At my local bookstore the other day, I wandered back to the Science and Nature section, as I am wont to do, to see what was new. Despite having constant internet access and the ability to shop online for books 24/7, I appreciate the experience of physically browsing books in the store, because I often find things I never would have thought to look for online.
Faced out in the featured hardcover section, was Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World without God by Greg Graffin and Steve Olson. My first thought was, “Wow, that’s kind of a stupid title. Anarchy Evolution? What is that even supposed to mean?” So, I picked it up to find out. Turns out Greg Graffin is the lead singer of the punk band Bad Religion (which, having led a rather sheltered childhood, musically and otherwise, I didn’t know, and hadn’t heard). He’s also an evolutionary biologist. Cool, right?
Reading the jacket, this book seemed right up my alley: An examination of science through the eyes of an artist. So I bought it, and the next day, I read the whole thing. Not necessarily because it was earth shattering or ridiculously engaging (it was neither, but more on that in a moment), but because it had been so long since I’d dedicated an entire day to just reading a book. When I finished, I placed it on the shelf with a highly satisfying sense of accomplishment.
The book was alright. The writing immediately struck me as being intended for a young, scientifically illiterate audience. It meanders between explanations of scientific ideas and memoirs of experiences in Graffin’s music career that formed or complemented them. His ego comes through in a vaguely annoying, grandiose tone that he never lives up to with his use of overly simplistic language or the relative superficiality of his intellectual examinations. I often found myself nodding in agreement with his experiences and conclusions, but I never found myself captivated or challenged by an angle of inquiry I’d yet to consider.
This is not a book for the well read, discerning student of science and philosophy. Why mention it at all? Well, I think it’s a very useful book, and it fills a unique niche that lines up squarely with the goals of skeptical outreach: It translates science into a language that people who aren’t generally interested in science can understand, and it packages it and markets it in a way that will undoubtedly reach a lot of people who aren’t reading about science elsewhere.
This book is perfectly aimed at disaffected youth. It’s calibrated to channel anarchical impulses and contrarian leanings from mere emotional positions into a well honed, well considered, naturalistic worldview; to begin to mold a hatred for authority into a love for the workings of the universe. Or at least to try to get people started along that path. And for that, it’s kind of brilliant.