Uniqueness of Human Capacity to Express Malice

Uniqueness of Human Capacity to Express Malice

One of the cornerstone doctrines of the Christian faith is that humans alone among all life-forms on Earth are sinners. According to the Bible, all humans and only humans are born with the propensity to commit evil acts. That being the case, it should not be difficult for scientists to develop tests to confirm or deny this essential teaching of the Christian faith.

A team of evolutionary biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently performed such a test.1 The team put chimpanzees in cages where the chimps could withhold food from other chimpanzees by pulling on a rope. The researchers found that the chimpanzees would not withhold food from their compatriots out of pure spite. They would only do so, in a statistically significant manner, in response to a chimp that stole its food.

Interestingly, if a human stole its food and gave it another chimp, there was no significant response toward the chimp that received the food. Also, the team made no attempt to test whether or not chimpanzees would engage in “altruistic punishment” (punishing fellow chimpanzees who stole food from other chimpanzees with whom they had no social contact), though they hinted that they would do so in a future study.

The research team concluded that spiteful behavior appears to be unique to the human species. Only humans will engage in malicious behavior toward their compatriots for no other reason than the fact that they want to hurt someone. The team also commented on humanity’s flip side, namely, that only humans will engage in “pure altruism” (self-sacrificial acts performed to reward or rescue another human being with whom no social context has ever existed or could ever possibly exist). The team thus confirmed the Bible’s repeated commentaries on the state of humanity: uniquely evil among all life on Earth but also uniquely righteous.

  1. Keith Jensen, Josep Call, and Michael Tomasello, “Chimpanzees Are Vengeful But Not Spiteful,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 104 (August 7, 2007): 13046-50.