Evolutionists have long struggled to explain human generosity. Evolutionary dogma dictates that behavior patterns which “unnecessarily give up resources without return” should die out in favor of behaviors that “retain those resources” for self or family. Some have argued that other group dynamics are involved. But no model has explained the evolution of altruistic behavior toward complete strangers.
Psychological tests show that people tend to be generous to those they may meet again and also generally avoid cheating them. But those tests inexplicably show the same tendency with complete strangers even when the test-giver assures participants they will never again meet. Researchers at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology in Santa Barbara think they’ve figured it out. They point out that even when you’re sure you’ll never meet a stranger again, there is always a possibility you could be wrong.
They’ve programmed a computer simulation in which there is an unlikely but remote possibility of encountering a stranger again. Given that scenario, their computer calculated that the cost-benefit ratio of being nice, or at least of not being a cheat, came down on the side of being nice. Most simulated people got in the habit of being honest and generous because it paid off.
From a selfish point of view, you should avoid cheating anybody you might meet again. Because you never know who you might meet again, you logically should not cheat anybody. Since the laws of probability allow that you could eventually encounter the same people again, you are well-advised not to cheat others because long-term losses will outweigh short-term gains.
The researchers conclude that “human generosity, far from being a thin veneer of cultural conditioning atop a Machiavellian core, may be a bedrock feature of human nature.” They add, “Surprisingly, however, evolution favors a mind that does not follow the logic of economic maximization when cooperating, but rather one designed to be generous even when rational assessment indicates that one’s generosity will most likely never be repaid.”
What is being examined here is not evolution but the psychology of human nature. Human nature is inherently sinful, according to the Bible, yet the God-given conscience does prompt some genuinely unselfish behavior. At the same time, the study demonstrates that enlightened self-interest can motivate anyone to behave in socially acceptable ways.
This study should remind us of our sinful tendency to have ulterior motives. When a person receives salvation from Jesus Christ, the new nature begins to battle with the old. The Apostle Paul wrote about this frustration long ago when he said, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22–24). As Christians, we can be confident that the Lord will eventually by His grace complete the work He has started in each of us, (Philippians 1:6) so we answer with Paul, “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
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