Are we moral because we believe in God, or do we believe in God because we are moral?
Frans de Waal argues in his latest book that the answer is clearly the latter. The seeds for moral behavior preceded the emergence of our species by millions of years, and the need to codify that behavior so that all would have a clear blueprint for morality led to the creation of religion, he argues.
Most religious leaders would argue it's the other way around: Our sense of what's moral came from God, and without God there would be no morality.
But this is a column about science, not religion, so it's worth asking if de Waal's own research supports his provocative conclusions, documented in the newly released book, "The Bonobo and the Atheist."
Just the title answers one question: he is an atheist, although he disparages the efforts of other atheists to convince the public to abandon all beliefs in the supernatural. Religion serves its purpose, he argues, especially through the rituals and body of beliefs that help strengthen community bonds.