Dear Professor Dawkins,
I wouldn’t say that I am exactly a “convert.” I considered myself an agnostic prior to reading “The God Delusion”, and now I am a solid atheist/secular humanist. I am finishing a PhD in biophysics, and my research involves studies into the origins of life and evolution, so the concept of a God was of little use to me on an intellectual level.
I did have a rather strange reaction to the last two chapters of the book, however. When I was very young, we had an older cousin of mine from another country come to stay with us and attend high school in my little hometown in the rural midwest. I remember once mentioning to her a concern that I had about a fear of death, and she related to me something that a science teacher had told her. The teacher told her (looking back on it, it’s hard to believe someone trained in the sciences would say such a thing, but this was a pretty backwards community) that consciousness was “energy” and since energy was conserved, our consciousness would continue on after our bodies died. Of course now, with a graduate degree in physics, I understand the absurdity and irrationality of the argument, but at the time as a little kid I took a great degree of comfort in that thought.
On an intellectual level, of course, I would have dismissed the concept of an afterlife as absurd. But, I found myself very emotionally shaken after reading your book (especially from the last few chapters). It seemed a very juvenile part of my mind was still clinging to this hope that my friends and family who had passed weren’t really lost forever. That night, I felt all the mourning that I should have felt at funerals I had attended. I had also, like most sane and people, held a high value to life. Being rid of the notion of an afterlife was both shocking, liberating, and consciousness raising. Life is VERY precious. Vastly more so than I had (apparently) believed prior to reading your book. I find that I savor life a little bit more, knowing that each moment I spend with my friends and family is so very valuable. I mention this because it might prove useful to you in developing an understanding of where this tendency for clinging to religion might come from, and also to express my appreciation for having raised my level of awareness about myself and how I had been approaching life.
There were, of course, other parts of the book that very much enjoyed reading. I found the treatment of “The Ultimate 747” to be very insightful. I had encountered the creationist argument of the tornado forming the 747 before, and dismissed it as a cop out. The notion that the requirement for an intelligent designer was more than just a cop out, but actually made the matter worse by requiring an even greater and more complicated creator and the infinite regression that this led to was something I hadn’t thought of before. It seems so obvious, of course, but only after having it explained. I think the mark of a great idea being articulated well is that it leaves the student wondering “Why didn’t I think of that?”. The Ultimate 747 was just one example of a notion conveyed in which I asked myself that question.
Thank you so much for helping to bring reason to humanity