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Survival of the nicest?

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product of random evolution, as you can tell

Surveying nonsense explanations of empathy (“altruism”) offered by the proponents of Darwinian evolution, I wrote,

For human nature, evolution appears to be an endless well from which any lesson whatever can be drawn. And “evolutionary” explanations need not be informative; they need only be fully naturalist.

Hardly had I forwarded the link for that piece when a friend sent me this, from Open Culture:

“We Are Wired to Be Kind: How Evolution Gave Us Empathy, Compassion & Gratitude”

Empathy, compassion and gratitude — these traits don’t usually spring to mind when you think about Darwinism and natural selection. No, your mind more immediately drifts toward anti-social characteristics like competition, survival of the fittest, and selfishness (as in the “selfish gene”). But above, on the first day of 2015, UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner reminds us that evolution can bring out the best in us, and Darwin recognized that.

Well, if the Prophet Darwin recognized it, it is canonical and therefore true, right?

One wonders then why his heirs routinely insist that the sheer cruelty of nature shows that there is no design in nature.*

Actually, there is no particular relationship between passing on one’s genes and compassion.

For example, from broadcaster Dennis Prager:

Years ago, I interviewed Pearl and Sam Oliner, two professors of sociology at California State University at Humboldt and the authors of one of the most highly-regarded works on altruism, The Altruistic Personality. The book was the product of the Oliners’ lifetime of study of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

The Oliners, it should be noted, are secular, not religious, Jews; they had no religious agenda.

I asked Samuel Oliner, “Knowing all you now know about who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, if you had to return as a Jew to Poland and you could knock on the door of only one person in the hope that they would rescue you, would you knock on the door of a Polish lawyer, a Polish doctor, a Polish artist or a Polish priest?”

Without hesitation, he said, “a Polish priest.” And his wife immediately added, “I would prefer a Polish nun.”

That alone should be enough to negate the pernicious nonsense that God is not only unnecessary for a moral world, but is detrimental to one.

Of all the Polish people mentioned, who was considered the most altruistic vs. the most likely to have descendants?

See also: An evolutionary challenge: explaining away compassion, philanthropy, and self-sacrifice

*Of course Darwin’s followers’ claim doesn’t make sense if by “makes sense” we mean “follows logically.” Design can be cruel. We don’t use niceness as a reliable indicator of design or no design. And Darwinism has never been thought to produce more niceness, even if Darwin idly considered the possibility at one time.

The friend wo sent me the Open Culture link asked, “Still, now niceness is a Darwinian value? I know: you’re not surprised and maybe even I’m not by this time. But appalled, appalled still works for me.”

I replied, “Sometimes empathy is adaptive, sometimes not. That is what this nonsense obscures.”

But there are probably still many Darwinbooks out there waiting to be written and put on course lists on how natural selection acting on random mutations wired us to be kind.

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3 Replies to “Survival of the nicest?

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    To the “Survival of the Fittest” crew, “Random acts of kindness” are just exceptions that prove the rule.

  2. 2
    goodusername says:

    News,

    And Darwinism has never been thought to produce more niceness, even if Darwin idly considered the possibility at one time.

    Actually, there has always been no shortage of arguments for Darwinism producing niceness, empathy, cooperation, etc, beginning with Darwin himself (and no, he didn’t “idly consider the possibility at one time”):

    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. – Descent of Man

  3. 3
    Mark Frank says:

    An anecdote about someone finding Polish priests more altruistic than Polish doctors or lawyers is somehow evidence that there is no particular relationship between passing on one’s genes and compassion. I think I need a few dots joined up here!

    Incidentally (and equally irrelevant) in the UK doctors, teachers and professors are all more trusted than clergyman/priests..

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