Dear Dr Dawkins,
You taught my younger brother in the early 70's at Oxford and he still remembers you striding into the lecture hall and asking "Who does NOT believe in evolution? "
I studied physics and then did an D Phil in engineering, both at Oxford. So I guess you could call me "well- educated". I also consider myself a rational thinker.
I am now 62 and I have lived in Hong Kong for the past 30 years, selling high-tech vacuum equipment to China
I became a born-again Christian while at Oxford and very soon moved into the charismatic / free - church movement, where I remained until about 3 years ago when I became increasingly disillusioned with the narrow - mindedness of my Christian friends. That's not to say that I did not respect their devotion, commitment, and above all their self- sacrificing life-styles, and so whatever the rights and wrongs of Christianity, at its best it produces some of the most "lovely" people alive today.
But at its worst it produces the horrors with which you and I are all too familiar.
I have read almost all your books on evolution and, as a scientist, I am as convinced in the correctness of evolution as I am about the laws of physics.
(BTW: Have you ever wondered at how brutal evolution - and indeed the whole world of nature - is? I often watch the Discovery Channel wild life films, and then realize that that highest aspiration of almost every living creature in the world is to be killed and eaten quickly by another animal so that death does not come slowly . If I was a loving God and wanted to create a paradise world I would certainly have made every animal - and humans - vegetarians!)
I have just finished reading The God Delusion for the 2nd time, and used the opportunity of a week in hospital to view as many of your Youtube videos as possible. I must say that you have the patience of a saint to have controlled your temper with some of the interviewees, and it did not escape my notice that at least one particularly antagonistic "Christian" opponent went on to betray every moral standard he ever claimed he believed in (as - it seems - have many evangelists whom I admired in my younger and more naïve days) .
What struck me most about the videos was the huge chasm between what you were saying as a perfectly rational person, regardless of your atheistic position, and the total closed-mind attitude of the interviewees . It's as if you and the interviewee were speaking different languages - or even living in different worlds.
But, probably, if you had met me 30 years ago I would have been as closed-minded as they were - but I hope not as rude.
So what has changed? Why have I changed?
It's not because I believe in evolution and the geological history of the earth, because I see no reason why a Christian (nor any religious person) need deny evolution and geology just because it conflicts with his/her belief in God as the ultimate creator .
I think the answer is that I have come to realize how narrow-minded we all are unless we base what we believe on scientific facts. Those who believe in God all have their own very narrow, personal view of what "God" (and for Christians : what Jesus) means to them in the precise details. And they do not hesitate to dismiss others who disagree in even the smallest detail.
I have a good Christian friend, Jack, who, a few years had joined another good Christian friend, John, in setting up a new free church in Hong Kong: new Church, new vision, new revelation, new movement ! Never mind that the new Church was a break-away from another free Church which was a break-away from a free Baptist Church, which was a break-away from the official Baptist Union in Hong Kong, the Baptist Union being a breakaway from....... whatever in the distant part, being a break-away from the C of E, which is itself a break-away from the Catholic Church. Jack and John eventually parted company ( "fellowship" ) . Jack is now a part-time pastor in a Pentecostal sub-denomination Church, while John left his job to become a full-time pastor in the successor of the free Church he helped found, which - predictably - is now spending a small fortune on its own Church building. I recently bumped into Jack, and he asked how John is these days. I thought they kept in close contact as friends, even though theologically / Church-wise they have split up, but apparently not, because Jack told me he considers John has "lost the vision / gone off the rails " etc.
OK......... most people in the Protestant Church and certainly everyone in the free church movement think that most of what the Catholics do and believe is as silly as the tooth fairy ( e.g. making John-Paul 2 a saint after all the child abuse scandals he authorized Ratzinger to cover up ?!) . But the RCs are considered fair game. However, when two formerly such close Christian friends can part company over whatever minor theological differences they have, then something is seriously wrong. Because both Jack and John are tow of the most rational, good-natured, non-extremist people as you could ever hope to meet.
This really shocked me, and has become one more step in my break with my Christian past, which started in a totally different way
This is the main purpose of this letter, and hoping that you have read this far: I set myself on a quest for the historical Jesus.
It turned out I did not have to look very far for modern research on this topic, and struck gold when I stumbled on "The Jesus Dynasty" by Dr. James Tabor. I have read this book several times, and although Tabor at some times goes off into conjecture (e.g. who were the real parents of Jesus), the limitations of which conjectures he openly admits and qualifies accordingly as pure conjecture, the whole book has the "ring of truth". It was researched and written by an open-minded and honest academic who wanted - and still does want - only to know the historical facts, whatever they may say. Here is a man who has spent more days in his life on the ground of Israel researching the archeology of the Bible, in particular the time of Jesus, than the average devout Christian has spent hours reading the Bible in his life. As I read his book, and many other books about the early Church, in particular its totally Jewish origins which the whole established Church prefers to forget, I began to understand how "Christianity" as we understand it today has become so far divorced from what Jesus actually said and intended, for which we should blame Paul. And if that's really the case, then the whole concept of "Jesus as the Son of God" is completely flawed, and with that goes the whole notion of God - at least in the Christian sense I understood God and Jesus in the past.
I do strongly recommend "The Jesus Dynasty" to everyone in the Converts Corner, and to you Dr Dawkins if you have not yet read it . But I warn you not to expect devout Christians to agree with you if you quote Tabor to them.
My younger brother, who remains a strong evangelical Christian, has no hesitation in condemning the Catholic Church as the 666 beast and whore of Revelation (and even with an archaic proof of the 666 connection based on some number/ lettering system). But when I point out that the whole doctrinal basis for the reformed / protestant church movement from Luther onwards is based primarily on the personal revelations and visions of Paul, who never met Jesus, did not even consult with the Apostles of the mother church in Jerusalem until several years after his conversion, and who claimed to have his "own gospel direct from God and Jesus ", he cannot see that Paul in his day was probably as way out as Joseph Smith was in his day. And if something as crazy as the Mormon church can gain credibility in a hundred odd years of the modern age, how easy it was for the original Catholic Church to become established within 300 years as "the" Church against all the other early versions of the Church, including the original Jewish mother Church.
Which explains why, as I can now finally admit and to myself, it's very hard to find anywhere in the gospels where Jesus ever really claims to be the Son of God, and why many of the teachings of Jesus are actually at variance with the theology of the modern Church - whether catholic, orthodox or reformed.
Another book which helped nail the coffin of my belief is "The Jesus Family Tomb" by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino . This book is as controversial as its title suggests, and the Discovery Channel film based on the book was banned in the UK. But as a scientist, I must say that this book also has the "ring of truth" . This is another book I recommend for its pure honesty and search for facts, wherever they lead. I am astonished that this book has not caused more controversy, which I can only explain by assuming that every Christian in the world prefers to brush the book and its conclusions under the table, while to every atheist it's no big surprise to find out that Jesus was in fact buried just as was any normal person, and so of course there was no resurrection and ascension.
And the fact that there was no resurrection and ascension explains the weird and fuzzy way in which all the gospels end, which I had never dared to face up to before
I hope this letter has been helpful. Thank you Dr Dawkins for you totally sincerity and honesty.
In everything you have written and said, I see the "ring of truth" and a willingness to face facts and base your beliefs purely on the facts.
If your critics accuse you of being "militantly" atheist I would only say that your militant-ism is but a fraction - and a good deal more kind-hearted - than any evangelistic Christian's attitude towards non-believers, not to mention the attitude of many extreme Muslims.
And if one day an explorer satellite to the sun bumped into an orbiting teapot I am sure you - as would I - change your views accordingly. But as we both are certain, that will never happen (unless the teapot turns out to be an alien spacecraft secretly monitoring our solar system !) In the meantime, there are millions of items of evidence here on earth on which to base our beliefs, whether regarding evolution or religion
So am I now an atheist? I am not sure. But I am certainly no longer the passionate evangelical Christian of my Oxford days, and I feel I am actually becoming a better and more compassionate person because I have dropped my extremist religious beliefs of the past.
Very best wishes
PS : May I please take the opportunity to use this letter to contact any like-minded people in Hong Kong? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if it is permitted to publish this along with my letter
Peter D Bentley ( Dr)