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The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  3,303 ratings  ·  343 reviews
In this lively and illuminating discussion of his landmark research, esteemed primatologist Frans de Waal argues that human morality is not imposed from above but instead comes from within. Moral behavior does not begin and end with religion but is in fact a product of evolution.

For many years, de Waal has observed chimpanzees soothe distressed neighbors and bonobos share
Hardcover, 289 pages
Published March 2013 by W. W. Norton Company
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4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,303 ratings  ·  343 reviews

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Apr 16, 2013 rated it liked it
I am a fan of Frans DeWaal's and have read much of his work. I think he has been instrumental in opening up our view and making us less homocentric. Unfortunately, this book seems like something his editor asked him to write so as to catch the current secular wave. There is so much he could have written but didn't and so much he did write and should not have. His incessant focus on the art of Hieromimous Bosch is inexplicable. Why spend so much time discussing a piece of art (even if it is a mas ...more
Taede Smedes
A book about religion from one of the foremost primatologists in the world. In this brilliant book, De Waal defends his thesis that morality is not an invention of religion, but that religion is a cultural scaffolding that builds upon and enhances biologically innate moral rules. Even more, De Waal acknowledges that religion is so deeply engrained in human nature that it has become one of the defining characteristics of humanity. Interestingly, De Waal’s conclusions resonate deeply with the find ...more
Dov Zeller
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Frans De Waal makes a well researched and eloquent argument about the source of human morality.

He is not feverishly opposed to organized religion, though he is an atheist. He is opposed to the kind of violence that any kind of fundamentalist mind-set can bring.

He describes empathy, and, by extension, morality as a mammalian and certainly a primate thing. He sees its formulation as a'bottom up' rather than 'top down' approach, arguing that morality doesn't come from religion but from the mammal
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
There are things I liked about this book, and things I can't agree on. I learned a lot about primatology that I didn't know before, I feel he is quite an objective expert in this. It surprised me to learn bonobo had a sense of consequence, or played pranks on each other. This was well written and I learned quite a bit.
I couldn't agree with De Waal's perspective on human issues. He opposes a "top down" morality imposed by religion but not religion. He talks about Genital mutilation and circumcis
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Am aflat o mulțime de chestii interesante din cartea asta, care atinge subiecte din domeniul științei, religiei și filozofiei, dar și al artei, cu un limbaj accesibil și teorii prezentate pe înțelesul tuturor. Am fost captivată în egală măsură de reflecțiile lui Frans de Waal despre religie și moralitate, precum și de poveștile din lumea animală, observate în mod direct de primatolog sau experimentate de alți oameni de știință.

Autorul aduce numeroase exemple și argumente care arată că originile
Çağrı Mert Bakırcı
It is certainly a great book in terms of animal behavior and about the quest to find the scientific basis of morality. I really enjoyed the first-hand experiences de Waal delivers, as well as the examples from the field about the relationships between the primates and even some elephants, dogs, etc. It is not up to me to criticize his knowledge in the field of ethology.

However... I am shocked by how naive he is and how much information and insight he lacks about atheism debates. He is so unfamil
Sep 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: atheism, animals
De Waal begins with a famous Nietzsche quote: "Is man only a blunder of God? Or is God only a blunder of man?"

The central question of the book seems to be: "Where does morality come from? Does it come from above or from within us?" As someone who thinks scientifically, I believe it obviously comes from within, but how and why?

De Waal speaks of apes holding a door open for another ape to get food even if it means they will eat less. And capuchin monkeys would rather play a card that gets food f
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
The must frustrating thing about this book was how much of it was quotable. I listened to it as an audiobook, and I use the bookmark feature of Audible regularly, but that means I have to go back after the fact and transcribe all the passages that I liked into Evernote. I probably have literally 30-40 passages I'm going to have to do that for with this book because it was just so tense with stories I want to capture, pithy lines, or surprising scientific findings. (OK, I don't really "have to,"- ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
A well written and at times fascinating explanation of the author's views on similarities between humans and mammals, with other primates taking center stage (obviously as De Waal is a primatologist).

He also has interesting things to say about the origin of morality in primates, including in humans but the book falters a bit in my opinion when he tries to invent a conflict between his views and atheists' in order to give his book a problem to solve.
Not only does he generalise atheists heavily (
Sorina Negrilă
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Primatologul isi sustine ideea ca instinctele prosociale, altruismul si comportamentul moral preced religiile cunoscute, care mai degraba au particularizat prin naratiuni locale valori general umane, cu exemple anecdotice sau stiintifice din coloniile de cimpanzei sau bonobo. Respinge ateismul militant cum este el promovat de Hitchens, Dawkins sau Sam Harris printr-o analiza mai degraba functionala a religiei (daca a aparut la mai toate popoarele prin ce o poti inlocui, care sa confere orientare ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you’ve ever wondered about the evolution of morality and whether humans are the only moral creatures, this is a good exploration of the idea. Frans de Waal posits that we have an innate sense of morality, and like Jonathan Haidt, suggests that this sense dictates what we do – the emotional tail wags the rational dog, rather than the other way round, in Haidt’s terminology.

The main attraction for me is not the ideas, which I’ve come across plenty of times before, but the anecdotes about the be
Miloș Dumbraci
Apr 23, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
O stea nu pentru că autorul este un agnostic supărat pe atei, pe care-i tot ceartă în ea (eu fiind unul) în timp ce are înțelegere destulă pentru religioși, ci pentru că nu pot să spun în recenzie despre ce este. Nici cartea în ansamblu, nici fiecare capitol, nu urmărește vreo idee clară, sau măcar un lanț logic de idei și deducții, ci bate câmpii între exemple concrete de experimente (interesante, dar insuficient contextualizate și teoreizate) și diverse chestii care-i trec lui prin cap, plus a ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Kilitli odanın kapısına birkaç delik açtık ama anahtarı bir türlü bulamadık.”
“Din, bize normalde yapmayacağımız şeyleri yaptırmaktan ziyade, doğal eğilimlerimizi destekleme ve güçlendirme gibi bir katkıda bulunuyor olabilir.”
Melisa Esra✨
O carte interesantă, despre subiecte complexe, cam pe înțelesul tuturor.
Fiind nouă în genul cărților "științifice", această carte nu a prezentat o provocare prea mare.
În mare parte sunt de acord cu părerile autorului, mai ales în privința "distrugerii" religiei, înlocuind-o cu ateismul, sau alt concept echivalent religiei. Trebuie ori să existe ceva echivalent, ori să fie un mod de a coexista. Soluția nu este distrugerea uneia sau a alteia.
În concluzie, mi-a plăcut mult cartea și ideile pe ca
Dec 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Această carte ar fi trebuit să fie una dedicată religiei și, mai ales, moralității văzute prin ochii unui Bonobo. Din păcate autorul ne poartă prin critica artei (în fapt a unui singur tablou de Hieronymus Bosch, genial, dar fără legătură cu restul cărții) și a umanismului modern, când virulent antireligios, când acceptând practicile diferitelor biserici (care-și manifestă întâietatea în inventarea moralității, respectiv dau verdicte pseudoștiințifice).

Volumul este inconstant, dând impresia de t
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In an area fraught with ill will and name calling, Frans de Waal offers a warm, optimistic and peaceable view of the "conflict" between science and religion. The real conflict is with dogma, which can appear on both sides. This beautifully written book is the product of a lifetime of studying primates, whom he sees as natural moralists -- as are humans, who share an evolutionary past with them. His stories of bonobos gave me a feeling of kinship with other living creatures and a better understan ...more
Melissa Choi
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Frans de Waal is a very accomplished primatologist, and in addition, he also possesses the rare gift for elegant prose. This book reinforces the growing scientific perspective that morality is not the exclusive domain of homo sapiens, and instead is a result of evolution. Indeed, the study of animal behavior has revealed that primates and apes exhibit rudimentary forms of morality such as reciprocal altruism, co-operation, and a sense of fairness/justice. Although the book title features the bon ...more
Maurizio Manco
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Forse è un mio difetto, ma io diffido di tutte quelle persone il cui sistema di credenze è l'unica cosa che si opponga fra loro e l'adozione di un comportamento ripugnante." (p. 9)
Guillermo Jiménez
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hubo una temporada brutal en la que me declaré antirreligioso. Cuando esto sucedió, no solo ya habían pasado años en que había dejado de seguir los preceptos católicos con los que fui educado durante toda mi infancia y parte de mi adolescencia. Aún recuerdo estar explicándome ante uno de los hermanos lasallistas en la secundaria, el porqué ya no quería asistir a las misas que se celebraban cada primer viernes de mes: "no quiero hincarme ante ningún dios" (sí, según yo, lo pronunciaba en minúscul ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
A strong 4.5

A real thinker of a book. Right from the beginning I was challenged by de Waal’s approach to religion and atheism. He is very passive. Dogma on either side does not help. People’s minds are not changed by dogma. And both science and religion have a horrible track record of justifying atrocious acts in the name of the greater good. Both religion and science are imperfect.

In chapter 4 the author dives deeper into the ideas of religion and atheism. I went back and reread this chapter t
Jul 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, science
I finished this a few months ago so I can't find the exact passages that stuck with me the most. While I definitely appreciate the defense of humanist morality (and this book really is an important, well-written read, though not necessarily new - see The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology), I can't help but think that the skeptic/humanist world is too saturated with the old white male perspective.

Perhaps this is what lies behind de Waal's critici
Phelecia Odima
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Frans de Waal brings forth a beautiful display of the intersection between primatology and humanity in "The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates". This book will prove a mind-blowing piece of literature for the modern human being catching flights around the globe, enjoying advancements in technology and perhaps understandably, forgetting that we are just animals-primates-and we have a lot in common with our closest relatives, the bonobos. De Waal seeks out to answer t ...more
Dick Zeeman
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
The subject of the book is very interesting. Frans de Waal has a very nice style which makes for an easy read.
However, he does not convince me of his opinions, even though I share many of them. Mainly he does himself what he accuses other scientists of: cherry picking, confirmation bias and even stating his opinion as fact.

For example (I don't say I don't agree with some of the below, the point is the way he presents his ideas and opinions):
"Such behaviour is sure to be selected against" (page 7
Emily Carter
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book to anybody who is passionate about religion and science, particularly the intersection of the two. The central argument is that morality predated religion, and that religion would not be such a strong force in the world without our species having evolved from other community minded creatures. My personal favorite point, however, is peripheral. He asserts that atheists who are vehemently opposed to religion likely grew up in fundamentalist religions, and they simply r ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
For the most part, this book was lovely. A loving and critical exploration of the roots of morality in the whole brain itself, not just the little veneer of cells that characterizes us smug humans. He recounts many well documented stories of chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, whales, rats, and dogs being better than they had to be; showing compassion, empathy and insight.

The sour note was his discussion of atheists. He clearly doesn’t like most of us. He keeps accusing us, sometimes in the voice o
John Kaufmann
Sep 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Despite its title, this book does not trash religion or espouse atheism. The main premise is that morality is not the stepchild of religion - on the contrary, morality predates religion and comes from within (i.e. human nature). de Waal discusses how morality is grounded in emotions and social interaction, citing various "pre-moral" behaviors among primates, bonobos, and even other animals. In small groups, these behaviors can be enforced by shunning and other direct punishment. But as societies ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny by: Dr. Jim Fitzgerald
Shelves: non-fiction
Great book, informative, humorous at times, makes you reflect on humanity and kindness. As an agnosticist myself, I agree with Frans de Waal about how there is no point to disprove religion when the need for it is rooted deeply in humanity. I enjoyed reading about all the experiments but not so much about the paintings, albeit it is largely relevant to prove the point. I also enjoyed learning how anthropologists disregarded the link between bonobos and human because the male bonobos aren't as ma ...more
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
Disconcerting to think that benobos appear to have better instincts than many of us seem to have. Perhaps advancing the species to the point where a more comfortable life can be led (food stored instead of searched for every day and ipods)leads to materialism and selfishness but as it is unlikely that we will ever go back to a truly simple life, maybe all we can take away from this book is that buried in us there could be an inate drive to care for our fellow creatures.
A refreshing book which discusses morality from a perspective I had bever heard before. It gives a neat alternative which I think is indeed much more plausible and not as polarised as apparently everything is nowadays. It is written in a compelling style and Frans de Waal clearly explains his arguments and conclisions.
Nov 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nauka, owned
Jak na książkę prymatologa o moralności wśród naczelnych trochę za dużo Hieronima Boscha.
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Frans de Waal has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. The author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, among many other works, he is the C. H. Candler Professor in Emory University’s Psychology Department and director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Friedrich Nietzsche, who famously gave us the ‘God is dead’ phrase was interested in the sources of morality. He warned that the emergence of something (whether an organ, a legal institution, or a religious ritual) is never to be confused with its acquired purpose: ‘Anything in existence, having somehow come about, is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and redirected to a new purpose.’

This is a liberating thought, which teaches us to never hold the history of something against its possible applications. Even if computers started out as calculators, that doesn’t prevent us from playing games on them. (47) (quoting Nietzsche, the Genealogy of Morals)”
“Perhaps it's just me, but I am wary of any persons whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior.” 23 likes
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