Monday, April 15, 2013

A primatologist on the origins of morality



Primatologist Frans de Waal, director of Emory's Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, spoke with CNN's Kelly Murray about his new book, "The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates."

Below is an excerpt from the interview, posted on CNN's Light Years blog:

CNN’s Kelly Murray: Tell us about the title of your book.

Frans de Waal: Well, the reason I chose that title is, when I bring up the origins of morality, it revolves around God, or comes from religion, and I want to address the issue that I think morality is actually older than religion. So I’m getting into the religion question, and how important is religion for morality. I think it plays a role, but it’s a secondary role. Instead of being the source of morality, religion came later, maybe to fortify morality.

CNN: How would you say that ethics or morality is separate from religion?

De Waal: Well, I think that morality is older. In the sense that I find it very hard to believe that 100,000 or 200,000 years ago, our ancestors did not believe in right and wrong, and did not punish bad behavior, did not care about fairness. Very long ago our ancestors had moral systems. Our current institutions are only a couple of thousand years old, which is really not old in the eyes of a biologist. So I think religion came after morality. Religion may have become a codification of morality, and it may fortify it, but it’s not the origin of it.

Read the whole interview here.

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