Does anything about this title of a paper from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) give you pause?
“Scientists who study mankind” have studied the “origin” of why humans share food. It’s a report on the work of evolutionary biologists who conducted a meta-analysis on the behavior of primates — humans, monkeys, and apes. Guess what they found?
“The meta-analysis clearly established that there is reciprocity in sharing both among humans and among other primates that remained significant even after controlling for other factors such as kinship, dominance relationships, and spatial proximity,” said Jaeggi, a postdoctoral student in anthropology at UCSB. “Based on our meta-analysis of existing studies, we were able to find no significant differences between humans, monkeys, and apes.”
Where does the “genesis” part come it? No, it’s not Biblical, the idea is called “reciprocal altruism”. It says that sharing is an evolved behavior in animals to benefit their own species.
“Our findings support the idea that actions that benefit another individual tend to, ultimately, also benefit the giver –– either because the recipient is genetically related to the giver or will eventually return the favor,” Jaeggi said. “Of course, the giver doesn’t have to be consciously aware of the return benefits.”
Through natural selection, humans have evolved to form emotional attachments to others and engage in long-term relationships within which reciprocity benefits everyone involved. “This is supported by research showing that reciprocity in many species develops over long periods of time –– much more so than on an immediate tit-for-tat basis,” said Jaeggi.
I’m not saying that there is no evolutionary basis for this theory among animals. There are plenty of examples of reciprocal altruism in nature. For example, female bats live in colonies. To eat, they must leave the roost and find a mammal with blood, but finding a large mammal only happens sporadically. If they did not share food, they would all die because they cannot all leave the roost and find their own food often enough to survive. Since a single bat can drink almost one-third her body weight, some leave and drink a whole bunch of blood and share with the others tending the roost. Evolutionary theory holds that this behavior is genetic, thus, the bats with the food-sharing and eat-a-whole-bunch-at-once genes survived to reproduce, and those genes were passed on. The theory holds if the behavior is purely genetic. In bats, it may be.
But if this theory is extended to humans, then it implies that all our behavior is a function of our genes and instincts too, a theory that by necessity rules out that humans are made in the image of God and have intelligent minds and free will.
If you want to know why I share food, just ask me. Maybe there’s some truth to the idea that I’m genetically predisposed to instinctively share food, I’m not saying there’s nothing true at all about the theory, but I also could have a million other relevant reasons for sharing too, many of which have some basis in the practice of virtue. There’s more to human behavior than genetics and brain machinery.
Seems obvious, right?
Well, no, not to everyone, and that’s my point. An atheistic mindset in science is precisely what underlies the asking of such questions about the “genesis of reciprocity in food sharing,” and then leads people to expend capital and resources to gather data to answer them. These are the “fictitious theories” of atheism that Pope Pius XII warned about in Humani generis 63 years ago (§32). If it is assumed that there is no God and that Christ is only a myth, then the logical conclusion of that assumption is that mankind evolved as a series of naturally selected genetic mutations from a primordial soup, that no man or woman has a soul, and that humans have no free intellectual power. It’s Darwinism. All that separates us from apes is evolutionary progress.
It’s not just this study, but entire research programs have grown from these “fictitious theories”. Read this from The Center for Evolutionary Psychology at UCSB, the university whose researchers conducted this study. (The whole essay is worth reading if only to understand the nuances of the theory.) Note, the theory requires that the mind is defined as something material.
In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
In the final pages of the Origin of Species, after he had presented the theory of evolution by natural selection, Darwin made a bold prediction: “In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation.” Thirty years later, William James tried to do just that in his seminal book, Principles of Psychology, one of the founding works of experimental psychology (James, 1890). In Principles, James talked a lot of “instincts”. This term was used to refer (roughly) to specialized neural circuits that are common to every member of a species and are the product of that species’ evolutionary history. Taken together, such circuits constitute (in our own species) what one can think of as “human nature”.
It was (and is) common to think that other animals are ruled by “instinct” whereas humans lost their instincts and are ruled by “reason”, and that this is why we are so much more flexibly intelligent than other animals. William James took the opposite view. He argued that human behavior is more flexibly intelligent than that of other animals because we have more instincts than they do, not fewer. We tend to be blind to the existence of these instincts, however, precisely because they work so well — because they process information so effortlessly and automatically. They structure our thought so powerfully, he argued, that it can be difficult to imagine how things could be otherwise. As a result, we take “normal” behavior for granted. We do not realize that “normal” behavior needs to be explained at all. This “instinct blindness” makes the study of psychology difficult. To get past this problem, James suggested that we try to make the “natural seem strange.”
In other words, if we think we can explain why we do anything, it is only because our instincts have fooled us to think we are actually able to offer an intelligent answer (to be sure, a self-defeating premise for a scientist to entertain).
That’s all kind of academic, but this ideology has real consequences. A soulless approach to psychology will never adequately address the whole human person, and therefore it will fail to treat the whole human person. That’s reason enough to care about these issues in science, which is why I write about it. If you have a loved one in need of psychological help, how much help will he or she get from a professional that views humans as machines instead of persons, body and soul?