aid_helping_a_child“If we live in a dog-eat-dog world, then why are we frequently so good to each other?” [Fehr and Renninger]

Once more our TV screens overflow with images of human misery. One report estimates that 40,000 have perished in the recent earthquake in South Asia. Those who survived, numbering in the millions, are now helpless victims of the harsh environment.

The global community has responded. Here is one breakdown of the aid promised:

United States: US$50 million, 8 helicopters, 2 plane loads of relief items Kuwait: US$100 million World Bank: US$20 million Asian Development Bank: US$10 million China: US$6.2 million, 49-man rescue team EU: US$4.36 million Australia: US$4.2 million South Korea: US$3 million Malaysia: US$1 million, 50 rescuers Britain: US$1.75 million, 60 rescuers Singapore: US$200,000 Japan: 71 rescuers Afghanistan: Helicopters. medical team and medicine Other donor-countries, in alphabetical order, include: Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, Yemen, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Turkey. [The Star, October 11.]

Clearly there is an altruistic dimension to human relationships. The question is why. In an article in Scientific American Mind [Vol. 14. No. 5] Ernst Fehr and Suzann-Viola Renninger note that: “Like many members of the animal kingdom, people will readily lend a hand to immediate family and relatives. But humans alone extend altruism beyond kin, frequently helping perfect strangers for no obvious personal gain.”

And why is this an issue? Because “current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot adequately explain patterns of human altruism…” Patterns of human altruism seems to make nonsense of the notion that humans are “survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.”[Richard Dawkins]

Fehr and Renninger note that evolutionary theorists have their own explanations for human altruism, theories that range from seeing altruism as a form of “disguised egoism” to seeing it as “maladaptive, a kind of evolutionary carelessness.” But they also point out the inadequacy of such theories:

“Aren’t there countless examples of people coming to the aid of others — even when it is to their personal disadvantage? What about volunteers who risk their lives to help perfect strangers after an earthquake or other disaster? Such self sacrifice does not follow the rules of evolutionary biology.”

I have no professional training in biology beyond A-level biology which I have left behind a long time ago. But as I read this article I felt like saying “duh,” could it just be possible that humans reach out in sacrificial care because they were created in the image of a God of sacrificial love (1John 4:8b) and that of all the creatures on earth, they are the only ones that show this trait because of all the creatures on earth they are the only ones made in God’s image (Genesis 1: 26 -28)? Sounds as clear if not clearer than Fehr and Renningers’ own conclusion:

“In an age of enlightenment and secularization, scientists such as Charles Darwin shocked contemporaries when they questioned the special status of human beings and attempted to classify them on a continuum with all other species. Human beings were stripped of all that was godlike. Today biology is restoring to them something of that former exalted position. Our species is apparently the only one with a genetic makeup that promotes selfishness and true altruistic behavior.”

Perhaps in the postmodern mood of our age when the “assured” results of empirical science are once again being reexamined, we should also relook at the biblical answers to the pressing questions of life with more boldness. And present them to the world with confidence.

If the Bible has real answers as to why humans are capable of such altruism then maybe it also has the answers as to why humans are also capable of such evil. Humankind is evil because we have been cut off from the ultimate source of all that is good. We have been cut off from God. The bible calls it sin.

So even as our altruism point back to what could have been, to a memory of our divine origin, our sin shows that we are no longer in right relationship with that origin. If this is the true state of humankind then we must allow that the only final answer to humankind’s dilemma is to connect back to God.

In the meantime victims are crying out to us from South Asia to South America. Let us be grateful that enough spiritual memory remain for humans to reach out with such generosity. Christians have often being at the forefront of such relief efforts. We have to. “We love because He first loved us.” (1John 4:19)

But after the acute cries of the tragedy have died down, we are still left with one of the fundamental questions of the human condition. How can humankind be capable of such good and such evil?

Because we were made in the image of a good God but we are now alienated from that God. And to be consistently good we need to reconnect to that God. We need our hearts to be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The findings of science ebb and flow. But this truth remains:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16 TNIV]

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan