Monday, April 23, 2012

Chimps and Religion

SOURCE:  "Interview:  Why Jane Goodall Thinks Chimps Have Souls" by Steven Greydanus.  Christianity Today; 4/20/2012.

What are other aspects of human uniqueness, besides than our intelligence?

Tied in with intelligence, we've developed and been able to elaborate on cultural acquisition of behavior. Chimps definitely have their own kind of primitive culture, but we live by our culture, we talk about it, children are taught how to model behavior. Our whole lives are bound by our culture, really. So even though we're reaching out to understand other cultures, nevertheless it's our language that's enabling us to do that.

What makes us special? People say maybe we have a soul and chimpanzees don't. I feel that it's quite possible that if we have souls, chimpanzees have souls as well.  Other people say, "What about religious behavior? Do chimps show any signs of that? In Gombe [Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park, where Goodall did much of her research], there are fantastic waterfalls where the water drops eighty feet through a natural gorge. There's a wind caused by the displacement of air with the dropping water, and ferns waving and vines hanging down. And this spectacle causes what we call an incredible "waterfall dance." The chimpanzees will sway rhythmically from foot to foot, and sometimes sit and look at the waterfall.
That makes me feel that if the chimpanzees could speak, if they could share the behavior that makes them perform these displays, which I think must be related to awe and wonder, that could lead to one of those early animistic religions where people worship water and sun and elements they can't understand.

Do you think that in doing so, chimpanzees—and humans in their religious behavior—apprehend something real?

Well, that's what different people think different things about, isn't it? From my perspective, I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That's what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest. What it means for chimpanzees, I simply wouldn't say. Since they haven't had the language to discuss it, it's trapped within each one of them.

(emphasis mine)

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