Things I Learned: YouTube Edition »« Getting at the Differences

“The Bonobo and the Atheist”, Frans de Waal on Atheists Talk

One of the questions for the ages is the origin of human morality. Some ascribe it to a god or gods. Some would prefer a more empirical approach.

In his work with primates, Frans de Wall has explored the evolution of those traits we used to consider uniquely human. His latest book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, he tackles morality. Small spoiler: We’re not as special in this regard as we tend to think.

From the publisher’s description:

In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution.

For many years, de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food. Now he delivers fascinating fresh evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness. Interweaving vivid tales from the animal kingdom with thoughtful philosophical analysis, de Waal seeks a bottom-up explanation of morality that emphasizes our connection with animals. In doing so, de Waal explores for the first time the implications of his work for our understanding of modern religion. Whatever the role of religious moral imperatives, he sees it as a “Johnny-come-lately” role that emerged only as an addition to our natural instincts for cooperation and empathy.

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Comments

  1. says

    I could’ve sworn I heard de Waal say during his recent PoI appearance that SJ Gould’s notion of spandrels in evolution had been disproven (especially as it applies to something like religion), which sort of confused me. Maybe I wasn’t understanding his point correctly, but I would really like to hear his views on that issue elaborated a bit more and analyzed/challenged by some of the biologist types around here.

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