Selflessness in Apes

on June 30, 2007

LiveScience: “Selfless Chimps Shed Light on Evolution of Altruism

An experiment conducted in the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Uganda has provided possible support for chimp altruism, reports LiveScience on findings published in June 25’s PLoS Biology:

In experiments, each chimp watched a person they had never seen before unsuccessfully reach for a wooden stick that was within reach of the ape. The person had struggled over the stick beforehand, suggesting it was valued.
Scientists found the chimpanzees often handed the stick over, even when the apes had to climb eight feet out of their way to get the stick and regardless of whether or not any reward was given. A similar result with 36 human infants just 18 months old yielded comparable results.

However, the scientists realized that because the chimps in the sanctuary are fed by humans, “helping people out could simply be in their best interests.” In response, the researchers created a second experiment that tested whether chimps would help one another even when no reward was offered:

Although animals were not formed in God’s image, it is possible some animals are motivated by more than misplaced selfishness.

The researchers set up closed rooms that each held a piece of banana or watermelon. The only way for a chimp to get in was if an unrelated spectator ape released a chain to open the room. [The scientists] found the spectators often altruistically helped the other chimps get the fruit, even if they got no reward themselves[.]

Although it’s impossible to definitively ascertain the chimps’ motivation for this behavior, no tenet of creation science would rule out true altruism. Although animals, such as apes, were not formed in God’s image, it is possible some animals, including these chimps, are motivated by more than misplaced selfishness.

Of course, evolutionists characterize these experiments’ results as buttressing the idea that human altruism is, at least partially, a product of evolution:

These findings suggest the roots of human altruism go deeper than previously thought, reaching back as far as the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.

Developmental and comparative psychologist Felix Warneken of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology further suggested that altruism is driven by evolution, claiming that “culture cultivates rather than implants the roots of altruism in the human psyche[.]”

Even ignoring the fact that all this opining is merely the result of interpreting these experiments through the lens of the evolutionary worldview, one wonders if these scientists make any room for true altruism: performed not due to the predetermined drive of genetic evolution nor simply in rote accordance with cultural constructs, but out of true devotion to selflessness that can only result from the immaterial realm. Evolutionists’ interpretations of findings such as these cheapen the meaning of “altruism” and compel one to ask what difference evolutionists see between biologically predetermined selflessness and biologically predetermined selfishness.


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