Remembering Douglas Adams
It’s a little over seven years since the death of Douglas Adams, atheist author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”. In his “Lament for Douglas Adams”, written on hearing of Adams’ death, Richard Dawkins wrote,
To illustrate the vain conceit that the universe must be somehow preordained for us, because we are so well suited to live in it, he mimed a wonderfully funny imitation of a puddle of water, fitting itself snugly into a depression in the ground, the depression uncannily being exactly the same shape as the puddle. Or there’s this parable, which he told with huge enjoyment, whose moral leaps out with no further explanation. A man didn’t understand how televisions work, and was convinced that there must be lots of little men inside the box, manipulating images at high speed. An engineer explained about high-frequency modulations of the electromagnetic spectrum, transmitters and receivers, amplifiers and cathode ray tubes, scan lines moving across and down a phosphorescent screen. The man listened to the engineer with careful attention, nodding his head at every step of the argument. At the end he pronounced himself satisfied. He really did now understand how televisions work. “But I expect there are just a few little men in there, aren’t there?”
The tribute on the h2g2 website (an unconventional guide to life, the universe and everything, an encyclopaedic project where entries are written by people from all over the world, founded by Adams, launched in April 1999, and taken over by the BBC in February 2001) begins,
“I was the only kid who anybody I knew has ever seen, actually walk into a lamppost with his eyes wide open. Everybody assumed that there must be something going on inside because there sure as hell wasn’t anything going on on the outside!” (Hitchhikers, 1). Little did anyone know that this young, not-so-bright kid would be revered as a break-through Science-Fiction writer, leavening his legacy in; literature, Television, radio, and the computer world.
“The Salmon of Doubt” (buy the book via our Amazon link!), published posthumously, contains chapters from his last, unfinished book, and pieces on dogs, manta rays on the Great Barrier Reef, the Save the Rhino stunt climb, and PG Wodehouse. It includes an interview with Adams by The American Atheist, in which he’s asked if it’s accurate to describe him as a “radical atheist”. As part of his answer, Adams says,
I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me, “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian beaver cheese is equally valid” – then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such as thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’ve got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.
Adams’ wit is widely quoted. Some of my favourites…
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.
Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn’t have a good answer to.
I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is generally considered to have been a bad move.
Very deep. You should send that in to Readers’ Digest, they’ve got a page for people like you.