The Roots of Altruism

Many kids demonstrate generosity and even sacrifice - contrary to evolutionary thinking.

Researchers continue to try to discover the roots of altruistic behavior.

Evolutionary thinkers all the way back to Darwin have struggled to account for this very un-evolutionary behavior. Why should we care when people suffer and die? Isn't survival of the fittest supposed to be our watchword and rallying-cry?

As Alice G. Walton explained, writing at The Atlantic website, altruism "doesn't make a whole lot of sense, since we're all out to preserve ourselves - and our genes. There must be something else going on."

Evolutionists used to believe there was something communal about altruism, that people cared for one another, and even strangers, because it helped ensure the viability of the local gene pool. This theory, pioneered by E. O. Wilson almost a generation ago, had become accepted as a "good enough" explanation for altruism. Until, that is, Dr. Wilson repudiated his own theory last summer - and was vilified by many of his peers.

Ms. Walton reports on research with children which demonstrates that altruism may be something inherently human. Children, it seems, are capable of altruistic behavior before they've ever even learned the word or have an opportunity to think about what it means or requires of them. "Researchers, she explains, "have recently demonstrated that altruism and fairness appear to develop, perhaps simultaneously, from an incredibly early age."

But they still don't know where the behavior comes from - whether it's innate - which seems likely - or learned. Many kids just seem to show generosity and even sacrifice because, well, it's the thing to do, I guess.

The Biblical view of humankind explains this. We are made in the image of God, and we have the works of His Law written on our hearts. We are our brother's keeper, and we know it just because of the kind of beings we are.

Now evolutionary researchers aren't likely to accept that opinion. They will continue looking for altruism, but it doesn't matter. Even if they find a particular altruism gene which incites this kind of behavior, they will still have to explain how such a development fits within an evolutionary life framework.

And that will just require a lot more research.

Sooner or later, as the evidence continues to build across a wide range of disciplines, advocates of an evolutionary worldview are going to have to explain why their view explains so little and the Biblical view explains so much.

And that'll take some serious 'splainin.'

Related texts: Genesis 1.26-28; Psalm 8; Matthew 22.34-40

A conversation starter: "If evolution is true, and survival of the fittest is the operating motif for all of life, why do human beings continue to show charity, generosity, and altruism?"

T. M. Moore, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore