August 7, 2010  Via

Exclusive interview with Greg Graffin about Anarchy Evolution (Part 2)

This is the second part of the interview The Bad Religion Page did with Greg Graffin in Dortmund, Germany on August 3.

Check out part 1 here.


Part 2

TheBRPage: You’ve co-written the book with Steve Olson. Has it always been the plan to do it this way?

GG: I was having a hard time getting the ideas on paper. The ideas were there, but when I read them it made sense as a complicated jumble that my life is. I’m constantly juggling academics and music. And I’ve always respected Steve because he’s such a great science writer for streamlining the narrative. And then one morning I woke up and I said to my wife: “What if Steve Olson was my co-author?” Because I really thought Steve would do it even before I called him. And she said: “Bingo. That’s a great idea.” And when I called him he took a little bit of convincing. He said: “I knew you would be calling me, Greg. But I thought you were going to call to ask for some advice. But the more I think about the idea of co-authoring, the more I think it sounds like a great idea.” After 5 minutes he said: “The more I think about it, I think this could really be a good book.” And certainly if you think it’s easy reading it’s because he’s so great at streamlining. And while I was doing the process, it got me thinking; I’ve always been a collaborator in everything I do. Whether it’s my science, whether it’s my best albums in Bad Religion or even now in writing books. I’m a collaborator. That doesn’t take away one bit of my ideas. The ideas that I have are unique. And I feel good about them, but I always do my best work when it’s a team situation. And I think that’s an important learning theme that I went through when I did this book.

TheBRPage: Is your book about Greg Graffin or is it also a science book by Steve Olson?

GG: You’ll see when you read it that it’s my voice. And Steve didn’t want to take any of that away. It’s my voice, it’s my story and it’s my worldview. Or in German: Weltanschauung. If you ask Steve he’ll say that this is Greg’s book. But I wanted to give Steve co-author because he’s so important to me as a collaborator. And a lot of his expertise in science is in things I’m very interested in: human history, human evolution. And what he brought to this project was not only knowledge of human evolution and understanding of how we’re all related, but also the science writing aspect of it. The streamlining. The best thing now you can do to find the difference between the collaborative effort and my own style of writing is just read the rerelease of my dissertation that’s coming out. I don’t know if you saw that?

TheBRPage: It’s already ordered.

GG: You did? Thanks! [laughs] I’ll give you one also, but thanks for ordering it. It’s not signed but I’ll make an exception for you guys. [At the end of the interview we totally forgot about this, so we're empty-handed - e.d.]

I wrote an afterword for that. And you can read the introduction and read that thing and compare it to Anarchy Evolution. You’ll see that my style is a lot more academic. I think it’s just as informative, but Steve has a knack - because he’s a science writer in a magazine – he has a knack to know what’s going too far towards the academics and losing the general audience. In this book I really wanted to focus on the general audience because it says important things about evolution, it says important things about how we value science in our society. And those things have to reach the average person. It shouldn’t just be talked about in the ivory tower.

TheBRPage: Who’s the target group of Anarchy Evolution?

GG: The target group is anyone from the ages of 15, 14 year old when you're starting to get interested in big picture concepts. How the world works. All the way to first and undergraduate college students who haven’t decided what their major should be yet. So it’s really geared towards the general audience, the literary audience who is focused on some of these big picture questions.

I think it would be a little bit hard for teenagers to read, but undergraduate college students are going to find a lot of it interesting.

TheBRPage: Can a comparison be made between your book and the books by, for example, Richard Dawkins?

GG: Well, my editors would like there to be a connection – because he’s so popular and sold many books. But my connection to him is only on the issue of whether or not naturalists, of which he and I are both, should bill ourselves as atheists or as naturalists. I think it’s a much richer conversation we can have if we say we’re naturalists. He obviously has made a career out of saying that it is more important to call yourself an atheist.

TheBRPage: Talking about atheism, what’s worse? A convinced theist or an atheist (or naturalist) who hasn’t done any research to account for his position?

GG: Aren’t they both the same? If someone is a convinced theist they might have done a lot of research. So the question is: What’s worse? Someone who does no research and has blind faith or someone who does a lot of research and believes anything? I think I would take the guy who does the research and believes in almost anything. As long as they have grounds for their believes. That to me is what’s important. So it’s my belief in fact that if someone has done a lot of research and they’re still a convinced theist, that they haven’t done enough research. But at least they’re interested in doing research! That’s very important. Whereas the guy who just doesn’t do anything – the lazy atheist – to me that person needs to study a little bit more. But only if they’re going to try to express their worldview as a coherent picture of the world. If somebody just says “I don’t really care and there is no God”, then we’re not really talking about a social conversation anyway. I’m not going to judge the person. You know, most people are lazy and most people don’t do research. And we don’t have to have those conversations. I still value them the same as a human being.

TheBRPage: If you’re sitting at a table with someone you don’t know yet, are you immediately interested in their believes?

GG: That’s a good question! No, not about God. I couldn’t care less about what someone thinks. Yes I’m interested in what they do. That’s because I’m a curious person. You know, what do you do for a living? But usually I don’t start talking about someone’s deeply held convictions.

TheBRPage: So it’s never you who starts a conversation about religion?

GG: What a boring conversation that would be.

TheBRPage: It’s still something people would expect from you. Maybe even what you’re “famous” for.

GG: I don’t know what I’m famous for. That’s your guys’ job [laughs]. What I’m committed to – I don’t know if it made me famous or not – is not shying away if someone asks me those questions. So if someone wants to be provocative with me, that’s fine. I’ll gladly welcome that. And then we’re in the discussion and can talk about what it means.

TheBRPage: Do you find it difficult not to become preachy about these topics?

GG: The way to do it is to use “I” statements. I believe this. It’s based on these bits of evidence. You can check it yourself and verify it for yourself if you want to. It’s not being preachy. It’s just saying: As the book says, here’s my view and here’s why I believe this. And I think that’s the most powerful way to make a point. Not using words like “you should” and not saying words like “you’re wrong” and “this is what you ought to do”. A lot of people misconstrue provocation. Asking tough questions is not provocation. I’m not provoking people; I’m raising tough questions.

TheBRPage: One last question: If you had to choose one or more Bad Religion songs for the soundtrack of the audiobook of Anarchy Evolution, which songs would that be?

GG: Oh man, that would have to be a triad. Germs of Perfection, God’s Love obviously and We’re Only Gonna Die [laughs]. That’s a good blend.


A big thanks goes out to Greg for sharing a few precious minutes of his time with us. But also to Cathy (Bad Religion's tour manager) and Kathryn from HarperCollins Publishers.

And last but not least: BrandonSideleau, simian, susu.exp and noparadigm for giving their input for this interview.

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