Dear Professor Dawkins,
As a way of thanking you for your influence in my life over the last couple of years, regardless of whether or not I receive a reply or even a moment of your time, I feel it necessary to share with you how large a part you played in me losing my christian faith and my weak grip on creationism and how you introduced me to the freedom of atheism and the knowledge of the truth and splendour of evolution.
My name is John, I'm 27 and I live in a town called Richmond in North Yorkshire (the first 'Richmond' in fact, founded in 1071). Up until last year I spent the previous 10 years playing in the worship band of my local pentecostal church. Services used to be rather 'lively' but over the last few years, what with a new generation of leadership taking over, they have dulled to a less embarrassing affair (this essentially means no more flags, and less spontaneous cringe-worthy wailing...). I often heard stories of people's 'experiences' of God and the supernatural and tended to be more or less convinced or at least encouraged by them and plodded along blindly like a good christian, adopting any logical sounding argument for my belief that I came across along the way. I even went so far as to volunteer my services for a youth and schools missionary organisation called the Pais project based in Manchester. I ended up playing in a band and working with schools in east Texas of all places. It was God awful (or at least the God stuff was).
It wasn't until around 2009 that the unwelcome voice of sense and reason started to gently whisper the odd word in my ear. It was around this time that I first saw your discussion with Derren Brown (concerning psychics and the supernatural) which deeply interested me but for some reason didn't seem to phase me much with regards to my faith. However it did sow a seed and after much research, which included a lot of your material (perhaps the easiest to digest and most helpful) I came to the decision that I was wrong about God. I had no foundation of a supernatural experience on which to build my faith (a queer and illogical thing, I now find) and I was beginning to see through things like miracles and the 'truth' of scripture. Unfortunately this led to over a year of a mix of denial and deception as I continued in my role as guitarist and vocalist in the church band. Sooner or later the weight of guilt and the pressure of my mental turmoil inevitably got the better of me and I told my pastor everything I'd been experiencing. You may be interested to know that I decided against mentioning you to him because I've discovered, at least in my personal experience, that as soon as you mention 'Richard Dawkins' you tend to go from having changed your perspective, to being some kind of rebel. This obviously stems from nothing else other than ignorance, as you well know. Actually come to think of it, I do believe he owns a copy of 'The God Delusion' but I seriously doubt he's done more than skim through it. However it does rather enhance the look of his otherwise God-breathed bookshelf. As tough is it may have been to 'come out' as an atheist (I thought at the time that I was agnostic but now realise I share your stance as a 6.9...) I now see the true benefits of a raised conciousness.
I've watched most of your TV material and listened to many of your talks, interviews (I don't know how you managed to remain a gentleman with that Revelation TV guy) and have had the pleasure of reading (and hearing) 'The God Delusion' and reading 'The Magic of Reality'. I am currently enjoying 'The Greatest Show On Earth'. I often find myself not properly equipped to discuss the matter of evolution with church friends without sounding like a blind revolutionary. What is annoying however, and I'm sure you empathise completely, is the shrug of the shoulders I recieve when I do manage to form a convincing argument. Usually followed closely by something along the lines of "Well... *blah blah blah* ...faith." Quite infuriating.
If I'm lucky enough that you have taken time to read this letter then I must first of all thank you. Secondly, I was hoping to push you for a response by means of a kind of question. I've never been good at coming up with decent questions so I do hope this will suffice...
I've seen my fair share of science documentaries and when it comes to discussing evolution, whether as a side note or the main subject matter, I often find myself puzzled by the same queer wording. When describing the evolution of a species, presenters and commentators often tell us how the animal cleverly developed *insert physical aparatus* or how *advantageous attribute* is an ingenius solution. Do you think this is a bad choice of words? Or were we always supposed to presume they mean "natural selection favoured the ones that had *insert random mutation*"? Afterall, no sea creature grew legs because it seemed like a good idea. Anyway, a simple and perhaps pedantic question, but it has always kind of bugged me. I would appreciate your take on it.
I shall conclude now by thanking you once more. Your wisdom and positive input are personally very much appreciated. I hope that I can continued to be challenged and inspired to more effectively fly the flag of reason and logic.
Yours most sincerely,
PS. Where do you recommend I look to find a relatively simple guide to the DNA evidence for evolution?