Surprising Altruism


On August 5th, a copper and gold mine in Chile caved in.

Americans were gripped this past weekend with the high drama of watching men drilling a hole in the ground: a hole that represented the difference between life and death and a hole that illustrates why, contrary to what we have been told, we are not just another ape.

On August 5th, a copper and gold mine in Chile caved in. The tragedy turned into a national crusade when, seventeen days later, it was confirmed that thirty-three miners had miraculously survived the cave-in. They were trapped in a rescue chamber 2,300 feet beneath the surface.

President Sebastian Pinera and his government made the miners' rescue their top priority. Work began immediately on drilling a 28-inch hole down to the rescue chamber to extract the survivors. No expense or effort was spared, and technical help came in from all around the world. And while families maintained a silent but painful vigil, food, water and other supplies were lowered down to the survivors through a smaller hole.

This past weekend, the rescue shaft was completed. Given its width, the miners will have to be removed one at a time. Since each trip will take approximately an hour, it will take the better part of two days to remove all the miners. Who should go first? The weakest?

Well, there was still one more twist in store for Chile and the world. A surprised Health Minister Jaime Manalich told AP that the miners "were fighting with [authorities] yesterday because everyone wanted to be at the end of the line, not the beginning."

A news man from the scene choked up while reporting it. You know who else should be surprised: Darwinians. They believe the race has evolved through survival of the fittest. Neo-Darwinism cannot explain altruism like that displayed by the miners. At best, it can offer a superficially plausible explanation for what they call "cooperation."

But caring about someone outside your immediate kinship group, much less being willing to sacrifice your well-being for theirs? Never. Richard Dawkins' "selfish gene" would demand to be the first person out of that mine. The "selfish gene" would not have even made the miners' rescue a national priority. It would have settled for superficially-plausible mourning.

A far more plausible explanation is suggested by the items that the miners asked be sent down to them while they waited for rescue: a crucifix and other items associated with their Catholic faith. They told officials that they wanted to set up a shrine in the rescue chamber. They signed two flags for Pope Benedict and, to make sure he got at least one, gave them to different officials.

Now ask yourself, which is a better explanation for their altruism: a "selfish gene" or belief in a Good Shepherd that gives his life for the sheep?

Even without an explicit faith connection, we know that this kind of altruism is uniquely human. Females of other species will fight to the death to defend their young, but another female's young? Never.

This is so obvious that the insistence that man is just another ape is nothing but a worldview – a humanist philosophy which is palpably false.

It's a worldview that can never account for what just happened in Chile, and makes the continued adherence to the Darwinian worldview the biggest surprise of all.




Charles Colson. "Surprising Altruism." BreakPoint Commentary October 12, 2010.

From BreakPoint ® Copyright 2010, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, D.C. 20041-0500. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint ®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries ®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries.


Charles Colson launched Prison Fellowship in 1976, following a seven-month prison sentence for Watergate-related crimes. Since then, Prison Fellowship has flourished into a U.S. ministry of 50,000 volunteers and has spread to more then 50 countries. Beyond his prison ministry, Colson is a Christian author, speaker, and commentator, who regularly confronts contemporary values from a biblically informed perspective. His "BreakPoint" radio commentaries now air daily across the U.S. and he has written 15 books, including The Faith: Given Once, For All What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters, God & Government, Loving God, Answers to Your Kids' Questions, The Line Between Right & Wrong: Developing a Personal Code of Ethics, Against the Night: Living in the New Dark Ages, and How Now Shall We Live: A Study Guide.

Copyright © 2010 Breakpoint

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