Adoption and Altruism: a Blow to Darwinism

by Stephen Caesar

Adoption and Altruism: a Blow to Darwinism

Darwinism holds that life is a constant struggle among all living things against all others. Evolutionists theorize that the only thing a living creature cares about is perpetuating its genetic code. Thus, the only reason animals (and humans) care for their young is because the youngsters carry the adults' genes. Under this scenario, there is no place for self-sacrifice or goodness.

Frans de Waal, professor of primate behavior at Emory University, writes:

"Darwin's fiercest advocate, Thomas Henry Huxleyclaim[ed] that because natural selection was such a harsh process, it could not possibly have produced kindness and morality. If we occasionally find these gentler tendencies in human society, he asserted, they must be culturally imposed. For most of his life, unable to imagine evolutionary advantages to altruism and cooperation. Huxley saw nature as an unruly garden, kept under control by a hardworking gardener" (2000-2001: 68).

The fact that adoption is practiced by humans, without any genetic benefit to the adopters, destroys this claim, as science writer Evan Eisenberg notes:

"From a Darwinian standpoint, going childless by choice is hard enough to explain, but adoption, as the arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins notes, is a double whammy. Not only do you reduce, or at least fail to increase, your own reproductive success, but you improve someone else's. Since the birth parent is your rival in the great genetic steeplechase, a gene that encourages adoption should be knocked out of the running in fairly short order. It has not been (2001: 80).Studies show that adoptive parents are, on average, as happy as genetic parents, perhaps even a little happier. Their failure to fulfill the most basic biological imperative, far from turning them into freaks, seems to leave them slightly less prone to mental illness than most parents. This is not a fact that Darwinism, in any of its forms, would have predicted" (ibid. 82).

Adoption also occurs among animals, including mice, rats, otters, skunks, llamas, deer, caribou, kangaroos, wallabies, seals, sea lions, dogs, pigs, goats, sheep, and bears. Eisenberg remarks:

"The habit can be expensive. If the adoptee is added to an existing litter, the adopter's own offspring may get less to eat. If adopting delays the next brood, the adopter's lifetime reproductive success may be reduced. Even for the infertile, adoption seems maladaptive: It siphons off resources that might otherwise be shared with close relatives who share some fraction of their genes, thus reducing their inclusive fitness'" (ibid.).

Animal adoption is part of what biologists call "animal altruism"-the habit of some animals to sacrifice their own good for others of their own species. Under Darwinism, this should not happen, since all creatures are supposedly concerned only with their own genes-in themselves and in their offspring. One of the best examples is found among meerkat groups, where only the dominant female gives birth. The lower-ranking females do not give birth, but "baby-sit" the head female's pups. Evolutionists speculate that the "baby-sitters" must have some undetected genetic affinity with the head female's pups, thus satisfying the theory that adults care only for their own young because of genetic closeness. However, a team led by University of Cambridge mammalogist Timothy Clutton-Brock studied 15 groups of wild African meerkats to learn if the baby-sitters' genes were most like those of the pups they were caring for. Of the 114 baby-sitters (called "helpers") they studied, the team found "no indication that the large differences in contributions to baby-sitting that exist among helpers are related to differences in their kinship to the litter they were caring for" (Milner 2000: 18). In other words, the speculations offered by evolutionists to defend their theory are not confirmed by empirical evidence.


Eisenberg, E. (2001). "The Adoption Paradox." Discover 22, no. 1.

Milner, R. (2000). "Altruistic Meerkats." Natural History 109, no. 8.

Waal, F. de. (2000-2001). "Reading Nature's Tea Leaves." Natural History 109, no. 10.

Stephen Caesar is a graduate student in anthropology/archaeology at Harvard. He is the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at

2011 Disciple 155x50 2011 AMG 155x50
Disciple Banner Ad