Humanist profile: Douglas Adams (1952-2001).
--Douglas Adams, American Atheist Volume 37 No. I
Douglas Noel Adams was born on March 1 I, 1952, in Cambridge, England. A writer, comic radio dramatist, and environmental activist, Adams is best known for the classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which found its start as a radio program and was later developed into a book, television, and comic book series, several stage adaptations, a record album, a computer game, and a feature film.
Adams had an early interest in the arts, specializing in art at the Brentwood Preparatory School. While there Adams was awarded the only perfect score his teacher had ever given on a creative writing assignment, an accomplishment that motivated Adams throughout his life. He later attended St. John's College in Cambridge, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in English.
After school, his first major break came when be was discovered by Graham Chapman of Monty Python, earning Adams writing credits for several sketches on Monty Python's Flying Circus and a sketch on the album for Monty Python anal the Holy Grail.
Despite that success, Adams found larger fame with The Hitchhiker's Guide, which started as a weekly radio series on BBC Radio 4 in 1978. The radio program was wildly popular and was later developed into a five-book series--selling more than fifteen million copies--including The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe and Everything; So long, and Thanks For All the Fish; and Mostly Harmless. Adams was awarded a Golden Pan for The Hitchhiker's Guide in 1984, the youngest author to receive the award. He was later awarded two additional Golden Pans and was nominated for a Best of Young British Novelists award.
Adams proclaimed himself a "radical atheist," explaining that the use of the term "radical" was meant to clarify that he wasn't agnostic and that he had thought quite seriously about his views. Though he was a committed Christian in his youth, Adams came to question his religious beliefs when studying the sciences as a teenager. Several years later Adams was introduced to evolutionary biology through Richard Dawkins's books The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker, to which Adams credits his conversion to atheism. (The two later became good friends and Dawkins dedicated his most recent book, The God Delusion, to Adams).
Though Adams was an atheist, he remained fascinated by religion. In an interview with American Atheist magazine he said, "[Religion] 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 fascination is bound to spill over into my writing."
Adams is also known for his environmental activism and, particularly, his devotion to raising awareness about various endangered species. In addition to lecturing widely on the topic, in 1990 Adams teamed up with zoologist Mark Carwardine to write Last Chance to See, an account of a search for rare and endangered species. Adams often said that the project was one of his favorites.
Adams suffered a heart attack and died on May 11, 2001 at the age of forty-nine. A collection of his essays, including the interview with American Atheist, was published posthumously in 2002 under the title The Salmon of Doubt.
Humanism is a rational philosophy informed by science, inspired by art, and motivated by compassion. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports liberty and opportunity consonant with social and planetary responsibility. Free of supernaturalism, humanism thus derives the goals of life from human need and interest rather than from theological or ideological abstractions, and asserts that humanity must take responsibility for its own destiny.