What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Imagine No Religion. Here's What It Looks Like.

April 20, 2013, 12:00 AM
Earthly_delights

The Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch imagined a world with no religion in his iconic painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights," depicted above (click here for high resolution image). The central panel of the triptych shows "how humanity would be without a fall, living in paradise without knowledge of right and wrong," says the Dutch/American biologist Frans de Waal, who was born in the same city as Bosch and sees the artist as part of a very long humanist tradition in the Netherlands that goes back to Erasmus and Spinoza.

Waal argues that moral behavior is a product of evolution in his book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, which explores examples of altruistic behavior in primates such as chimpanzees. So could mankind be altruistic without religion? Waal sees Bosch's painting as the perfect illustration of humanism. "Some people find those paintings morbid or horrifying," he tells us, "and that’s because he showed Hellish scenes. But actually The Garden of Earthly Delights, most of that painting is delightful."

Waal has in mind the "Bonobo-like situation where people frolic around" in the central panel. "There’s actually a thousand people in that middle part who are having sex or having other adventures going on," Waal points out. That's what humanity would look without God and without religion.

Waal says:

I’m basically a humanist myself and I use Bosch to illustrate primate-like tendencies because he often illustrates them.  How people share fruits and how people have sex and how people do wrong things or right things in his paintings. And so Bosch sort of depicts, for me, a visualization of the moralization that may come about if you’re not necessarily religious.  

Could such a world exist today? "I’m struggling with whether we need religion," Waal says. "Personally I think we can be moral without religion because we probably had morality long before the current religions came along."

Waal says there is an experiment going on in northern Europe Waal right now. The majority of people there are not religious. They say they’re nonbelievers. "They still have a moral society as far as I can tell," Waal says. "It may be present but it’s not dominant anymore, and there is still a moral society.  And so I am optimistic that religion is not strictly needed.  But I cannot be a hundred percent sure because there is no human society where religion is totally absent so we really have never tried this experiment."

More from the Big Idea for Wednesday, July 16 2014

The Health Benefits of Kindness

If you could go back, would you relive your teenage years? No other time seems so perilous than those formative and dramatic years. High school is the ultimate introduction to Machiavellian politi... Read More…

 

Imagine No Religion. Here's...

Newsletter: Share: