Monday, April 03, 2006

Why Douglas Adams Was an Atheist

In the years I’d spent learning History, Physics, Latin, Math, I’d learnt (the hard way) something about standards of argument, standards of proof, standards of logic, etc. In fact we had just been learning how to spot the different types of logical fallacy, and it suddenly became apparent to me that these standards simply didn’t seem to apply in religious matters. In religious education we were asked to listen respectfully to arguments which, if they had been put forward in support of a view of, say, why the Corn Laws came to be abolished when they were, would have been laughed at as silly and childish and - in terms of logic and proof -just plain wrong. Why was this?

Well, in history, even though the understanding of events, of cause and effect, is a matter of interpretation, and even though interpretation is in many ways a matter of opinion, nevertheless those opinions and interpretations are honed to within an inch of their lives in the withering crossfire of argument and counterargument, and those that are still standing are then subjected to a whole new round of challenges of fact and logic from the next generation of historians - and so on. All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.

So, I was already familiar with and (I’m afraid) accepting of, the view that you couldn’t apply the logic of physics to religion, that they were dealing with different types of ‘truth’. (I now think this is baloney, but to continue...) What astonished me, however, was the realization that the arguments in favor of religious ideas were so feeble and silly next to the robust arguments of something as interpretative and opinionated as history. In fact they were embarrassingly childish. They were never subject to the kind of outright challenge which was the normal stock in trade of any other area of intellectual endeavor whatsoever. Why not? Because they wouldn’t stand up to it. So I became an Agnostic. And I thought and thought and thought. But I just did not 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, particularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’s books 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. --interview, The American Atheist


CyberKitten said...

A man after my own heart. It's nice to be in such company. I whole heartedly agree with him that religious arguments don't stand up to much scrutiny - which is why I've never been able to accept any of them.

'The Selfish Gene' blew me away too........

Godd to have you back in the Blogosphere BTW.

Jewish Atheist said...

Godd to have you back in the Blogosphere BTW.

Interesting slip-of-the-fingers. :-)

Juggling Mother said...

Douglas Adams was an amazing man - both in his writings & his personality.

It seems such a shame that a man so notoriously bad at deadlines couldn't get a bit of an extension on his life:-(

Anonymous said...

I'm not mekabel.

JDHURF said...

That was a sheer pleasure to read.

Jewish Atheist said...


I'm not mekabel.

I know. :-)

dbs said... mean..its...its not...42!

Foilwoman said...

Anybody who invented the Point of View Gun has my vote. Nice quote.