selection may be applied to the family”. Despite Darwin’s attention, the evolutionary explanation of altruism remained obscure…
In the nick of time, natural selection scores the big win! Enter William D. Hamilton to the rescue. The authors extol his kin-selection theory as “elegant” and sufficient to account for self-sacrifice in microbes, rats, and man. But what about those gas chambers? And is self-sacrifice just a “notion”? —a vague, imperfect conception or idea of something? Is there no greater “notion” than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends?
Public goods and cheating in microbes (Smith and Schuster, Current Biology, 3 June 2019). These authors go whole-hog into game theory, with the Black Queen Hypothesis, Prisoner’s Dilemma and other challenges. The idea is that if microbes solve some of these challenges without minds, then natural selection must have driven humans to find the same kinds of solutions in their dilemmas. Once again, these mechanical ideas are utterly divorced from moral judgments about whether it is “right” or “good” to be a cooperator. If cheaters always form a stable part of the population, then who could say they are wrong?
Cooperation in children (Slocombe and Seed, Current Biology, 3 June 2019). The reductionism of these two evolutionists becomes apparent when they look for building blocks of cooperation that apply equally well to human children and plants.
Cooperation is central to what makes us human. It is so deeply entrenched in our nature that it can be seen at the heart of every culture, whether it takes the form of group hunting, shared child-rearing, or large-scale, multi-national institutions such as the UN. And yet in contrast to the constancy of other forms of cooperation in non-human animals, such as termite-mound building or honey bee dancing, the changing face of human cooperation makes it seem more fragile, and its mechanisms more elusive. As with other features of our behaviour, human cooperation is the product of both genetic and cultural evolution. Studying cooperation in children, in different cultural environments, and in contrast to other species, provides a valuable window into the ways in which these two forms of inheritance interact over development, and a chance to distil out its constitutive components.
So are humans exceptional, or not? Despite the opening reference to “what makes us human,” Slocombe and Seed are determined to reduce what makes us human to what makes bees and termites insects. It’s all “the product of both genetic and cultural evolution.” Nothing but.
Are kin and group selection rivals or friends? (Jonathan Birch, Current Biology, 3 June 2019). Do you want fish balls or fish cubes? That’s all that’s on the menu on Hagar the Horrible’s ship where the men are sick of fish every meal. On this ship, you get a choice of kin selection or group selection. The waiter tries to cheer you up that both are all “natural” selection, Darwin-certified fresh. Birch argues that both taste good together. And so his tale opens, “Once upon a time, kin selection and group selection seemed like competing explanations….” but in the end, “We need to move away from the 1960s view of kin selection and group selection as wholly different processes.” They can live happily ever after.
Nobody Knew Nothing New
In conclusion, all these game-theoretic models of altruism and cooperation commit the same flaws. (1) They treat humans as mere animals, subject to blind forces that make us act by instinct, if we have any self control at all. (2) They provide no foundation for judging any behavior, no matter how heinous, as good or bad. Cooperators are just as amoral as cheaters. (3) They are self-refuting, because if evolution did this to us, we would have no way of knowing it did this to us.
Every once in awhile, we need to show our readers that social Darwinists are still among us. They are just as intransigent and belligerant as the old social Darwinists who gave us eugenics and government-sponsored genocide. The current lot seems “nicer” because they talk about cooperation and altruism as products of evolution. But that difference is just as pernicious. Why? Because they talk about cooperation and altruism as products of evolution! If cooperation and altruism reduce to strategies to increase fitness, then they are utterly and completely devoid of moral judgments. Whatever is, is right. Might can make right. Revolution can make right. Freeloading can make right. Act like an animal, because that’s all you are. In fact, if everyone chooses to become a freeloader, and a population collapses, some Darwinian will just observe with a clipboard and take non-judgmental notes. What society can survive such values-free notions?
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of D-Day that turned the tide of World War II. On that June 6th, about 10,000 soldiers sacrificed their lives for the sake of liberty. They bled and died to defend the values of civilization against a tyrannical regime of hate. Was it all in vain? Was it all group selection and population genetics? Were the death camp guards just as morally justifiable in Darwinians’ eyes as the rescuers and Allied forces?
The horror of Darwinian notions of morality cannot be condemned strongly enough. Darwinism degrades everything. How opposite the spirit of God! Paul said in Galatians 5:22, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (including no law of natural selection).
The alternative to Darwinism’s failed theories is to explain the origin of altruism in the righteousness of God. Animals cooperate because cooperation is good. Some animals kill and destroy because the world is fallen from its original state of harmony. Humans, as stewards of God’s creation made in His image, were made to be responsible to care for creation and reflect the character of God in our behaviors. Our behaviors, moreover, are not instincts that hold us captive, but are under our self-control, and for which we will be held accountable. As sinners, we are unable to fulfill the role given to us. God showed the greatest example of self-sacrifice ever known, when Jesus the Son of God voluntarily emptied Himself of His prerogatives as God, and went to the cross to bear the judgment we deserve. Be repenting and believing in His provision, we are born again into the family of God. No longer under the sentence of judgment, but under the care of a loving heavenly Father, we learn righteousness through His Word and discipline. We love, because He first loved us.