Slate proclaims that evolutionary psychology shows that Objectivism is wrong because evolution favors “altruism,” which the article question-beggingly defines as “helping others.” Of course, Rand never claimed that helping others is wrong. What Rand said was that you do not live for the purpose of making other people happy. There is a big difference. Objectivism has always held that there are often perfectly good reasons to help others who are of value to you. And what evolutionary psychology actually shows is that Rand was on solid ground making that claim. What the evidence shows is that humans (and other animals) often help those who are close kin to them or are in a position to help them—so-called “reciprocal altruism.” The confusion arises because the term “reciprocal altruism” is a contradiction: if it’s reciprocal, it’s not altruism. I defy anyone to show me where Rand said that “lending a helping hand” is a bad thing.
The other problem with stories like these is that they actually do commit the fallacy Rand is so often wrongly accused of committing: the naturalistic fallacy. Anthropologists go out and see a bunch of people doing X, and then come back and say that X is therefore moral behavior. That seems like an absurd way of making conclusions about what people ought to do. By that logic, women have no rights—why, because, if you go out and study societies throughout human history, and if you study animal societies, rape is a common phenomenon, and results in pregnancies, and therefore advances reproductive fitness...ad nauseam.
Whatever value there might be to such a method, it obviously differs from Rand’s Aristotelian approach to moral questions, which is to take man, study his attributes in the abstract to determine what moral health or flourishing is for man, and thereby determine what people ought to do in order to flourish. This is a naturalistic approach, in that it takes its bearings from nature, but it is not the lazy naturalism represented by the Slate article. The difference can be put in an analogy: Rand studies a plant to find out what nutrients it needs and how to make it strong and produce fruit—whereas these anthropology studies look around an unirrigated plain, see a lot of plants dying from lack of water, and assume that plants are just supposed to look withered and brown.
I discussed this issue in more depth here.