Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior

March 21, 2007 at 2:02 am 10 comments

ChimpanzeesIn one of my very first blogs, someone questioned the source of my morals since I do not follow the Bible as my source of morality. I think it’s interesting that the Bible shows a God who committed acts we would consider very immoral such as killing babies, promoting slavery, and a host of other atrocities (see this blog for more information). Yet, we should look to this book to define morality.

Here’s a quote from the New York Times article, “Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior“:

Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

In my opinion, Christians need to understand they’ve bought into a lie when they believe they cannot be good without God. They may choose not to be good without God and the “fear of God” may motivate them to be good. However, in my opinion, if one chooses, they can be good and not believe in God, the Bible, heaffalumps or woozles.

– The de-Convert

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The God of Christianity is not merciful Is Christianity for peace?

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Adam  |  March 21, 2007 at 5:43 am

    I just finished reading Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong by Marc D. Houser. It’s all about these fascinating experiments in animals and tracing the development of morality.

  • 2. Spiritual Monkey  |  March 21, 2007 at 6:47 am

    Adam, that sounds good, when was the book written? I would like to check it out.

  • 3. Spiritual Monkey  |  March 21, 2007 at 5:28 am

    I never needed scientific evidence for primate morality – I’ve always considered myself rather morally superior 😀

  • 4. David V  |  March 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    The article is very confused philosophically:

    Emotions are simply a rapid, subconscious form of thinking. They stem from our explicitly and implicitly held values, and do not represent any “instinctive” sense of right or wrong.

    “Morality” is a framework of principles and standards regarding proper and improper behavior. The issue of morality only arises for human beings, because for most other animals, the proper course of action is automatically determined by instinct. A set of ethical principles is neither possible nor necessary for a non-rational being.

    The story equates morality with self-sacrificial behavior, or altruism. In fact, that is a particular moral theory – the other major theory being egoism. The key question in ethics is “who is the proper recipient of values?” Religious theories hold that to be a supreme being, collectivists hold it to be the society or ethnic group, altruists believe that it is anyone by you, and egoists hold it to be themselves.

    To develop a proper moral philosophy, you should begin by asking – why do humans need a morality? Does something about human condition make a set of principles for our behavior necessary, or can we survive by acting on the whim of the moment?

  • 5. Adam  |  March 22, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Spritual Monkey, It was published last August, so its pretty up to date. It takes a very scientific approach – it is entirely explanatory and nonjudgmental.

  • 6. JohnT  |  March 22, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    My thoughts: Believe what you need to, but don’t condemn me for mine. Which are that a purposeful force beyond understanding guides existence

  • 7. honjii  |  March 27, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    What we label as ‘moral’ behavior has also been observed in many species, besides primates, living in social groups. Most normal individuals (sociopaths excepted) have an inherent concern for their fellow beings. It is one of nature’s ways of ensuring the survival of a species.

    I wonder about those who think that if I/we who don’t believe in a supernatural being there is no reason to be good. It’s pretty scary to think about the havoc they would wreak should they wake up one day and discover god and the bible are as real as the tooth fairy. With the only reason to be good a thing of the past, how will they behave?

  • 8. Evolution and The Rational Animal « Holy Bananas  |  March 28, 2007 at 10:46 am

    […] The de-Convert recently mentioned a theory of evolutionary morality and the Agnostic Mom has always raved on extensively about such […]

  • […] 29th, 2007 In a previous post “Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior,” referencing a N.Y. Times article by the same name, we began to discuss the subject of […]

  • 10. Jeka Babull  |  June 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Ok, I will try and not preach, but man I hate chimps, I once watched a show where the comentator said that chimps where like humans, because they commit murder, unlike other primates. Anyway apart from that I would like to confess that I have been questioning my faith, and I feel really lonely, but strangely not so lonley after reading this post. I know already that I’m over more into the believer camp, just sharing, in my opinion there feels as if there are not many believers out there but that brings me sadness, maybe because I feel that I need a group.

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.



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