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« Truth or Fiction? | Main | What Does It Mean to Be Manly? »

May 31, 2007

Is Altruism Really Hardwired or Is the Study Just Another Form of Reductionism?


I was curious about the claim that altruism is hardwired; I contacted Denyse O’Leary, a journalist who writes about science issues. Besides being funny (my highest compliment) and an experienced writer, Denyse co-authored a book with Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard titled, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul (Harper 2007). 

Here is her quick take:

Anyone who has raised children (and not made a complete hash of it) will realize that pleasure in acting generously is a learned type of pleasure -- usually both explicitly taught to the child AND modeled by the parent.

I wish I had more time to write about the concerted current effort to find materialist reductionist "explanations" for altruism. Mario and I discuss this in The Spiritual Brain. The agenda is as crashingly obvious as the "explanations" are defective, by any reasonable standard.

While she hasn't blogged on this issue yet, people can purchase her book at the link above. (Note to self: buy the book.)

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Brent Houlding

I'm not sure that seeing altruism as "hardwired" needs to be reductionist. As believers, we are told that "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Granted, Paul's statement here applies to believers, but I think that it follows the model of salvation restoring what was marred in the fall. While we now have to learn the behavior, when followed it does align us with God's creative purpose.

Jason Taylor

It doesn't need to be, but sometimes it is. Reductionism is when you see a phenomenon that cannot be explained analytically but has components that can be explained that way, and mistake those components for the whole. Someone who says that love is merely reproductive instinct, friendship is merely reciprocal self-interest, and patriotism is merely pack-instinct, is being reductionist. Even though all those things have that component(humans are animals as well as spirits), it is the word "merely" that is the error.

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