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Culture & Religion

Would a Crumbling of Faith Really Make Humanity Less Moral?

If people figured out how to get along before religion, asks Frans de Waal, do we really need it?

When people discuss religion’s value — or lack thereof — a common argument is that religions provide us our moral framework, and that without them chaos would ensue. Some believe this is already happening.

Primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal, though, makes an interesting point: Considering that our religions are only a few thousand years old, and humans somehow got along with each other for hundreds of thousand of years before that, do we really need religion to morally guide us? 

He proposes an experiment that’s already (sort of) underway in the Netherlands.

One of de Waal’s most fascinating suggestions is that religion may be just a repackaging of moral behaviors for use with a large population. When early humans lived in smaller groups, they could watch over each other. But as populations grew, did it become necessary to invent a watchful god in the sky to make people feel they couldn’t get away with, well, murder, without being seen?


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