Culture & Ethics
John Lennon, Darwin Doubter
Reaching the status of superstar legendary entertainer must, like being a very aged person, grant you a certain immunity from the need to shape your opinions to secure social approval. Sure, lots of regular celebrities crave to be respected by peers as smart and sensitive. Witness Lady Gaga’s recently ballyhooed palling around with Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek, “the world’s hippest professor,” with whom she chats about “feminism and collective human creativity.”
But when you get to be someone like John Lennon, already basking in worldwide adoration and respect, your exalted place in pop-music history secure beyond doubt, there may come a day when you at last grant yourself permission to express thoughts otherwise mocked and punished in the circles where you travel. This helps explain playwright David Mamet’s turn to the political Right. In Lennon’s case, in the year or two before his tragic death in 1980, not only did he develop a fondness for Ronald Reagan (according to his personal assistant at the time) but more strikingly, and better documented since we have it in his own words, he voiced doubts about Darwin.
More than doubts, actually. He laughed at what he regarded as the ludicrousness of Darwinian theory, comparing it with young earth creationism. This was in an interview with Playboy, one of the last he gave and reprinted in a book by journalist David Sheff, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000):
Nor do I think we came from monkeys, by the way… That’s another piece of garbage. What the hell’s it based on? We couldn’t’ve come from anything — fish, maybe, but not monkeys. I don’t believe in the evolution of fish to monkeys to men. Why aren’t monkeys changing into men now? It’s absolute garbage. It’s absolutely irrational garbage, as mad as the ones who believe the world was made only four thousand years ago, the fundamentalists. That and the monkey thing are both as insane as the apes standing up suddenly. The early men are always drawn like apes, right? Because that fits in the theory we have been living with since Darwin. I don’t buy that monkey business. [Singing] “Too much monkey business…” [Laughing] I don’t buy it. I’ve got no basis for it and no theory to offer, I just don’t buy it. Something other than that. Something simpler. I don’t buy anything other than “It always was and ever shall be.” I can’t conceive of anything less or more. The other theories change all the time. They set up these idols and then they knock them down. It keeps all the old professors happy in the university. It gives them something to do. I don’t know if there’s any harm in it except they ram it down everybody’s throat. Everything they told me as a kid has already been disproved by the same type of “experts” who made them up in the first place. There.
There, indeed. Nothing in his comments suggests that Lennon was particularly well informed about evolutionary matters, as he himself blithely admitted. But there’s something refreshing, needless to say, about hearing a man as he shrugs off all the opinions you are supposed to hold when you’re a musician or a movie star, or a professor or a journalist, and just says what he thinks. Darwinism? It’s “absolutely irrational garbage” that “old professors” want “to ram…down everybody’s throat.” Delicious.
Our colleague John West wonders if this is why Yoko Ono got so ticked off at the producers of Expelled, suing them for using Lennon’s song “Imagine” in the film. Maybe it was because they misrepresented her husband, implying he was pro-Darwin!
Photo credit: By Eric Koch / Anefo [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.