Sunday, 4 February 2007

Remembering Douglas Adams


On 11 May 2001, I was browsing news headlines online during an ordinary lunch break at my desk, on an ordinary day, when I saw the headline, "Douglas Adams dies at age 49". I stopped breathing.The day clouded over. It's not him. It's some other Douglas Adams. But no, it was the one and only author of my all-time favourite book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My heart sank and I tearily scoured online coverage of his death.

A few days later, Richard Dawkins wrote this moving lament for Adams.

Years later, my heart still sinks when I think about our world without Douglas Adams. It is heartening to see that this great man is so fondly remembered by his fans and friends. Dawkins dedicates the God Delusion to the memory of Adams and often writes about him in the book. I just want to share one section with whoever may be reading this post.

"Douglas Adams's moving and funny account of his own conversion to radical atheism - he insisted on the 'radical' in case anybody should mistake him for an agnostic - is testimony to the power of Darwinism as a consciousness-raiser. I hope I shall be forgiven the self-indulgence that will become apparent in the following quotation. My excuse is that Douglas's conversion by my earlier books - which did not set out to convert anyone - inspired me to dedicate to his memory this book - which does! In an interview, reprinted posthumously in The Salmon of Doubt, he was asked by a journalist how he became an atheist. He began his reply by explaining how he became an agnostic, and then proceeded:

And I thought and thought and thought. But I just didn't have enough to go on, so I didn't really come to any resolution. I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn't know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe, and everything to put in its place. But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept thinking. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, particulary in the form of Richard Dawkins's book The Selfish Gene and then The Blind Watchmaker, and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Selfish Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day

The concept of stunning simplicity that he was talking about was, of course, nothing to do with me. It was Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection - the ultimate scientific consciousness-raiser. Douglas, I miss you. You are my cleverest, funniest, most open-minded, wittiest, tallest, and possibly only convert. I hope this book might have made you laugh - though not as much as you made me."

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"People will then often say “But surely it’s better to remain an Agnostic just in case?” This, to me, suggests such a level of silliness and muddle that I usually edge out of the conversation rather than get sucked into it. (If it turns out that I’ve been wrong all along, and there is in fact a god, and if it further turned out that this kind of legalistic, cross-your-fingers-behind-your-back, Clintonian hair-splitting impressed him, then I think I would chose not to worship him anyway." DNA

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