The Bonobo and the Atheist

The Bonobo and the Atheist

In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

Book - 2013
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For many years, de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share their food. Now he delivers fascinating fresh evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness. Interweaving vivid tales from the animal kingdom with thoughtful philosophical analysis, de Waal seeks a bottom-up explanation of morality that emphasizes our connection with animals. In doing so, de Waal explores for the first time the implications of his work for our understanding of modern religion. Whatever the role of religious moral imperatives, he sees it as a "Johnny-come-lately" role that emerged only as an addition to our natural instincts for cooperation and empathy.

But unlike the dogmatic neo-atheist of his book's title, de Waal does not scorn religion per se. Instead, he draws on the long tradition of humanism exemplified by the painter Hieronymus Bosch and asks reflective readers to consider these issues from a positive perspective: What role, if any, does religion play for a well-functioning society today? And where can believers and nonbelievers alike find the inspiration to lead a good life?

Rich with cultural references and anecdotes of primate behavior, The Bonobo and the Atheist engagingly builds a unique argument grounded in evolutionary biology and moral philosophy. Ever a pioneering thinker, de Waal delivers a heartening and inclusive new perspective on human nature and our struggle to find purpose in our lives.

Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, c2013
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780393073775
Branch Call Number: 599.0524 WAA


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Sep 19, 2017

Overfilled with anecdotes and brief summaries of experiments relating mainly to bonobos, but also featuring chimpanzees; boils down to empathy (and consolation, and targeted helping), reciprocation, hierarchy, and in-group preference. I found the writing overly informal.

JCLKimG May 12, 2014

This is a very interesting read about how primates (including humans) are a pro-social species. We do nice things for each other because morality is an evolved trait based on fairness and empathy. We don't always resolve conflict by competition, either. Like the bonobos, we sometimes resolve conflicts with sex.

Oct 12, 2013

By this point, any educated American (and according to the recently AP publicized OECD study, most American adults are retards) should know that there were 27 precursor species of human or humanoid before the present day homo sapiens "evolved." Obviously, on the primate scale the monkey & apes are bottom, next comes the human and next, on the highest existing level, is the Bonobo. Good book, but the atheism tie-in isn't the logical step or connection, so it is lacking in that regard. Yes, the same psychopathic types who created the money creation scheme also created religion (the shaman, or priest, urging his people to lay out foods on the alter that night, and after the are asleep, said shaman or priest sneaks out and gathers all the food for himself (or herself), claiming it was the work of the god(s))! But a corrupt thought doesn't necessarily translate to a real and natural truth?

Oct 11, 2013

I enjoyed reading this (as with his previous books) but found this to be more of a collection of bonobo and chimpanzee anecdotes. While interesting and pertinent I didn't perceive a coherent "whole". It was also not that different or new compared to his other works.

Sep 17, 2013

This is at least the fourth book I've read by de Waal. In my opinion, his classic remains The Ape and the Sushi Master (2001). That said, The Bonobo and the Atheist is a delightful addition to his body of work. It contains many insights into our primate cousins and useful ruminations on the origins of cooperative behavior and morality. de Waal's device of using the Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch as a touchstone for these ruminations is intriguing and effective. Topical, engaging and thought-provoking, the volume strikes me as a much-needed antidote to Stephen Pinker's blinkered panegyric to reason in The Better Angels of Our Nature (which I enjoyed, despite that near-obsessive singlemindedness).

May 22, 2013

De Waal writes in a gentle and engaging manner. He argues that humans are essentially ethical and pro-social. Our primate relatives - bonobos in particular, with whom we share 95% of our DNA - are also very social and caring of one another. De Waal is a non-dogmatic athiest and humanist. The book is highly entertaining and fully of interesting commentary on animal behaviour,philosophy and art history.

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