Excerpt from an essay by Frans de Waal, author of Our Inner Ape
: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are:
"I am wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing that stands between them and repulsive behavior." [In response to claims by theistic moralists that there would be nothing to keep THEM from killing or raping whomever they pleased but for their belief in God, Jesus, the Bible, etc.]
de Waal summarizes the evidence for emotional linkages between primates, including empathy and consolation, other prosocial tendencies, abundance of examples of spontaneous helping, as well as cases of reciprocity and recognition of fairness/unfairness between primates.
He ends his essay with these words:
"Humans moved from a purely socially reinforced system to one with religious backing. A big step perhaps, but not big enough to claim morality as a religious invention. Without claiming other primates as moral beings, we may assert that the seeds for a moral order seem far older than our species. Empathy, sympathy, reciprocity, fairness, and other basic tendencies were built into humanity's moral order based on our primate psychology."
"Forgiveness is not, as some people seem to believe, a mysterious and sublime idea that we owe to a few millennia of Judeo-Christianity. It did not originate in the minds of people and cannot therefore be appropriated by an ideology or a religion. The fact that monkeys, apes, and humans all engage in reconciliation behavior (stretching out a hand, smiling, kissing, embracing, and so on) means that it is probably over thirty million years old, preceding the evolutionary divergence of these primates. . . . Reconciliation behavior [is] a shared heritage of the primate order. . . ."http://networkedblogs.com/ht9iv
"I'm not a skeptic because I want to believe, I'm a skeptic because I want to know." --Michael Shermer