Re: [asa] Altruism

From: <>
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 18:28:54 EDT

Quoting Iain Strachan <>:

> Compassion and altruism seem to go hand in hand. My voluntary work is as a
> result of compassion I feel for those who are suffering, but who am I to say
> that this makes me a "better" person than someone who doesn't care? Maybe
> it's because I have a greater propensity to have compassion because of
> distributions of various chemicals, which can then be linked to genes etc.
> Since there are many people who testify about the organisation I work for
> who say that it has literally saved their lives (from suicide), it seems
> reasonable to say that my genetic makeup assists in a process that is saving
> lives, and thereby ensuring survival? Maybe that's why such genes exist.
> So what I'm saying is that "altruism" isn't of itself a biological concept -
> but that the propensity for altruistic behavour nonetheless has biological
> roots, and may be therefore expainable in terms of evolutionary processes.
> I think (correct me if I'm wrong, Pim) that this is what Pim is saying, in
> shorthand by suggesting that altruism "evolved". IOW, our propensity for
> altruism, compassion etc evolved.
> There you go, Pim. A let off. I'll probably go back to challenging you
> before long! :-)
> Iain

While there may be some biological roots involved, the flavor of altruism
modeled by Christ would surely throw a wrench into the mix. Heartless (but
perhaps biologically favorable) evolution would have us sacrifice for the good
of the whole -- the herd benefits even if the individual doesn't survive his
sacrifice. But we aren't asked to sacrifice for those who are the physically
and reproductively excellent representatives of our species. We are asked to
pay special attention to the poor, powerless, downtrodden, etc. The biblical
parallel nearly leaps out: "For a good man someone might dare to die ... but
God shows his love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ gave his
life for us." (Romans somewhere, I think -- not having a Bible at the
moment) Anyway, one can imagine euthanasia, & encouraged rather than
discouraged suicide, turning the elderly and crippled out since all these
probably "drag the herd down". These are obviously opposite pulls. So Iain,
your work may still be explainable in terms of long benefits to the group, but
it would be a challenge to do so, let alone in purely evolutionary terms. And
to attempt it is (Christianly speaking) to seek "payment" in this world, which
Christ discourages.

Sacrifice of one's self for the benefit of all, though, is of course very
Biblical -- and parallel evolutionary benefit is easy to imagine on that one.
(Despite this, I don't support suicide, though -- please don't take it that


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Received on Wed Jun 13 18:29:19 2007

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