Unscientific Science.

Yet another interesting article from the “scientific” community. Apparently there are some who have taken the altruistic actions of some chimpanzees as “scientific” evidence to support the idea of human evolution:

new experimental evidence that chimpanzees act altruistically toward genetically unrelated members of the same species suggests that this psychological trait may not be unique to humans. – [Gizmag]

Apparently there is the belief that this may support the idea of the similar evolutionary roots between chimps and man. I dunno about all that. They seem to have conveniently ignored the altruistic actions of many other creatures in nature, or that of nature in general. Ants will throw themselves into a pool until it’s full in order to allow the rest to cross. Dogs have been known to pull people out of burning buildings and frozen lakes without regard to their own safety.

Examples of this kind abound in nature, not just in chimps and humans, so as far as I can tell, this neither proves nor disproves either evolution or creationism. Sometimes I think scientists often get blinded by their need to have their findings fit into whatever big picture they are working with, and start looking for fact to fit their theories, rather than the changing their theories to fit the facts. That is not good science. True science is objective, systematic and thorough. But being the humans that we are, we often find a way to introduce our flaws into the process.

Helpful Chimpanzees Shed Light on Human Evolution – [Gizmag]


2 Responses to “Unscientific Science.”

  1. June 27, 2007 at 10:00 am

    I think you’re missing the point of the study; you can see if for yourself (it’s open-access) at the PLoS Biology site here.

    Altruism isn’t a 0 or 1 type of character; in other words, all altruism is not equal. You made some claims about ants, dogs, etc. without providing any direct evidence/studies to tell us what kind of altruism we’re dealing with, exactly. A dog that rescues someone, disregarding their own safety, is often trying to help/save a member of their “pack,” and so kin selection is very important.

    The new study with chimpanzees is significant because the scientists aren’t dealing with one or two extraordinary cases, or even a case of adoption (which many of the examples on your linked wikipedia entry use); it is the common occurrence of altruistic behavior being shown to members of the same and different species that are unfamiliar to them. While humans did not evolve from chimpanzees (rather, we shared a common ancestor), the behavior of extant apes can tell us a bit about the roots of our own behaviors because we both are derived from the same stock.

    What the researchers essentially say in their abstract is that their study suggests that the roots of the complex altruism seen in humans potentially goes back much farther than anticipated. The paper itself is a good read, and I suggest you check it out.

  2. June 27, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Well, yeah I guess you are right, so far as missing the point, my interpretation of what they were trying to achieve was mildly skewed by the context in which the article that referenced the study described it.
    And I apologize for not including any additional contextual references for naturally occurring altruistic behavior, I kind of thought that examples of this would be fairly canonical by now.
    But the other thing is that, when I think of “complex altruism”, I am thinking of intellectual altruism, where the one performing the altruistic behavior is fully cognizant of any risks involved in their actions.
    As I understand it, pretty much any altruistic actions in nature are influenced primarily by genes/instinct, regardless of what altruistic theory is used to describe them, (kin selection, reciprocity, etc.) and do not involve any high-level intellectual decision making. In other words, an animal or insect simply isn’t intelligent enough to be aware of the cost of their actions, whereas a human is.
    So from my perspective, this study simply doesn’t seem compelling, since they are studying an instinctual altruistic behavior that is not limited to only chimpanzees and immature humans, and trying to parse the results in relation to a form of altruism that only mature humans can perform. Hence my skepticism…

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