In the new novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, an unnamed catastrophe has wiped out most of humanity. What remains is a colorless, lifeless shell where long lines of charred and rusting cars, filled with incinerated corpses, sit in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber.
The survivors find themselves living in what Thomas Hobbes called the war of all against all: scrounging for food while avoiding their fellow men, many of whom have turned to cannibalism.
Among the survivors are the unnamed protagonists of the novel: a man and his 10-year-old son who was born after the catastrophe. As the father tells his son, I was appointed by God to [take care of you]. I will kill anyone who touches you. At the same time, he wants to preserve his sons goodness, which is next-to-impossible in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. In the novels world, the boys survival depends on his father eradicating his altruistic impulses. The man must teach his son that being willing to give that little boy half of my food is a bad idea.
McCarthys protagonist isnt the only one who has trouble reconciling our survival instinct with our capacity for altruism. As the philosopher David Stove pointed out, altruismthe willingness, that is, to sacrifice for othersis obviously disadvantageous in what Darwin called the struggle for life. In a world where the goal is to pass on your selfish gene, helping someone else pass on theirs makes no sense.
While Darwin himself never acknowledged the difficulty posed by altruism, his acolytes and disciples did. Their responses led to the creation of the discipline known variously as evolutionary psychology or sociobiology.
Whatever its called, the evolutionary explanation for altruism is basically the same: Its really selfishness in disguise. When the son offers to give away half of his food, its not goodnessits a kind of enlightened self-interest. We do what we perceive as good for others so that they, in turn, might do the same for us and, thus, increase both of our chances for survival.
Of course, the transaction being described isnt altruism at all; its called cooperation. Its the stuff of zebras and baboons, both of which live in large groups for mutual protection and neither of which would knowingly sacrifice its life to save anothers.
But in the Darwinian scheme, true altruism has no place in nature. When you start from the assumption that our behavior is the product of selfish genes, then you must agree with the sociobiologist who wrote scratch an altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed.
Little wonder that Stove called Darwinism, especially sociobiology, a ridiculous slander on human beings. Darwinism not only cannot account for what is most essentially humanthat is, things like altruism and musicit insists on denigrating them, as well.
In contrast, Christians understand that while we are born with the capacity for selfishness and even cruelty, we are also capable of caring for others. Because we are created in the image of God, we not only dont have to be at war with our neighbors, we can willingly die for them, as well.
From BreakPoint®, November 28, 2006, Copyright 2006, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. BreakPoint® and Prison Fellowship Ministries® are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.