[Editor's note: Yesterday, we talked with Greg Graffin, front man for Bad Religion, whose new album True North was just released. Turns out, however, that Graffin, who has a freaking PhD from Cornell University, said too many smart things to fit in one post. And so ahead of their show tonight at the Echo, here he is talking about conflicts between science and religion, and how that relates to free will.]
“Recently we had this Mayan apocalypse. One of the things that all religions have is a narrative of doomsday. There has to be some kind of overarching fear of the future. If there wasn't, none of the religions could invoke this important thing — that science has no evidence of by the way — called free will.
The Mayan Apocalypse scenario shows that other civilizations also had the doomsday scenario. The Judeo-Christian concept of free will is wrapped up in that doomsday scenario. According to theology, you and I are supposed to have free will. But none of the animals and plants has free will. It's supposed to be a gift given to us by our creator because we were God's favorite creation. There's no scientific data that shows anything like that.
In order to make this theology consistent, it requires that consequences occur from choosing not to live a good life. The doomsday thing falls perfectly into that. Everyone talks about how doomsday is punishment for the many sinners on this planet. Religious leaders say, “This catastrophe is God's punishment because we are all living in sin.” If we use our free will to not live in sin, there won't be a doomsday. There wouldn't be any natural disasters.
The more we know about the history of life on this planet, we realize those things have nothing to do with free will. There just happens to be a recurring pattern of mass extinctions on this planet. It's foolish to believe that it has anything to do with cultural phenomena like religion. When it happened in the past, it happened to organisms that did not have religion or free will. The struggle to maintain this narrative of theology is in contradiction with the narrative of science. That's why I've spent my adult life studying this conflict between science and religion.”
We also asked Graffin if he finds it bizarre that, given our various science and technological advances, many people still cling to religious beliefs.
“I don't think we're clinging to [religious beliefs]. I think we are letting go of them very slowly. There has been change in my lifetime. If you go back far enough and get a wider enough picture of history, we have let go of many things that follow a religious narrative. We don't burn witches any more. Most people would consider that barbaric. We don't sacrifice human beings, which was a religious act practiced by numerous cultures on this planet. Those things we've let go of, but there are still things we cling to tenaciously.”
“One of them is this belief in free will, which almost no professional psychologist in the modern world believes. Every religious leader insists on it to the point where they get apoplectic if you suggest otherwise. That is something we won't be able to let go of right away. It will take a while.
Charles Darwin has been dead since 1881. If you take his death as the beginning date of the movement away from a belief in free will, that's only 130 years. In order to incorporate what he wrote about into our culture, it's going to take some time.
People are still very uncomfortable with the idea that humans are not specially created species. I believe we are a fantastic species. But we are not created specially. That's very hard for people to accept in their day-to-day routine. That's how they justify so many of the environmental crises that we see. So much of the habitat destruction and pollution is based on the simple principle that we somehow have been given free license over other species to degrade the planet.”
Bad Religion performs tonight, January 23rd at The Echo.
Follow Jason Roche on Twitter @JasonRocheLAW.