Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Greg Graffin on The Takeaway

Posted 15 Nov 2010 / 0

Back in the early 1990’s, I could be found skateboarding around the campus of Pomona College. As I rolled my way from the dining hall to those eight o’clock classes in Chemistry that served to weed out potential Biology majors who were not inclined to early rising or algebra, chances are that there was a Bad Religion compact disc spinning in my portable discman. An east coast hardcore kid, I was introduced to the punk legends Bad Religion only upon arrival in Claremont, California. So as I made my way through introductory biology, I was also making my way through the early catalog of this influential punk band.

I remember pretty clearly making the connection between a lot of Greg Graffin’s lyrics and the evolutionary biology I was learning, but I cannot say that the two really connected back then. Ironically, I was not all the passionate about evolution while studying in Claremont, and most of the courses I took were rather loosely grounded in evolutionary biology. But I remember the excitement of hearing Greg Graffin extrapolate from his own training as an evolutionary biologist into the very immediate and salient world of human culture, and I think that this interest and inclination has stuck with me.

For those who do not know Bad Religion or Greg Graffin, you now have a chance to learn more because he has a book out entitled Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God. If you are interested, you can listen to a decent interview with Graffin from today’s The Takeaway here:

In this short segment, Graffin briefly discusses the book and the intersection between punk rock and evolutionary biology that it chronicles. Interestingly, one of the main things that he tries to do is to distance himself from avowed evolutionist-atheists like Richard Dawkins. I will let you, dear reader, assess how extreme Dawkins’ views are if the singer from a punk rock band named Bad Religion wants to position himself on the mainstream side of everyone’s favorite atheist. I liked that Graffin asserted that he would rather be regarded for what he did believe in as a naturalist than what he might not believe in as an atheist. I also liked that he reinforced for those who do not know that punk rock is revolutionary not because it is oppositional but because it asks questions, a characteristic shared by good scientists. In the words of Graffin “If Darwin were alive now he would listen to punk rock”.

All evolutionary biologists come with a particular world view, and these can vary. Based on my pretty good knowledge of the Bad Religion discography, Graffin seems to me to be one of those evolutionary biologists who mostly sees the smallness of humanity in nature. Many Bad Religion songs mock the arrogance of humanity in thinking that it can control its own destiny or steer the world. Although I see this view, and can understand the need to question the illogical assertion so often promulgated by religious beliefs that humans are in some way a special kind of animal, I am a punk rock evolutionary biologist of a very different shade. To me the real question is how humans will handle all the very real power we have attained as the most broadly-successful species to ever inhabit the earth. Questioning the use of power is another big facet of punk rock thinking.

I will probably check out this book, as soon as I catch up with the literature in all the scientific fields that I am interested in…

Evolution, Music, Radio & Podcasts, Religion, Reviews

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