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Primatologist And Author: Morality Wasn't Invented By Religion

Primatologist And Author: Morality Wasn't Invented By Religion
Primatologist And Author: Morality Wasn't Invented By Religion GUEST:Frans de Waal, Ph.D., professor of primate behavior, Emory University psychology department

The animal world is red in tooth and claw. The belief is if left to its own devices without the uplifting effects of religion, the animal world including humans would be unrelentingly vicious and bloodthirsty with no knowledge of morality. That is a concept challenged by the primatologist and author friends wall based on years of research into animal behavior. He says several species of mammals from chimpanzees to elephants exhibit cooperative even empathetic behavior which is one of the hallmarks of morality. Doctor Frantz do Vol is bringing the message to San Diego State University today as part of the school's distinguished lecture series. Is professor of primate behavior at Emory University of psychology department. Doctor do all, welcome. How do you define morality in terms of the traits shown by animals? What kinds of things are you looking for? >> I am not claiming that a chimpanzee is a moral being the way we are. But they have many of the capacities that we use when we are moral. For example empathy is one, following the rules, a sense of fairness, we test the sense of fairness in our primates, sort of the hierarchy that imposes roles which we do in our moral system. There are many of these commonalities. They don't necessarily put together like a moral system. But I am arguing that human morality as an evolutionary origin is not something invented by religion or imposed by religion. Religion may add to it and it may be helpful, that's possible that our religion is so recent it's only about two or 3000 years old and the species is quite a bit older. Think like 100,000 years ago our ancestors probably had a sense of morality and did not accept every behavior that occurred. Morality is much older than our current religions. >>> How do these animals he did research on display empathy? >> One of the first signs is consolation. They respond to someone who is distressed. If it chimpanzee lost a fight and is screaming and others approach and they embrace that individual and kissed them. Or elephants they put their trunks in their mouths and rumble at them. Dogs do the same thing. Dogs try to console individuals who are distressed. All of that is expressions of empathy. That is how empathy with young children gets tested the way we test it with children you ask a family member to cry and you will see it when like a two-year-old child would walk up to them in touch and stroke them. These examples of empathy have been measured and I found them in all animals. >>> So if empathy's for others is any Vol trait what purpose does it serve? >> The origin's maternal care. The origin of empathy whether you are a mouse or an elephant, you need to pay attention to the distress of your young, where they are cold, sick, whatever. That is where it starts. That also explains why empathy is more developed in females than in males. Why oxytocin is involved in empathy. Oxytocin is a hormonal hormone. That is how it got started. From there in certain species like ours it spread to other relationship not just the mother offspring relationship. Males can also be impacted. But it is more of a female characteristic for example in the child studies that are done where they test empathy in the family, they find that girls do more of it than boys. It is generally more a female characteristic. But we find it in all sorts of relationships. >>> You have written that the dominant or alpha male in the group does more consoling and peacemaking than fighting. Tell us about that. >> It is interesting. We did a study on chimpanzees where we found that if you look at all of the expressions of empathy because there's more than just consolation, you find it more in females than males but in one exception is the alpha male. The alpha male who is popular, there are alpha males who believe and they terrorize everybody and don't do much of this. But the popular alpha males that are supported by the group, they tend to be peacemakers. If there is a fight they interrupted it and stop it. They are very much in control. As soon as someone has been hurt, they go and reassure them. >>> That concept seems to have been lost in the pop-culture version of alpha male. Why is that? See in that is unfortunate. If you look at alpha Mayor all these business books on how to be an alpha male. What they mean is how to beat your opponents and remind them every day they are inferior and whatever. That is how you look at an alpha male. That are successful alpha males that I know in chimpanzees for example are very different. They are not bullies. Of course on occasion they punish somebody. But most of the time, they are more in keeping the harmony of the group intact than the bullying business. >>> What does knowing that primates exhibit these moral actions what does that tell us about our religious concept of moral behavior? >> It means that religion is probably tacked on. When our societies became bigger, maybe we needed, because our ancestors used to have small-scale societies like 100 people. Now we live in societies with 1 million people or more. I think there was a need for a better type of organization for the moral system because we became so big and anonymous. That is probably where religions came in. Religions, I am not anti-religion. There are some biologists who say religion is ridiculous but all have religions all over the world. I must assume that it is something positive for society. It could be that it provides narratives and justifications for behavior and reinforces moral tendencies that we otherwise in these large-scale societies would otherwise not work so well. >>> Your latest book is called Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are. He is speaking at San Diego State University's distinguished lecture series. Thank you so much for your time. >> You're welcome.

Primatologist and author Frans de Waal's research shows several species of mammals exhibit morality. Capuchin monkeys he said, show an understanding of fairness. Chimpanzees show empathy.

"I'm arguing that human morality has an evolutionary origin. It's not something that was invented by religion, it's not necessarily something imposed by religion. Religion may add to it and help," said de Waal, Ph.D.

De Waal is a professor of primate behavior in Emory University's psychology department. His latest book is "Are We Smart Enough To Know How Smart Animals Are?"


De Waal is speaking on Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union as part of the Provost's Distinguished Lecture Series at SDSU.

De Waal joined Midday Edition Tuesday, ahead of the event, to share his research findings and what he believes they show.