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Humans Display Many Behavioral and Cognitive Abilities that Offer No Apparent Survival Advantage

More than Myth.jpegAuthor’s note: More Than Myth? is a new volume featuring chapters from various pro-ID scientists and scholars discussing scientific and theological problems with an evolutionary viewpoint. My contribution is titled, “The Top Ten Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution,” but the chapter also includes a brief “bonus problem” at the end, namely: “Humans display many behavioral and cognitive abilities that offer no apparent survival advantage.” Here’s an excerpt:

In recent years, biologists have tried to explain human moral, intellectual, and religious capacities in terms of Darwinian evolution. Harvard University evolutionary psychologist Marc Hauser has promoted the increasingly common hypothesis that “people are born with a moral grammar wired into their neural circuits by evolution.”1
Humans do appear hard-wired for morality, but were we programmed by unguided evolutionary processes? Natural selection cannot explain extreme acts of human kindness. Regardless of background or beliefs, upon finding strangers trapped inside a burning vehicle, people will risk their own lives to help them escape — with no evolutionary benefit to themselves. For example, evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Schloss explains that Holocaust rescuers took great risks that offered no personal biological benefits:

The rescuer’s family, extended family and friends were all in jeopardy, and they were recognized to be in jeopardy by the rescuer. Moreover, even if the family escaped death, they often experienced deprivation of food, space and social commerce; extreme emotional distress; and forfeiture of the rescuer’s attention.2

Francis Collins gives the example of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who risked his life “to save more than a thousand Jews from the gas chambers.”3 As Collins points out, “That’s the opposite of saving his genes.”4 Schloss adds other examples of “radically sacrificial” behavior that “reduces reproductive success” and offers no evolutionary benefit, such as voluntary poverty, celibacy, and martyrdom.5

In spite of the claims of evolutionary psychologists, many of humanity’s most impressive charitable, artistic, and intellectual abilities outstrip the basic requirements of natural selection. If life is simply about survival and reproduction, why do humans compose symphonies, investigate quantum mechanics, and build cathedrals?

Natural Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell explained why evolutionary psychology does not adequately predict human behavior:

Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive — except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed — except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.6

Contrary to Darwinism, the evidence indicates that human life isn’t about mere survival and reproduction. But in addition to our moral uniqueness, humans are also distinguished by their use of complex language. As MIT linguist Noam Chomsky observes:

Human language appears to be a unique phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world. If this is so, it is quite senseless to raise the problem of explaining the evolution of human language from more primitive systems of communication that appear at lower levels of intellectual capacity. … There is no reason to suppose that the “gaps” are bridgeable.7

Finally, humans are also the only species that seeks to investigate the natural world through science. In fact, the next time someone tries to break down the differences between humans and apes, remind them that it’s humans who write scientific papers studying apes, not the other way around.

References Cited:
[1.] Nicholas Wade, “An Evolutionary Theory of Right and Wrong,” The New York Times (October 31, 2006), accessed April 28, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/31/health/psychology/31book.html.
[2.] Jeffrey P. Schloss, “Evolutionary Accounts of Altruism & the Problem of Goodness by Design,” in Mere Creation; Science, Faith & Intelligent Design, ed. William A. Dembski (Downers Grove, IL, Intervarsity Press, 1998), 251.
[3.] Francis Collins quoted in Dan Cray, “God vs. Science,” Time Magazine (November 5, 2006), accessed April 28, 2012, http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1555132,00.html.
[4.] Ibid.
[5.] Jeffrey P. Schloss, “Emerging Accounts of Altruism: ‘Love Creation’s Final Law’?” in Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, & Religion in Dialogue, eds. Stephen G. Post, Lynn G. Underwood, Jeffrey P. Schloss, and William B. Hurlbut (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 221.
[6.] Philip S. Skell, “Why do we invoke Darwin?” The Scientist, 19 (August 29, 2005): 10.
[7.] Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind, 3rd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 59.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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