How much do I love The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Let’s just say this: I’ve read it more times than I’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s kinda formative for me.
The first time that I picked up the Guide, I was struck by this profound passage, an aside from Adams regarding the babel fish (whose name, of course, derives from the tower of babel), which was able to make each person who slipped it in his or her ear understand the words coming out of an foreign mouth. Readers of this journal will no doubt draw a parallel to a phenomenon that takes place in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.
This passage, I think, cleverly describes the way humans in an age of self-assured reason and reductionist scientism play God, to their own destruction. Here’s how Adams uses the babel fish to illustrate the point:
“The Babel fish is small, yellow, leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them.
The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable 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 NON-existence of God.
The argument goes 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 thought of that,’ and promptly disappears in a puff of logic.
`Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.”
Adams’ reflection on the pride of Enlightened Man also reminds me of a song by Pedro the Lion, whose frontman, David Bazan, for all his theological wanderings, seemed to nail the same principle in the song “Letter from a Concerned Follower,” which was addressed to God:
“I hear you don’t change
How to you expect to keep up with the trends?
You won’t survive the information age
Unless you plan to change the truth
To accommodate the brilliance of men, the brilliance of men.”
So on this Towel Day, remember that in a world full of single-cup coffeemakers, laser hair removal and free wi-fi, that the genius of humanity has yet to fully engineer something as complex and unprecedented as a squirrel.
Photo credit: Me. That’s my towel.
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