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October 29, 2008

Religion Not Required for Altruism

In the latest bid to convince us that altruism is a product of our evolutionary development, Robin Lloyd writes, “Religion and its promotion of empathy get undue credit for our unselfish acts. Instead, it’s our less-than-virtuous psychological perception that a moral authority is watching us that promotes altruism, a new review essay suggests.” (Emphasis added).

But isn’t it religion that informs our apprehension of an omniscient “moral authority?” Evidently not, according to Mr. Lloyd: “In fact, the courts, police, cameras, credit records and other justice-related authorities can serve the same purpose nowadays, encouraging proscial (sic) behavior among large groups of strangers.”

With all due respect to Mr. Lloyd, while Big Brother can influence behavior modification through fear of punishment, the police state cannot engender the selfless, other-centered love of true altruism. Sadly, it was an ethical and moral vision no higher than the “authorities” Lloyd cites that gave us Watergate, Enron, Worldcom, sub-prime mortgages and a $700 billion bailout package.

Nevertheless, Columbia professor Richard P. Sloan adds,

I don’t believe there is any evidence to support the necessity of religion for prosocial behavior…There are people who make the argument that altruism and prosocial behavior evolutionarily preceded the development of religion for a long time. You can see evidence of altruistic behavior in humans dating back for a long time.

While evolutionary psychologists work overtime to demonstrate that universal notions about God and morality didn’t drop from the sky, but are wired in our DNA by the creative power of random change, necessity and adaptation, sociologist Rodney Stark argues otherwise, as I note here.

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Comments

LeeQuod

It seems almost redundant or unnecessary to say "Fantastic article" if it's followed by ", Regis." Nonetheless, it was great.

In learning how to argue logically, one is taught to watch out for terms that are subtly redefined by one's opponent. In this case, "altruism" has been defined away altogether by Robin Lloyd. I'm not certain what you call behavior that is nice to other people only due to the fear of punishment, but it's definitely wrong to use that word to describe it.

Even more tellingly, and of interest to the broader BreakPoint audience, Mr. Lloyd has shown that only two of C.S. Lewis's "Four Loves" are possible under Darwinism: eros (erotic love) and storge (love arising from long familiarity). Brotherly love, phileo, isn't possible because it always has a hidden agenda of "what's in it for me in this relationship?" And as pointed out in your post, Regis, self-sacrificial agape love is absurd unless it has a superstitious origin - and of course, superstition is seen by Darwinism as having either negligible or even negative survival value.

So we shouldn't be terribly surprised when a generation indoctrinated with Darwinism (particularly in the business schools granting MBAs) behaves lovelessly. Apocalyptic science fiction (such as Mel Gibson's "Mad Max" series) has been telling us what to expect for some time. And now that we're seeing people abandon their teenagers (in addition to the older practices of aborting babies and abandoning infants), it would appear that the future is upon us.

labrialumn

And the atheists keep at the special pleading that -their- metaphysics doesn't count as religion and therefore is 'neutral'. (shakes head)

Regis Nicoll

Leequod--Whoa, you are way too kind! But thanks for the compliment and for drawing attention to The Four Loves. Lewis's volume, as you aptly note, is a powerful apologetic for the origin of true love. It's just another example of the "Inkling's" armor-piercing logic.

Jason Taylor

Actually altruism is incompatable with atheism as currently understood. The reason is that they define it, like all moral qualities as reciprocity. At a less subliminated level reciprocity is commerce. At a more glorified level it is honor. But in neither case is it love in the highest of senses.
This is a weakness of the Atheist position and it is less from the absense of believe in God as from the absense of belief in trancendence of any kind. There was a time that a lot of Atheists did not believe in God but did believe in Natural Law. However the radically materialist position held by many won't even allow that. Because of that there can be no morality in a materialist worldview and no love either. Which does not mean an individual Atheist cannot show such qualities but that he is a logical anomaly when he does so.

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