Posted by: David | November 27, 2007

Explaining “No Greater Love”

Yesterday I was struck by an article entitled “The Hidden Cost of Heroism:  Scientists Mystified By People Who Put the Lives of Strangers Over Their Own.” It reported that in 1982, an airplane crashed into the iced-over Potomac River in Washington, D. C., and that some of the passengers escaped the plane and then struggled to remain afloat until help could come. A rescue helicopter eventually did come, and one by one, the survivors were thrown a rope to haul them out of the water. The highlight of the story was that one of these survivors kept pushing the rescue rope away from himself to others so that they could escape ahead of him. He did this three times and then, too exhausted to swim or hang on any longer, he disappeared under the waves and drowned. He was the only victim later found with air in his lungs.

Scientists are baffled by such examples of heroism because evolution explains a person’s struggle to survive, not his sacrifice of self for a complete stranger. It makes sense to an evolutionist that a person would die for his offspring, or perhaps for someone from his village, but what advantage could heroism on a stranger’s behalf possibly provide for prolonging our existence?

One biologist makes an attempt to explain:  “It could very well be that altruism is a behavior that has been held over from a much earlier time [when human beings were in smaller communities]. If you saved someone’s life under those conditions, you were very likely saving a blood relative.” However, he admits, “It is not easy to come up with a viable argument to explain the evolution of self-sacrifice for strangers.”

This type of cold explanation really irks me, and scientists are continually doing this. Don’t get me wrong; I acknowledge and enjoy the wonders of medicine and mechanics that scientific inquiry has provided. I just really resent the belief that everything can be explained via the scientific method. Such explanations leave one somehow disappointed. Love, for example, is a wonderful thing, but not when scientists explain it as a mere chemical reaction that evolved to make human beings reproduce. Our sense of consciousness is a marvelous mystery, but not when scientists attempt to explain it as an illusion produced by neurotic activity in the brain. And now, scientists are trying to explain acts of heroism, but they’re not doing a good job of it because it is impossible to explain everything by scientific inquiry! Nor is it possible to know everything by scientific inquiry. All that the scientific method can discover is the natural. To assume that everything can be explained scientifically is to be an atheist because it assumes that there is nothing but the natural.

I’m reading a book by Dinesh D’Souza (see my blogroll) called What’s So Great About Christianity?. I like an example he gives that illustrates (and inspires) my point. If you ask why a pot of water is boiling, a scientist will rightly explain that when atoms heat up, they accelerate, etc. What a scientist can never tell you, however, is the equally correct answer that the water is boiling because I want to have some tea.

There’s more to this world than what I can see and touch. There’s so much more. There are things that I desire and long for, things that I feel, things that I know. And there is One that is reaching out to me with a love that is willing to lay down its life for a stranger.



  1. well said. Thanks David!

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