Cognitive and evolutionary factors in the emergence of human altruism

Zygon 45 (4):841-859 (2010)
Abstract
One of the central tenets of Christian theology is the denial of self for the benefit of another. However, many views on the evolution of altruism presume that natural selection inevitably leads to a self-seeking human nature and that altruism is merely a façade to cover underlying selfish motives. I argue that human altruism is an emergent characteristic that cannot be reduced to any one particular evolutionary explanation. The evolutionary processes at work in the formation of human nature are not necessarily in conflict with the possibility of altruism; rather, aspects of human nature are uniquely directed toward the care and concern of others. The relationship between altruism, human nature, and evolution can be reimagined by adopting an emergent view of the hierarchy of science and a theological worldview that emphasizes self-renunciation. The investigation of altruism necessitates an approach that analyzes several aspects of altruistic behavior at different levels in the hierarchy of sciences. This research includes the study of evolutionary adaptations, neurological systems, cognitive functions, behavioral traits, and cultural influences. No one level is able to offer a full explanation, but each piece adds a unique dimension to a much larger puzzle
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