Frans De Waal
The Bonobo and the Atheist
In Search of Humanism Among Primates
W. W. Norton 2013
Humans are quite a bit like chimpanzees, genetically speaking. Of course humans are quite a bit like fruit flies, genetically speaking. But when it comes to behavior, humans are much more like chimpanzees than fruit flies. And so the question arrises: what can we learn about ourselves from chimpanzees? According to the veteran ethologist Frans De Waal, the answer is this: we are not the only species that lives in a moral universe. De Waal should know, because he’s been studying humans and chimpanzees for decades. In his new book The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among Primates (Norton, 2013), De Waal points out that chimpanzees (and bonobos) show nearly the full range of “human” attachments, affects, and emotions. They love, feel loss, sulk, get angry, have fights, and make up. Just as important, they abide by conventional rules that give their groups order and assist cooperation. To De Waal, there is no doubt that all of these primate behavioral traits were evolved. Just so, he says, were they evolved in humans. In the interview we discuss the implications of this viewpoint for human life, and religious faith in particular.