This item is available on the Apologetics Press Web site at: - it was originally published in Reason & Revelation, 4[4]:16-R

AP Content :: Reason & Revelation

Altruism and Evolution
by Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Hurricanes in Florida. Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Food shortages in Somalia. The images the media provide from these horrific events often cause even the hardest of hearts to soften and want to provide some type of relief. And so we roll up our sleeves to donate blood, get out our checkbooks to donate money, and even in some circumstances, use our vacation time to volunteer for disaster relief. But why would humans act this way? Why are humans altruistic? As Mark Buchanan noted:

But when it comes to explaining the origin of our altruism, matters get a whole lot more contentious. In evolutionary terms it is a puzzle because any organism that helps others at its own expense stands at an evolutionary disadvantage. So if many people really are true altruists, as it seems, why haven’t greedier, self-seeking competitors wiped them out? (2005).

Altruism is in direct conflict with evolutionary theory. Yet, evolutionists always have been able to put a spin on it. As Buchanan acknowledged: “For several decades, researchers have had a possible explanation: apparently selfless acts are nothing of the kind, but are instead a clever way of promoting individual self-interest” (2005).

But recent research is challenging this notion. For instance, Ernst Fehr and his colleagues wrote in Human Nature:

This paper provides strong evidence challenging the self-interest assumption that dominates the behavioral sciences and evolutionary thinking. The evidence indicates that many people have a tendency to voluntarily cooperate... (2002, p. 1).

Robert Trivers of Rutgers University went so far as to suggest that true altruism might be a “maladaptation” (as quoted in Buchanan, 2005). Calling it such does not suddenly mean evolution has explained this global phenomenon. The truth is, evolution cannot explain charity, just as it cannot explain morals. They are not found as molecular components of living cells, so exactly where did they come from?


Buchanan, Mark (2005), “Charity Begins at Homo sapiens,” New Scientist, [On-line], URL:

Fehr, Ernst, Urs Fischbacher, Simon Gachter (2002), “Strong Reciprocity, Human Cooperation, and the Enforcement of Social Norms,” Human Nature, 13[1]:1-25.

Copyright © 2005 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

This document may be copied, on the condition that it will not be republished in print unless otherwise stated below, and will not be used for any commercial purpose, as long as the following stipulations are observed: (1) Apologetics Press must be designated as the original publisher; (2) the specific Apologetics Press Web site URL must be noted; (3) any references, footnotes, or endnotes that accompany the article must be included with any written reproduction of the article; (4) textual alterations of any kind are strictly forbidden; (5) Some illustrations (e.g., photographs, charts, graphics, etc.) are not the intellectual property of Apologetics Press and as such cannot be reproduced from our site without consent from the person or organization that maintains those intellectual rights; (6) serialization of written material (e.g., running an article in several parts) is permitted, as long as the whole of the material is made available, without editing, in a reasonable length of time; (7) articles, in whole or in part, may not be offered for sale or included in items offered for sale; and (8) articles may be reproduced in electronic form for posting on Web sites pending they are not edited or altered from their original written content and that credit is given to Apologetics Press, including the web location from which the articles were taken. Further, documents may not be copied without source statements (title, author, journal title), and the address of the publisher and owner of rights, as listed below.

For catalog, samples, or further information, contact:

Apologetics Press
230 Landmark Drive
Montgomery, Alabama 36117
Phone (334) 272-8558