Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Learning about serial dogmatism after a random walk in a bookshop

Last Saturday I showed a bookshop in Barcelona to a friend of mine that was visiting from Madrid. We looked at sections that I do not usually visit when I come in on my own in a rush, such as the science section. And prompted by him, I bought a book called “The Bonobo and the Atheist”, by Frans de Waal. After reading it in the last few days (OK, skipping the occasional paragraph) I have the feeling of wondering how could I have missed this. Amazon should have known better. The book explains how animals such as the bonobo (a friendlier, happier and more feminist cousin of the chimpanzee) are able to feel empathy, emotions and morality that are very similar to the ones experienced by humans. The autor links this to an explanation of how religion evolved as an elaboration of bottom-up morality. Although not a believer, de Waal criticizes the dogmatic atheists (people like Hitchens and Dawkins which I have to confess I enjoyed reading in the past) for not appreciating that it is going to be difficult to replace religions. He claims that some intellectuals replace dogmatisms of the past with dogmatisms of the present, making a real conversation difficult. The concept of serial dogmatism that he uses could be easily applied to other fields. The book challenges beliefs I had as an amateur follower of debates about the comparison between non-human animals and us, such as our similarity with social insects. The book argues that although social insects are capable of sophisticated cooperation, they lack the emotions and feelings that make morality and empathy possible in mammals.

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