Winning Isn’t Everything: Evolution Rewards Altruism

Ran across an interesting video today that discusses a new study from Michigan State University which found that being selfish is not advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. Sometimes evolution-deniers claim that if evolution were true, then compassion is a weakness. We would be better off if we were completely selfish — if we swindled others at every opportunity, cheated to get ahead, etc. And since most of us don’t live that way, this is supposed to indicate that there must be a God. But according to this study, such selfishness would be a poor evolutionary strategy (heads up: the commentator’s style is very casual):

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find this surprising. Humans are social creatures — we fare better (in all sorts of things) when we work together. If we consistently take advantage of others, we’ll eventually be abandoned. It only makes sense that we’d evolve to work toward the common good.

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26 thoughts on “Winning Isn’t Everything: Evolution Rewards Altruism”

  1. Interesting video, and I agree, it’s not surprising. We are social beings and rely heavily on one another. trust, empathy, and cooperation would certainly aid in that.

    And look around, how many people specialize in everything or know a lot about a lot? Not many. Most people I know specialize (and that may even be stretch) in one or two things, so they need people with specialties in other areas to compliment theirs. That’s how societies excel, thrive and grow. A society with only carpenters may have nice dining room tables, but may go hungry, or become ill, etc. Altruism would make it easier and more likely for people to band together to form societies.

    jerks can do well in life, that’s true; but I think that’s the exception and not the rule. besides, even the jerks typically aren’t jerks to everyone all the time. they even have their moments of kindness and understanding.

    But, even if the findings discussed in video weren’t true, naturally selfish people do little to explain away the problems in the bible or with the bible god.

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  2. Hi, Nate, you did good. I have looked into this before. It is not too hard to find videos and studies out there on line detailing altruism in the animal kingdom. The animal kingdom is filled with altruistic examples. At one point I was largely agreeing and following Ayn Rand. Trouble is, she left little room for altruism. Without altruism, Ranger Battalion would fall apart, and our military would likewise follow suit. “Greater love has no one but that he should lay his life down for the life of a friend,” a wise sage once said. Epicurus, another one I mostly agree with touched on this same concept, though he is not well known for his Altruism.

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  3. All of this is, of course,is assuming the if evolution is true, then God must not exist. It is a dychotomous way of thinking. I don’t think like this anymore. By definition, if God is an all powerful being, He could have also started the process of evolution.

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  4. William, I think selfishness explains a lot of the Bible problems. The fact that the Jews have perpetrated a 3500 year old myth that they alone were God’s Anointed People is a great example of Selfishness in the Bible. Jesus himself repeatedly told the Gentiles he was sent only for the Jews. How selfish is that ! The Jews killed thousands of men , women, and young children and captured thousands more young virgins for their selfish desires. I think the bible is riddled with selfishness . It extended through the Crusades, the Inquisitions , and even today. Why do most of the TV Preachers live in mansions and drive luxury cars ? Pure selfishness that they learned from the bible. They all believe it is their God given right.

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  5. @Noel
    “By definition, if God is an all powerful being, He could have also started the process of evolution.”

    When you say’god’ are you being specific (a personal god) or merely referring to a creator deity?
    Clarity in this regard is very important.

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  6. Hey Nate,

    Well, there were some interesting points made.

    As far as needing human touch is concerned, I guess I’m a selfish bastard. I have no issue in showing my little boys affection, but not my husband and other adults. I was horribly abused as a child in my good Pentecostal home, and I guess it’s made me a bit of a cold-hearted bitch.

    It’s something I’m working on, and will probably continue to work on for the rest of my life. Even when I was a Christian, when I read “lay hands on the sick and they shall recover” I didn’t picture Benny Hinn putting his hands on top of people’s heads forcefully. I read that verse in a way as to say that human touch is capable of healing, especially affection. While we were still Christians, my husband would explain to me how beneficial he thought acupressure was for healing the human body.

    I admit, I do need to grow up in showing other adults love. I have found the whole de-conversion experience alienating at times here in west Tennessee. It’s definitely been a hindrance in me being comfortable in showing others affection at times. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why.

    Thanks for this, Nate. Have a great weekend.

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  7. Living in central Alabama, I can definitely empathize with the difficulty you’ve had in your de-conversion! Hope it gets better for you soon. You have a great weekend too! 🙂

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  8. Ark, I was referring to a being that is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, which neither you or me can ever fully comprehend, including how can God also start evolution.

    William, yes we are all assuming something about the existence of God, since we cannot fully understand everything (at least not yet). But the difference with me is that I am not ready to make the bold ( and also arrogant) claim that God does not exist because he does not meet my standards of what God should be and do.

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  9. Noel,

    I agree that a god could exist. And I agree that it takes some arrogance to emphatically say that no god exists whatsoever. But do you not also think it’s arrogant to claim to know not just that God does in fact exist, but also which god he is?

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  10. Nate, yes, I agree. It would be arrogant to claim that I know exactly who or what God is. Which in this case I don’t, and I admit that sometimes I have to catch myself when I start assuming the exact personality of God, like I used to do when I attended church. However, believing that there is a God (not the same as knowing) is not arrogant, in my opinion, but a claim based on the evidence that I have experienced in my personal life, learning from other people’s experiences as well, and using some logic (everything must have come from a cause-less cause). I was raised in the Catholic church, converted to Pentecostal, and now I am a Reflective Christian who acknowledges the insignificance of my existence, yet accept the beauty of my life and the life of others. My experience also taught me that the reason I am here is to serve the poor. I believe this. And I believe that God is the source of this mission. This I can almost say I know for sure. However, I have welcomed doubt in my life as a stepping stone towards spiritual growth. My journey has been more fluid and inclusive. Perhaps you would be interested in reading the page “Carl and Alfred: the Story of Two Extremes” in my blog, which further explains my view through a fictional story. Thanks.

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  11. Hi Noel,

    I have read that post of yours — I thought it was very good.

    based on the evidence that I have experienced in my personal life, learning from other people’s experiences as well, and using some logic

    I think that’s appropriate. It’s the same basis those of us who are atheists have used to get to our positions. We’re not saying definitively that god does not exist. We’re just saying that we haven’t seen enough evidence to make us believe one is out there. One could be there. People just have different thresholds for the amount of evidence it takes to convince them of it.

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  12. @ Noel
    ”Ark, I was referring to a being that is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving, which neither you or me can ever fully comprehend, including how can God also start evolution.”

    So,not a Christian god,then?

    If your description were even remotely true, then this would be the moment your problems really start.
    Take the Divine Command Theory for a kick off….

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  13. Noel,

    my position is no more arrogant than yours. What I do is, is I take what the bible says about god and what it says about what god has done, and what the bible says about prophecy, and then the prophecies it shows and I find it to be at odds with itself. The bible damns itself being riddles with contradictions and errors and believers who see these problems just say something to the affect of, “Well I’d rather trust god than a man who claims to see errors.”

    it’s bogus.

    Then i think to myself that god has neither told me nor you anything directly. A couple of guys wrote bold claims down in a book and said god told them to, claim that they speak for god. belief in the bible may be hope on god, but it boils down to faith in the authors since they are authors of it. maybe god did tell them to write it down instead of any other number of more effective ways – but where’s the evidence? where’s the proof?

    Does it make you arrogant because you don’t believe those claims about any other religious text.

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  14. Nate, you wrote “We’re just saying that we haven’t seen enough evidence to make us believe one is out there. One could be there…” Isn’t this how agnostics think? As opposed to atheist (who already concluded that God does not exists?) Correct me if I am wrong please.

    William, I think there is a difference between having a different view of who God is, and believing there is no God at all. If I don’t agree with a Muslim, for example, about what or who God is, I don’t think that makes me arrogant, just disagreeing with the image of a God that we both agree exists. But when someone jumps into conclusion that God does not exist at all, then that is a different statement.

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  15. Hi Noel,

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. You bring up a great question about the differences between atheism and agnosticism. It’s true that some people use the term “agnostic” to describe someone with my viewpoint. But really, the two terms are talking about two different things.

    Atheism deals with belief; agnosticism deals with knowledge. For instance, several years ago, I was strictly a theist. I believed in the Christian god, and I had no doubts about his existence. When I first stopped believing Christianity, I became an agnostic deist. I still believed in a god, but I wasn’t as certain of his existence. Honestly, I wasn’t certain of much of anything during that time. So while I did believe in a god, I also knew that I could be wrong.

    Since then, I’ve become an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe in a god (the atheist part of my claim), but I recognize that one could exist (the agnostic part of my claim).

    In my experience, there are very, very few people who would fit the description of an atheist that you’re referencing. That’s sometimes called “hard atheism,” and it actually claims that no gods exist, period. Most atheists don’ actually fit that category — they believe such a claim is unknowable; hence, they’re agnostic about it. Instead, most atheists are simply saying that they have so far been unconvinced by any of the god-claims that the religions of the world posit. So in that way, it’s more of a neutral position, if that makes sense…

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  16. Ah, but Noel, I havent jumped to any conclusion. I do consider myself agnostic. maybe there is a god and in a lot of ways I really hope there is. That being said, like you, I dismiss the Muslim’s notion of god, I reject Zoroasterism, and all the other religions… but we part ways because i also find the christian god problematic and the bible as rubbish.

    That doesnt necessarily make me arrogant. I simply put two and two together. And again, if that’s arrogant, it is no more so, and maybe even less than, someone who claims to have knowledge (as opposed to agnostic (without knowledge)) of the divine (christian).

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  17. Nate-
    I like your last comment.

    I heard someone say once, “I know at least 1/3 of the things I believe are wrong. Problem is, I don’t know which 1/3 that is.” I really like that quote. Does a good job, I think, of describing the position we all, if we’re honest, find ourselves in.

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  18. Josh, excellent quote! I completely identify with it. My brother and I (his name is Josh, too!) often used to make the observation to each other that the more we learn, the less we seem to actually know.

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  19. Awesome, something Josh and Nate and I can agree on!! That is a very cool quote Josh – never heard that one. And Nate: I can totally relate to your observation with your brother – there’s a cool Socrates quote that expresses exactly that.

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  20. The user who has uploaded that video has been banned by GooTube.

    But I had a gaze at the Nature link and insofar I could understand it found it very interesting. As it is about strategies, it’s compatible with both group selection and reciprocal altruism.

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