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Evo psych: Don’t you feel you understand human altruism so much better now?

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From ScienceDaily:

Until now, many researchers assumed that spontaneous altruistic behavior in primates could be attributed to factors they would share with humans: advanced cognitive skills, large brains, high social tolerance, collective foraging or the presence of pair bonds or other strong social bonds. As Burkart’s new data now reveal, however, none of these factors reliably predicts whether a primate species will be spontaneously altruistic or not. Instead, another factor that sets us humans apart from the great apes appears to be responsible. Says Burkart: “Spontaneous, altruistic behavior is exclusively found among species where the young are not only cared for by the mother, but also other group members such as siblings, fathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles.” This behavior is referred to technically as the “cooperative breeding” or “allomaternal care.”

The significance of this study goes beyond identifying the roots of our altruism. Cooperative behavior also favored the evolution of our exceptional cognitive abilities. During development, human children gradually construct their cognitive skills based on extensive selfless social inputs from caring parents and other helpers, and the researchers believe that it is this new mode of caring that also put our ancestors on the road to our cognitive excellence. This study may, therefore, have just identified the foundation for the process that made us human. As Burkart suggests: “When our hominin ancestors began to raise their offspring cooperatively, they laid the foundation for both our altruism and our exceptional cognition.”

Minor quibble: Among humans, few consider looking after one’s own kith and kin to be altruism.

Where I live, that just means not being a deadbeat. Not facing court orders.

The bar is set much higher than that, I am afraid. It means, for example, visiting jailbirds and mental patients, unrelated to oneself and possibly dangerous.

Also, altruism is not spontaneous; it is a habit, usually a fairly organized one.

But, of course, any time human behaviour appears unique, it must somehow be boiled down to whatever some (even distantly related) primate—in this case, Callitrichidae (tamarins and marmosets)—does. Note: Chimps did not behave the same way, despite their supposed 98% or 99% similarity to humans.

The paper (paywall) is called The evolutionary origin of human hyper-cooperation. (Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 4747)

As if it were “hyper” for humans to behave like this.

Here’s the abstract:

Proactive, that is, unsolicited, prosociality is a key component of our hyper-cooperation, which in turn has enabled the emergence of various uniquely human traits, including complex cognition, morality and cumulative culture and technology. However, the evolutionary foundation of the human prosocial sentiment remains poorly understood, largely because primate data from numerous, often incommensurable testing paradigms do not provide an adequate basis for formal tests of the various functional hypotheses. We therefore present the results of standardized prosociality experiments in 24 groups of 15 primate species, including humans. Extensive allomaternal care is by far the best predictor of interspecific variation in proactive prosociality. Proactive prosocial motivations therefore systematically arise whenever selection favours the evolution of cooperative breeding. Because the human data fit this general primate pattern, the adoption of cooperative breeding by our hominin ancestors also provides the most parsimonious explanation for the origin of human hyper-cooperation.

These people make it very clear that they will clutch at any straw to make humans out to be just animals. Is this dangerous?

See also: Evolutionary psychologist goes to work on the smile
Insightful, isn’t it? Just what you needed to know about why you catch yourself smiling when you feel at peace with the world …

Watch for my upcoming series at Evolution News & Views on Darwinizing the mind (and the nonsense that is inevitably a feature, not a bug)

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3 Replies to “Evo psych: Don’t you feel you understand human altruism so much better now?

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    This study reminds me of this quote to Charles Darwin by Adam Sedgewick

    Adam Sedgwick to Charles Darwin – 24 Nov 1859
    Excerpt: “There is a moral or metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. A man who denies this is deep in the mire of folly.,,”

    Although atheists/materialists have repeatedly tried to reduce morality to mere material mechanism, they have all failed. The reason is fairly obvious. For morality to be binding it must be a transcendent standard that is objectively real. A standard that is set apart, and not based in, the random fluctuations of some material medium. i.e. neo-Darwinists simply cannot maintain a consistent identity towards a stable, unchanging, cause for objective morality within their lives;

    The Heretic – Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt: ,,,Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.

    The Knock-Down Argument Against Atheist Sam Harris’ moral landscape argument – William Lane Craig – video

    Peter S Williams’ articulation of the moral argument, at the 6:40 minute mark in the following video, is, IMHO, very impressive as to being very well thought out and nuanced,,,

    Peter S. Williams vs Christopher Norris – video

    The fact that objective morality is real is also made clear by the fact that ‘all have fallen short of the glory of God’, i.e. all men have sinned.
    To illustrate this point, Benjamin Franklin tried to live, according to his own standards, a morally perfect life, and failed,,

    Benjamin Franklin’s Pursuit of the Virtuous Life – 2008
    Excerpt: ,,at the age of 20, Ben Franklin set his loftiest goal: the attainment of moral perfection.
    “I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
    In order to accomplish his goal, Franklin developed and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues. (He failed to arrive at moral perfection):,,,
    “Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

    In fact, both Mother Teresa and Hitler have both fallen short of God’s perfect moral code,,,

    Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament is True – Frank Turek – video – November 2011
    (41:00 minute mark – Despite what is commonly believed, of someone being ‘good enough’ to go to heaven, in reality both Mother Teresa and Hitler fall short of the moral perfection required to meet the perfection of God’s objective moral code)

    If anyone is truly honest with themselves, they will readily admit that they have ‘sinned’ and fallen short of the perfection that God would have for us. I know that I have (and do) fall short. And since it is against God alone that I have sinned, since only He is morally perfect, and since he also holds perfect justice in His hands, then that is why the propitiation offered by Christ towards us is necessary. i.e. It is simply impossible for that which is imperfect, me, to pay the price of perfection required to meet God’s perfect moral code and justice:

    G.O.S.P.E.L. – (the grace of propitiation) poetry slam – video

    Falling Plates (the grace of propitiation) – video

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    Supplemental notes:

    That morality exists apart from any material basis is also made clear by the following experiment,,,

    Quantum Consciousness – Time Flies Backwards? – Stuart Hameroff MD
    Excerpt: Dean Radin and Dick Bierman have performed a number of experiments of emotional response in human subjects. The subjects view a computer screen on which appear (at randomly varying intervals) a series of images, some of which are emotionally neutral, and some of which are highly emotional (violent, sexual….). In Radin and Bierman’s early studies, skin conductance of a finger was used to measure physiological response They found that subjects responded strongly to emotional images compared to neutral images, and that the emotional response occurred between a fraction of a second to several seconds BEFORE the image appeared! Recently Professor Bierman (University of Amsterdam) repeated these experiments with subjects in an fMRI brain imager and found emotional responses in brain activity up to 4 seconds before the stimuli. Moreover he looked at raw data from other laboratories and found similar emotional responses before stimuli appeared.

    There is simply no coherent explanation that a materialist/atheist can give as to why morally troubling situations are detected prior to our becoming fully aware of them or before they even happen. The materialist/atheist simply has no beyond space and time cause to appeal to to explain why the phenomena should happen! Whereas as a Theist, especially as a Christian Theist who believes that the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again to pay for our sins, I would fully expect that ‘objective’ morality would have such a deep, ‘spooky’, beyond space and time, effect

    Another strong piece of evidence that objective morality exists apart from any material basis is the fact that during extremely deep Near Death Experiences, every word, deed, and action, of a persons life is gone over in the presence of God.

    At the 17:45 minute mark of the following Near Death Experience documentary, the Life Review portion of the Near Death Experience is highlighted, with several testimonies relating how every word, deed, and action, of a person’s life (all the ‘information’ of a person’s life) is gone over in the presence of God,,, (in a ‘panoramic’ life review):

    Near Death Experience Documentary – commonalities of the experience – video

    also of note:

    Compilation of morality statistics that don’t bode well for atheists: Section 11.

    Verse and Music:

    John 3:16
    “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

    Third Day – Trust In Jesus

  3. 3
    Sirius says:

    Good post, Denyse. Notice the junk literary style used in the abstract.

    “Extensive allomaternal care is by far the best predictor of interspecific variation in proactive prosociality . . .”

    How vile.


    “Where I live, {looking after kith and kin] just means not being a deadbeat. Not facing court orders.”

    I love it.

    As law prof. Phillip E Johnson said years ago, evo-psych has much the same defects as evolution proper. But for some reason, academics are sometimes willing to criticize evo-psych when they wouldn’t dare touch Darwinism.

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