Altruism Defeats Darwinism
Darwinism cannot handle pure altruism, but don’t let scientists wander off into fake spirituality as an alternative.
Sometimes when you falsify one idea, a worse idea takes its place. An underlying worldview change often needs to accompany the falsification.
This becomes obvious when reading an article by Steve Taylor at The Conversation. Taylor, a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, worries through Darwinian explanations of “Pure altruism – the connection that explains why we help strangers.”
The question of why human beings are sometimes prepared to risk their own lives to save others has puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries. According to the modern Neo-Darwinian view, human beings are basically selfish, the “carriers” of thousands of genes, whose only aim is to survive and replicate themselves.
Under this view, it makes sense to help people who are closely related to us genetically, such as family members or distant cousins, because what may seem like self-sacrifice actually benefits our gene pool. But what about when we help people to whom we are not closely genetically related, or even animals?
Taylor wanders through various explanations that have been put forth to salvage Darwinian theory: kin selection, reciprocal altruism (“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”), and even the denial that pure altruism exists. He doesn’t give up his Darwinian leanings, but finds them unsatisfying. Then comes his suggestion:
In my view, pure altruism is rooted in empathy. Empathy is sometimes described as the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. But in its deepest sense, empathy is the ability to feel, not just to imagine, what others are experiencing. It is the ability to actually enter the mind space of another person (or being) so that you can sense their feelings and emotions. In this way, empathy can be seen as the source of compassion and altruism.
But this explanation suffers many of the same problems. Why did empathy evolve? Why should I care what others are feeling? What mutation caused that and got selected? Taylor offers no explanation in terms of Neo-Darwinism. He just leaps into subjective spirituality rooted in mushy networking, as if being connected creates empathy and that helps us understand what it means to be human (whatever that means). He begs questions all over the subject without answer the issue: where did pure altruism come from?
As I suggest in my book, Spiritual Science, it is wrong to think of human beings as completely separate entities, made up of selfish genes that are only concerned with their own survival and replication. The capacity for empathy suggests a deep interconnection between us.
There is a sense in which we are part of a shared network of consciousness. It is this which makes it possible for us to identify with other people, to sense their suffering and respond to it with altruistic acts. We can sense other people’s suffering because, in a sense, we are them. So we feel the urge to alleviate other people’s suffering – and to protect and promote their well-being – just as we would our own….
In other words, there is no need to make excuses for altruism. Instead, we should celebrate it as a transcendence of seeming separateness. Rather than being unnatural, altruism is an expression of our most fundamental nature – connection.
To a materialist, this makes no sense. There is nothing intrinsically altruistic about a network made up of physical parts. Fish nets are networks; when did anyone see one fish net die to fix another torn fish net? A fisherman might do it, but not the net itself. For more on Taylor’s view, see 9 June 2019, “Spiritual Science: Anything but God.”
Pastors and Christian apologists, let this be a warning. You can put falsifying information in the face of an atheist or Darwinian, and even get them to agree there’s a serious problem, and he or she may still not accept the gospel. The unbeliever needs to be born again, and become a partaker of the divine nature through Christ to see the fallacy of evolutionary thinking. The Bible explains altruism. We are not mere animals; God created mankind in His image. Part of that image is sacrificial love. But we are fallen into sin, and need the redemption Christ provided on the cross.
God commanded the Israelites to love God and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but the Old Testament is a record of failure to obey; why? Because they still had their sinful natures, which are selfish. Only those who have come to the end of themselves, and recognized their sin, can trust God and thereby receive a new nature capable of divine love and pure altruism. Throughout the Old Testament, God promised a Messiah that would do away with sin once for all. All who have been redeemed were saved by grace through faith in God’s provision for our salvation. Old Testament believers looked forward to the cross. New Testament believers look back to the cross.
Unbelievers can do good deeds, even with their tarnished image of God, and a God-given capacity for empathy. They can and do engage in altruistic acts, some of them exceptional. But good deeds without redemption are not good enough to enter a relationship with God or please Him. At best, our good deeds are no better than filthy rags. We need to be washed clean of our sins through the blood of Christ. We need to repent and believe in the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Then, we can understand and appreciate the supreme example of pure altruism of Jesus Christ, which we are commanded to imitate:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8).
It’s important to understand that Christ did not cease to be God for a moment when He “emptied himself” to become a man and walk among us. A cheap analogy might help. If you paid for a first-class ticket, it is yours; you paid for it. You have every right to use it and enjoy its benefits. But if you see a weary young mother with an infant in distress come on board the plane, and you give up your seat to her, that would be Christ-like. You had a right to that first-class seat, but did not consider it a thing to be grasped, because you “emptied yourself” of the privilege of exercising that right by having compassion on a needy person. After His resurrection, Jesus returned to His prior glory when He “sat down at the right hand of the Father.”
Christ’s act of grace to sinful humanity, Paul says in another place, is beyond comparison to anything humans know or do.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
Evolution has no concept like this. Darwinism cannot explain such grace and mercy. The Bible makes this clear. It fits what we know about human nature.
Beware, though, of subjective, phony alternatives like “spiritual science” that are as slippery as jell-o nailed to a wall. It’s easier to nail Darwinism than that! When Darwinism finally falls, “spiritual science” will be a worse replacement. Is Steve Taylor’s view somehow “better” because he is a “senior lecturer in psychology” and wrote a book about it? Bosh. He’s a newbie who knows nothing. Read the Bible. It has a multi-millennium track record going back to Adam and Eve. It explains human nature. It deals with the real problem, which is sin. It recognizes selfishness as sinful, and converts sinners into saints, as millions will attest. If there is any “science” to the subject of altruism, it’s all right there between the covers of the Holy Bible.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)