Is Evil in Our Genes?

Bonobo photo image.

The Gentle Bonobo

Within the biological family of primates, we, the human species, have close cousins whose genetic blueprints are identical to ours by as much as 98.7 per cent: These are the bonobo (pictured at the left) and the chimpanzee.

The bonobo and the chimpanzee may be considered siblings in the primate family, but they are as different from each other behaviorally as day and night, despite the fact that they share between them 99.6 per cent of their genomes.  Only recently studied more closely by animal researchers, bonobos have become known for their peace-loving, gentler nature, in contrast to the more violent-prone reputation of the chimpanzee’s nature.  It almost seems as if the bonobo embodies the angelic, better side of our human nature, while the chimpanzee seems to share and express the darker side of our nature.

Here are fascinating research findings from an article published by The Vancouver Sun, about how these two primate species seem to separately mirror the duality of our own human nature.

    Behold the bonobo, our ape cousin that’s kinder and gentler than the chimp or, well, us. Now scientists have mapped the primate’s DNA, and some researchers say that may eventually reveal secrets about how the darker side of our nature evolved.

    Scientists have found that we are as close genetically to the peace-loving but little-known bonobo as we are to the more violent and better understood chimpanzee. It’s as if they are siblings and we are cousins, related to them both equally, sharing some traits with just bonobos and other characteristics with just chimps…. (According to) study lead author Kay Prufer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany: “Humans are a little like a mosaic of bonobo and chimpanzee genomes.

    Bonobos and chimps have distinctly different behaviours that can be seen in humans, with bonobos displaying what might be thought of as our better angels, said Duke University researcher Brian Hare.  Bonobos make love, not war. Chimps have been documented to kill and make war. Bonobos share food with total strangers, but chimps do not. Bonobos stay close to their mothers — who even pick out their sons’ mates — long after infancy like humans. But chimps tend to use tools better and have bigger brains, like humans.

    Is the bonobo genome the secret to the biology of peace?” asked Hare, who was not involved in the new research. “They have done something in their evolution that even humans can’t do. They don’t have the dark side we do.

    “If we only studied chimps, we’d get a skewed view of human evolution,” he said.

    Bonobos, chimps and humans shared a single common ancestor from about six million years ago, Prufer said. Chimps and bonobos shared the same common ancestor until about a million years ago, when the Congo River formed. Then the bonobos developed on one side of the river, the chimps the other. They became different species, even though scientists didn’t realize that until about 90 years ago.

    Bonobo heads are slightly smaller and their teeth are arranged differently. In behaviour, bonobos are far more tolerant, more social. They are inordinately sexual. Instead of releasing tension by fighting, they couple repeatedly, Hare said. Bonobos are ruled by alpha females, chimps by males.

    In some ways — especially when looking at the physiology of the brain — it’s as if a bonobo is a juvenile chimp that doesn’t develop, Hare said. Chimps get more violent as they age; bonobos don’t.

    While the scientific name for bonobos is Pan paniscus, “they should be Peter Pan,” Hare said. “They never grow up and we have lots of data to support this idea. Much of their psychology seems to be frozen.

    Some researchers say Hare has romanticized the bonobo too much. Emory University researcher Bill Hopkins says he has more bonobo scars than chimp scars on his body. Sure, bonobos will bite, but they won’t kill, Hare said.  [Emphasis supplied.]

The findings raise some interesting questions, the foremost of which is: Are evil or negative traits the result of our genes or DNA?  If animals also have souls or a consciousness, are bonobos more developed spiritually (for whatever reason) than chimpanzees, or us for that matter?  Is a matriarchal society similar to the bonobo’s more conducive to a more peaceful and harmonious coexistence?

The concept of evolving human consciousness suggests that the evil traits of our species are the result of having evolved from and recently emerged (in terms of geologic time) out of the animal world’s survival modality of instinctive fear, insecurity, and power control or domination, in the course of becoming self-aware beings; that our species is still undergoing the transitional phase from a raw animal existence in nature to becoming more fully human; that the evolutionary process of our species is not yet completed; and that our evolution becomes completed upon becoming fully-realized divine or spiritual beings or fully-conscious beings.  

In this paradigm of evolving consciousness, we are not inherently evil nor do we have a bad human nature.  We are merely stuck in the ignorance of not knowing what or who we truly are as we grapple with the darkness of that ignorance.  We need to go further down this tunnel of darkness until we see the light at its very end — until we arrive at the full realization of what and who we truly are.  

There are a number of our species who have reached the tunnel’s end and have seen the light beyond its darkness. These are the illumined souls who are the spiritual teachers of our species. They show us the way out of the tunnel and into the light. Their teachings reveal to us how to complete the evolution of our species through what mystics call “the enlightenment of the soul.”

On a positive end note, we can be hopeful.  If the bonobos as a species succeeded in evolving beyond and overcoming their baser animal instincts, perhaps we, the human species, could do the same or even better.

(Note: Related articles and blogs have been published by the BBC, Ars Technica, and The Dalai Lama Center.)


A Postscript

Here are some more relevant articles, documentaries, or information sources, which I have come across since posting this blog:


About Marc of Contemplative Pathways

Marc teaches contemplative meditation in the context of contemporary mysticism. His understanding of the mystical life is rooted in over 30 years of study, practice, unfoldment, realization and experience, in the course of which he has received the gifts of spiritual discernment and transmission. His teaching work meaningfully shifts consciousness in a student through the process and alchemy of mystical transformation. Marc facilitates the mystical teachings under the style of Contemplative Pathways, enabling others to embark on the spiritual journey by learning the Truth teaching and living its principles. He has been conducting classes and meditation meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area in a classroom, lecture, workshop or group practice setting, for over fifteen years. His methodology of instruction is divinely inspired and firmly rooted in pure, authentic mysticism. His approach to the mystical life is essentially nondenominational, nonsectarian, culturally interfaith, spiritually transreligious, and definitively unitive and nondualistic. His other contributions to worldwide spiritual awakening and the global contemplative movement include spiritual mentoring and spiritual healing practice. Within the context of the great shift in consciousness now occurring all over the planet, Marc’s work presently focuses on individual and collective spiritual transformation and healing through the practice of contemplation or meditation, as the vehicle for transcendence and ascension to the higher dimensions of mystical consciousness. He remains firmly committed to the vision of a global spiritual awakening and the divine promise of humanity’s mystical illumination.
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4 Responses to Is Evil in Our Genes?

  1. Jean Mishra says:

    Very thought provoking.


    • Specially tantalizing is the suggestion arising from the finding that the bonobos live in a matriarchal society where the females of the species dominate. That’s a problem the human species has been having for centuries if not thousands of years — too much male energy domination and suppression of the feminine in human civilization. The women of the world today should pick up the cue from the bonobos. Time for the women (mothers and wives specially) of the world to rise up and unite for spiritual oneness and global peace. 😉

      Thanks for commenting, Jean.


  2. Hendrik Schotte says:

    Perhaps I am coming around with a new phantasy or if you will paradigm, but its an information given by Madamme Blavatsky since end of the nineteen century that the apes are a product of giantlike humans who had sexual intercourse with prehistoric animals. The story of the Mahabharata where the generals of the apes and the generals of the humans form a peace treaty is not another invention, but is based on true stories.


  3. There are still many unexplained mysteries relative to the actual origins of the human species. Science is far from being conclusive in this regard. It would be nice for us to see the true picture during our lifetimes.


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