At exactly the point where religion, history and science intersect, we find the great besetting question of whether humankind is good or evil by nature. Why, for example, did a few Righteous Gentiles put themselves at risk to assist the victims of the Holocaust while so many others served as “Hitler’s willing executioners”?
The struggle to answer what is essentially a moral question through the scientific method is described in fascinating detail in “The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness” by Oren Harman (Norton, $27.95), a remarkable account of the scientific study of selflessness and, at the same time, a biography of a wholly overlooked figure in the history of science.
Harman points out that the hard questions of good and evil begin in the Bible: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks. The same questions were still being asked when Darwin first suggested that “survival of the fittest” was a matter of natural law. Yet it is also true that some amoebas sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their fellow creatures, vampire bats share blood, and “sentry” gazelles warn the flock by leaping when a lion is spotted, thus putting themselves at risk of death.
“Is there, in fact, a natural origin to our acts of kindness?” asks Harman. “Does the virtue of amoebas and bats and gazelles and humans come from the very same place?”
Harman, a professor at Bar- Ilan University in Israel, chose an unlikely focal point for his ambitious work — the strange life and tragic death of a man named George Price (1922-1975), a “forgotten American genius” who “caught a glimpse of the great canvas of natural selection,” reduced the workings of altruism to an “elegant equation” and “literally came off the street, anonymous, to present it to the world.” Yet Price ended up as a forgotten eccentric buried in a pauper’s grave in London.
Some famous figures populate “The Price of Altruism” — “from nineteenth-century czars to mid-twentieth century telepathists to biological mathematicians and brain imagers,” as the author himself sums it up — but Price’s life story provides “a precious and original counterpoint.”
Raised in New York City during the Depression, Price was though to be “strange, mechanical, even perhaps slightly autistic,” but also undeniably gifted, even if “his genius was baffling, even a little unsettling.” He dropped out of Harvard because of poor grades, ended up at the University of Chicago, joined the Manhattan Project in 1943 and later worked at IBM. But even as his articles and inventions were beginning to attract attention, Price was unemployed, estranged from his wife and family, and ever more baffling to those who encountered him.
“Was he a cocky chemist? A restless engineer? A prophet?” asks Harman. “Somehow George Price was simultaneously all of these — and none.”
This review of a virtually-forgotten man looks quite interesting...if only George Price had been able to read The Urantia Book! In our never-ending quest to achieve "God-likeness," we are mandated to emulate the kindness of God. It is not necessarily an inborn feature of humanity, but we can surely cultivate it in our daily lives, as Jesus advised, and as he demonstrated for us. Please see our topical study on kindness HERE.
And, to access the entire book review, please click on "external source article."