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The 20th Anniversary of Suffer
September 6, 2008 8:09 AM   Subscribe

The Cornell Evolution Project, which polls prominent evolutionary scientists about their religious beliefs, is part of a PhD thesis by evolutionary paleontologist and UCLA lecturer Greg Graffin. Mr. Graffin is also the lead singer of a band named Bad Religion, whose influential album Suffer turns 20 years old this week.

Though Suffer never charted, it became wildly popular in Southern California and helped to define the late 80's/ early 90's west coast sound -- a sound which pervades the rock and/or roll scene even today. Via YouTube, here are some live performances from 1988 - 1991:

You Are (The Government) || 1000 More Fools || How Much Is Enough? || When? || Give You Nothing || Land of Competition || Forbidden Beat || Best for You || Suffer || Delirium of Disorder || Part II (The Numbers Game) || What Can You Do? || Do What You Want || Part IV (The Index Fossil) || Pessimistic Lines
posted by milquetoast (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I, for one, am tired of evolutionary scientists getting poled for their religious beliefs.
posted by escabeche at 8:11 AM on September 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


Yes, we need to put a stop to this! Got a petition? I'll sign the thing.
posted by goatdog at 8:14 AM on September 6, 2008


I got polled by them awhile ago, but I had no idea about the Bad Religion connection. I admit most of my Bad Religion knowledge comes from playing Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast back in the day--Best Game Soundtrack Ever. Thanks for informative post about the things that really matter!
posted by hydropsyche at 8:17 AM on September 6, 2008


Erm, yeah, oops. Polls, my friendly mods, polls.
posted by milquetoast at 8:17 AM on September 6, 2008


fixed the typo, carry on.
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 AM on September 6, 2008


band member has a day job, a good day job. kind of cool
posted by caddis at 8:22 AM on September 6, 2008


One might think that a study like this would be an interesting way to question stereotypes about homogeneity in the scientific community. Nope.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:22 AM on September 6, 2008


He is a lecturer not a professor. He just got his PhD in 2003 but "lecturer" suggests that he is not a postdoc, which suggests he isn't headed to be a professor. Also, lecturer isn't necessarily a good job, depends upon various factors.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:44 AM on September 6, 2008


A lecturer in most cases is simply a part-time hire not on a tenure track but usually teaching things a grad student does not teach, such as basic comp...they cling to their jobs as though life rafts in a sea filled with sinking grad students.

So many people try to show that evolution and religion can be compatible ...but then too in AA they also believe in some vague Higher Power...

I was 32 years old when I lost my belief in the Tooth Fairy but also lost a number of teeth.
posted by Postroad at 8:57 AM on September 6, 2008


That's my mistake, jeffburdges, thanks for pointing it out.
posted by milquetoast at 8:57 AM on September 6, 2008


Question 8 looks like it needs a followup question.

Organisms, including humans, consist of the following:

A. Material properties
B. Spiritual properties
C. Both material and spiritual/non-material properties


Don't some people believe that it's the soul that separates humans from other organisms?

I'm not one of them, but the results there don't seem to jibe with some of the other questions.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:22 AM on September 6, 2008


Timothy Leary was just a lecturer at Harvard.
posted by mrhappy at 9:29 AM on September 6, 2008


I'm glad to see the "non-overlapping magisteria" dodge is not very popular (see response C. on p. 8). Gould was such a towering figure in his life as a public intellectual, so I relish signs that his influence was contained
posted by grobstein at 9:53 AM on September 6, 2008



band member has a day job, a good day job. kind of cool


He's gotta. Have you heard anything decent since Stranger than Fiction?

Jus' sayin'.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh and also question 12.
posted by grobstein at 9:55 AM on September 6, 2008


He is a lecturer not a professor. He just got his PhD in 2003 but "lecturer" suggests that he is not a postdoc, which suggests he isn't headed to be a professor. Also, lecturer isn't necessarily a good job, depends upon various factors.

Bad Religion also tours constantly and they try to put out a new album every 2 years or so. The current plan is for Bad Religion to step into the studio in early/spring 2009 to record a followup to New Maps of Hell which came out in '07. It's not surprising that he's not a post-doc nor trying to obtain a professorship.

Also, UCLA seems to have a precendent of having post-docs/lecturers from so-cal punk bands (gregg turner of the angry samoans from '91-93). I wonder who's ended up there.
posted by Stynxno at 9:55 AM on September 6, 2008


More of the same old same old. Decide in advance what answers you will get. Misrepresent what you ostensibly want to study. Garnish with fancy tables and statistics and voila! Serve warm to hungry audience.
posted by binturong at 9:59 AM on September 6, 2008


He's gotta. Have you heard anything decent since Stranger than Fiction?

Yes. Bad Religion is one of my favorite bands, and I've been consistently satisfied with the material they've been putting out.

But then, my taste in punk rock might differ from yours, so to each their own.
posted by Caduceus at 10:29 AM on September 6, 2008


I found 79% believing in free will (14% against the proposition, 6% N/A) interesting, but I think the question should definitely have had "Don't know" and "Define free will" as additional answers.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:30 AM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


This cheers me up a little. My field is not evolutionary biology, but I would have imagined that to do research in a biological discipline it would be an advantage in believing in natural selection or even in evolution. Yet many of my colleagues do not; they are either creationists or, at best, believe that God got the ball rolling and then stood back to watch. I wish reality matched those poll results. If you polled a larger number of scientists in a greater diversity of related fields, you might see a different picture.
posted by acrasis at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2008


Sorrow. Acoustic, solo, not to be missed.
posted by marble at 1:08 PM on September 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh, so I read the survey and since I'm obviously not in the National Academy this is obviously not the one I was asked to complete. I did think it was from Cornell. Anyway. Bad Religion rocks.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:11 PM on September 6, 2008


I would have imagined that to do research in a biological discipline it would be an advantage in believing in natural selection or even in evolution.

You would hope that "belief" didn't enter into it either way.
posted by fshgrl at 1:40 PM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


This summer I've been mostly listening to Bad Religion and The Wildhearts. Every day Bad Religion reminds that the world needs changing and The Wildhearts reminds that whatever, it can be fun. The older I get, the more I respect Greg Graffin. He still somehow finds energy to fight the good fight, even as these things he sings about have got worse and worse. Bad Religion rocks.
posted by Free word order! at 1:46 PM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine who is much more fervent than I about evolutionary discussion, and a much greater fan of Bad Religion, sent me this:

I saw this a few years ago. This work is unbelievably weak for a dissertation in my opinion. It's basically a survey and discussion. The fact that he is trying to profit off of it by selling most of it as a book kind of irks me as well, unless that's Cornell trying to milk something from the publication. He is so respected by certain punk rockers that they would want to obtain his thesis to somehow connect on a deeper level. However, the main tenants of the work are obvious and irrelevant to the current discussion in my opinion. The far more interesting questions in my opinion lie in the inception, evolution, and use of religion as a tool. Self deception as a mechanism for adaptation.

I do have a lot of respect for Greg stemming mostly from his incredible songwriting, but there is a big difference between being able to write an intelligent song (hundreds of them, in fact) that works on a very small scale, and the in-depth analysis and research require to write a thesis on evolution (already so complex ) and religion (something scholars have been debating for thousands of years). To somehow encompass all those things is impossible.

Hey Greg - please stick to the music - you will touch many more lives that way, as you did mine so many years ago. Bad Religion as a gateway drug to critical thinking.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 5:57 PM on September 6, 2008


"A. Material properties
B. Spiritual properties
C. Both material and spiritual/non-material properties
"

This, to me, is weak, as it oversimplifies the question to the point that too much information gets lost. A more interesting way to ask it might be:

A. Physical properties
B. Metaphysical properties
C. Spiritual Properties
D. All of the above
E. Both A and B
E. Both A and C
F. Both B and C

Reality without a doubt has metaphysical aspects--that's not at all the same as spiritual aspects, obviously, but its still something a little more slippery than "material properties" suggests. In fact, contemporary physics tend to make reality's material properties (in the traditional sense) seem more and more elusive, since we now know matter is really just a highly-excited form of energy, and at the quantum level, energy apparently consists of not much more than weirdly unstable probability clouds.

I mean, look: a triangle's interior angles sum to 180 degrees no matter how you form the triangle. That's a property of any triangle, no matter how you construct it. It's a property that exists independently of whatever particular physical form the triangle takes. It's not a material property, but a metaphysical property of the triangle. There are plenty of other examples of things that obviously exist that aren't in the usual sense material in nature.

The language of this survey item makes it seem as if the world either has only material properties, spiritual properties, or a little of both, but if it weren't for the world's very real metaphysical properties, we'd have no basis for reasoning or doing math and science (abstract thought depends on typing, or classing and sub-classing, which are forms of idealizing), so this choice between material and spiritual is a false dilemma.

That said, props to Bad Religion. They've always called it like they see it. I've respected them since back when they were mostly just considered skate rock.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:39 PM on September 6, 2008


Marble, that was awesome, thanks!
I really liked a lot of The Process of Belief, actually (coincidentally, it's been playing nonstop in my car stereo for the last week or so), but yeah, a few of their other recent-ish albums have been kind of weak.
Bad Religion is one of a very few bands I enjoyed in my embarrassing skate-punk phase that I can still listen to . I just saw them in concert this year (having seen them once before in 1998 ) and I think it might be hands-down the best show I've ever been to. Those guys still fucking rock.

My physical anthropology prof in loved to cite the "non-overlapping magisteria" thing - I always thought it was a bit of a cop-out.
posted by naoko at 11:22 PM on September 6, 2008


I'm glad to see the "non-overlapping magisteria" dodge is not very popular

Why?
posted by Krrrlson at 12:43 AM on September 7, 2008


"You would hope that "belief" didn't enter into it either way."

Evolution is a fact; therefore I believe in it. Natural selection is a theory to explain evolution, and frankly, I believe in that, too, because the evidence is overwhelming and it drives my research in useful ways. If another, more useful theory came along, I would adopt it.
posted by acrasis at 6:52 AM on September 7, 2008


In other evolutionary biology news: Scientists Find Genetic Root of Opposable Thumb, Upright Gait

Did a gene enhancer humanise our thumbs?
posted by homunculus at 10:07 AM on September 7, 2008


Krrrlson, I guess I was sort of straddling the line between sidenote and derail when I indicated I think NOMA is a dodge, but didn't explain why I think that. I will summarize my view of why it's a dodge: NOMA requires you to hold that "religion" doesn't say anything about the material world, because if it does say something about the material world, then its predictions can be undermined by evidence of the physical world -- the magisteria would overlap. Almost every religious person who has ever lived thinks / thought that religion says something about the material world. For example, scripture in the Jewish-etc. tradition describes many things that, on their own terms, occurred in the material world, many of them magical in character. Before Enlightenment science, these events were overwhelmingly regarded as literal truth. Today this is somewhat less often the case. But the majority of Americans believe in angels. Even liberal Christians who don't believe in the literal truth of the (entire) Bible probably don't qualify for NOMA, as long as they believe that some of the magical tales of the Bible are true, or are metaphorical retellings of other magical tales. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus would disqualify you for NOMA membership, for example.

If you believe that a god has any powers at all (forget omnipotence), that also defeats NOMA. If God has any ability to act in the world, the magisteria are not overlapping.

The mere notion of a true religion very probably defeats NOMA as well. To see how, let's suppose we believe Christianity is the true religion. How do we know that? Well, someone told us and it seemed right. How did he know? Etc. etc. Ultimately, we have to answer that God acted upon the world in a way that planted the seed of Christian belief. In the orthodox account, he did this by (among other things) coming to earth in human form. But even if we don't believe in the resurrection literally, we still have to posit that belief in the correct God came from somewhere divine originally, which would mean the divine realm acted on the material. No more NOMA! Generalizing (work left to reader), any religion which includes the belief that it -- or any combination of religions -- is true almost certainly is disqualified from NOMA.

I think this shows that almost all religion that's ever existed gives the lie to NOMA. But some people will claim that Religion X is different, because it absolutely doesn't say anything about the material world. It's just a way of living, or something like that. This could conceivably be true for some people's beliefs (why, though, is such a thing a "religion"?). But I think it is more often asserted for cases it doesn't really apply to. For example, there may be versions of Buddhism that don't make any assertions about the material world, but such a Buddhism wouldn't look at all like the common conception of Buddhism, or the median Buddhist's belief. For example, the transmigration of souls violates NOMA because it holds that spiritual forces influence what kind of person you are, which is a facet of the physical world (residing as it does in your brain). (If you say you're agnostic about reincarnation, that doesn't make you NOMA either -- material evidence could impinge on your religious belief about reincarnation, requiring you to shift it from agnostic to disbelieving, for example.) I think that people who assert of themselves that their deeply-believed religion doesn't and can't have implications about the material world are being softheaded about either the demands of their religion, or of science, or both. This is unsurprising since even smart and wise occasionally assimilate contradictions.

That's why I think NOMA is unsatisfying: it says that religion needn't (properly, can't) conflict with science, but that statement only holds for the weakest religions, religions which are not at all representative of the human religious experience.
posted by grobstein at 6:27 PM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


To focus that a tiny bit, I'm saying that religion is not actually confined to the magisterium Gould assigns it to ("questions of ultimate meaning and moral value"). If religion really cramped itself into that corner, it wouldn't be nearly as successful as it has been. The fact that substantially all real religions talk about the material world suggests it's a massive competitive advantage, and perhaps a necessity.
posted by grobstein at 6:35 PM on September 7, 2008


Grobstein - thank you so much for that well-spoken comment. I think one of the holes in NOMA is that science does not limit itself to strictly the empirical realm. Else why would it continue down the deepest paths of particle physics, or to the very root of the blueprints in our DNA? Things that are already so complex that when we reach the next level of understanding, it only unfolds a greater mystery. With each new discovery we get halfway there. Why keep looking? Science would not push that far if it didn't concern itself with ultimate meaning. Materialism is one output of a scientific worldview, but that in and of itself is meaning. Nothing we do is without some inkling of the divine, or in other terms, without some respect and awe for a universe which we will never fully chart from the remnants of the big bang down to the self-replicating machine of life. I guess what I am trying to say is that for a seeker, science and religion are one and the same.

It is so saddening that the extremes of both sides take great pains to not overlap.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 6:59 PM on September 7, 2008


The language of this survey item makes it seem as if the world either has only material properties, spiritual properties, or a little of both, but if it weren't for the world's very real metaphysical properties, we'd have no basis for reasoning or doing math and science (abstract thought depends on typing, or classing and sub-classing, which are forms of idealizing), so this choice between material and spiritual is a false dilemma.

There is a very long line of debate in philosophy about just this issue. It is not as clear-cut as you make it out to be. This wiki article is a good intro to the topic. For instance, George Berkeley used your triangle example in his arguments against the the "very real metaphysical properties" you talk about. David Hume, for another example would readily agree that we have no basis for reasoning, because there is no basis for deductive reasoning itself. Not saying he's right, just that you might want to give more thought to the subject. Your "clarified" question would be even more confusing, because you are making some sort of distinction between "spiritual" and "metaphysical". You seem to be using both to mean something non-material in some way, but I'm not sure what the difference is.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:39 PM on September 7, 2008


As a thesis it may be weak sauce, but I was intrigued to find out how many evolutionary biologists are atheists. For some reason I always thought the number was lower.

As for NOMA, I'm hoping that SJG was trying to declare a truce line between the blindly pious and the scientists who don't want to get distracted by refuting the young earth freakshow. However, one could always argue that when any religion concerns itself with the physical world in areas where scientific findings blatantly contradict that religion's dogma, there could be an interpretation of science mapping out a deception laid out by a trickster ( Coyote, Loki, Satan, whatever). Mapping the boundaries of said deception would still be useful, and conform to the definition of science, without necessarily contradicting said dogma. I'm aware that this would be an incredibly contorted thought process entirely out of the realm of parsimony, but it would be in keeping with the realm of religion. Meanwhile scientists could think what they like, as arguing in the realm of theology seems like a profitless enterprise for them. Sorry if that was inarticulate, I shouldn't post this late.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:20 AM on September 8, 2008


Not saying he's right, just that you might want to give more thought to the subject. Your "clarified" question would be even more confusing, because you are making some sort of distinction between "spiritual" and "metaphysical". You seem to be using both to mean something non-material in some way, but I'm not sure what the difference is.

I'd argue it would be more nuanced and less of a false dilemma--clarified in the sense of being more accurate and precise, not necessarily less confusing.

Metaphysical reality is natural, in the sense that it's not super-natural or mysterious in nature, but it's not physical in the ordinary sense either. Spiritual reality (whatever that is) presumably has something to do with ghosts, spirits and other sorts of mysterious business. The distinction is relevant because it's possible to argue for the existence of the soul not on a strictly spiritual basis, but on a metaphysical one--meaning, an argument could be made that human beings might have properties (like those of the triangle and other geometric forms) that aren't strictly dependent on the physical stuff or the material form of the body, but that likewise don't require supernatural or divine explanation (in other words, something like a soul without a spiritual world or a supernatural creator). And someone who doesn't believe in a supernatural god (theism) with origins in a spiritual reality might still believe in something like a natural god (pantheism) with origins in metaphysical reality, and that position might not be properly reflected in the original survey wording.

For instance, George Berkeley used your triangle example in his arguments against the the "very real metaphysical properties" you talk about. David Hume, for another example would readily agree that we have no basis for reasoning, because there is no basis for deductive reasoning itself.

I have given this subject quite a bit of thought in the past, actually. But you're right, it's not a noncontroversial matter. I remember Hume's skeptical position from a survey course in college. One of Hume's concerns was with how events we tend to unreflectively assume are causally connected might just as well really be coincidences, to put it simply. In other words, just because we think 'A --> C', doesn't mean it's not really just 'A' and 'C'! so how do we establish causal connections between events? Hume concludes that our intuitive understanding of causality is learned, not given a priori. But I don't think Hume makes strong claims at all about whether metaphysical (or ideal) reality actually does exist.

As I understand it, Hume didn't reject the underlying ontology of causality or the validity of formal reasoning outright; he just criticized the idea that the axioms underlying formal reasoning could be derived from a priori reasoning alone (but I'm willing to be corrected on that point). More importantly, his point wasn't about the ontology of causality (which as far as I know he didn't explicitly reject), it was about the epistemology of causality. That's not a minor quibble or difference of interpretation. It's akin to the difference between saying a particular street isn't where it's supposed to be or saying the map got the location of the street wrong.

I'm persuaded by the arguments of mathematical realists like Gödel, whose arguments IMO put to rest once and for all the question of whether or not mathematical ideals exist in their own right apart from physical realities (that's what the Incompleteness proof was all about for Gödel, and now that I finally half-understand the arguments he was making all these years after first encountering and misunderstanding them, his conclusions seem airtight to me. The objects of formal mathematical systems are real, though they aren't physical. To disregard the many controversies surrounding matters like this and reduce the question to a simplistic "material vs. spiritual" duality just isn't very helpful.).

And FWIW, Berkeley was an idealist, so he would agree with me that materialism isn't the whole picture. In fact, Berkeley's held a radical idealist position--he argued that there was no material world at all!
posted by saulgoodman at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I found 79% believing in free will (14% against the proposition, 6% N/A) interesting

I agree, especially since there is no more evidence for free will than there is for the existence of God.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:47 AM on September 8, 2008


Completely disreputable.

Wake me up when there's a survey that asks the right questions. The fact that the second-largest group in question four astonishingly responded "I don’t believe in God, but I do believe that there are entities in the universe that are beyond the scope of science and are forever going to remain so," it seems like a separate category for "I don't believe in God at all" would tell us more. There's overlap between "I don't believe in a traditionally-defined God" and "I believe in unobservable entities" and the survey should have attempted to tease it out.

My suspicion is that many more scientists have an extrascientific belief system than any of these polls lets on. Question four puts that number at more than 1 in 5, which is, you know, non-negligible.
posted by jock@law at 10:15 AM on September 8, 2008


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