The Salmon of Doubt

Gday all

Has anyone else read “The Salmon of Doubt” penned by the late great Douglas Adams?

One section in a whole host of sections mentioning religion is the part where he mentions the idea of an “Artificial God”

Where does god come from? Douglas basically (to summarize) says that ancient man “The tool maker” made tools to circumnavigate evolution. In other words if he lives in a cold climate he kills animals for their furs.

On one hand, the animal has had to adapt over a long period of time to his environment, slowly evolving down the generations to a point where its fur is bushier and can trap more air.

Where as man just clonks him on the head with a suitable rock and subsequently makes off with his jacket without any evolution at all! (Of the body at least)

Man in these circumstances asks himself a very simple question. He looks at his world, which he appears to fit neatly in. he looks at his tools he has made and that no other animal uses, and asks:

“So who made this

[the world] then? It must be a bigger and ore powerful version of me.”


“If he made this world what did he make it for? This world fits me very well. Here are all these things to support me and look after me”

The treacherous conclusion becomes that God made the world for my benefit.

One great quote is:

“There are some oddities of perspective with which we see the world. The fact that we live at the bottom of a gravity well, on the surface of a gas covered planet going around a nuclear fireball 90 million miles away, that think this to be normal, is obviously an indication of how skewed our perspective tends to be…”

He goes on to say that the idea of God is so persuasive because of this false perspective. We don’t take into account that we are evolved beings, and that from our direct perspective evolution is very difficult to spot.

But the best part of the argument struck me in a way nothing has for quite a while. Those who know me in the real world know that one of my favourite sayings that I use when defending my decision to study Philosophy at University is:

“Nothing can survive 2000 years without being of some use, we just aren’t sure of what that is”

Douglas goes on to say something very similar about religion. Historically based decisions and reasons permeate religions all through. He give the example of Bali, where they had a religion revolving around rice production, which had a whole set of rules ceremonies and agendas to do with rice planting, phases of the moon etc. Although this religion had what were plainly non-sensical descriptions of Gods, powers and seasons etc it did actually work and the people of Bali grew great rice.

This kind of underlying “Folk Psychology”, which exists in all human endeavors such as religion, is in my view the fundamental building blocks of people and societies, and has the most staggering deep-rooted powers and rules that we follow even without noticing.

Douglas says:

“…that as we become more scientifically literate, its worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated this world may have some function, and its worth trying to understand… the essential components of, rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water… it may be that there are good practical reason for them being there at the first place.”

He calls this the “Artificial God”. The idea that there are deep-rooted rules placed in our heads by the auspices of the past generations in the form of religious teachings (and other things) and that as we move forwards into the future our responsibility will be to understand these forces before we destroy them, lest we destroy something that actually has had a practical use in the preservation of our peoples.

Nice idea huh?

What say you good people?

I personally take the view that our duty to come as people is to sieve out the good stuff from the bad and take it to move beyond the past ideas/ideals. I guess that makes me a kind of futurist, but what the hell.

Any comments?

What do you think of the idea of “Folk Psychology” and my personal opinions of its far-reaching powers?