Altruism and Evolution
Hurricanes in Florida. Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Food shortages in Somalia. The images the media provide from these horrific events often cause even the hardest of hearts to soften and want to provide some type of relief. And so we roll up our sleeves to donate blood, get out our checkbooks to donate money, and even in some circumstances, use our vacation time to volunteer for disaster relief. But why would humans act this way? Why are humans altruistic? As Mark Buchanan noted:
But when it comes to explaining the origin of our altruism, matters get a whole lot more contentious. In evolutionary terms it is a puzzle because any organism that helps others at its own expense stands at an evolutionary disadvantage. So if many people really are true altruists, as it seems, why haven’t greedier, self-seeking competitors wiped them out? (2005).
Altruism is in direct conflict with evolutionary theory. Yet, evolutionists always have been able to put a spin on it. As Buchanan acknowledged: “For several decades, researchers have had a possible explanation: apparently selfless acts are nothing of the kind, but are instead a clever way of promoting individual self-interest” (2005).
But recent research is challenging this notion. For instance, Ernst Fehr and his colleagues wrote in Human Nature:
This paper provides strong evidence challenging the self-interest assumption that dominates the behavioral sciences and evolutionary thinking. The evidence indicates that many people have a tendency to voluntarily cooperate... (2002, p. 1).
Robert Trivers of Rutgers University went so far as to suggest that true altruism might be a “maladaptation” (as quoted in Buchanan, 2005). Calling it such does not suddenly mean evolution has explained this global phenomenon. The truth is, evolution cannot explain charity, just as it cannot explain morals. They are not found as molecular components of living cells, so exactly where did they come from?
Buchanan, Mark (2005), “Charity Begins at Homo sapiens,” New Scientist, [On-line], URL: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/being-human/mg18524901.600.
Fehr, Ernst, Urs Fischbacher, Simon Gachter (2002), “Strong Reciprocity, Human Cooperation, and the Enforcement of Social Norms,” Human Nature, 13:1-25.