Can Evolution Explain Empathy?

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If you’re not familiar with my series of posts, which analyze the claims of evolutionists, who claim that “nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution” feel free to browse the articles below

In these articles, we as Christians understand that evolution truly lacks explanatory power for anything that is in conflict with God’s eternal word, but for purposes of exposing the deficiency of the God-denier’s worldview, we have taken the claims of the evolutionists and put them to the test. Can they actually justify what they are trying to explain, or are their claims filled with assumptions and artwork? Today we’ll answer a God-denier, who feels that evolution can explain empathy.

You can read the entire article here. Let’s see what this author, Frans De Waal, thinks is indisputable proof that the evolutionary processes of natural selection acting on random mutations in the struggle for survival in an environment of limited resources – can in fact produce empathy

We tend to think of empathy as a uniquely human trait. But it’s something apes and other animals demonstrate

Right off the bat, we see that the author assumes that humans have evolved from either/both modern apes or other animals. But this is contrary to common evolutionary textbooks which teach that humans and apes evolved from a common ancestor. The BEST this author could claim would be to say either that there is evidence that the human/ape common ancestor already possessed the trait of empathy OR that empathy is a trait produced by the ambiguous and magical term “convergent evolution”

It’s good to have definitions and the author uses this definition of empathy

The act of perspective-taking is summed up by one of the most enduring definitions of empathy that we have, formulated by Adam Smith as “changing places in fancy with the sufferer.”

We’ll go with that definition

This capacity likely evolved because it served our ancestors’ survival in two ways. First, like every mammal, we need to be sensitive to the needs of our offspring. Second, our species depends on cooperation, which means that we do better if we are surrounded by healthy, capable group mates. Taking care of them is just a matter of enlightened self-interest.

Notice the unscientific and hopeful word “likely”. If this article were actual evidence of the ability of evolution to produce empathy, the author would have said “Here we see a population of organisms that had no empathy, but in order to survive the selection pressure, its direct descendants have empathy because of these XYZ mutations”. So, no science or evidence here

Let’s test the claim about mammals needing to be sensitive to the needs of our offspring…specifically the word “need”. Evolutionary processes (natural selection acting on random mutation) do not function based on a specific direction of “need”. This is a Post Hoc fallacy for the author to see that mammals care for their young THEREFORE evolution must have produced behavior that parents are “sensitive to the needs of our offspring”. If this were a scientific explanation, the author would have said “Mutations XYZ produced in parents of population group ABC the ability to be sensitive to the needs of offspring to account for selective pressure 123.” But that’s not what the author said. This author made the unwarranted claim that “since we see empathy today in mammals, then evolution MUST HAVE done it….somehow because we NEEEEEEEEED it”

In the second half of that claim, the author says that our species depends on cooperation because of enlightened self-interest. Now, the author has not yet defined “enlightened” or what evolutionary process produced “enlightenment”. For now, we’ll put this in the bucket of magic from which evolutionists invariably pull to “explain” some part of biology for which mutations don’t really fit.

It is hard to imagine that empathy…came into existence only when our lineage split off from that of the apes. It must be far older than that. Examples of empathy in other animals would suggest a long evolutionary history to this capacity in humans.

Again, the author fails to provide evidence of his claims and again, humans have not evolved from creatures, which exist today. Do you remember the definition the author used for empathy: the ability to “change place in fancy with the sufferer”? Yet no examples of mice or hippos explaining why they gave up a meal so that bats and ospreys could eat healthier. How many camels did the author interview to show that she (the camel) could change places in fancy with a sufferer?

But perhaps the most compelling evidence for the strength of animal empathy…

The goalposts have been subtly moved from: Empathy can be explained by evolution to Empathy exists. The next three paragraphs in the article bring emotional language like (“escape, reward, threat, arousing sympathy, crying, weep, tenderly, lightly touches, emotional connectedness, striking, carefully unfolded, notion of what would be good, screaming, yelping, distress…”) Emotional language isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t fit well in a paper, which is supposed to explain the ORIGIN of empathy rather than just its existence. The next paragraph begins with a comment that needs no comment

This is not to say that all we have are anecdotes

But a comment on the insufficiency of the article in explaining evolution’s tremendous power impotence is warranted. Why would he spend 3 paragraphs on impassioned anecdotes if the evidence from clinical studies on the origin of empathy were so very compelling? But let’s see what they have to say about the actual studies

it is a demonstrable tendency that probably reflects empathy, since the objective of the consoler seems to be to alleviate the distress of the other

“Probably”? “seems to”? I suppose I was expecting more conclusive answers than “probably” from a theory that flaunts bravado like “nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution”. Pretty tame

In fact, recent neuroscience research suggests that very basic processes do underlie empathy. Researchers at the University of Parma, in Italy, were the first to report that monkeys have special brain cells

Notice two things from this paragraph:

  • Humans did not evolve from monkeys. At BEST, an evolutionist could only say that humans and monkeys share a common ancestor or that convergent evolution produced the same mutation in both humans and monkeys. Strangely, evolutionists tend to like the convergent evolution fable that complicates their overwhelming math problems
  • The monkeys ALREADY had the “special brain cells. Their argument hinges on these “special brain cells” learning the ability to perform a function. No talk about how nature was able to PRODUCE these “special brain cells”. For their argument to work, they must show step by step via numerous successive slight modifications how random mutation produced these “special brain cells”. Just assuming they already exist and that “turning them on” will produce empathy in creatures that formerly did not have “special brain cells” is the post hoc fallacy

Biologists prefer such bottom-up accounts. They always assume continuity between past and present, child and adult, human and animal, even between humans and the most primitive mammals.

“prefer” ?!?!?? “always assume”?!?!? To prove evolution, evolutionists rely on their preferences and assumptions. Rather than giving us observations on the leaf nodes (humans and chimps alive today), a compelling argument for evolutionists would be to show evidence from their assumed common ancestor how empathy evolved by evolutionary mechanisms. This type of argumentation is completely lacking. Instead they give us “preferences” and “assumptions”…mixed in with some fine artwork from time to time

Empathy probably evolved in the context of the parental care that characterizes all mammals

“probably”?!?? I prefer evidence to probably. And why use the ambiguous term “evolved” rather than describing in great detail the process of the construction of genes/cells/organs that produce empathy, evolutionists sweep the details away with “it probably evolved”. When an evolutionist doesn’t know the process, they can conveniently hide it in the sciency-sounding phrase: “it evolved” or in this case “probably evolved”.

https://crev.info/2021/03/it-evolved-is-not-science/

Signaling their state through smiling and crying, human infants urge their caregiver to take action

Like many other evolutionists, the term “signaling” is just assumed to be part of nature. For them, no explanation is needed – just that signaling exists. But signaling is amazingly complex and requires at least:

  • Ability by signaler to signal
  • Need by signaler to signal
  • Medium for signaler to be able to transmit signal in a way that it can be perceived by recipient
  • Meaning in a signal (information)
  • Ability by receiver to interpret signal correctly
  • Ability by receiver to provide a survival advantage to signaler

These signals, which evolutionists just assume have remarkable parallels to information theory. Dr. Werner Gitt explains the complexity involved with sender/signaler and recipient/receiver in his book In The Beginning Was Information. It’s not just unlikely that evolution (natural selection acting on the single successive slight modifications of random mutations) could construct complex coding communication as shown below, it’s impossible

p60 In the Beginning Was Information – Gitt

During the 180 million years of mammalian evolution, females who responded to their offspring’s needs out-reproduced those who were cold and distant

How could the author possibly know the results of every single mammalian parent/offspring interaction for almost 67 billion days such that he could claim the warm ones were better than the cold ones? It’s a ridiculous claim that is both totally lacking in evidence and entirely unverifiable.

Effective cooperation requires being exquisitely in tune with the emotional states and goals of others

This is a post hoc pragmatic “argument” rather than the detailed step by step explanation of construction of genes/cells/organs that produce empathy. Again, rather than giving us evidence, the author tells us a fantastic story. Evolution does not require anything but the effective propagation of genes. Bacteria, mosquitos, mice and fish are far more measurably fit than humans but they didn’t require empathy. Pragmatism fails as an argument and evolution (survival of the fittest by natural selection) is completely at odds with empathy (preventing natural selection without a fitness gain).

The way a chimpanzee bashes in the skull of a live monkey by hitting it against a tree trunk is no advertisement for ape empathy

THAT sounds more like evolution than empathy. Darwin described nature as “red in tooth and claw”. It’s a reversal by evolutionists to say now rather than the survival of the fittest to now say that evolution produced creatures that purposefully prevent natural selection.

Lions kill cubs from other males – not empathy

The possibility that empathy is part of our primate heritage

“possibility”?!!?!? Again with the utter lack of evidence

What we need, therefore, is a vision of human nature that encompasses all of our tendencies: the good, the bad, and the ugly

More pragmatism. The author wants to “envision” an explanation, so he wishes very hard for evolution to be that explanation. Wishing it, doesn’t make it so

Emotions trump rules. This is why, when speaking of moral role models, we talk of their hearts, not their brains…Moral rules tell us when and how to apply our empathic tendencies, but the tendencies themselves have been in existence since time immemorial

“Emotions trump rules, but rules trump emotions.” Didn’t the author of the article proofread his article before publishing it? Within two paragraphs he completely contradicts himself, but within an evolutionary framework, what’s wrong with contradictions? Maybe being contradictory improves his fitness somehow.

Go back and read his last sentence…is he closing off a scientific paper that is full of overwhelming evidence or is he writing a conclusion to a fanciful epic? Sounds fanciful to me

Another analysis of the impotent claims of evolution in the books…blog. Don’t be intimidated by those who boast, “The evidence for evolution is overwhelming.” EVERY time one of these evolutionists has put up a link to an article that they think explains the theory of evolution, once analyzed, the claims fall far short of evidence

Conversely, we can trust the revelation of the One, who knows everything and is eternally faithful. God revealed in the Bible that He created the plants, animals, and people to reproduce according to their kinds, so evolution’s story is incompatible.

6 thoughts on “Can Evolution Explain Empathy?

  1. Pingback: Presuppositional Apologetics’ Links: End of May 2022 | The Domain for Truth

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