Sunday, November 06, 2005

Selfish chimps don't give a monkey's, etc

Excerpts from science news items with my comments in square brackets:

Selfish chimps don't give a monkey's, ABC/Reuters, 27 October 2005. ... Chimpanzees share many traits with humans but altruism, it seems, is not one of them, scientists say. Although chimps live in social groups and co-operate and hunt together, when it comes to helping non-related group members, they don't put up with any monkey business. When given the opportunity to help themselves and other chimps they often choose the selfish option, scientists report in today's issue of the journal Nature. "This is the first experiment to show that chimps don't share the same concern for the welfare of others as do humans, who routinely donate blood ... volunteer for military duty and perform other acts that benefit perfect strangers," says Professor Joan Silk, a US anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. To test how altruistic chimps are, Silk and her colleagues studied the behaviour of two separate groups of chimps in captivity. They devised an experiment in which chimps on one side of a window could pull a handle to provide a tray of food for themselves or to also give the same reward to a monkey in another room on the opposite side of the window. Both groups of unrelated chimpanzees behaved in a similar way. They decided to reward themselves but not others. The scientists say chimps may have not understand they could deliver food to the other room. "Yet, potential recipients sometimes displayed begging gestures, suggesting that at least they had some understanding of the other's role in delivering reward to them," Silk says. "Nevertheless, chimpanzees were clearly motivated to obtain rewards for themselves, but not to provide rewards for other group members." ...
Chimps fall down on friendship, BBC 27 October 2005 ... Captive chimpanzees fail to help others in their social group, even when it causes no inconvenience, a behavioural study in Nature journal has found. Helpfulness is prevalent in humans, even when it may harm the helper's own interests to aid another. Humanlike attributes shown by chimps include tool use and maybe rudimentary language skills, but this study suggests altruism is not among them. But other researchers said that captive chimps may be less socially inclined. A team led by Joan Silk ... set captive chimpanzees tests in which they obtained a food reward. The chimps were presented with two reward options. One option allowed a chimp only to serve itself with food. The other secured the same reward, but also delivered food to another chimpanzee in an enclosure next door. Dr Silk's team found the 29 chimps tested in the study were no more likely to pick the second option than the first, even though it allowed them to do a "good deed" at no cost to themselves. The result was surprising because the chimps had been living together in the same group for 15 years. They were not related, but might have been expected to be very close. Food sharing has been demonstrated in groups of wild chimpanzees. So the Nature study raises questions about how this behaviour arises. Other researchers suggest that the result could be down to the unnatural situation or to differences in behaviour brought on by captivity ...
Generosity Is No Monkey Business, Finds UCLA-Led Study, UCLA News, October 26, 2005 ... Given the opportunity to spread random acts of kindness, chimps would just as soon pass, finds a new UCLA-led study. The study, published in the Oct. 27 issue of the journal Nature, suggests at least one way in which humans differ from their closest living relatives in the animal kingdom. "Because chimps participate in collective activities such as cooperative hunting and food sharing and they console injured group members and human caregivers, their capacity for empathy and altruism has been an object of considerable curiosity," said UCLA anthropologist Joan Silk, the study's lead author. "This is the first experiment to show that chimps don't share the same concern for the welfare of others as do humans, who routinely donate blood, tithe, volunteer for military duty and perform other acts that benefit perfect strangers." Silk led a team of researchers ... as they conducted experiments with two separate groups of chimps. They first studied seven adult chimps in captivity in Louisiana. Although the chimps were not related, they were quite familiar with each other, having lived together for 12 years. The chimpanzees were brought into a small testing room with a window in it. Behind the window was a feeding device attached to two trays of food. When the chimp pulled a handle, one of the trays moved toward him and the other tray moved toward another chimp in a room on the opposite side of the window. The chimps with access to the handle faced two choices: They could continue delivering food to both themselves and the other chimp or they could pull a handle that delivered food only to themselves. Each of the chimps had the chance to dispense rewards to each of the other chimpanzees in the group. As a control, all of the dispensers of rewards were offered the same choice without a chimp in the other room. At another site in Texas, the researcher tested 11 other adult chimps. The animals had rich social experiences and were members of stable social groups, but they had not participated in cognitive testing before. They worked with a slightly different apparatus, but confronted the same sets of choices. The results from both these sites were similar: The presence of a potential recipient of the food had no impact on the chimpanzees' choice. The chimps in Louisiana chose this option about 56 percent of the time when another chimp was present and about 58 percent when another chimp was absent. The chimps in Texas chose the option that provided rewards to the other chimp 48 percent of the time, exactly the same percentage of time that they delivered rewards to an empty enclosure. "It is possible that the chimpanzees in our experiments understood how to obtain food for themselves, but did not understand that they were responsible for delivering rewards to the chimpanzee in the adjoining enclosure," Silk and her colleagues wrote in the Nature paper. "Yet, potential recipients sometimes displayed begging gestures, suggesting that at least they had some understanding of the other's role in delivering rewards to them. Nevertheless, chimpanzees were clearly motivated to obtain rewards for themselves, but not to provide rewards for other group members." The findings add mystery to the origins of human altruism, a popular research topic among economists and anthropologists. "Had the chimps shown signs of altruism, researchers looking to explain the origins of altruistic behavior in humans would have known to look at other species with whom we share a common ancestor," Silk said. "This study suggests that concern for the welfare of unrelated group members and strangers may be a trait that has emerged in humans, but not in other closely related species, like great apes. Alternatively, perhaps a better place to look for prosocial preferences would be in species that rely more heavily on cooperation, such as cooperatively breeding mammals." ... [Joan Silk is no lightweight, being the co-author of one of my anthropology textbooks (Boyd R. & Silk J.B., "How Humans Evolved," [1997], W.W. Norton & Co: New York NY, Second Edition, 2000), which is strongly Darwinist. So this sounds like a major problem for Social Darwinist (aka Sociobiology/ Evolutionary Psychology/ Behavioral Ecology) theory which regards human altruism (i.e. "perform other acts that benefit perfect strangers") as no different in kind from that which seems to occur in some animals (but which may be only towards relatives). The explanation that "the result could be down to the unnatural situation or to differences in behaviour brought on by captivity" would invalidate any other experiments done on chimps in captivity! Also, it would seem likely that in the wild, what seems to be altruistic behaviour in chimps and in other animals, may in fact be towards their relatives. But in these experiments in captivity, the chimps were known not to be relatives of each other. So it seems that the minority view mentioned in my main biology textbook may be right that "true altruism never really occurs, except humans":

"Some animals occasionally behave altruistically toward others who are not relatives. A baboon may help an unrelated companion in a fight, or a wolf may offer food to another wolf even though they share no kinship. Such behavior can be adaptive if the aided individual returns the favor in the future. This sort of exchange of aid is called reciprocal altruism and is commonly invoked to explain altruism in humans. Reciprocal altruism is rare in other animals; it is limited largely to species with social groups stable enough that individuals have many chances to exchange aid. It is likely that all behavior that seems altruistic actually increases fitness in some way. Thus, some behavioral ecologists argue that true altruism never really occurs, except, perhaps, in humans." (Campbell N.A., Reece J.B. & Mitchell L.G., "Biology," [1987], Benjamin/Cummings: Menlo Park CA, Fifth edition, 1999, p.1078).
I have added this to a new section of my "Problems of Evolution" book outline, PE 14.1.8."Man ... Uniqueness ... Altruism" ]

Vatican: Faithful Should Listen to Science, ABC News/AP, Nicole Winfield ... VATICAN CITY Nov 4, 2005 - A Vatican cardinal said Thursday the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate in the United States. The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II's 1992 declaration that the church's 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus' discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe. "The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said. But he said science, too, should listen to religion. "We know where scientific reason can end up by itself: the atomic bomb and the possibility of cloning human beings are fruit of a reason that wants to free itself from every ethical or religious link," he said. "But we also know the dangers of a religion that severs its links with reason and becomes prey to fundamentalism," he said. "The faithful have the obligation to listen to that which secular modern science has to offer, just as we ask that knowledge of the faith be taken in consideration as an expert voice in humanity." Poupard and others at the news conference were asked about the religion-science debate raging in the United States over evolution and "intelligent design." Intelligent design's supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. Monsignor Gianfranco Basti, director of the Vatican project STOQ, or Science, Theology and Ontological Quest, reaffirmed John Paul's 1996 statement that evolution was "more than just a hypothesis." "A hypothesis asks whether something is true or false," he said. "(Evolution) is more than a hypothesis because there is proof." He was asked about comments made in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, who dismissed in a New York Times article the 1996 statement by John Paul as "rather vague and unimportant" and seemed to back intelligent design. Basti concurred that John Paul's 1996 letter "is not a very clear expression from a definition point of view," but he said evolution was assuming ever more authority as scientific proof develops. Poupard, for his part, stressed that what was important was that "the universe wasn't made by itself, but has a creator." But he added, "It's important for the faithful to know how science views things to understand better." The Vatican project STOQ has organized academic courses and conferences on the relationship between science and religion and is hosting its first international conference on "the infinity in science, philosophy and theology," ... [Also at Boston Globe, CBS, Seattle Times, USA Today & The Australian. This is the usual liberal theistic naturalism false dichotomy bogeyman of "fundamentalism" - which means anyone who accepts the fundamentals of historic, orthodox, supernatural, Christianity:

"The faith of nineteenth-century science was that every phenomenon can be exactly classified and completely explained as an instance of some universal law of cause and effect; there are no unique events. The conviction of nineteenth-century philosophy, whether empiricist or idealist, materialist, deist or pantheist, was that the idea of supernatural interruptions of the course of the natural order was unphilosophical and absurd. Both science and philosophy relied on evolutionary concepts for the explanation of all things. Liberalism was an attempt to square Christianity with these anti-supernatural axioms. ... It was in protest against this radical refashioning of the historic faith that 'Fundamentalism' arose. The name developed out of the habit of referring to the central redemptive doctrines which Liberalism rejected as 'the fundamentals'. This usage goes back to at least 1909. In that year there appeared the first of twelve small miscellany volumes devoted to the exposition and defence of evangelical Christianity, entitled The Fundamentals. ... Among the authors who contributed to these volumes were men of the calibre .... Many of the articles were thoroughly scholarly pieces of work ... This use of 'the fundamentals' as a conservative slogan was echoed in the Deliverance which the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church issued in 1910, while the Fundamentals were in process of publication. This specified five items as 'the fundamentals of faith and of evangelical Christianity': the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the deity of Christ, His virgin birth and miracles, His penal death for our sins, and His physical resurrection and personal return. From that time on, it seems to have become habitual for American Evangelicals to refer to these articles as 'the fundamentals' simply. The General Assembly's list was adopted, with minor variations and additions, as the doctrinal platform of later 'fundamentalist' organizations .... In 1920, a group of evangelical delegates to the Northern Baptist Convention held a preliminary meeting among themselves 'to re-state, reaffirm and re-emphasize the fundamentals of our New Testament faith'; whereupon an editorial in the Baptist Watchman-Examiner coined the title 'Fundamentalists' to denote 'those who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals'. The word was at once taken up by both sides as a title for the defenders of the historic Christian position. The Concise Oxford Dictionary is thus right when it defines 'Fundamentalism' as: 'maintenance, in opposition to modernism, of traditional orthodox beliefs such as the inerrancy of Scripture and literal acceptance of the creeds as fundamentals of protestant Christianity.' This is what the term originally meant ..." (Packer J.I., "`Fundamentalism' and the Word of God," Inter-Varsity Fellowship: London, 1958, pp.27-29)
- versus "scientific reason" - the latter meaning naturalistic rules of reasoning. Poupard's statement relies on vague general terms like "religion", "science" and "evolution". But if the terms are clarified to mean the Christian "religion" and naturalistic "evolution", i.e. "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" (my emphasis):
"In one of the most existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that `the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.' Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)
then "the faithful should" not "listen to" that part of "what secular modern science has to offer." Because if Christianity is true (which it is), then the twin philosophical underpinnings of "evolution", materialism (matter is all there is = there is no God) and naturalism (nature is all there is = there is no supernatural = there is no God) are false! Presumably this is part of a power- struggle within the Roman Catholic Church over its official position on evolution, as indicated by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who drew a distinction between "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry" which "might be true" and "evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection" which "is not" true:
"The Catholic Church, while leaving to science many details about the history of life on earth, proclaims that by the light of reason the human intellect can readily and clearly discern purpose and design in the natural world, including the world of living things. Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not. Any system of thought that denies or seeks to explain away the overwhelming evidence for design in biology is ideology, not science." (Schönborn C., "Finding Design in Nature," The New York Times July 7, 2005)
That this is not just Schönborn's position but reflects the position of the new Pope Benedict XVI is indicated by a quote of him (as then Cardinal Ratzinger) cited by Mike Behe in 1999:
"The second point of view can be represented by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, an advisor to Pope John Paul II. About ten years ago Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a little book entitled In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall. In the book Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: `Let us go directly to the question of evolution and its mechanisms. Microbiology and biochemistry have brought revolutionary insights here.... It is the affair of the natural sciences to explain how the tree of life in particular continues to grow and how new branches shoot out from it. This is not a matter for faith. But we must have the audacity to say that the great projects of the living creation are not the products of chance and error.... [They] point to a creating Reason and show us a creating Intelligence, and they do so more luminously and radiantly today than ever before. Thus we can say today with a new certitude and joyousness that the human being is indeed a divine project, which only the creating Intelligence was strong and great and audacious enough to conceive of. Human beings are not a mistake but something willed.' [Ratzinger J., "In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall," Eerdmans: Grand Rapids MI, 1986, pp.54-56] I would like to make three points about the Cardinal's argument. First, unlike Professor Dawkins, Ratzinger says that nature does appear to exhibit purpose and design. Secondly, to support the argument he points to physical evidence-the `great products of the living creation', which `point to a creating Reason'. Not to philosophical, or theological, or scriptural arguments, but to tangible structures. Thirdly, Ratzinger cites the science of biochemistry-the study of the molecular foundation of life-as having particular relevance to his conclusion." (Behe M.J., "Evidence for Design at the Foundation of Life," in Behe M.J., Dembski W.A. & Meyer S.C., "Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe: Papers Presented at a Conference Sponsored by the Wethersfield Institute New York City, September 25, 1999," Ignatius Press: San Francisco CA, 2000, pp.114-115).]

Ambition curbed: NASA is $US5 billion over budget on its shuttle program alone, ABC, November 5, 2005. ... Nearly two years ago, US President George W Bush told NASA to help finish the International Space Station (ISS), return to the moon and then prepare for a manned space flight to Mars. But that vision is crumbling as the US space agency realises it does not have the money it needs for the job. NASA administrator Michael Griffin revealed this week the agency faces a $US3 billion to $US5 billion shortfall in its space shuttle program alone over the next five years. ... [It has long been my view that economic realities will mean that man will never in person get even to the nearest planet. When I was a young Christian in the mid-1960s just before the Moon landing, I scoffed at an old preacher (who had a near-photographic memory of the Bible) who claimed on the basis of Acts 17:26 (KJV) "And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" that God man would never get to the Moon because God had appointed the bounds of man's habitation to Earth. Well, nearly 40 years later it is looking like that old preacher may have been right in his main claim: man has visited but never yet habitated even on the Moon!]

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Church: Israeli Archaeologists Discover Ancient Church on Prison Grounds Near Armageddon, ABC News/AP, Aron Heller ... JERUSALEM Nov 5, 2005 - Israeli archaeologists said Saturday they have discovered what may be the oldest Christian church in the Holy Land on the grounds of a prison near the biblical site of Armageddon. The Israeli Antiquities Authority said the ruins are believed to date back to the third or fourth centuries and include references to Jesus and images of fish, an ancient Christian symbol. "This is a very ancient structure, maybe the oldest in our area," said Yotam Tepper, the head archaeologist on the dig. .... Scholars believe Megiddo to be the New Testament's Armageddon, the site of a final war between good and evil. Tepper said the discovery could reveal more about an important period of Christianity, which was banned until the fourth century. "Normally, we have from this period in our region historical evidence from literature, not archaeological evidence," he said. "There is no structure you can compare it to. It is a very unique find." .... Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, praised the find as a "great discovery." "Of course, all the Christians are convinced of the history of Jesus Christ," he [said]. "But is it extremely important to have archaeological proof of a church dedicated to him? Certainly." Joe Zias, an anthropologist and a former curator with the Israeli Antiquities Authorities, said the discovery was significant but unlikely to be the world's oldest church. He said Christianity was outlawed until the time of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, and there were no churches before then. "The earliest it could be is fourth century and we have other fourth-century churches. I think what is important here is the size, the inscription and the mosaics," he said. "I think it is an important find ... but I wouldn't say it was the oldest church in the world." ... Israeli Tourism Minister Avraham Hirshzon said the discovery could greatly increase tourism to Israel. "If we nurture this properly, then certainly there will be a large stream of tourists who could come to Israel," ...
Early Christian church unearthed near Armageddon, ABC News/Reuters, Nov 6, 2005, Cynthia Johnston ... MEGIDDO PRISON, Israel - In a maximum-security jail just down the road from Armageddon, Israeli archaeologists have unearthed what they believe is the oldest church discovered in the land where Jesus was born. "This is one of the most important finds of early Christianity," archaeologist Yardena Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities told journalists on a tour of the excavation on Sunday. Remains of the church, which archaeologists date to the mid-third to early-fourth century, were found during a dig for possible artifacts before the planned construction of a new prison wing. The ruins of the church include a mosaic tile floor with inscriptions in ancient Greek containing a reference to "The God Jesus Christ" and could shed light on early Christian practices. ... The jail is close to the hill of Armageddon, where the Book of Revelations says God will prevail over Satan in a fiery end-of-the-world battle. "This is, in Israel for sure, the earliest church," archaeologist Yotam Tepper, who heads the excavation, told reporters. He said archaeologists had previously discovered domestic prayer sites in the Holy Land that may be older than the ruins at the prison, but none that was classified as a church. ... The church was built in the style of a hall, and its mosaic floor contains geometric designs and an image of fish, an early Christian symbol. One inscription on the floor indicates that a Roman soldier helped pay for the mosaics, and another dedicates a table to the memory of Jesus, archaeologists said. Christians faced varying levels of persecution under the Roman Empire, interspersed with periods of calm. It was during such a lull that archaeologists believe the Megiddo church was built to serve a local Christian community. "What is important about this find (at Megiddo) is it is in a transitional period. It is the very beginning of churches. There was no standard plan of a church," Alexandre said. In 1998, American archaeologists excavating in southern Jordan said they had unearthed what they believed to be the world's oldest remaining church, dating to the late-third or early fourth century. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the church a "very exciting" find. "This is truly an amazing story," he added ... [More extrabiblical evidence for the historicity of Christianity. It would be interesting if this does date back to the pre-Constantine "mid-third ... century".]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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