The next time you mutter under your breath about the big gorilla in the next office, you might want to reconsider. The insult may reflect badly on you. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal has spent decades studying chimpanzees and bonobos and found that nearly everything we hold in high esteem as “human nature” can be found in great apes.
De Waal runs Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. He’s written a series of influential books, including Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape, which add up to a sustained argument against human exceptionalism. His new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, takes aim at critics and dissenters—anthropologists, behaviorists, Christian fundamentalists—and at the “strident atheism” of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. De Waal, a non-believer himself, sees religion as an offshoot of our biological drive to do good.
BY STEVE PAULSON