[asa] Elephant altruism

From: Iain Strachan <igd.strachan@gmail.com>
Date: Sat Nov 28 2009 - 10:37:10 EST

As I recall, Francis Collins in his book "The Language of God" makes
much of the argument for the "moral law" (after C.S. Lewis), in other
words the innate sense of right and wrong that we all seem to have,
which on occasion prompts us to act altruistically - helping others
for no return benefit to ourselves, and often to our own risk. As I
recall he seems to indicate that this is unique to the human species
and is possibly a pointer towards God (though he warns about the "God
of the Gaps" argument).

However, I've recently been looking at a web-page about "Elephant
Art", and came across a sub page about elephants engaging in behaviour
that seems to be highly altruistic in nature. Googling "Elephant
Altruism" brings up a number of well-known anecdotes (there are
several instances of these being cited). These are, of course only
anecdotal evidence, but would seem to indicate that elephants, at
least act according to the moral law. Some examples:

(1) An elephant that spent considerable time attempting to rescue a
baby rhinoceros, despite being attacked repeatedly by the mother of
the animal. (Altruism with no personal benefit).
(2) A worker elephant that was assisting in lowering logs into holes.
 At one point it refused to lower the log. It was discovered that the
apparent reason for this was that there was a dog trapped in the hole,
and the elephant would not complete the task till after the dog had
been rescued. (Sense of right and wrong?)
(3) A remarkable tale of a herder on a camel that was stampeded by the
matriarch of the elephant herd. He was knocked off and broke his leg.
 When he didn't return to base, his colleagues came out to search for
him. When they found him, they also found a female elephant standing
guard over him who had moved away from the herd to look after him.
She had picked up the man with her trunk (according to the account),
and placed him under a shady tree and stood guard, occasionally
touching him gently with her trunk, apparently to soothe and comfort
the man. ( Altruism, compassion, empathy?)

As I say, these are only anecdotal evidences. But I'm wondering what
folks on the list thought about this kind of thing, and where it
leaves Francis Collins's "Moral Law" argument?


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Received on Sat Nov 28 10:37:30 2009

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