Monday, January 08, 2007

Who is This God Person Anyway? (Fit the First - DNA)

Douglas Noel Adams was famously an atheist. He was fascinated by religion in all its forms, but did not consider his atheism in terms of belief or non-belief. He was, in his own words, 'convinced that there is no God'. Which could be why, in the first sentence of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series, we are introduced to Oolon Coluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters: Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes, and Who is This God Person Anyway?

I've long fantasised about writing a book with that last title. A volume on theology, perhaps, in the style of Hitchhiker's. A sort of Hitchhiker's Guide to Eternity. The Gospel According to Zaphod Beeblebrox, that sort of thing. Maybe I should give up on science fiction and set about my own trilogy of philosophical blockbusters. For now, though, I'll settle with this little series of posts.

Douglas' facination with religion is apparent throughout the Hitchhiker trilogy, from that opening sentence to the wierd missionary antics of Huma Kavula in the movie version, and then overspills into the world of Dirk Gently. And that Hitchhikers has at its heart a quest for the meaning of life almost goes without saying. Some of his writings seem to have been adopted into atheist folklore:

...if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: I refuse to prove that I exist, says God, for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.
But, says Man, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.
Oh dear, says God, I hadn't thought of that, and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

It's hard to fault the logic there, and Adams has brilliantly twisted a 'theist' argument to suit his own atheist worldview. This is, of course, a load of fetid dingoes kidneys, not least because God has never, to my knowledge, refused to prove his existence, or used the 'proof denies faith' argument in his own defence. On top of which we could always use the counter argument - that proof does not deny faith, but in fact confirms it.

It is just possible, of course, that Adams used this illustration simply for the sake of a joke, as the passage finishes:

Oh, that was easy, says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Well, that about wraps it up for atheists, it would seem.

Further musings on the Gospel according to Douglas Adams will follow next week, in the meantime you can get an insight into his beliefs (or convictions) in his interview with The American Atheist here, also published in The Salmon of Doubt.


Anonymous said...

It seems like he was an atheist, but not a triumphalist one. Or rather, one with a sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

PS: As opposed to those more aggressive atheists who believe getting rid of religion will solve the world's problems.

M386 said...


Anonymous said...


Herr Goat said...

Religion is the world's problem. It has outlived its modest epistemological and ontological utility, and it's decaying corpse is fouling the environment.

UKSteve said...

Some lovely big words you've used there Herr Goat, ten out of ten. You should be a poet or something.

eris smith said...

I think extremists are the problem.