Dog adopts ducklings

Can Evolution Explain Altruism in Animals?

Interspecific Adoption

by Harry F. Sanders, III

Quick facts:

  • Animal adoption is not predicted by evolution.
  • Evolution has no purpose or forethought.
  • There are hundreds of cases on record of animals adopting young of other parents.
  • Adoptions occur most prominently in birds, but appear in mammals, fish, and invertebrates as well.
  • The most notable case was a lioness adopting six successive Arabian oryx calves.
  • These animal adoptions point back to God’s originally “very good” creation.


Altruistic behavior is expected in humans to one extent or another. However, when animals behave altruistically, evolutionists are left without good answers. When, for example, an animal adopts an infant of another animal, it exhibits an evolution-defying altruistic behavior. Evolution predicts that animals will behave selfishly, seeking only to further their own reproductive success. Yet there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of examples of animals adopting babies of their own species, or even more incredibly, members of other species, sometimes across the kind or predatory boundaries. These altruistic adoptions are powerful evidence for the original “very good” design God put into his creation.

Altruism in humans is well documented. People do things that are not motivated solely by selfish benefit all the time. Something as simple as opening a door for someone or as big a commitment as adopting a child are examples of altruistic behavior in humans. Because we see it happen regularly, we are somewhat inattentive to it in humans. As conscious beings with a conscience (Rom 2:15), we expect that we and other humans will at least periodically act in an unselfish manner. While this itself is evidence against evolutionary dogma, when animals exhibit altruism, evolutionary scientists are often left scratching their heads.

Interspecific adoption is perhaps the most obvious example of interspecific (between multiple species) cooperation. There are other examples, such as cooperative hunting between groupers and moray eels1 and cleaning behavior between cleaner shrimp and wrasses and their clients.2 However, these are mutualistic relationships, particularly that of the cleaners. Both parties get a benefit. Even intraspecific , or same species, adoption could be viewed as benefit, if not to the individual, at least to the species.

This is a stretch in light of evolutionists’ view of evolution. “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind’s eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all,”3 Richard Dawkins freely proclaims. This would seem to run counter to any form of altruism, including adoption of offspring of the same species. Yet intraspecific adoption does happen in creatures as diverse as cichlids,4,5 falcons,6 robins,7chimpanzees,8 cheetahs,9 and even ants.10 This is directly opposite of what evolution would expect, based on the definition its own strongest proponents give it…


image credit: Fred, a 10-year-old labrador who lives at Mountfitchet Castle in England, has adopted an orphaned family of ducklings . Original artwork from photo by

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