Monday, January 25, 2010

Darwin says No to the idea of Survival of the Fittest

Darwin says no to the idea of Survival of the fittest.

Another bad evolutionary myth is “Survival of the fittest,” in the sense that the animals that fight the most are the winners of the battle—the “law of the jungle.” You can find examples of this—ask any subordinate male gorilla—but at least as often, perhaps more often, animal evolution produces altruism. Altruism is where animals obtain direct benefits from being nice to each other. Individual animals can enhance their fitness by being nice to their genetic relatives (kin selection), by being nice to other animals who may later be nice in return (direct reciprocity), or by gaining social status by being conspicuously generous (indirect reciprocity). Even the jungle does not follow “the law of the jungle.” There’s lots of altruism within species of jungle animals, as well as mutualism between species.

Altruism has been perhaps the most important aspect of human evolution. Tribes that had the most altruism prevailed in the evolutionary landscape, because the fitness of each individual in the tribe was enhanced by cooperation. Ninety-five percent of our evolutionary history took place in hunter-gatherer tribes, which were largely socialistic or communistic. Modern governments, which have power concentrated at the top and oppress the masses of poor, are a dysfunctional modern development that disregards our strong altruistic adaptations.

Altruism is a natural part of our psychology and has to be carefully brainwashed out of humans. As the lyrics go in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, “You have to be carefully taught to hate, before you are six or seven or eight…” I heard an interview of the New York Times reporter who had been kidnapped by terrorists. He told how the young terrorists had to watch videos over and over about killing people and blowing things up. The culminating video was of the decapitation of a Polish victim. These young men had to be deliberately, repeatedly desensitized to altruism in order to be effective terrorists. By the way, religion is the best method of desensitization that humans have ever invented. Sometimes it sensitizes people too.

It is the myth of Survival of the Fittest that creationists often attack, pretending that in doing so they are attacking evolutionary science. It is strange, is it not, that religious conservatives who attack evolution also champion capitalism, which is one of the most anti-altruistic systems ever devised.

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