In his new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, de Waal challenges this theory, arguing that human morality is older than religion, and indeed an innate quality. In other words, religion did not give us morality. Religion built onto a pre-existing moral system that governed how our species behaved.
de Waal's argument, which he has been making for years, is strengthened by the fact that recent research is starting to paint a better picture of the kind of cognitive processing that empathy requires. It turns out that empathy is not as complex as we had imagined, and that is why other animals are capable of it as well as humans.
So if being moral is so easy, can we dispatch with religion altogether?
From Big Think.
But then anyone who has seen the great The Tree of Life already knew that empathy predated humans. Remember the dinosaur that spared the other dinosaur? Malick knew it before you did.