Re: [asa] Altruism and ID

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 14:27:59 EDT

I haven't been following this thread very closely but as I was browsing some
CCCU material, I came across this paper by Dan Brannan which may be of

Dan Brannan presented a paper titled, "Evolutionary Explanation and the
Ideal of Altruism: the Incommensurability of the Christian Love Command," at
the Tenth European Conference on Science and Theology in Barcelona, Spain,
during the first week of April 2004. The paper was accepted after being
reviewed by scholars associated with the European Society for the Study of
Science and Theology (ESSSAT).

Abstract: The integration of an evolutionary origin of human behaviors with
the capacity to symbolically idealize seemingly unattainable and paradoxical
concepts such as altruism (e.g. devotion to others’ interests as an ethical
principle leading to self-sacrifice and forgoing genetic progeny) is an
imperative for theories of biological adaptation and for understanding our
religious yearning for transcendence. Our ethical and spiritual attraction
to aesthetics, purpose, and altruism as self-sacrifice seem to be rooted in
these two pursuits. By understanding how biological adaptation has created a
mind that yearns, in a social setting, for religious transcendence we are
led to idealizations of behavior beyond our capability. Of all creatures on
earth, we seem to uniquely yearn for perfection of behavior, purpose, and
utopian ideals. Is altruism a result of both biological processes and
cultural influence, particularly religious ideals of behavior?

I will explore whether or not evolutionary explanations of altruism show
that self-sacrificial behavior is a biological adaptation, a transcendent
and unattainable ideal, or some combination of the two. Using adoption of
non-relatives as a model, I will test if adoptive behavior is altruism as
defined or if sociobiological explanations sufficiently show them to be
egoistic at some level. Explanations of animal and human adoption (in
traditional or modern societies) are mostly amenable to evolutionary
explanations. As a result, the best one can say about most adoption
practices with respect to self-sacrifice is that they exhibit pro-social
behavior, not altruism as defined above. In those few cases where adoption
appears genetically altruistic, the behavior is most often explainable as
maladaptive “rescue” behavior. However, exceptions still do exist: celibates
who adopt.

Thus most adoptions can be seen in light of pro-social behavior at best or
maladaptation at worse. And yet, we still idealize the concept of adoptive
altruism (genetic self-sacrifice), admiring the rare celibates willing to
sacrifice reproductive imperatives to raise others’ children. Therefore,
altruism can be realized within a few who develop within a religious
environment emphasizing the transcendent. It appears that our ability to
symbolically idealize altruism within a religious context makes us unique
considering that our ability to biologically achieve it seems limited.
Provided we continue striving to meet the ideal, we will always have hope
even if that hope is rooted in an eschatological future rather than a
present reality.

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Received on Wed Jun 13 20:25:52 2007

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