You hear it a lot from religious believers: Faith is about doing good works, bringing about good in the world, and showing compassion.
In fact, some go further and argue that you can’t really be moral without religion.
Well, says primatologist Frans de Waal, they really ought to take a look at our close cousin the bonobo—in his new book The Bonobo and the Atheist.
For that matter, De Waal continues, those defending a faith-only version of morality ought to look at any number of moral, empathetic behaviors throughout the animal kingdom, in species ranging from dogs to elephants.
De Waal’s conclusions from all of this, for atheists, though, are controversial. He wants a more secular morality, but also thinks you can’t just wipe religion away, because it is too closely wrapped up with our evolved morality and our group allegiances.
So we wanted to interview De Waal about the latest science on morality—and about what it means for those who want the world to try running a more secular operating system.
Frans de Waal is a celebrated primatologist who directs the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, and is the C.W. Candler professor of psychology at Emory University. He has written widely about our primate relatives, in books that include Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape and The Age of Empathy.