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BOOK REVIEW: "Anarchy Evolution" by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson

Harper Perennial
"Anarchy Evolution" by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson
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Evolution: Faith, Science & Bad Religion in a World Without God
 by Greg Graffin & Steve Olson (Harper
Perennial) 2010

As I write this in my semi-darkened office, a CD called
The Empire Strikes First by the punk
band Bad Religion plays. And right now the track playing is “Atheist Peace.”

Sings Bad Religion vocalist and songwriter Greg
Graffin: “From the faith that you release
comes an atheist peace

Peace in believing there is no God? No higher power?
For many in the U.S., such a thought is frightening.

And yet I mention Graffin and that punchy punk song
in particular because I just finished a very informative, honest and
interesting book by Graffin titled Anarchy
Evolution: Faith, Science & Bad Religion in a World Without God,
he co-wrote with science writer Steve Olson. And yes, Graffin does not believe
in a deity, primarily placing his faith in science.

This book, which covers Graffin’s life in the
punk-rock world, his long-held interest in and study of the natural world and
how the two actually have a lot in common. And while the book tends to bounce
around, chapter by chapter, Graffin does get around to making some very salient
points about why a person can live without religion and remain a moral person.
In fact he says that he (and others who do not believe in God) are typically
offended by religious believers who suggest that atheistic people would “do
terrible things – steal, rape, murder …” if they did not believe in God.

With a long-held anti-authoritarian streak and raised
in a rather secular household in Wisconsin before moving to California where he
would – raised on 70’s pop and the Jesus
Christ Superstar
soundtrack, ironically enough – founded the influential
Southern California band Bad Religion in the 1979, and enjoyed the company of
other punk bands like the Circle Jerks and Social Distortion. At the same time his introduction to science, the theory of evolution and Charles Darwin set him on a path from which he would never waver.

Graffin insists that he is a “naturalist” and not an
“atheist.” This is because the term “atheist” implies one does not believe in
something. Rather, he explains, calling oneself a “naturalist” and being close to
the natural world is what he does believe in. His depth of knowledge on
evolution and geology and so forth is quite expansive and he spends many a
chapter discussing these scientific topics at great length.

Graffin’s book comes at a time when the New Atheists
(Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens) have enjoyed
best-sellers that destroy the idea of religious belief. And yet reading Anarchy Evolution, Graffin’s tone is far
more thoughtful and personal and, frankly, more well-rounded. Reading about
Graffin’s adventures as an undergrad collecting specimens deep in the Bolivian
rain forest is thrilling, while reading about him share the loneliness he felt
while he was there, bring this punk-rock celebrity down to earth. He may have
been in a band, but he was still a lowly undergrad, collecting rodent

“(T)he number if people who are willing to call
themselves ‘atheists’ in the United States is very low,” Graffin notes. One
gets the impression this fact thoroughly depresses him.

Nevertheless, continuing, Graffin writes: “Countries
with a high percentage of nonbelievers are among the freest, most stable,
best-educated, and healthiest nations on earth. When nations are ranked according
to a human-development index, which measures such factors as life expectancy,
literacy rates, and educational attainment, the five highest-ranked countries –
Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands – all have high degrees
of nonbelief. Of the 50 countries at the bottom of the index, all are intensely

He then concludes, “But the idea that atheists are
somehow less moral, honest, or trustworthy has been disproven by study after

Graffin and Bad Religion continue to tour and
record. The band’s newest album, True
, was just released and contains some great songs with
thought-provoking lyrics. For a guy pushing 50, Graffin sounds as energetic (or
even more so) than punk rockers half his age.

And when you read this book, you understand that
Graffin – who has been through divorce, band break-ups-and-reformations, crazy
adventures and much more – loves life. In fact he encourages his readers to
embrace life and creativity.

He writes: “By abandoning the idea that an
intelligent designer created us, we can wake with each dawn and say, ‘What’s
done is done. Now how can I make the best of the here and now?’ Life is never

Many of you reading this review are likely religious
in one way or another. Don’t let Graffin’s position and philosophy scare you
off. He has a lot to say that any thoughtful, well-meaning human being can take
to heart.

2013 Red Dirt Report

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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