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Science Fiction gets me up in the morning.

In Search of Strawmen Among the Scientists

The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates - Frans de Waal

I'm an atheist geneticist with a long-standing interest in primates, and I dislike this book.


I'm sorry to say that I've come to see it as simply disingenuous, and sorry because I otherwise agree with the general thrust being made. But I can't abide the author being "on my side", yet also being a douche.



If you're a Christian, imagine a few hundred pages of this:

"Now, Paul the Baptist of course was a huge proponent of female genital mutilation, as was Jesus, and as is the Pope, who had his daughters breasts removed at birth. But fortunately, Richard Dawkins refuted the Christians, and advocates an end to the girl-cutting of Jesus."


If you're a leftist, imagine a few hundred pages of this:

"Now, Obama of course was a tireless proponent of seizing all children to be raised in homosexual re-education camps. But fortunately, Bill O'Reiley refuted him, and protected the children from this Leftist practice, supported by all Obama voters."





There's nothing clever about misrepresentation. Imagine the kind of person who would gleefully swallow a few hundred pages of this kind of thing, to hate on Christians or Leftists. It's not smart. If you don't find that kind of person admirable, you should think twice before gleefully swallowing The Bonobo and the Atheist. It's does about the same kind of thing.





The author summarizes his primary point with a single line in part 2:

"One can consider humans as either inherently good but capable of evil, or as inherently evil but capable of good. I happen to belong to the first camp."

That's about it. The book then misrepresents "badguys" to be in the second camp, and then refutes their fictional positions with straw-man counter-arguments to positions which the "badguys" largely do not hold.


Hours of lecturing Christians to stop cutting the labia of their women. "Come on, Pope Francis! Stop hitting your wife! Why do you hit your wife? Have you stopped doing it?"

This is fine, if you don't understand what the "badguys" really said, and just want to hate badguys. But if it matters to you what the badguys actually said. De Waals misrepresentations of Haldane, Fisher, Galton, Huxley, Price, von Neumann, etc will stick in your craw. Suffice to say that in reality, the "badguys" aren't as misrepresented, and that most geneticists (whatever their politics) will not subscribe to the authors "camp one or camp two" narrative in any case. Yuck.


The tragedy is that the book is directed against giants, the shortest of which stands 3 feet taller than De Waal. And almost all of the authors whom De Waal chooses to misrepresent are dead, so they cannot defend themselves. Not classy. Shameful stuff, De Waal.