Dear Professor Dawkins
I was raised in a Christian Baptist family, although my parents were pretty easy-going about it. The rule was that we (my siblings and I) had to attend church until the age of 16, and then we could decide for ourselves if we wanted to continue. I never quite latched on to it, I was too inquisitive as a child and teenager, far too questioning. Noah’s Ark? Really? He built a boat that could fit two of every animal? What about penguins? How did he get those? Of course, I was too polite to ask those questions in Sunday School, and I knew the answers would be more of the same unsatisfying stuff. But that’s what I was thinking during every sermon. In hindsight, I think that my parent’s relatively low-pressure approach meant they probably weren’t drinking much of the Kool-Aid, either. Still, certain ideas stuck with me; the idea of a God or spirit, and the idea of an afterlife or some continuation of consciousness.
I’m 31 now, and about four or five years ago, I revisited my childhood love of outer-space by purchasing my first telescope. By immersing myself in the world of astronomy through forums, podcasts, and joining the local astronomy club, I became exposed to a world of scientific thinking, and eventually to skepticism. I didn’t even know skepticism was a thing! Well, one thing led to another and soon I had to confront these lingering religious ideas in my head once and for all. I came across your book, The God Delusion, and began listening to the audiobook version at work. A few chapters in, I decided that perhaps I could just be agnostic. So I tried that on for a day, still too timid to take it one step further. To be honest, I never thought that atheism was anything more than just a kind of iconoclasm. It never once occurred to me that there was a sound, logical reason to be an atheist.
The next day, however, I finished your book and a particular passage towards the end hit me like a splash of cold water in the morning – it was the Mark Twain quote you read, about how he didn’t fear death because he’d been dead for “billions and billions of years” before he was born. I realized, at that moment, that my entire attachment to God and an afterlife was simply a fear of non-existence. It’s a reasonable fear, I think. I’ve been conscious for quite a few years now, I’m rather fond of it. But not once did I look at it from that perspective. Once I did, it gave me the courage to take the step forward.
I am now an atheist. And I must say, from this perspective it’s a wonderful view. Since finishing The God Delusion, I’ve become fascinated with evolution, biology, and especially cell biology. I’m trying to learn as much as I can now. I feel more connected to the natural world, and have a newfound appreciation for life. At last I have found something that speaks to my inquisitive mind, and gives me satisfying answers! The only drawback is that many people in my country (the United States) seem far more frightening now.
Well, that’s my story. I know that I will probably never have the opportunity to meet and thank you in person, so I wanted to do so here. Thank you so much for your the work that you do. You are making a difference.