Sunday, 25 November 2007

Hey Mr. Dawkins, you’ve got it wrong!

Joel Kontinen

Babies can disclose profound truths. This has happened in a new study in which children who had not yet learned to speak seemed to debunk the myth of the "meme" or the transfer of cultural units.

According to the Darwinian story, life is an ongoing struggle for existence. The strong tend to crush the weak under foot. No evolutionist has yet succeeded in coming up with a convincing explanation of why there nevertheless is so much altruism and selflessness in the world.

Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene="" style="mso-footnote-id: ftn1" href="" name="_ftnref1">[1]in 1976. He regarded organisms as survival machines. Dawkins also coined the term meme, by which he meant the unit of cultural transfer or imitation. Although Dawkins did not claim that genes as such could be moral, either selfish or unselfish, according to his thesis genes flourish because they basically serve their own interests. As we apply this thought on the level of memes, we might conclude that organisms are intrinsically selfish.

Fortunately, babies have not read Dawkins. A new study conducted in the University of Yale shakes our confidence in both Darwinism and Dawkinism. The idea of intrinsic selfishness turns out to be a myth. No one had taught the basics of morality to babies who were a mere six moths old. The study suggests that the selfish meme does not exist.[2]

The study conducted by graduate student Kiley Hamlin et. al. [3] indicates that even babies seem to have a natural inclination to favour those who help others. The study showed brighly coloured wooden blocks that had big round eyes. The children were shown how a block tried to climb up a steep hill. Other blocks either helped it by pushing it up or tried to stop it by pushing it downhill. When the six-month old babies later saw either the “good” or the “bad” blocks they almost without exception wanted to touch the “good” block.

Psalm 8:2 says that the truth will come from the lips of children and infants. In light of Hamlin’s study we might add that the truth will be obvious even before children are capable of putting their thoughts into words.


[1] Darwins, Richard. 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[2] Dawkinists might naturally assume that altruism is also based on selfishness but this is more of a philosphical than a scientific conclusion.
[3] Hopkin, Michael. 2007. Babies can spot nice and nasty characters. Nature News 21.11., Hamlin, J. K. , Wynn, K. & Bloom, P. et al. 2007. Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature 450, 557-559.