Tuesday, July 17, 2012
In a posting at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne discusses what it would take to disprove the theory of evolution.
I found the following two points, taken together, interesting in light of a
notion I have seen bandied about to the effect that altruism exists in nature or has
somehow been selected for. (To be clear, each of these things are not what we actually see.)
- The observation that most adaptations of individuals are inimical for individuals or their genes but good for populations/species. Such adaptations aren't expected to evolve often because they would require the inefficient process of group or species selection rather than genic, individual, or kin selection. And indeed, we see very few features of organisms that seem inimical to organisms or their genes but useful for the population or species. One possible exception is sexual reproduction.
- Evolved "true" altruistic behavior among non-relatives in non-social animals. What I mean by "true" altruistic behavior is the observation of an individual sacrificing its reproductive output for the benefit of individuals to which it is either unrelated or from whom it does not expect to receive return benefits. In this "true" altruism your genes give benefits to others and get nothing back, and this shouldn't evolve under natural selection. And, indeed, we don't see such altruism in nature. There are reports that vampire bats regurgitate blood to other individuals in the colony to whom they're unrelated, but those need confirmation, and there may also be reciprocal altruism, so that individuals regurgitate blood to those from whom, one day, they expect a return meal. Such cooperation can evolve by normal natural selection. [bold added]