Chimp, Chump, or Other…

I’ve encountered a fair amount of chatter lately regarding higher primates and their kinship with humanity—not the standard evolutionary fare, but more along the lines of higher primate morality. The chatterers by and large embrace the naturalistic evolutionary paradigm in its full rigor, and consider it a fact demonstrated beyond question that morality is a product of natural processes, and natural processes alone.


What caught my attention was a particular discussion directed at chimpanzee behavior: tool use, conception of future states, and social mores, among other things. The chatterers seemed cyber-spatially prostrate in homage and obeisance to two spirits of the age: the “just so” evolutionary tale, and the virtual, if restricted, similitude between humans and higher primates.


As reported by naturalists, then, morality is merely a human conception, a societal by-product of blind evolutionary forces; one that we share to a limited degree with higher primates. End of story, get over it, move on, say the chatterers.


Given the truth of the standard, naturalist paradigm, we may or may not accept that morality developed precisely as claimed, but what we must adopt, if we wish to be rational, is that morality is as claimed: relative, merely human, non-absolute. If this is true—and I am convinced that it is not—those who believe it appear not to believe it with enough conviction to live it.


As I have stated elsewhere, philosophies hatched in captivity do not so easily survive in the wild. Talk is cheap, especially internet talk, my friends: do those who preach such a conception of morality actually practice what they preach? I think not.


A horrid event recently befell a woman who was mauled by a chimpanzee. My heart goes out to her, and nothing said here diminishes or trivializes her pain. As should be plain at the end of this post, it is actually I as non-relativist, and those like me—which is ultimately all of us—who can empathize with this woman who was wronged in a very real and strikingly tangible manner.


For those, then, preaching that higher primates evolved morality, how can we determine that anything wrong or evil actually occurred here? Certainly no one blames the chimpanzee, even though he recompensed for the deed with his life with bullets in his chest. There’s no chimpanzee court, no chimp penal institutions, no primate rehabilitation facilities. In fact, in the wild, there’s not even the thought, presumably, that any wrong or evil occurs in such instances. Indeed, we would predict this under naturalistic evolution: survival, fitness, reproduction, natural selection, but certainly not evil.


To suggest that evolutionary thought denies this by some sort of standard whereby societies evolve moralities to sustain their genetic pools is just to move the difficulty back a step. Even if this were the case, and it’s nowhere near clear that this evolutionary “just so” state of affairs obtains, there would still exist the identical proposition between societies and their respective gene pools. Better to maul the other society first: maul or be mauled, but reproduce and have your children reproduce no matter what the means.


One might conclude that this underlies the inchoate humanistic mantra for the brotherhood of man and the kinship of all living things: to salve the uncomfortable naturalistic, evolutionary logical conclusion that nothing is wrong in the struggle of life, and the all-encompassing drive to protect and sustain our DNA. Yet this, again, is only a further removal of the problem back a step. For then it would still be our planetary gene pool versus that of competing civilizations elsewhere. Perhaps we should begin singing about galactic, or even universal, peace, love, and understanding.


Nevertheless, in the human realm the idea that nothing wrong occurred with the chimp mauling certainly does not appear to be the case. The hue and cry is deafening. What a horrid event. What a crime. What an evil. And guess what—the hue and cry is right. Something wrong did in fact occur, namely that the chimp’s owner was apparently negligent. It wasn’t an act against human convention. It wasn’t an act against sensibilities. This horrid event was more than an act against a social contract. It was wrong. And those who preach that morality is merely a human convention know it was wrong. Relativism, most particularly naturalist varieties of relativism, is an academic philosophy that cannot survive in the wild.


Now, suppose, for a moment, that another human had mauled this woman instead of a chimpanzee. Here we have a fatal defeater for naturalistic morality: if we are but members of the same evolutionary family with our higher primate cousins and our morality is merely evolved, merely a human conception, then there’s no substantive difference in a chimp mauling and a human mauling.


Again, my heart goes out not only to this particular woman, but all who have experienced pain and suffering. And the thing is, when I make that claim, it actually means something—because morality is more than a human convention.


If you believe there’s not an objective standard of goodness and morality out there, independent of humanity, you’re in effect saying you’re nothing more than a chimp. If you believe there’s not, but act as though there were, you’re a chump (although I thank you for doing so. It makes my time on this earth more pleasant). But there’s another option other than chimp or chump: morality is somehow more real than you’re currently willing to admit. It’s okay, take the plunge: fact is, you’re already living as though it were true.


  1. redray says:

    Great post! For those that believe that morality is a product of evolution… maybe there IS such a thing as de-evolution. Morality seems to be moving backward…

  2. shemaromans says:

    Insightful observation, redray.

  3. stiff neck says:

    My usual response to theories like this “No!”

  4. MS Quixote says:


    That may be the best user name I’ve ever encountered in blogdom’s entirety. How did you come by it?

  5. stiff neck says:

    Have you read the Old Testament?

  6. stiff neck says:

    I need to explain what I meant by reading the OT and how that comment pertains to my user name. My remark was rather flippant, wasn’t it? If anyone is fairly familiar with the OT, he has read how the Israelites were often referred to as being “stiffnecked.” I often find myself as stubborn and unbending as these Israelites so I thought the user name very appropriate.

  7. MS Quixote says:

    “My remark was rather flippant, wasn’t it?”

    That’s what I’d predict from someone going by the name Stiffneck.

    “I often find myself as stubborn and unbending as these Israelites so I thought the user name very appropriate.”

    Hang around and post a few comments, and I’ll let you know if I agree.

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