Monday, June 25, 2007

Faith, Reason, and Science, Part IV: More on the Moral Law Argument

I had previously written that I thought that the Moral Law Argument for the existence of God--which is argued by both C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins--is in danger of the "God of the Gaps" Fallacy. It appears that my concern has merit--altruistic behavior is not uniquely human, and this suggests an evolutionary explanation. Here is the Science Daily report:

Experimental evidence reveals that chimpanzees will help other unrelated humans and conspecifics without a reward, showing that they share crucial aspects of altruism with humans.

Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of others, even toward genetically unrelated individuals, without personal gain, at a cost to themselves.

Studies investigating such behaviors in nonhuman primates, especially our close relative the chimpanzee, form an important contribution to this debate.

Felix Warneken and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology present experimental evidence that chimpanzees act altruistically toward genetically unrelated conspecifics.

In addition, in two comparative experiments, they found that both chimpanzees and human infants helped altruistically regardless of any expectation of reward, even when some effort was required, and even when the recipient was an unfamiliar individual--all features previously thought to be unique to humans.

The evolutionary roots of human altruism may thus go deeper than previously thought, reaching as far back as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. In a related article, Frans de Waal discusses the issues brought out by this discovery.

Read it all.

What is very interesting about this is that the altruism went even to unrelated chimpanzees, which suggests that the evolutionary explanation is complicated.

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