Rather than coming to us top-down from God, or any other external source, morality for de Waal springs bottom-up from our emotions and our day-to-day social interactions, which themselves evolved from foundations in animal societies. (via Frans de Waal’s Bottom-Up Morality: We’re Not Good Because Of God : 13.7: Cosmos And Culture : NPR)
- Azalea, a trisomic rhesus macaque (trisomic = born with three copies of a certain chromosome), had abnormal motor and social skills, in ways somewhat akin to humans with Down syndrome. Instead of punishing her “incomprehensible blunders,” such as threatening the alpha male, the other macaques were accepting and forgiving of her until Azalea’s death at age three. Female chimpanzees may confront and shut down an overly aggressive male, sometimes even pulling two adversaries close together for reconciliation, or prying rocks from an aroused males’ hands.
- In cases like these, animals are feeling empathy, then acting on that feeling with displays of kindness or help, behavior that de Waal callssympathy. The empathy is purely embodied — literally felt in the body — and part of our evolved biology. “Our brains have been designed to blur the line between self and other,” he writes. “It is an ancient neural circuitry that marks every mammal, from mouse to elephant.”
- A scientist and non-believer, de Waal isn’t saying here that religion is required for human morality, only that the two have been entwined throughout human history. Since I have wearied of the Richard Dawkins school of religion-bashing, in which belief is equated with dim-wittedness, I can only applaud de Waal’s approach, as when he writes, “The enemy of science is not religion. Religion comes in endless shapes and forms … . The true enemy is the substitution of thought, reflection, and curiosity with dogma.”