Part III in the “Process Theology, Revisited” series…
Perhaps a more appropriate title to this series would be, Process Atheology, as there is no “theo-” in my proposed “-ology.”
As for the other two posts in this series, this topic is also covered in Guru (Chapter 5, pp 68-72), along with cultural evolution, and based hugely on E. O. Wilson’s, The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), but not from the standpoint of Process Theology.
Humans are eusocial organism and characterized by altruistic (self-sacrificing) behavior, a character of eusocial species. Below are excerpts from my Guru (Chapter 5, pp 68-72) on eusocial species and evolution. Basically, we have two kinds of DNA from this perspective, our selfish DNA (see Dawson’s The Selfish Gene) and unselfish (eusocial) DNA. It is this unselfish DNA that offers a second solution to how a non-personal universe could “call” (think motivate or select for) humans’ (and other eusocial species’) altruistic behaviors. A personal Big Guy/Gal (a.k.a. personal God) up there telling us to be good and nice is an unnecessary hypothesis.
Below is from my Guru book explaining in a little more detail. I’ve edited it a little. Again, I am out on my vision quest and this is day two of the four day quest:
“I thought back to my check-in walk earlier this morning. I had
come across a large harvester ant bed and stopped to watch it for a few
minutes. Over toward one edge, well camouflaged by its desert-mottled
skin, sat a “horny toad,” as we called them when I was a kid growing
up in West Texas. I used to capture them and keep them as pets. They
are very docile, relatively slow-moving lizards, armored with spines
that protrude from their backs. Plus, they spit “blood” as a defense
mechanism, as well as puff up their flat bodies to make them bigger and
more difficult for a predator to eat, like a puff fish does. The “blood”
they spit actually squirts from two openings on their nose and contains
toxins from the venom of the harvester ants they consume as their
primary diet. More correctly known as horned lizards, and here in the
Chihuahuan Desert, the Texas Horned Lizard to be specific, they are
members of the Phrynosoma genus.
Harvester ants are a large species’ group of ants that harvest seeds and
whatnots, and store the seeds, etc., in their nests’ communal granaries.
This species’ group is comprised of several species that range in color
from reddish to black. The invasion of the dreaded fire ants greatly
diminished the harvester ant populations, which in turn diminished the
horned lizard populations. When I was a kid, harvester ants had been
plentiful, as had horned lizards. Now both are rare.
Harvester ants, as well as fire ants, are what is known as eusocial
species, as are virtually all ant, bee, most wasp, and termite species.
As a one-time honeybee keeper on our farm in South Carolina, I had a
lot of hands-on experience with eusocial insects, including a variety of
ant species (fire ants, red ants, carpenter ants, etc.), and wasps and bees.
We humans are also a eusocial species. Eusocial species build nests, combine multiple generations, and are
characterized by altruistic behaviors as part of their division of labor.
For the social insects, there is a queen who lays eggs, workers who do
the work in the colony, young of various ages, soldiers that guard and
defend, and a few token males that act as sperm donors. For example,
male honeybees, called drones, are just there as sperm donors, tolerated
by their all-female hive-mates. During winter and hard times, the drones
are kicked out of the hive, where they quickly die, or are outright killed
off by the all-female workers. For humans, there is family and extended
family: parents, children, often grandparents.
There are many important differences between the social insects
and humans. Among them are size, and numbers; and, very important,
each member of the human species is, would be, or has been capable of
participating in reproduction. Whereas in the social insects, only the
queen is capable of reproducing. Their hives can be thought of as super
individuals and all the queen’s offspring as phenotypic variants of her
genome. If the individuals develop from an unfertilized egg, they will be
genetic females like herself. If they are from a fertilized egg, they develop
The social insects, like bees and ants, exhibit phenotypic
plasticity, meaning the same genes can take a variety of different body
forms. In the case of honeybees, for example, individuals with the same
genes can be workers or queens, depending on what diet they are fed.
One of the important characteristics of eusocial species is their
altruism, defined as self-sacrifice. In evolutionary biology, altruism
means lowering our own Darwinian fitness as an individual, which
means sacrificing or lowering our own survival and/or reproduction
potential. Darwinian fitness is a measure of reproductive success.
The firefighter who goes into a burning house to save someone or even
a pet, is potentially going to get injured or maybe even killed. The
police officer, the first responder, soldiers in war, etc., are all acting
altruistically, endangering their lives for others. From an evolutionary
perspective, are they crazy!? This altruistic behavior and the genes for
it, though, are part of our eusocial heritage.
Darwin long ago reasoned that it made sense that, given two groups,
one composed of individuals who were willing to sacrifice themselves
for their group (read, tribe, village, town, etc.) and a second group that
would not self-sacrifice, the self-sacrificing group would have a higher
survival value. In other words, natural selection would favor the selfsacrificing
group. They would fare better, as a group, than the non-selfsacrificing
group. That is, natural selection could take place between
different groups, something called group selection. Enters the work
of E.O. Wilson’s extensive studies, along with those of others, which
have shown that group selection, as proposed by Darwin, can explain
not only our altruism, but also many of the traits of our complex and
highly evolved society and culture. The problem is, our DNA is basically
How did we as a species get from our basically selfish DNA to
our altruistic, selfless DNA? This selfish vs. selfless DNA question has
everything to do with our spiritual growth and deals with a basic, inner
conflict of humanity’s genomic and cultural evolution. This conflict is
why we see such terrible atrocities committed by our human species,
such as acts of war, genocide, ethical cleansing, etc.; these also result
from our eusocial genes, because of this intergroup selection. This
shadow side of humanity is tribalism and is part of our tension as a
species in our spiritual journeys.
In our quest for spiritual growth, we are continually called upon to
balance out the conflicting demands between our primal selfish DNA
and our more newly evolved selfless DNA. The irony is that one of the
very things that made our species successful and able to show such
extremes of altruism, i.e., eusocial group selection, also is the one that
created our most evil and destructive tribalism side.
Our evolutionary heritage “tension” as a species has two sources.
First, at our most primal level, is the basic selfishness of our genes.
Second, as part of our eusocial genes, superimposed as they were
later in our species’ evolution onto our selfish DNA, is our tribalism.
Tribalism is group selection, where different groups (tribes) compete for
limited resources. Think here of the stories in the Bible’s Old Testament
Pentateuch chapters about how conquering armies would commit
genocide, killing men, women, and children, Germany’s Third Reich
persecution of Jews, the ethical cleansings of Africa, racism, the white
man’s near extermination of indigenous American Indians. Our list, as
a species, goes on and on.
(At the time of this writing, I must step out of our story relevant
to tribalism and note today’s coronavirus new world. Through this
pandemic, we can see that polarized tribalism is alive and well such
as, for example, the groups of people wanting to re-open the country
in spite of the scientific and medical warnings otherwise, and their
vocal persecution and threatened violence against those who, trying to
respect the science, say it’s too early and too dangerous. So too, we see
the destructive flames of tribalism being fanned by some politicians
for political gain, spreading divisiveness, violence, in-group versus outgroup
As stated earlier, from the genes’ DNA’s standpoint, the individual is
just a gene’s way of reproducing itself. At our core then are the individual
selected selfish genes. Wrapped around that core or added to that selfish
DNA are our eusocial selfless traits.
As Richard Dawkins so eloquently argued in his book The Selfish Gene, natural selection primarily acts at
the level of the individual. It is in our very DNA to be selfish, to look out
for number one, which includes our family because they carry our genes
too. It all comes down to basic survival and reproduction.
But along comes eusociality, a remarkable combination of traits of
cooperation, that results in selfless traits, such as altruism—and it changes
the ballgame. When the benefits of the selfless behaviors increased the
group members’ collective fitness sufficiently to override individual
selected selfish traits, selfless genes increased in the population and