On this date in 1952, science fiction/comedy writer Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge, England. He was educated at Brentwood School, Essex, and St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a BA in 1974, and later earned his Master’s in English literature.
Adams worked as a writer and producer in radio and television. In 1978, “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” ran as a series on BBC Radio, and was published as a novel in 1979. Fourteen million copies of the cult scifi novel have sold worldwide, followed by sequels. The satiric novel chronicles the adventures of an alien, Ford Prefect, and his human companion, Arthur Dent, as they travel the universe looking for the meaning of life after the earth’s destruction. Adams became the youngest author to be awarded the Golden Pan in 1984.
Adams was also an Internet pioneer. He married Jane Belson in 1991 and they had a daughter, Polly, in 1994. He was at work on a screenplay for Hitch Hiker when he died unexpectedly at age 49 of a heart attack. Adams called himself a “committed Christian” as a teenager, who began to rethink his beliefs at age 18 after listening to the nonsense of a street preacher. He credited books by his friend, Richard Dawkins, including The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, for helping to cement his views on religion.
In one of his speeches, Dawkins quotes Adams, who said: “Now, the invention of the scientific method is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that. It has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever.” (“Emperor Has No Clothes” Award acceptance speech, reprinted in Freethought Today, October 2001.)
In The Salmon of Doubt, a compilation of Adams’ writings published posthumously in 2002, Adams wrote of religion: “But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.” D. 2001.
“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). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. 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.”
—Douglas Adams, interview, American Atheist (Winter 1998-99)