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The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates
Frans de Wall
In The Bonobo and the Atheist esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal delivers a fully fledged, masterfully argued account of how evidence of ethical behavior in our primate cousins strongly suggests that fairness and empathy are not exclusive to our species but were conferred on us by evolution. De Waal bases his argument in the behavior of primates. We tend to think of the natural world as a blood-soaked battlefield where only the toughest survive - Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw” - but de Waal delivers a compelling counterargument replete with accounts of fairness and compassion among our closest animal relatives.
Following his line of argument, de Waal’s fresh and provocative perspective is that human morality is not a cultural invention, as are religion and law, but predates those inventions by thousands, perhaps millions of years. It is not imposed from above or from without but begins within us: in the core of our biology. Because our capacity to be moral is biologically hardwired, religion - or the lack thereof - cannot fundamentally change it. And our fears that a world without religion is a world without right or wrong are unfounded.
But unlike recent atheist books that have established their own abrasive, all-or-nothing dogma, The Bonobo and the Atheist does not scorn religion or discount its cultural significance and social value. Drawing on a long tradition of humanism de Waal asks readers to consider what role, if any, religion might play in an enlightened society, and where believers and nonbelievers alike can find the inspiration to lead a good life.
About the author
Frans de Waal is a Dutch/American biologist who has been named among Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Our Inner Ape among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta.
John C. Snider, Co-host
American Freethought Podcast
Since 2007, John C. Snider has been the co-host with David Driscoll of American Freethought, a podcast devoted to issues involving separation of church and state; the intersection of faith and science; and the effect of religion on education, public policy and human rights. He is a founding member and former president of the Fellowship of Reason, a member and former director of the Atlanta Freethought Society and a booster for the Atlanta Skeptics and the Atlanta Science Tavern.