The Bonobo and the Atheist, a book recommendation

Imagine my surprise when I saw the title THE BONOBO AND THE ATHEIST, In Search of Humanism Among the Primates in my small conservative town's public library! It's a brand new book by Frans de Waal, a Dutch/American biologist teaching at Emory U. in Atlanta, GA.

The book can best be summed up in the cover's introduction: "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."

His evidence is from years of primate observations, primarily bonobos and chimpanzees. If they exhibit fair play, cooperation, empathy, remorse without "religion", why do we need "God" to explain our morals? Is it "genetic". Is it learned behavior? We don't really know the complete answer.

The book is easy and fun to read, filled with animal anecdotes. De Waal refuses to bash religion, instead,  questions how it all became so important and necessary for humans. "The central issue of atheism...strikes me as monumentally uninteresting. What do we gain be getting in a tizzy about the existance of something no one can prove or disprove?"  More: "People simply believe because they want to. This applies to all religions. Faith is driven by attractions to certain persons, stories, rituals, and values. It fulfulls emotional needs, such as the need for security and authority and the desire to belong. Theology is secondary and evidence tertiary." To which I say "!!".  (I stated in my very first Nexus blog that I wasn't going to get involved in debates, discussions, controversies, analysis, philosophy, etc.) De Waal has a few harsh things to say about Hichens, Dawkins, and Harris, by the way.

Anyway, I couldn't put the 243 page book down. It's filled with facts and evidence and inspiring observations--a convincing case for secular ethics.

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Comment by kathy: ky on November 9, 2013 at 7:22pm

Spud, I grew up in the mid-west land of hugging, family, christians.  We're all close to this day.  Cousins,nieces,nephews everyone.  Affection in a family is, to me, a wonderful thing.  I'm the only one to come out of it atheist though. Go figure.

Comment by Joan Denoo on November 7, 2013 at 11:35am

Spud, that old Victorian ethic runs deeply in ones' being. Can't shake it off ... kind of like a feather stuck to honey on one's finger! I am a direct descendent of Puritans of Plymouth and Salem. The curse of religion. 

Comment by Randall Smith on November 7, 2013 at 8:12am

And I agree with all of you!

Comment by Idaho Spud on November 6, 2013 at 6:16pm

Not only sexuality suffered, but closeness, caring, empathy, and communication suffered.

Comment by Idaho Spud on November 6, 2013 at 6:12pm

I grew-up in a family of nonhuggers, nonkissers, and non"I love you"ers.  I regret all those things, and think my and my family members sexuality suffered partially because of those things.

 Of course the largest factor was the mormon religion's teachings that sex is dirty most of the time.  Religion may be why my family were so poor at expressing love and caring.  

In any case, I think less sexual restrictions would have done us a considerable amount of good.

Comment by Idaho Spud on November 6, 2013 at 4:29pm

Terry, that's what I find fascinating about Bonobos.  We could probably take a page or two out of their book.

Comment by Michael Penn on November 3, 2013 at 9:41am

The Bonobo most likely has community and a sense of being without ever wondering about god. This is what so many do not understand. Humans would have it also if we simply raised our babies and never lied to them.

Comment by Joan Denoo on November 2, 2013 at 5:53pm

Thanks for the review on Frans de Waal; his videos have been interesting to me and this recent one is no exception. Morality without religion, Frans deWaal. 

What is it that religion attracts? A sense of community, common beliefs, celebrations, a sense of wonder or all of the above and more? All of these things I experience as a non-believer and in fact, find the realization of the vastness of the universe, and the tinyness of quantum physics as a wonder all by themselves. Then, toss in diversity, and the lack of hatred for women, homosexuals, and other religions makes non-belief very satisfying.  

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