Sarcasm Now Considered as an Evolutionary Survival Skill

on June 28, 2008

LiveScience: “Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill” We at Answers in Genesis think evolutionary theory is just about the greatest thing since sliced bread. And so is sarcasm! Well, at least it gives us a little license to “pour it on” a bit, at least in this piece.

Is it a joke or isn’t it? One evolutionist is now claiming even the humor subclass known as sarcasm is an “evolutionary survival skill”!

The evolutionist is Meredith F. Small, a Cornell University anthropologist who authors LiveScience’s column on human nature. Of course, her article on sarcasm begins with an assertion steeped in the evolutionary worldview: “Humans are fundamentally social animals.”

Her article on sarcasm begins with an assertion steeped in the evolutionary worldview.

Small’s assertion is drawn from recent work by University of California–San Francisco neurophysiologist Katherine Rankin, who has explored the role sarcasm plays in social interaction. In her work, Rankin learned that individuals with damage to the parahippocampal gyrus region of the brain, such as those who suffer from dementia or who have sustained head injuries, are often unable to identify sarcasm when they hear it. Small suggests that this means sarcasm is probably part of human nature (we would agree)—but then adds that sarcasm is also “probably an evolutionarily good thing” (and we just love to hear things like that, of course).

So let’s read the story of the development of sarcasm that Small invented. (This story alone convinced several staff members at AiG to become ardent evolutionists, by the way. OK, more sarcasm.)

It’s also easy to imagine how sarcasm might be selected over time as evolutionarily crucial. Imagine two ancient humans running across the savannah with a hungry lion in pursuit. One guy says to the other, “Are we having fun yet?” and the other just looks blank and stops to figure out what in the world his pal meant by that remark. End of friendship, end of one guy’s contribution to the future of the human gene pool.
Fast forward a few million years and the network of human relationships is wider and more complex, and just as important to survival. The corporate chairman throws out a sarcastic remark and those who “get” it laugh, smile, and gain favor. In the same way, if the chair never makes a remark, sarcastic people are making them behind his or her back, forming a clique by their mutually negative, but funny, comments. Either way, sarcasm plays a role in making and breaking alliances and friendship.

There is ultimately no human action that is considered independent from the evolutionary drive and “survival of the fittest” mantra.

We’ll ask one easy, easy (so easy it’s rhetorical, actually) question of Small: where do we draw the line between the human behavior that exists for evolutionary purposes (so that we can get an advantage over our running partner or our coworkers) and the human behavior that is the simple result of conscious beings freely choosing to express themselves? Our guess is that in Small’s view, the latter does not exist: there is ultimately no human action that is considered independent from the evolutionary drive and “survival of the fittest” mantra. Whether we help someone or hurt someone, it’s evolution. Whether we love or hate, choose a large family or a small family, say one thing or say another, it all ultimately comes down to evolution’s selected heritable traits expressing themselves in our lives, apparently.

And so, when taken to its logical conclusion, evolutionary theory crowds out any room for individual choices or morality and cheapens the human experience by shifting our role from the endpoint of a loving God’s very personal, perfectly planned creation to a vague midpoint in a senseless, millions-of-years bloodbath of “accidental” life—and that’s even before we consider the issue of whether objective truth even exists! So what happens to morality?

It may seem like a stretch to connect the evolutionary view of sarcasm to the evolutionary view of morality, but ultimately, our view of “where we came from” shapes every aspect of our lives. If you’re a Christian and you haven’t considered how evolutionary theory erodes biblical doctrine and morality, make it a priority to examine the issue. We have plenty of resources to help you!

Remember, if you see a news story that might merit some attention, let us know about it! (Note: if the story originates from the Associated Press, Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or another major national media outlet, we will most likely have already heard about it.) And thanks to all of our readers who have submitted great news tips to us.

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