Hi Professor Dawkins,
I was brought up in a Christian household; though my dad is, and was, atheist, my mom had us attending church every Sunday, as well as every “Vacation Bible School” type camp that was available. My dad would occasionally ask critical questions of our faith when he had us alone, but, for the most part, he ignored the issue and allowed his children to be raised as good little soldiers of the Lord (I imagine this to be related to his interests in marital bliss; child indoctrination being widely regarded as acceptable didn’t hurt either).
I remember, as a young teenager, I held the beliefs that non-Christians were doomed to damnation, homosexuality was immoral, and that evolution was Satan testing our faith. Eventually, due to the value my parents (largely my dad) placed on a strong, secular education, I had the appropriate toolkit of critical thinking skills as I made the transition from accepting everything on authority to exploring and drawing conclusions on my own. I began to have doubts about my faith; I questioned the existence of evil, why homosexuality was sinful, if all pre-Jesus people were damned, and also realized, after learning about it, that evolution by natural selection was not only a beautifully simple concept, but also accurately explained our biological world. As the church leaders were incapable of answering my faith-based questions satisfactorily, I stopped attending and religion was no longer playing an active role in my life; however, the “big brother” feeling of having a god never went away, and I would frequently catch myself praying (and occasionally still do to this day).
I took an amazing religion course during my college career which dealt with the creationism and evolution controversy in the United States, from a sociological perspective. Realizing that a large portion of my country actually wanted to implement things like Intelligent Design in science classrooms sparked my passion and curiosity, and I began to do extracurricular reading and research on related topics. I stumbled onto some videos of your lectures on YouTube, and instantly loved the succinct and logical manner with which you addressed questions, as well as the sophisticated sound of your accent. This lead to my purchase of The God Delusion. I would list that book as one of the most important works I have read; it put into formulaic arguments things I had hazily felt for years – I finally had the liberating experience of realizing I was an atheist, realizing I had good reason to believe there was no god, and I managed to, over the course of the next few months, erode any doubts and confusion I had about my beliefs.
My world view has undergone an incredible change as well; no longer do I have this idea of God directing evolution, and of God being the origin of the universe. Without a supernatural answer to those questions, my interest in science has grown exponentially. I am utterly fascinated by physics and am trying to absorb as much information as I can. My awe for various animals and the night sky is a spiritual experience in the truest sense of the word; what I experience in life now is so much richer, so much more satisfying, so much more purposeful than my life in the church, attempting to carry the crushing weight of a belief system I had doubts in but needed to be true. I’m no Hitchens; my words cannot even begin to adequately describe the difference.
But, in short, I attribute finding myself to your work; I’m sure it would have happened eventually, but thanks to all you have done I get to enjoy this liberation while I am still quite young.
In a brief other note, I wish there was a word for spirituality that did not have associations with the supernatural. I consider myself incredibly spiritual; it’s undeniably a human need – but it can be filled by the unrestricted wonder of science and reason far better than the prisons of religion.
Thanks for your marvelous work,
Chris in California, USA