Evolution by natural selection has shaped us to mistrust paternity, say researchers, and their findings confirm a prediction by evolutionary scientists that we tend to be kinder – altruistic – to the children of our mother's sister than those of our father's brother.
Evolutionary biologists say that the more likely we are to have genes in common with our kin, the more likely we are to put ourselves out for them.
One would expect us, therefore, to be equally helpful to all our cousins, since they are equally genetically related to us. However, reality is less straightforward because a small but significant fraction of men throughout history have brought up another man's child, often not even realising their wife has been unfaithful.
Therefore, we are related to our father's brother's children with two uncertain links and to our mother's brother's children and to our father's sister's children with one uncertain link.
In contrast, there is no uncertainty whatsoever in our genetic relatedness to our mother's sister's children.
Today, in Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, Joonghwan Jeon and Prof David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin publish the first evidence that we treat our cousins differently based on this evolutionary logic.
A favourite sport of many secularists is to pin believers to the wall and demand they fess up as to whether they believe this or that miracle from scripture actually happened. “Do you think Jonah was really swallowed by a whale? Well, do ‘ya?!” Any answer other than an unqualified yes leads to charges of cherry-picking or hypocrisy and a lecture in formal logic that “proves” every other belief is thereby undermined. It is an attack on “comfy” religion designed to demonize all believers as scriptural literalists and it completely misapprehends faith by analogising it to scientific inquiry.
But what of comfy Darwinism? It’s easy enough to march through life with a vague belief life evolved from simpler forms through unguided natural selection, but how could anyone other than a thoroughly indoctrinated fundamentalist believe nonsense like this? We are more likely to loan money to our maternal cousins because we (or our genes) are worried great-great-grandad might have been cuckolded? It is a derivation of William Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness, popularized by Richard Dawkins, which holds that our degree or altruism or kindness towards an individual increases with the proportion of the genes we share with them. As the late Australian philosopher David Stove (an atheist) showed, the proposition is madness on the face of it, completely unsupported by evidence and is refuted before our eyes daily just about every where we look.
Stove also showed that a pure belief in Darwinism, and especially in the modern synthesis popularized by Dawkins, et. al. requires belief in a whole series of derivative propositions that describe a world Lewis Carroll might have invented. But unlike religion, scientific materialism offers limited openings for distinguishing between myths and hard facts.