Dear Professor Dawkins,
This is the first time in my life where I have felt the insistence to write to someone who, unbeknownst to them, have helped me overcome an issue that has plagued me for quite some time.
A few months ago I finished reading The God Delusion, which seemed to be the book I needed to have read to help me overcome the feeling of loss and true despair when a loved one passes away.
Now the despair I mean to get across is when a loved one dies, how it would be best to deal with that sense of loss and to not let it cripple you beyond recovery - or, to spend a large proportion of your one life on this earth in grief.
Now fortunately, I was brought up in a home where Science & Reason (even though these terms were never expressly used) were commonplace and religion had no part to play in our day to day lives. Indeed, a father who is an Auto Electrical Engineer and a mother who worked in the Medical profession both had roles where they needed to apply science, rational & critical thinking.
There are several options open to someone to help them through these tough times, but the main contenders seem to be ones friends, the sheer passage of time or to find solus in ones religion.
Now I have never had any religious leanings and after reading your book it drew a logical, brilliantly argued line through any superstitious religious-based way of thinking which made me realise just how it can cloud the mind and distort reality. But my absolute unbelief in the supernatural due to the lack of evidence has always left me with the very unsettling feeling that potentially there is oblivion when we die.
To fill the gap in our understanding of what happens when we pass away & to use your term God of the Gaps, by filling it with something that has no evidence or place in the 21st century, seems erroneous and, frankly, bizarre and the way you presented this would be very hard to argue against for surely even the most zealous religious individual.
I have seen some reviews and comments from people about this book (and others you have written) that to remove the idea of religion or belief in the supernatural is to leave a bleak, barren feeling that there is nothing at all for us beyond the grave.
In short, the current answer is that we just do not know for sure.
But I look at it this way. You have helped strip away this notion of religion and superstitious beliefs as the only answer for the big questions in life to leave us with what, as a race, we should always like to have presented before us - a mystery.
A mystery is what keeps us searching, increases our understanding piece by piece, erodes & eventually replaces incorrect beliefs and assumptions.
I thank you for helping me to understand that oblivion does not necessarily await us all - we just simply do not know either way but to accept that we may well do one day without religion filling in the gaps, making us stop searching for answers to mysteries and stunting our growth & progression as a species.
P.S - Looking forward to your new The Unbelievers documentary with Lawrence Krauss - should make for excellent viewing!
All the best,