The Religious Affiliation of Science Fiction Writer
Douglas Adams was a devout Anglican until the age of 18. When he was born in 1952 his father was a postgraduate theology student at Ridley Hall, the Anglican Theological Training College in Cambridge, England. Later his father quit his studies for the Anglican priesthood and worked as a teacher of theology. [Source: "Douglas Adams Biography"; URL: http://www.douglasadams.se/biography] Adams discussed his religious beliefs with interviewer David Silverman ("Life, the Universe, and Everything: An Interview with Douglas Adams" in The American Atheist Volume, Volume 37 No. 1; URL: http://www.americanatheist.org/win98-99/T2/silverman.html):
As a teenager I was a committed Christian. It was in my background. I used to work for the school chapel in fact. Then one day when I was about eighteen I was walking down the street when I heard a street evangelist and, dutifully, stopped to listen. As I listened it began to be borne in on me that he was talking complete nonsense, and that I had better have a bit of a think about 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... making the move from Agnosticism to Atheism takes, I think, much more commitment to intellectual effort than most people are ready to put in... I am fascinated by religion... It has had such an incalculably huge effect on human affairs. What is it? What does it represent? Why have we invented it? How does it keep going? What will become of it? I love to keep poking and prodding at it. I've thought about it so much over the years that that fascination is bound to spill over into my writing.
Silverman asked Adams about being described as a "radical atheist," and Adams explained:
I think I use the term radical rather loosely, just for emphasis. If you describe yourself as "Atheist," some people will say, "Don't you mean 'Agnostic'?" I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god - in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference)... It's easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it's an opinion I hold seriously. It's funny how many people are genuinely surprised to hear a view expressed so strongly. In England we seem to have drifted from vague wishy-washy Anglicanism to vague wishy-washy Agnosticism - both of which I think betoken a desire not to have to think about things too much.
From: M.J. Simpson, Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams, Justin Charles & Co.: Boston, MA (2003), pages 241-243:
In 1998, Douglas gave an interview to a publication called American Atheist, in which he explained his views on religion and his position as a radical atheist in detail. To quote extensively from that interview here would be redundant - it is on the web and in The Salmon of Doubt - but it only demonstrates Douglas' view at age forty-six.
At school, Douglas had been a thoroughly committed Christian. 'Many years ago, I was extremely religious,' he admitted. 'My parents belonged to a Christian community, which had quite a strong effect on my growing up, and all the way through school I took Christianity very seriously.' 1
'He was always a great sermon-taster,' remembers Brentwood Chaplain Tom Gardiner. 'He used to listen very carefully and he would give me comments about things, which I used to enjoy. He had a Christian training, he was brought up in the Christian tradition and he had a great deal of sympathy for it.' 2
Douglas certainly seems to have remained a committed Christian until he left Brentwood, but somewhere between school and university he apparently had a moment of revelation when he listened to a street-corner evangelist and realised that religious dogma flew in the face of the reasoned arguments he had been taught to apply in history, science and other subjects. Though there had been no overt sign of this at Brentwood, Tom Gardiner (who also marked some of Douglas' English work) could see how it developed: 'I felt that in his writing he showed that he was a martyr to epistemology, having a great struggle with what words actually meant. How are we to employ them? To what extent are words serviceable? And this was his problem in religion as well.' 3
'I'm very firmly agnostic,' said Douglas in 1984. 'I have terrible rows with my girlfriend who is a convinced atheist. This seems to me irrational. There's no evidence either way.' 4 But though Jane couldn't convince him, Richard Dawkins could. Dawkins e-mailed Douglas a fan letter in 1987 after reading Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency and discovered that Douglas was equally enamoured of his books. The two became a mutual appreciation society, with Dawkins seemingly usurping John Cleese' position as Douglas' idol. ('He told me of an instance when John Cleese had been quite brusque with him, not going out of his way to put him at his ease when he could quite easily have done so,' remembers Mark Lewisohn, which may have some bearing on the matter. 5)
Thereafter, Douglas was quite outspoken on religious matters (though never as much as Dawkins) yet was quite happy to continue in his admiration of Bach and other religious music, a contradiction which bothered Douglas not in the slightest. He even briefly considered writing a whole book on atheism.
'I think this radical atheism that he professed was a pretty late development,' says Johnny Brock, who had known Douglas since Cambridge. It may be being unkind but I think it was very much driven by Richard Dawkins who as you know is completely obsessed with atheism, far more than Douglas ever was. I think it was partly Douglas trying to please the scientific establishment and particularly Richard Dawkins who he was rather foolishly, I think, in awe of. I'm not saying he would have become Christian again, or Buddhist or anything else, but I think it was a transitional phase.' 6
Tom Gardiner agrees to some extent: 'It's more or less a Marxist pattern: there's a thesis which is the Christian one, then the antithesis which is Dawkins, then there would follow a synthesis, which would be his knowledge from having lived in both worlds - a world with God and a world without God. Though I'm not saying for a moment, as some would say, that if he had lived he would have "come back to the true faith".' 7
'If it turned out that there was a God, I would feel I'd been the victim of a monumental confidence trick,' said Douglas. 'I'd feel that the universe was playing silly buggers. I'll wait and see but I won't lose any sleep over it.' 8
References 1. Stan Nicholls, Wordsmiths of Wonder, Orbit, 1993
2. Interview with M.J.S. [M.J. Simpson, the author of this book], May 2002
4. Steve Grant, Time Out, 15 November 1984
5. Interview with M.J.S., May 2002
6. Interview with M.J.S., April 2002
7. As 2
8. Piers Townley, Loaded, April 1998
From: "Religious Affiliations of Celebrities" page in "Celebrity Religion" section of "Religion Facts" website (http://www.religionfacts.com/celebrities/religions_of_celebrities.htm; viewed 20 April 2007):
Below is an index of the religious affiliations or belief systems of celebrities (both living and dead; in film, television, music, literature, academics and politics), listed in alphabetical order by last name...
Celebrity: Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
Quotes, More Information, Sources: The British author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy called himself a "radical Atheist."
Webpage created 25 July 2005. Last modified 21 April 2007.
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