Friday, June 7, 2013


Genre: NonFiction / Science / Atheism
Format: Paperback
Length: 304 pages
Publisher: It Books
First Published: 2010

The book begins with a quote by Einstein. 

"To punish me for my contempt for authority, fate made me an authority myself."

Then Greg Graffin actually begins his book with a first sentence that goes like this: "I've always had a problem with authority."  My primary inspiration for reading this book was largely because of this one sentence.  I have always had a contempt towards authority and have taken issues with positions of authority that force upon us their particular fundamentalistic ways in order to control as a means to their own ends.  

  What Greg Graffin further aims to do with this book is to "tackle head on the intellectual dishonesty of creationism," "to make a personal account of how science saved him when he ran into trouble," and ultimately "puts forth his bold ideas about 'naturalism' and the connection between science, religion, and art."  What I want to do with this review is break-down this book to its very smallest detail of meaning and impact as far as these three areas, science - religion - art, go. 

Art/Punk Rock Music & Science:
One of the main connections Greg Graffin draws with his book is that of punk rock and science, his two main passions in life.  Although, I didn't really have a grasp of punk rock before reading his book, I now find something really depthful in punk rock as an artistic form that is not isolated but related to a bigger form of life.
"Punk rock, at its best embraces an openness to experience, a reliance on reason and evidence, and a questioning of received wisdom.  Science, which is based on the naturalist perspective, also is about questioning and not settling for dogma."
Intellectual Dishonesty & Science:
 Greg Graffin really doesn't shy away from being bold and forthcoming with his beliefs in this book.  He's very opinionated but also openminded and speaks of a depthful truth of life.
"For me, evolution provides the context of our lives.  Yes, evolution has implications that can make us deeply uneasy.  But on important questions we must seek the truth, even if the truth is difficult to accept.  Naturalism, can provide the foundation for building a coherent and consistent worldview on which we can base important decisions. In fact, I would contend, it is the only perspective that can secure both our happiness as individuals and our survival as a species."
Personal Experience & Science:
If the subject of religion or science, or their interplaying dynamic, doesn't interest you much and you don't quite care for the controversies between the two - the debates, and the run-on conversation we keep lingering on without any cultural resolution to bridge the gap between the two but rather further ourselves from one another, then there's an element of the book that might just peak your interest.  That's the personal and intimate experience with social alienation, something so many of us have experienced or will experience in our lives, more or less. One of the ways Greg Graffin grew from his adversity was through his music of punk rock.
"I began to feel that there was a way to deal with social alienation of my West Coast surroundings.  It was through questioning and challenging, not conforming and acccepting.  Learning to be an individual was the best gift I got from growing up punk."
The other was through science.
"Two things in high school saved me from drifting into a meaningless existence."
"The first was music..."
"The other thing... was my discovery of science and especially evolution."
"We are One People, and we can strive for one aim: the peaceful and equitable survival of humanity.  To have arrived on this earth as the product of a biological accident, only to depart it through arrogance, would be the ultimate irony."
 Authority Disdain:
 One of the best parts of the book, for me, was definitely Greg Graffin's determination to point out the issues with authorities and how it gets in the way of individual and societal spiritual and scientific growth.  He really sets up the platform for further discussion into the topic of religion/morality.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is on the intolerance of the strict actions of those in positions of authority.
"Even more alarming than the number of these injunctions is their frequent intolerance.  All my life I have been subjected to the dogmatic, fundamentalistc attitudes of authority figures."
Greg didn't do what most of us do - "bow to the demands of authority," because we "didn't want to make wave," or because "life is easier to avoid controversy," or because ultimately "I don't really have my own philosophy, so I might as well try someone else's."  Greg Graffin is an original.  He led his own way with his own principles and willingness to challenge genuinely and not follow blindly. 

And so with the authoritative fundamentalism comes the idea that without dogma there can be no morality.

Religion & Morality:
This topic in the book really blew my mind.  Greg Graffic is my hero for saying these words so eloquently, for that I have to pull out this excerpt and feature it here.

"They think that without a bedrock of belief, their lives will have no purpose or meaning.  Many religious people, for example, believe that without religion there can be no morality.  They fear that humans might use their free will to do terrible things - steal, rape, murder - if they did not believe in a caring God constantly watching over and keeping them on the path of righteousness.  
   For those of us who see no need for supernatural entities, this is a highly offensive belief.  It condemns our lives as deviant and amoral.  It also has no empirical proof.  The countries that are least religious tend to have the most law-abiding and generous citizens.  It doesn't even make sense, as philosophers since the time of Socrates have pointed out.  Either harming other people is wrong, in which case God is unecessary, or harming other people is acceptable in which case God's admonitions are misguided.
   They fear that they will see themselves as no more than soulless animals, biological mechanisms, bits of temporary consciousness that will soon be gone forever."

It's this fear for the objective and honest perspective of the world that has created such confusion for the power of science and the existence of evolution, and what it means for our lives.

There is so much more to say about this book, but I will bring this review to a close by pointing out that Greg Graffin stresses two things throughout the book, both of which lay the ground-work for reaching a point of understanding between religion and science.  One is honestly questioning authority, expectation, and dogma.  The second, empathy.

Questioning the Intolerance Around You:
Having graduated with a bachelor's of art in Anthropology, I know the importance of raising questions!  We may not have have enough answers, but we should always have more questions! It was refreshing to see Greg Graffin stress the same point in his book.
"I wanted to try to motivate people rather than criticize them.  The Socratic method of questioning always delivers better results than blunt attacks - at least it has for me.  When people are encouraged to see the world as it is and wonder where it came from and what it means, they are ready to learn.  Just as those who eventually turn away from religion begin by asking questions, those who raise questions can establish their worldviews on the basis of evidence and reason rather than dogma.  They can engage the world directly without having to cut through a shroud of preconception."
Suffering is the background noise of all the intolerance as a result of dogmatic fundamentalism.  It's why we begin asking questions. It's also why we resort to having empathy in the end, either because we have experienced it first hand and wouldn't wish its existence further or because we want to preempt suffering through empathy.  What's really cool about Greg Graffin is that he was able to put suffering in a grander scheme of things, by point out how suffering is linked with evolution, again the interconnectedness of life.
 "Suffering is an inevitable consequence of evolution.  Naturalists see tragedy as an outgrowth of natural processes that have been occuring in multicellular organisms throughout history: bacterial parasitism, infant mortality, infection, starvation, catastrophe, species extinction.  Does all this suffering serve any purpose other than reminding us to try to avoid suffering in the future? Perhaps it's too much to ask of any worldview - whether based on naturalism or religion - that it provides an ultimate answer to the question of tragedy."

   "Life is best seen as a series of tragedies marked by fitful progress and recurring setbacks.  There is as much dissapointment as joy.  But tragedies need not cause despair.  They can remind us about the realities of the natural world of which we are all a part of."

"The creativity of life is the counter balance to tragedy.  It affirms our belief that life is a good thing and provides a rich potential of human meaning."
So all this brings me to my conclusion.  He finally bridges the gap between everything - religion, art, and science through the simple act of empathy.  What he basicly concluding with this book is that we must look at the interconnectedness of life - something science does so well and religion does not because it creates limits and dogmas.

"The capacity for empathy enables us to organize our societies in beneficial ways.  Because we can see at least some aspects of ourselves in one another, we can derive ways of acting that are good for us and for society as a whole."

There is one more endearing component of this book, and that's Greg Graffin's dedication to his three loves in life - punk rock, science, and his family.  It's one of the most inspiring aspects of this book.  He not only finished his PhD, but completed several albums, and gain the wisdom of his life for his family through it all.  This is absolutely one of the biggest reasons I read through it so quickly, I felt pieces of myself in this book... relating to his own passion, similar to my own, not dogmatic but free and multifaced.  He says it best in this last quote I'll leave for you to read.
"A lot of people I have known spin themselves in circles by vacillating between various projects without ever moving forward (my friend Ron calls it 'proj-ing,' always drafting plans but never carrying them out).  But the back-and-forth between music and academics suited me well, and it created a lifelong routine that I still practice today.  Whenever one field gets too tedious, I jump headlong into the other.  If I hadn't made progress in both areas, I could easily have been accused of being an irresponsible dilettante.  But I continue to up the ante in my studies as well as in music, though I probably seemed scattered and unable to sit still.  During the three years that I was earning a master's degree at UCLA, I completed three years of summerfield work in the mountains of Colorado; wrote a thesis on the earliest vertebrate environment; taught nine classes on comparative anatomy, evolution, and paleontology; recorded three albums; and toured with the band throughout the US and in Europe."

This book is a must read.  I haven't read a book with more science, religion, art and wisdom combined together as in this book.  

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