I've had fun writing up this series in responding to the Pre-Suppositional apologist ApoloJedi and his blog post that attempts to refute the theory of evolution by claiming that it can in no way account for human altruism.
And remember, none of this is a personal attack on ApoloJedi himself - it's a counter to claims that were reached by theology, not science.
Do yourself a favour, go to ApoloJedi's Twitter and see if he has posted any pumpkin cutting videos! 😀
Now we get to the meat on the bones - human altruism in light of evolution.
What do Scientists Say About Altruism?
So, scientists have recognized that it is counter-intuitive to assume that altruism fits within the evolutionary explanations…
This is wrong, as well as completely missing the point. No expert on the subject says that altruism is on the whole incompatible with evolution as a mechanism for human development or advancement. Nay, a cursory Google Scholar search for "evolutionary origins human altruism" brings up over 80'000 results which actually tie human altruism to evolution, and I will write further on the topic towards the end of this response series.
In the recent social media encounter that I mentioned above, one of the God-deniers said:
The scientific research would beg to differ. The evolutionary origins of human altruism explained: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&qsp=3&q=evolutionary+origins+human+altruism&qst=ir…
And if you’re not reading science to change your mind, then what are you doing?
That 'God-denier' ApoloJedi is quoting is me, and this was taken from a Twitter spat we had. While I'm chuffed that my words were able to spur ApoloJedi in to action, I resent the label of God-denier when I am clearly a rational skeptic. But this all goes back to Pre-Suppositional apologetics. Anyone who doesn't believe in God isn't doing so because they're not rationally or logically convinced by the available data - they're actively denying God's existence by surpressing the evident truth (presumably because of their unrighteousness). Further to this, I would go so far to say that Pre-Suppositional theology does not value evidence or logic or reason, especially because reason and logic as used in other fields of life can be used to show that the claims of the existence of God are not evidentially justified.
In the numerous online debates I've had with numerous Pre-Suppositional apologists (not just ApoloJedi), they have shown what I would call intellectual laziness by NOT using reason or evidence to counter an argument - the most common counter to tricky questions is to retort "If humans are simply molecules put together, how do you account for the laws of logic/consciousness/morality/reason/etc?", or other variations on the same theme, backed up by the occasional link to a Creationist blog.
This all leads me to believe that Pre-Suppositional Apologetics isn't used as a rock-solid case to convert people to Christianity - it's used as a method of ensuring personal beliefs are kept safe from questioning.
Essentially, he told me that science DOES have answers, and I’m ignorant of those answers because I’ve never read them.
Not quite. I never said he was ignorant of the answers because he's never read them. What I will say is that lousy epistomology utilising intellectually treasonous theology prevents people with theological blinders on from accepting the fact they could ever be wrong about something, particularly when that something challenges their deeply-held religious convictions.
So ApoloJedi is not ignorant because he hasn't read the answers - he's ignorant (to use his word) because his chain of logic prevents him from ever being corrected on any topic he sees as contradictory to his theology.
But I’m an intrepid ApoloJedi and will analyze the writings of scientists who promote evolutionism to see if they can demonstrate altruism to be sufficiently explained by the mechanisms of evolution
Given that ApoloJedi has made evolution a theological issue instead of a scientific one, the best he can say is that he will selectively quote literature to prop up a Creationist strawman of evolution, and then promptly knock it down. No guesses as to the conclusion ApoloJedi reaches.
I will analyze three sources from the modern academic paradigm (which some will conflate with “science”):
The only reason someone would use the snide remark "which some will conflate with science" is if they espouse the belief that the only valid evidence in a debate is anything that lines up with the Bible - the typical Creationist mindset.
The first source ApoloJedi cites from is Human Altruism – Proximate Patterns and Evolutionary Origins, Fehr/Fischbacher (2005). ApoloJedi highlights the below quote:
Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism pointing towards the need for theories of cultural evolution and gene-culture coevolution…
With his own commentary:
They clearly recognize the counter-intuitive nature of the claim that evolution can sufficiently account for altruism.
No they don't! ApoloJedi can quote an abstract, but not read it properly - it said "current gene-based theories" cannot explain, but it did not say evolution on the whole can't account for it.
Fehr and Fischbacher did indeed say the above words ApoloJedi quoted from their paper. But let's actually comprehend what they're actually saying. All they said was that according to current gene-only evolutionary models, no theory sufficiently explains human altruism - hence why they believe the need for a co-evolutionary model that incorporates both genes and culture.
The implication is that a NEW theory/mechanism is needed.
Yes - a new mechanism that incorporates both genes and culture. But again, they did not say evolution on the whole can't account - they just said that gene-only theories can't account. This is an important distinction, and as I said, if you're going to discuss science, you need to be precise.
They call their new mechanism “strong reciprocity”. They define Strong Reciprocity as:
Strong reciprocity is a combination of altruistic rewarding—a readiness to reward others in response to fair outcomes or behaviour—and altruistic punishment—a willingness to sanction others for norm violations
Reward? If there is a reward, it’s not altruism. Right from the beginning, they change the definition of altruism from something that is unselfish to appeal to the inherent selfishness.
Wait up! Earlier on the page, ApoloJedi accepted the definiton of altruism as either:
Altruism is the principle and moral practice of concern for happiness of other human beings or animals, resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual.
Behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species
At no point do either of these definitons nor the SEP definition consider altruism as "doing something beneficial for no thought of reward".
Also, do Fehr and Fischbacher decide that altruism can't work in to evolution, so they need to make up a new term on the spot? No. The first mention of the term "strong reciprocity" comes in the abstract:
However, human altruism even extends far beyond reciprocal altruism and reputation-based cooperation taking the form of strong reciprocity (Fehr et al. 2002; Gintis 2000). Strong reciprocity is a combination of altruistic rewarding—a readiness to reward others in response to fair outcomes or behaviour—and altruistic punishment—a willingness to sanction others for norm violations
So ApoloJedi makes a mistake when he says:
They call their new mechanism “strong reciprocity”. They define Strong Reciprocity as…
Because strong reciprocity is not a new mechanism. The authors even refer to the original research paper that explains it the very first time they quote it.
Next comes this:
“Fair outcomes”???? Now they have to explain how evolution produced justice so that fair outcomes can be measured. Rather than explaining away the questions, they are multiplying their explanatory deficits.
Ummm, no, they don't. They're clearly using "fair outcomes" in a relative sense, especially since the concept of 'fair outcomes' is relative to the person and the circumstances. The idea of morality and ethics having a strong relative component is nothing new.
Here, it looks as if ApoloJedi is doing what every other anti-evolution Creationist also does - hold the theory of evolution and any discussion of it to such a high degree of scrutiny that any little disagreeable thing is bound to trigger outrage, but then hold the Bible to such a low standard of scrutiny that not even established rules of logic and contradiction apply to their chosen faith text. To quote ApoloJedi's very own blog on the topic of Biblical contradictions:
As we have already pointed out, the skeptic has no grounds to complain about contradictions because naturalism cannot coherently justify laws of logic the misuse of which produces contradictions…The skeptic should familiarize oneself with the nature of contradictions, and before accusing the Bible of being filled with them, be familiar with the reasons why there are no contradictions in the Bible.
This confirms to me that Pre-Suppositional apologetics is not concerned with reason and logic, and no-one follows it because it is where the evidence leads - people adhere to it to shore up a faith position.
He then continues:
They spend the next 20 pages showing data and charts about how there are social rewards for reciprocity and punishment for selfishness for humans. It’s hardly groundbreaking to show data that when people are nice to others, the others are generally nice back or when someone is ungrateful for altruism, that’s the last time they get free generosity.
Yes, but again, it's not reflective of the whole picture. Those next 20 pages actually cite numerous studies that quantify relationships and data sets. For example, the first chart produced is on page 10, and even on that page, they cite a study. The next page, page 11, ten separate studies are cited to back up the claims being made!
And again, ApoloJedi may think "it's hardly groundbreaking", but Fehr and Fischbacher actually go in to great detail as to how they arrive at the conclusions they do. It's not just numbers and thoughts plucked out of thin air - both Ernst Fehr and Urs Fischbacher are professors in their fields of the study of human behaviour.
And it’s definitely not in accord with Merrian-Webster’s definition of altruism from above.
I really don't care about Merrian-Webster's definition - I'd much rather use Stanford's version because it is more academcially rigorous.
So sure, two economics professors can use a definition of altruism that doesn't fit one particular dictionary's definition. I think they care more about academic rigour than what a popular dictionary thinks.
The point is that they are not demonstrating that evolution explains altruism.
No. It only says on page 37:
Recent theoretical models of cultural group selection (Boyd et al. 2003; Henrich/Boyd 2001) or of gene-culture co-evolution (Bowles et al. 2003; Gintis 2003) could provide a solution to the puzzle of strong reciprocity. The interaction between cultural group selection and altruistic punishment (Boyd et al. 2003; Henrich/Boyd 2001), for example, could solve two problems at once: The evolution of altruistic punishment and the evolution of cooperation in relatively large groups (Figure 7a and 7b).
Which follow headings titled "Reciprocal Altruism", "Reputation Seeking", "Altruists With Green Beards" and "Gene-Culture Co-Evolution". No. They haven't explained it at all…
They are NOT demonstrating a gradual process with innumerable slight successive modifications in heritable traits are pushing some mysterious proto-altruistic behavior into fully-developed altruism
And you know why? Because Fehr & Fischbacher are economists with specialisations in human behaviour - not geneticists. Complaining that two economics don't write about genetics? Holy cheese balls!
Some have done the altruistic test on monkeys showing strong reciprocity, but (as I have been reliably reminded over and over by evolutionists) humans did not evolve from monkeys.
Absolutely correct: humans did not evolve from monkeys - we are cousins with them. But we do experiments with monkeys to see how unique humans are in the tree of life, and in some aspects we are unique, and in some we aren't.
At best, these experiments can ONLY assert another rescue device (convergent evolution) proposed by evolutionists to protect their theory from refutation. These experiments do NOT demonstrate the evolution of human altruism.
Convergent evolution ain't no mere assertion - it's a demonstrable fact. Let's think about it - if two separate primate species have overlapping characteristics and genetics, where do you think it's pointing to? The rest of ApoloJedi's discussion of Fehr & Fischbacher overlooks the fact they're economists because he expects them to discuss genetics down to granular detail.
I don't accept this criticism because if you want to challenge evolution from a genetic perspective, you should criticise a paper written by geneticists - not economics professors.
However, next on ApoloJedi's hit-list is none other than…
ApoloJedi's further dismantles evolution by…criticising a book written in 1976? I mean, I'm not calling Richard Dawkins low-hanging fruit here, but surely the research in to behavioural psychology as well as evolution has advanced greatly since then.
ApoloJedi says he wants to "analyse three sources from the modern academic paradigm", but his first two choices are a paper written by economists and a 1976 book that takes license with the word 'selfish', which it looks like ApoloJedi has latched on to. I'm curious as to why ApoloJedi chose The Selfish Gene instead of something like much more recent such as "The Altruistic Brain: How We Are Naturally Good" by Donald W. Pfaff, Christopher Boehm's "Moral Origins: The Evolution Of Virtue, Altrusim & Shame", or even "The Better Angels Of Our Nature" by Stephen Pinker.
After quoting text from Dawkins' book, ApoloJedi writes:
As you can see, Dawkins is unable to sufficiently demonstrate that evolutionary mechanisms can sufficiently account for altruism.
Cool. Go tell Richard Dawkins that. He'll be pleased a Creationist has been reading his books. But Dawkins is an expert in biology, not human psychology.
Dawkins is deficient at the same points of Fehr/Fischbacher – he is forced to redefine altruism as beneficial to the giver…
Which is NOT anywhere near a redefinition of altruism when you consider the academic and philosophical defnitions of the word - which is why I chose the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosohy's definition due to its academic rigour.
Complaining that Dawkins is wrong on a point of human behaviour in comparison to two economists is jarring.
…OR prescribe that altruism be TAUGHT since genes are naturally selfish (Learned).
Correct. Genes/alleles don't have any inherent intelligence or moral capacity, and I don't know anyone who honestly and actually thinks they do. It's the brains that the genes produce that have the moral capacity. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it:
Alleles cannot cooperate with each other; only compete. That is where the “selfish” in “selfish gene” comes in.
ApoloJedi then quotes Stephen J. Gould refuting Dawkins, as if Gould had struck a hammer blow:
…the fatal flaw (in Dawkins’ selfish gene theory) was that “no matter how much power Dawkins wishes to assign to genes, there is one thing that he cannot give them – direct visibility to natural selection.
Is this what Gould really said? Is it the complete picture? Was Gould really admonishing Dawkins for such sloppy research?
No. Quoting from page 90 of The Panda's Thumb:
I begin my criticism by stating that I am not bothered by what strikes most people as the most outrageous component of these statements-the imputation of conscious action to genes. Dawkins knows as well as you and I do that genes do not plan and scheme; they do not act as witting agents of their own preservation. He is only perpetuating, albeit more colorfully than most, a metaphorical shorthand used (perhaps unwisely) by all popular writers on evolution, including myself (although sparingly, I hope). When he says that genes strive to make more copies of themselves, he means: "selection has operated to favor genes that, by chance, varied in such a way that more copies survived in subsequent generations." The second is quite a mouthful; the first is direct and acceptable as metaphor although literally inaccurate. Still, I find a fatal flaw in Dawkins's attack from below. No matter how much power Dawkins wishes to assign to genes, there is one thing that he cannot give them-direct visibility to natural selection. Selection simply cannot see genes and pick among them directly. It must use bodies as an intermediary. A gene is a bit of DNA hidden within a cell. Selection views bodies. It favors some bodies because they are stronger, better insulated, earlier in their sexual maturation, fiercer in combat, or more beautiful to behold.
Gould is merely saying firstly that Dawkins is using a metaphorical shorthand that doesn't accurately represent the reality, and second, natural selection doesn't choose the genes themselves - it chooses organisms on the whole as represented by the body. Hardly earth-shattering.
With no direct visibility to natural selection, how can genes direct phenotypes to preserve themselves via altruism?
News flash: they don't.
Dawkin’s attempt to explain altruism via evolution is shown to be a failure as well
But hold on - the earlier criticism was that Dawkins didn't explain altruism via evolution - you know, the "altruism should be taught because genes are selfish" line. And now his attempt failed. Which one is it?
OpenStax Rice University
Next on ApoloJedi's hitlist is an open-access textbook from Rice University. Is his criticism valid? Let's see ApoloJedi's first quote from the textbook:
There has been much discussion over why altruistic behaviors exist. Do these behaviors lead to overall evolutionary advantages for their species? Do they help the altruistic individual pass on its own genes? In the 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, scientist Richard Dawkins attempted to explain many seemingly altruistic behaviors…Selfish gene theory has been controversial over the years and is still discussed among scientists in related fields…The lowering of individual fitness to enhance the reproductive fitness of a relative and this one’s inclusive fitness evolves through kin selection. However, these behaviors may not be truly defined as altruism in these cases because the actor is actually increasing his own fitness either directly or indirectly.
Let's back up for a second, and highlight some problems with the quoted tesxt.
At the very beginning of the paragraph titled "Altrustic Behaviours", the source from his above text actually says:
Behaviors that lower the fitness of the individual but increase the fitness of another individual are termed altruistic.
There is an important distinction here that we need to make. OpenStax is not saying that altruism is strictly defined as behaviours that lower the fitness of the individual, but increase the fitness of the group - this would be wrong, especially compared to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. All it is saying that those behaviours are termed to be altruistic.
Again, this comes down to being as rigorous as you reasonably can be when you criticise something,.
Let's look further:
Examples of such behaviors are seen widely across the animal kingdom. Social insects such as worker bees have no ability to reproduce…Meerkats keep a sentry standing guard to warn the rest of the colony about intruders…Wolves and wild dogs bring meat to pack members not present during a hunt…Although on the surface, these behaviors appear to be altruistic, the truth may not be so simple. (paraphrased and emphasis added)
Science is full of debate and conjecture, but there is no doubt evolution plays a part - the only question is what part.
There has been much discussion over why altruistic behaviors exist. Do these behaviors lead to overall evolutionary advantages for their species? Do they help the altruistic individual pass on its own genes? And what about such activities between unrelated individuals? One explanation for altruistic-type behaviors is found in the genetics of natural selection. In the 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, scientist Richard Dawkins attempted to explain many seemingly altruistic behaviors from the viewpoint of the gene itself. Although a gene obviously cannot be selfish in the human sense, it may appear that way if the sacrifice of an individual benefits related individuals that share genes that are identical by descent (present in relatives because of common lineage). Mammal parents make this sacrifice to take care of their offspring. Emperor penguins migrate miles in harsh conditions to bring food back for their young. Selfish gene theory has been controversial over the years and is still discussed among scientists in related fields. (emphasis added)
But again, no-one doubts evolution played a hand. From the same chapter:
What is clear, though, is that heritable behaviors that improve the chances of passing on one’s genes or a portion of one’s genes are favored by natural selection and will be retained in future generations as long as those behaviors convey a fitness advantage. These instinctual behaviors may then be applied, in special circumstances, to other species, as long as it doesn’t lower the animal’s fitness.
Heritable traits that enhance one's odds of survival - that sounds a heckuva lot like evolution to me. So it actually looks like OpenStax, though they refer to a hyper-strict definition not immediately recognised by most people, say that evolution and altruism are related because of the survival and fitness benefits conferred - which is actually pretty much in line with what I said in the original exchange that started the debate.
You can see from their explanations that there is no mechanism for generating altruistic behavior…we know it exists, but it’s mechanism, purpose, and history are all BLIND to science.
This is because Mr. Jedi didn't quote further than the first three paragraphs, otherwise he would have found the headings of Simple Learned Behaviours, Conditioned Behaviour and Cognitive Learning, as well as realised that the whole section he quotes on altruism is part of a larger chapter on Population & Community Ecology - how organisms with brains learn to co-exist, or in other words, the mechanisms for generating altruistic behaviour!
In their first paragraph they invoke a sciency-sounding phrase, kin selection, as if merely naming an observation actually explains it.
Got bad news for you, good sir - kin selection is an observed and documented scientific fact.
Mr. Jedi doubles down on his hyper-critical stance.
Kin selection like convergent evolution like strong reciprocity are terms that hide the explanation under the guise of science. People hear “kin selection” and assume, “well, it’s got a fancy name, so someone must have demonstrated that evolution is the only explanation for it.”
Kin selection, strong reciprocity and convergent evolution are ALL documented phenomena in the scientific literature. Ignore it at your intellectual peril.
And is evolution the only explanation for them? Maybe not. But it's the only explanation worth paying any mind to, and you would be hard-pressed to find another explanation that has as much scientific and academic rigour behind it as what the study in to evolution brings to the table.
Although I have been unreliably told that evolution can account for altruistic behavior, the writings of science publications are devoid of sufficient explanations for it. Notice the concluding sentences of this section:
What is clear, though, is that heritable behaviors that improve the chances of passing on one’s genes or a portion of one’s genes are favored by natural selection and will be retained in future generations as long as those behaviors convey a fitness advantage.
Essentially, they are saying “despite a lack of evidence of altruism at all or a mechanism for developing proto-altruism to fully functional altruism, it’s true. Just believe that evolution has the power to do it! We KNOW it because natural selection ALWAYS conveys a fitness advantage…even if we can’t demonstrate it. Trust us, we’re scientists!”
I love reading, but textbooks are in reality, summaries of a larger body of research. For example, OpenStax's book on astronomy says that impact craters exist on the earth, but it doesn't name the specific comets or meteorites that hit the earth, nor on what exact dates, nor what the nearest schoolteacher had for breakfast - does this mean the whole of astronomy deserves to be dismissed? No. Textbooks are merely summaries.
But again, if it is a deep-dive in to the actual mechanics of evolution and of altruism, you need to get in to the genetics and to a fairly in-depth level. College textbooks and papers by economics professors ain't it.
This concludes part 3. Part 4 is where I finish my response.
Stay safe, stay rational, be kind.