Sunday, October 18, 2009

No more monkeying around...

No more monkeying around...

This blog entry isn't on a subject belonging to non-belief and atheism... at least not directly. It's about science, in part, and about how recent animal studies are giving us incite and a better picture of who we are and perhaps how, where and why we've evolved to behave as we do. And, there can be no more monkeying around about it, the second reason for posting this subject is to point out that no matter what the holy books say, we're kissin' cousins to monkeys.

From Ivan Pavlov's respondent conditioned salivating dogs to Dian Fossey's gentle mountain ape family to now, we've come to learn that studying animals is a useful and valid way to learn more about ourselves - and no wonder - we're merely animals, aren't we...!?

I'm on this subject of our human/animal ancestry as a result of reading an article posted at Think Atheist - Sunday Morning Service. The article "Morals Without God" is by Frans de Waal and it talks about his research into understanding the sociability of monkeys - monkeys with morals. Here's a quickie from him:

In one experiment, we placed two capuchin monkeys side by side: separate, but in full view. One of them needed to barter with us with small plastic tokens. The critical test came when we offered a choice between two differently colored tokens with different meaning: one token was "selfish," the other "prosocial." If the bartering monkey picked the selfish token, it received a small piece of apple for returning it, but its partner got nothing. The prosocial token, on the other hand, rewarded both monkeys equally at the same time. The monkeys gradually began to prefer the prosocial token. The procedures were repeated many times with different pairs of monkeys and different sets of tokens, and the monkeys kept picking the prosocial option showing how much they care about each other's welfare.

It's interesting. I've already decided to buy his book to read more on what he has to say. But interesting enough as the study of morality being displayed by animals may be, I'm also posting this blog because the question of our human/animal ancestry, true or false, is becoming less and less of a question by the day.

While not all non-religious people would agree that humans and animals are genetically linked, and some might decent so much so that hearing statements of the sort that we humans quite certainty share a definite genetic past with animals might even set a few of them into fits of denial; usually, it generally isn't the case. Atheists and agnostics, etc., ...and perhaps Buddhists and some other non-god believing groups of people (I don't know for certain) are more likely comfortable with the idea that mankind and monkey are related. Theists, on the other hand, generally have a very tough time swallowing such a large bite of reality without choking, turning blue in the face and gasping for life-saving breath. The god-believers tend to stick closely to what "the book" tells them - that man is divinely special and created by God apart from the animals. It's their way, after all. "God said so."

So my message to all of us here is simple: If you find that you're on the side of the fence where the likes of the Pavloves and Fosseys and Walles have gathered to do what they do so well; and if you see that you're standing in the company of millions of scientists, practitioners, researchers and technologists, students and appreciative reason-based thinkers, you're in the right place - your companions are telling it how it is. They're right! ... All the rest of you, those standing in the shadow of the church steeple or within shouting distance of a minaret, holy books and prayer rugs in hand... well, you just aren't getting it. Jump the fence (and leave that worn out old book behind when you do.)

(I encourage everyone to read ALL the articles found on this page.)

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