Is our behaviour still dominated by past ape instincts?

If we accept the evolutionary premise that humans are the organic products of evolution from ape like ancestors, is a lot of our current behaviours still dominated by the past instincts?

Primate behaviour specialist have often seen parallels in our behaviours. Aside from the obvious sexual instincts etc we can see both family attachments , plus clan and tribal associations.

Sadly the “tribal” instincts seem to me to remain in our societies, politics ands religious divisions. We have not grown up beyond them into Universal Love that is the Image of God we are intended to have.

  • “Is our behaviour still dominated by past ape instincts?”
  • Watch: The Last Baboons of the Table Mountain [52:19], and wonder: Are we dominated by past monkey instincts, or did we pick up bad habits from monkeys, or did Baboons and Mandrillls–the two most vicious of the “old world monkeys”–undergo "a Fall like Adam and Eve did, or did they pick up bad habits from humans?
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I suppose “dominated” might be a word some would push back on but I would say influenced by, 100%.

Then the question becomes is there I distinction between the physical self and the spiritual self? Are they a unity? Does evolution impact only the flesh side of humans or the spiritual as well?

I suppose a full understanding of this issue would require laying out what it means to be human to begin with. And also an understanding of the concept of free will.

I think we have to resist a lot of biological urges that otherwise acting on, would be considered immoral behavior. In some ways I think we have to transcend our biology. I would understand the fall this way and even the incarnation.

And for all the bad tendencies we may have inherited, as humans we also think in terms of a group and have reciprocal altruism. Of course, this doesn’t and hasn’t always extend so nicely outside of “our” group.

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Maybe we should not call it ape behaviour but animal or mammal behaviour. We are mammals and much of our basic ‘natural’ behaviour resembles what we can see in some other social mammals.

What I find interesting in this is that some of our basic ‘animal’ behaviours appear to be in conflict with the will of God as informed in the biblical scriptures, for example in matters that are related to selfish or sexual behaviours. This seems to cause much of the strife between ‘flesh’ and spirit. Why does God want us to live in a way that seems to be in conflict with our ‘basic’ animal nature?
Perhaps this simple question goes deeper than what our first answers would be.


This to me is the crux of the issue. Is the fall basically a primitive way of describing this and evolution? We have to overcome “sin nature” which is ultimately genetics and biology, and not due to some mythical couple eating a magical fruit in a magical garden at the suggestion of a talking snake that is cursed to crawl afterwards.

I see a lot of “trying to explain the world” and why things are the way they are in the garden story. I think it wrestles with theodicy and sin just as we do.


For what it’s worth:

“The following proposition seems to me in a high degree probable—namely, that any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man. For, firstly, the social instincts lead an animal to take pleasure in the society of its fellows, to feel a certain amount of sympathy with them, and to perform various services for them.”
― Charles Darwin, “The Descent of Man”


So you mean that it’s in our “innate biology” to sleep with a neighbours wife or steal or commit murder? Or what are you implying more specifically?

You can never have a high trust society with peace, wealth and prosperity where “might is right” is the rule.

Basically natural selection favours behaviours that increase the number of grandchildren relative to other individuals in the population. It does not punish from ‘bad’ behaviour, as long as that kind of behaviour does not lead to unfavourable changes in social relationships. If you can keep your actions secret or live in a society that does not punish from ‘bad’ behaviour, anything goes.
In some conditions, the success of the individual reflects the success of the society. In such conditions, it is profitable to work for the wellbeing of the society, even if it would have some personal costs. In addition, the success of close relatives is favourable for the spread of genes, so there is a profit for acting in ways that benefit close relatives.

My understanding is that there are this kind of limitations for the spread of genes but otherwise, you can do whatever you want, assuming there is no God that sees and rewards or punishes your acts. This may be a bit nihilistic viewpoint as many people have other reasons for acting in a humane way.
There are even purely selfish reasons to act for the success of others. The ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy starts from the assumption that it is possible to cooperate with a person that you have just met and the cooperation is beneficial. For this reason, you may act in a way that benefits the other, even if that behaviour has a cost. The selfishness comes from the demand that the other person pays back in the sense that (s)he will do something that benefits me. ‘I scratch your back if you scratch mine’ type behaviour.

Yeah I agree, if mutations acting upon natural selection is the only truth and there is no God then anything goes as long as you can get away with it and have more offspring. This also assumes that there is no judgment from a higher power and cities like Sodom & Gommorah never got eviscerated for their immorality. And natural selection by itself doesnt prove (macro-)evolution which any farmer or breeder knows.

A society where only “the selfish gene” rules can not exist beyond a primitive level with low trust and constant fear and tension. There’s no way you can have widespread agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, or whatever, without some form of rule of law.

And regarding the “tit-for-tat” thing:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

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I imagine nature and nurture both play a role. Almost all life has some things in common and as we move closer to our species through the clades we are bound to see social similarities. But we also are at risk of applying our perception to what we see happening.


Interesting topic given that among YEC there is the view that evolution is a very strong driver of racism.

survival of the fittest tends to produce the notion among western individuals that they are superior to 3rd world country folk.

What i found interesting this morning was the news story regarding the rugby league match played by two Australian teams in Las Vagas (brisbane broncos and sydney roosters)

Two islanders were front and centre…one complained to the referee that the other made a racist comment by calling him “a monkey”.

Go figure

One could not be christian and support such a notion. The bible is absolutely clear about that…its being a slave to sin which brings on those tendencies.

The problem with the “innate” idea is that christ has reminded us in the gospel that the new covenant spoken of by the prophets in ancient times states that God will write His laws on our Hearts and in our minds. The “us” there, is all humanity not just Christians.

Initial sin (thank you St,.Roymond) results from 3.8(ish) billion years of evolution. Every single ancestor managed to survive and reproduce. By now every species there is has been selected, across that entire time, to excel at surviving and reproducing. We are wired that way. Compare that with “Greater love hath no one than to lay down one’s life for another.”

Initial sin (thank you St,.Roymond) results from 3.8(ish) billion years of evolution. Every single ancestor managed to survive and reproduce. By now every species there is has been selected, across that entire time, to excel at surviving and reproducing. We are wired that way. Compare that with “Greater love hath no one than to lay down one’s life for another.”
Something inexplicable created this universe. You might call it an uncaused first cause. So let that also be sentient. Then that sentience could be called God.
There are YEC folk who insist that Genesis was written to be read literally - those Days, One through Seven, are so matter-of-fact, after all.
But Earth is a vast ball with a thin crispy crust of continents surrounded by films of water we call oceans.
And Earth orbits the nearest star, which makes Day Four “difficult” what with the sun moon and stars all crossing the vault of the heavens, beneath that forever supply of rain set up there on Day Two.
Genesis is theology, delivered via convenient illustrations so that a child of six can glean what it says about the Creator.

Initial sin (thank you St,.Roymond) results from 3.8(ish) billion years of evolution. Every single ancestor managed to survive and reproduce. By now every species there is has been selected, across that entire time, to excel at surviving and reproducing. We are wired that way. Compare that with “Greater love hath no one than to lay down one’s life for another.”

Thanks for that quote. Bookmarked it.

Without doubt, Darwin’s intuition was correct. The development of a moral sense – what was “fair” or unfair – was inevitable amongst social creatures. That was a large part of the “social brain” theory – primates and other “social” creatures that lived in groups had to have enough brain power to keep track of who was up or down in reputation and social scale in the group. As hominin groups grew larger, the brain power required to keep track of everyone else grew exponentially. Mostly true, with a bunch of caveats.

Mainly, conscience requires metacognition and language to achieve. Chimps have first-order theory of mind similar to human toddlers, but higher order ToM is beyond them. Conscience is the self reflecting upon itself—both in its thoughts and actions.

Regarding the OP’s question, the “selfish gene” (instinct toward self-preservation) is always and will always be present. Recent evolution has steered hominins toward cooperation. The result is a balanced choice between selfishness and what’s best for others. Jesus points toward the latter. That’s where I come down too.

I do like this. Thanks. The moral compass is just as animal as the gut instincts–and probably a lot more adaptive.
I guess another way to describe ourselves may be, “how does our behavior compare and contrast with other contemporary primate species”.

Bonobos can be much more (not always) pacifist than chimps, as I have read; but there are a lot of different variations, I imagine.
I’m not sure we can place forebrain in the area of morality, though–it’s sometimes the most intelligent that can be the cruelest.

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I do find it striking that we can see the lighter and darker sides of human behavior in bonobos and chimps, respectively. They are the Jedi and Sith, perhaps. However, I think we differ from other primate species in ways that matter for questions of morality.

We can’t see into the minds of other species, but I won’t let that stop me from speculating. :wink:

First off, I don’t think Darwin is more of an expert on morality than any other person. However, he did spend some time thinking about the subject with respect to human evolution, and some of what he wrote resonates with me. So with that said:

“A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives—of approving of some and disapproving of others.”–Charles Darwin, Descent of Man

Guilt and regret seems to be something unique to humans.

I would also say that human sentience and empathy are way above what is seen in our ape cousins. Our concept of self and our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of other people has a LOT of moral implications. The ability to know that what you are doing is hurting others, and the feeling of guilt for hurting others, forms the basis of much of human morality, IMHO.


Chimps and bonobos are most closely related to us, and they have the best memories of faces among other primates.

Yet Wrangham et al. documented chimp “warfare” that involved killing an isolated, elder male who had defected to a neighboring group but was previously a “friend” to the troop that killed him.

Bonobos are regarded as a peaceful, matriarchal species that uses sexual favors (even male-male, female-female) to “grease” the social wheels. That’s an exaggeration. Researchers who study them say they’re really not peaceful except compared to chimps, who are exceedingly violent among animal species. Perhaps our “nature” is similar to a combination of our closest living relatives?