To Professor Dawkins,
When I was younger the "God question" really was unimportant to me, I guess I would have been agnostic at the time. But in my teenage years I really started to question my morals and the future consequences of my actions. I now realise that although my schools weren’t overtly indoctrinating people, they had enough subtle religious motives to put this stuff into the back of your mind, so it constitutes the most part of the subconscious.
This was the motive behind my desperate search. The God question stopped being inconsequential and became the ultimate question above every other concern in my whole life. I simply had to know if God exists. And by God I do of course mean the God of the Bible, Yahweh (who I had wrongly thought was called Jehovah for years before you persistently referred to him as such, possibly because of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in Latin, Jehovah is spelt with an I!).
In any case, my method of inquiry was entirely scientific. I did A-levels in physics and chemistry, among other things, and at the time my philosophising search to answer the God question hit its fever pitch, I was at University studying degree chemistry. You may think then, that my answer was going to be a Darwinian version of atheism. Far from it, my knowledge of biology was lacklustre at best, and my thoughts were entirely focused on Einsteinian physics.
The point at which I converted to the Christian faith would be when I realised there was no contradiction between Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the universe being approximately 15 billion years old and the six days of creation. All my objections vanished at that moment, and I basked in the warm embrace of God’s eternal love and the promise of salvation by accepting Jesus. And then all I needed to do was to find out how I should act on this new information.
So the most obvious thing would be to read the Bible, correct? Well yes, but in reading it I found myself having to come up with all kinds of absurd and irrelevant scientific post-rationales of how the miracles and other fantastic stories happened like Jesus using a stream of gravitons to walk on water and an interpretation involving Hess’ Law meant I believed the Noah’s ark flood referred to the most recent ice age.
Belief in God was for me a moment by moment act of questioning myself and belief persisting only when I cannot find a fault of my reason for belief. I did hear about your book, The God Delusion. I found the title both offensive and provocative. It is true that I only had a dim idea of who you were at the time, and my preconceptions were based largely on my beliefs and my first impressions of the title.
I did however, like watching any TV shows related to science. And there was one in particular that would change my belief systems forever The Genius of Charles Darwin. As a believer I bought the whole "evolution was guided by the hand of God" thing, but my respect for Darwin as a scientist was not diminished by that. As an unrelated side note, I also had a growing interest in novels, particularly the work of Douglas Adams. The connection is obvious.
The clincher came when I saw an interview between yourself and The Archbishop of Canterbury. Most of it was the usual religious debate between Creationism and Evolutionism, and how the Church of England is nonetheless willing to adopt Evolution so long as it doesn't interfere with the main religious tenets.
But then something was said that really rung true for me. I can't think of the exact dialogue, but it relates to the train of thought that if God created the universe then let Evolution happen, it could only follow that He never once interfered with the universe after the initial creation. However, this idea contradicts the resurrection of Jesus, which can only be counted as God interfering with the rules of the universe – that is, the rule that if you die, you stay dead.
At the moment you heard that argument and said that the interim argument (that is, God never interfered with the Evolution EXCEPT any Biblical example) was a cop out. That was the moment I realised it. I was right in the middle of an act of self-deception and double-think. The two precepts (God never interfered with Evolution/ God DID interfere with the universe) are mutually exclusive, and cannot be both believed at the same time. I must thank you deeply for this turning point in my life, but it wasn’t exactly the end of it.
As a result of realising that the God of the Bible was one which I could no longer believe in, I became a deist. I didn’t know it at the time. I thought my beliefs involving a non-interventional God were unique. I diplomatically satisfied my old theist side that I still held God to be my highest ideal. I just didn’t believe many of the things that most theists would say are works of God.
Deism was fascinatingly speculative, using science to figure out what deeds the deist God would or wouldn’t have laid hands upon. I went through theories and counter-theories, coming up with fantastic names for them as I went along. I ended up believing in the multiverse with the Big Bang, abiogenesis and Darwinian natural selection. So why then, did I need to believe the deist God at all?
But then that book loomed in my mind. The God Delusion. I had already lost my faith once before, and I saw owning that book as some sort of rebellion. There was a strange negative suggestion surrounding it. The more I thought about how offensive and controversial it was, and how many people were offended by the mere mention of it, the more I wanted it! The phrase – don’t read it! – only enflamed my desires to read it all the more. I am a weak willed person, so the temptation became too much and I caved in.
What a wonderful experience that was. Not only was it factual, well thought out, funny, intelligent and deeply cutting, I also found not a single logical contradiction anywhere in what he said. And I am very good at spotting them. I even heard the word deism for the first time, and my beliefs had a name. I learnt more about religion from this one book than I did from years of speculation and searching.
It was this book that led me to this website. The very idea of a rational discussion forum lead by Professor Richard Dawkins himself was too attractive to pass up. But you may ask why do I say that I was a deist but am not anymore. It has to do with one particular video on the www.richarddawkins.net youtube channel The Four Horsemen. Having seen it and really gotten to like its protagonists I felt that I really needed to read their books as well.
While The Genius of Charles Darwin was the straw that broke the camels back in regards to my theist faith, reading books by yourself and the other horsemen was like piling ever more straws on an already shattered spinal cord, so to speak. I found a deep stirring within myself upon reading this passage:
They have a firm belief that belief in God is something to preserve, so when they find the traditional concepts of God frankly incredible they don't give up. They seek a substitute. And the search, once again, need not be all that conscious and deliberate. – Daniel Dennett, Breaking The Spell, p204-205
At that moment I realised that my belief in deism was purely because I held belief in belief in God to be a higher virtue that should be striven for regardless of the convolution of ideas required to sustain said belief. I used to believe that deism was preferable to atheism because I prefer the idea of God to the idea of no-God.
But then I realised that I didn't actually believe in God based on the likelihood of the idea. Far from it, God was/is one of the most unlikely-to-be-true ideas that I know about. Deism is merely the most likely version of God that I know of (although you could argue that pantheism is more likely depending on definitions), and my only reason to believe it was that I believed in belief being a virtue.
Now that I see it for the only reason to believe in God, once again catching myself in the act of self-deception, I decided that it would be much better to be an atheist. But that doesn't change the sheer fascination I feel towards deism, towards those like Thomas Paine and Voltaire whose writings I need to learn as though my life depends on it, and the need to know the exact likelihood of the deist God by means of empirical calculation.
It also doesn't change the book I am writing, Essays in Deist Darwinism, merely the perspective from which I will write all future essays. I also realised that my deist beliefs were not all that different than atheist precepts any way – so far as it's possible for the position of non-belief to even have precepts, that is.
I must thank you especially for not only making me aware of my logical fallacy that kept me in the theist trap for the best part of a year, but also making me aware of the works of the others in your group. Without your videos, TV shows, books and other media, I would never have found my way out of the mental slavery of believing in a logical fallacy. Without you I would still live in terror of the depths of Hell, knowing that quite half my actions were leading me straight there. Without your book, The Selfish Gene, I would never have known of the memetic mechanisms that govern all human societies. I am glad to count myself as an atheist.
I am the forum user tsninjapirate