An interrogation of the selfishness paradigm in sociobiology including its explanations of altruism and a response to its interpretation of New Testament love
AuthorsGoddard, Lisa M. D.
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AbstractThis thesis is a response to the sociobiological paradigm which sees all aspects of life as fundamentally 'selfish'. This view is built upon two concepts, firstly, that the evolutionary process of natural selection leads to a world characterised by 'selfish' genes and 'selfish' individual organisms. Secondly, that all aspects of human nature, including benevolence, are defined by natural selection and are consequently selfish in motivation also. In Chapter 2, the first of these ideas is shown as inappropriate, not least, because selection favours genes that 'cooperate' and individuals that 'sacrificially' expend themselves in producing offspring. In Chapter 3, the second concept is discounted as only some aspects of human behaviour and culture can be explained in terms of natural selection. These points are central to the discussions on 'altruism' in Chapters 4-6. While sociobiologists have rightly noted that kin and reciprocal forms of 'altruism' occur in nature and in human society, their rendering of them in terms of genetic and individual 'selfishness' is again entirely misleading. The arguments of some sociobiologists for group selected forms of 'altruism' in nature and human culture are shown as unconvincing. Further, the sociobiological contention that human benevolence is constrained to the aiding of kin, reciprocal partners and group members is also countered. Humans exhibit the capacity to care for those outside of these sociobiological categories. Moreover, rather than being primarily selfish in motivation, humans are both more altruistic and more egoistic than the sociobiological view can accommodate. Chapter 7 considers the sociobiological interpretation of the New Testament (NT) teachings on love as selfishly concerned only with the care of kin, reciprocators and group members. This view is largely acceded to by the theologian, Stephen Pope, while another, Patrfcia Williams, has argued that the NT directly strives to counter such innate forms of behaviour. Chapters 8-10 investigate some of the NT teachings on love and argue for a more profound and complex altruism than any of these views. Chapter 8 contends that NT love is a deeply humble and sacrificial altruism where the needs of the other are placed before those of the self; one that is patterned after the example of Christ. It is a radical altruism, which as Chapter 9 argues, encompasses kin but also goes beyond this category in the requirement to love the new family of believers. This love of the group, the church, is itself transcended in a love for all others. Chapter 10 argues that this NT altruism is not bound by reciprocity for it prioritises the care of the weak, those who cannot reciprocate; and extends love to enemies, those who will not reciprocate. The view that such a love is ultimately reciprocal on the grounds of its heavenly reward is countered, as the NT reward of love is the promise that the believer's capacity for self-giving love will be perfected.
TypeThesis or dissertation
SponsorsUniversity of Chester Gladstone bursary for financial support
St Deiniol's Library in Hawarden bursary for residential accomodation and use of library
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