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Punk rock prof explains ‘Anarchy Evolution’
October 22nd, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Punk rock prof explains ‘Anarchy Evolution’

Editor's Note: CNN's Gabe LaMonica recently spoke with Greg Graffin the lead singer of Bad Religion.  In addition to being a rock star, Graffin is also teaching evolution at UCLA and this month released a new book.  Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

In his book Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God, Greg Graffin says, “For me, the existence or nonexistence of God is a non-issue.”

He’s a naturalist, the lead singer of the punk rock band Bad Religion.

The notorious punk riot at the El Portal Theater in Los Angles on December 29, 1990 made his band infamous – CNN covered it – but Graffin wasn’t involved in it.

He still tours internationally with his band, whose new album The Dissent of Man celebrates 30 years of Bad Religion.

Graffin also has a PhD in zoology from Cornell.   When he is not on stage, he teaches evolution at UCLA.

Graffin is an atheist who doesn’t like to characterize himself as an atheist.  “I bill myself as a naturalist because if you say you’re a naturalist it gives people a conversation point to talk about what you actually do believe in instead of when you say you’re an atheist and it’s really just a statement of what you don’t believe in,” he said.

Though the icon of his band is a Christian cross slashed out as if it was a cigarette on a no smoking sign, Graffin never outwardly attacks religion in his book.

His great-grandfather Zerr was a brilliant theological scholar, a legend in Graffin’s family, and Graffin alludes to a familial rift over Zerr’s strict fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.

Graffin, third generation from Zerr, was raised in the “absence of theology,” but maintains  he was not raised an atheist.  “Even though my mom didn’t send us to church, we respected everything that they got out of their family life, including the music, obviously," he said.

The book begins in the style of an autobiography but comes together in a way reminiscent of the dichotomous nature of Graffin’s life and naturalist beliefs. Steve Olson helped to co-write this hybrid of an autobiography and a philosophy rooted in science.

I asked Graffin about his beliefs.  Here is an edited transcript of our conversation:

LaMonica: Voltaire said, “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.”  Is that not your view of nature?

Graffin: *laughs* No, I don’t think so.  See that implies there’s a design and of course Voltaire was a deist and a famous one at that and I think he thought that there was some design but I would say that there is no design to nature.

LaMonica: But you certainly have a pedantic sense of humor.  You say, “As far as I’m concerned, if a philosopher or theologian wants to interpret scientific data as divine, he or she has a right to do so. (Maybe they can write with a quill pen, too!)."

Graffin: That’s because it seems comedic to me that even modern people think that the debate is such, and maybe it is with the atheist debates, that you can’t believe in God and believe in evolution.

I’m saying that there were many great naturalists before Darwin’s time who were very pious people and who knew more about nature than most of us.  These were great naturalists; people I would admire for their knowledge of natural science given the time.  But that was at the turn of the 18th Century, in the first decade of the 1800s, and what I’m talking about is that there are people today who still want to think like that, basically ignoring any contributions that Darwin made to the subject.

If they want to do that, it’s perfectly valid, but they’re using a philosophy called natural theology that was popular before Darwin came along.

Listen to more of the interview below.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • California • Culture & Science • Education • Science • United States

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Cedric Bruin

    I'm impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that's both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is fantastic; the issue is something that not enough people are talking intelligently about. I am very happy that I happened across this in my search for some thing pertaining to this.

    April 16, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  2. ario_indonesia

    Whatever they said..the important is bad religion is the most important parts of life for everyone who like musics...and people inside that (bad religion) is awesome...like'em very much..regenerated?..nothing can't stop'em until they die

    August 25, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. get back at an ex

    I do not even know how I stopped up here, but I believed this publish used to be good. I don't realize who you are but definitely you are going to a well-known blogger when you are not already ;) Cheers!

    August 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  4. Nick

    Bad Religion is one of the best bands currently playing. And, Greg Graffin has one of the best, most unique rock voices. What is wrong with you haters?????

    November 3, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  5. Sly Rax Jr.

    Ohh..another bitter gourd we got here..hey chump(his moniker is LiberateUs>>> punkest of the day) BAD RELIGION already made a name for themselves and you have not!..maybe until your last descandants ever will.If your pea-sized brain tells you BR sucks then good for you,but that doesn't prove anything, a wet fart is much better.

    October 28, 2010 at 3:57 am |
  6. LiberateUs

    Bad Religion sucks @**!

    October 23, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  7. DrPsycho

    What is punk?.....its like being in Afghanistan in the middle of a fire fight knowing you got lives in your hands, and your way is the way you got to trust to finish this....once and for all

    October 22, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
    • Will E.

      No, it's more like finding love in the middle of a firefight.

      October 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
    • Lillie

      "What is punk?" No, you're both wrong. Punk is whatever you make it.

      October 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  8. Matteo

    Do you proofread these posts? "...singer of a the punk..."??? The editor's note calls him "Gaffin"???

    I know this is a blog, but this was linked from the CNN homepage, so I guess I'm expecting a little more. Get it together...

    October 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  9. billman

    Curious coincidence: I just read (literally yesterday) a history of Epitaph Records in the November issue of the Spin Magazine – the label was started by another member of Bad Religion. It's weird to see Graffin and BR mentioned again here in CNN.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  10. boocat

    The Ramones started it all and they never got the proper credit. Ramones ruled!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      Yes, the Ramones were the originators. One of my very favorite bands.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Will E.

      I think Gaffin would probably agree with you. Who wouldn't? It's funny today to see how the Ramones are one of the most lauded bands in rock history... when they couldn't sell an album for their lives back in the day. Glad to have seen them back in the day.Ramones forever.

      October 22, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  11. S. Parker

    This shows how far behind CNN is when they look to Bad Religion as some sort of spokesperson for the scene. I get that Greg Graffin has his own thing going on, but any band associated with Epitaph has nothing to say about the "ethics of punk".........if there ever was such a thing.

    October 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And what, pray tell, are the "ethics of punk"?
      The Pistols were nothing but an advertisement for a fet-ish clothing shop!
      At it's root, punk is just playing whatever music you like however you like regardless of anyone's opinion.
      And CNN never claimed that BR are "spokespeople for the scene". For what scene? Graffin distanced himself from the leather clad, violent, childishly contentious aspects of punk many moons ago.
      Like with any scene, there's a lot of pretention in punk. Some people seem to think that REAL punk means playing abrasive, incoherent noise at 160 BPM – and any band that gets any major media exposure is a "sell out".
      Punk is music made by people who just can't help but make music, regardless of the technical expertise.
      Joe Strummer was a punk when the Clash put out "Give 'Em Enough Rope" – and he was still (even arguably more) punk when he was with The Mescaleros.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      I agree with most of what Doc said, but I disagree about the Clash! That whole Socialist schtick was a put on! Just like Rage Against The Machine, they were as corporate as can be, playing in areas and stadiums. Please.

      October 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  12. smarti22

    Doc Vestibule, I agree with you 95%, but "Don't Pray On Me" was written by Mr. Brett.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Smarti
      Is that one a Guerewitz song? I stand corrected.
      They've always been a better band with both songwriters contributing.
      And Mr. Brett is a brilliant producer, not to mention owner of the largest independent label in the world!

      @Joe
      I saw them last week here in Toronto. Came home bruised, bloodied, battered and per my wife "reeking like a brewery" – but with a giant smile on my face.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Joe

    I just saw him perform in Philly this week - he's still got it. What an awesome show, and inspiring musician.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • lindsay

      i was there too. his pretentious stage presence bugs me but the show was amazing. and he was dressed like a high school p.e. teacher.

      October 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  14. jay guptill

    Keep on rockin Greg and BAD RELIGION. Huge fan here.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Chessnutz of Liverpool NY

    I'm not a very smart man but I know what love is....
    Charlie
    I believe that it is NOT too late to believe.
    I am one with you we make two and then three, thus the beginning... of peace on earth.

    October 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  16. Reality

    The bigger question is would the topic singer/professor qualify for America's Got Talent. He is too old for "Idolling".

    October 22, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • Brandon

      What kind of generic joke is this supposed to be?

      October 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @reality
      See for yourself! Go to youtube and seach "Sorrow acoustic" to see Graffin playing the track all on his lonesome.
      It's a lovely song, referencing the story of Job.
      His talent level has certainly improved since he started Bad Religion as a high school kid...

      October 22, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • Reality

      Doc Vestibule,

      Followed your suggestion. Not impressed and Graffin would not get past the first round on America's Got Talent. Actually he is so bad he probably would not even get an audition. Tis good that he has a day job!!!

      October 22, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
    • tim

      of course the singer of bad religion wouldn't be in america's got talent he's in a punk band, and bad religion is more notorious for their message than anything else...people like bad religion so much because of what they say and how genuine it sounds (punk was never meant to be pretty or win "pageant" type shows like americas got talent)

      and seriously he's been able to be in a successful band for 30 years now and they still have huge audiences at all their shows. obviously they/he is doing something right

      October 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  17. Doc Vestibule

    Graffin has always been an inspiration to me.
    Bad Religion's 1988 album Suffer perfectly captured the anger and frustration of my teenage years – so much so that I've the album cover tattooed on my leg.
    Recently, the punk legend released an album of traditional americana – complete with banjo.
    Graffin's PHD thesis was a poll of evolutionary biologists and their opinions on deism/theism/dualism/naturalism. Unsurprisingly, he found that the vast majority of scientists are *gasp* atheistic!
    He also had a series of email interactions with a Christian Scholar, Preston Jones, published ent-itled "Is Belief in God Good, Bad, or Irrelevant".
    This new book is a very approachable yet erudite treatise on (as the ti0tle implies) Graffin's life, music, and pursuit of the naturalist world view.
    I often quote a line from of his songs – "I guess God was a lot more demonstrative back when he flamboyantly parted the seas".

    October 22, 2010 at 8:13 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Doc Vestibule

      Interesting...

      October 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  18. Peace2All

    Bad Religion (the band) Rocks...!!!

    October 22, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  19. Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

    I guess CNN must've been playing attention to the recent Bad Religion mentions in the comments! Hell yeah!

    October 22, 2010 at 6:03 am |
    • Sum Dude

      @SGSPFFTT
      "playing attention" lol
      They like you, or they wanted to show how old and geezer-like the singer of Bad Religion is...or both. Who can say? :D

      October 22, 2010 at 6:13 am |
    • Sweet Gender Switch Potato Fry From Transs[e]xual Transylvania

      *PAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYIIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGGGG

      Leave me alone, it's 6:15 in the morning and I didn't sleep!

      Yeah, Greg is getting up there. Still awesome, though!

      October 22, 2010 at 6:16 am |
    • Tom

      I love Bad Religion, but I also love Atom and His Package:

      "..And we'll fire the guy from Bad Religion cause he sold punk rock out."

      October 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.