Monday, May 11, 2009

A Puff of Logic

Douglas Adams inserted a hilarious bit of theological satire into The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that I would have added to my last post if I had remembered it in time. Adams has just finished introducing a comically convenient plot device: the Babel Fish. This is a creature that feeds on sound waves and excretes brain waves – all you must do is place a Babel Fish in your ear, and then all languages are immediately translated into your native language.

Now it is such a bizarrely impossible coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the nonexistence 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 though of that" and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

While at face value this is “the Design Argument Against the Existence of God,” don't miss the real point. It's not actually a rebuttal to the Design Argument or a positive argument for atheism. It's a satire of the “it's so we can have faith” defense for a lack of evidence for God or a particular religion.


  1. Most of my recent re-reading of the book was not as enjoyable as it was in my teen years. That quote was a big exception though. Brilliant!

  2. I read the first book in college, and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe just this last year.

    I would expect the opposite: to enjoy it even more the second time through. The first time, I just didn't get it. I didn't understand the puff of logic as anything other than ridiculousness until a year or two later. I didn't even realize Adams was a skeptic until the beginning of the second book.

    It finally clicked when the Hitchhiker's Guide's publisher was sued for a factual inaccuracy that was taken too literally. The Guide's publishers got a lawyer who argued that the reading as it stood was more beautiful than the "corrected" version. Truth is beauty, and beauty truth. Therefore, if reality contradicts the Guide, then it is reality that is in error.