Dear Professor Dawkins,
I wish to thank you for your works, especially The God Delusion, which was pivotal in my shift to atheism. I have been following not only yours books, but also your lectures and debates, and also had the great pleasure of being able to attend your recent lecture in Philadelphia on 22 October 2009.
I am a 19 year old native of Philadelphia, PA, USA, and was raised in a relatively moderate Roman Catholic family, with an atheist father and Catholic mother. Due to the poor state of public education in this city, I was sent to Catholic school from Kindergarten through my high school years. I become deist as opposed to Catholic relatively early on, but never made that final move into atheism. Surprisingly, it was not the issue of the origin of existence that brought me to review my stance on religion, but rather it was my interest in the French Revolution and Napoleon (my area of interest as a young historian) which from eighth grade onwards made me start to really think about and better understand my view of the world. My research brought me into contact with fascinating philosophy such as Rousseau's Social Contract, human rights, politics, and alternate views on religion. As peculiar as it might sound, it was actually a very short work by the Marquis de Sade, Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man, that originally raised in me the thought that atheism, contrary to my teaching in Catholic school, was a real potential, and that religion was not necessary. Even though my own father was atheist, we never discussed religion or atheism, so it never truly dawned on me earlier that I had an example in my own life for a “good atheist.”
What I want to emphasize is that for people like I had been, the bigger issue was and is not so much what the origins of life or humanity is, although the large scale acceptance of creationism is disgusting and revolting, but rather the origins and basis of morality. For me, the problem had been accepting that morality could exist independently of a god or higher power, and this is why I had been content for years to remain a deist.
Outside of the personal example of my own father along with my growing number of established historian friends who I learned were atheists, it was in particular your work, The God Delusion, which fully convinced me to drop the burdensome weight of deism from my shoulders and become an atheist. Your meticulous and brilliantly written deconstruction and honest evaluation of religion and god(s) was an invigorating breath of fresh air. I never was opposed to openly discussing religion, but due to “proper social etiquette” few people I knew were willing to return the favor and discuss, which is where you came in. Your willingness to discuss the topic seriously would have by itself made the book worthwhile. Since reading your book, I have formed my own world view independent of religion or a “celestial North Korea” (to borrow a great phrase from Christopher Hitchens), and am most grateful and appreciative to you for your help. To settle any curiosity you might have, yes, I still have a perfectly outstanding sense of morality now as an atheist, so obviously my original concerns were for naught. Thank you again for your brilliant work, and I encourage you to continue the good fight, as I am now doing myself in my own life and community.
yours sincerely and most gratefully,
Nicholas Stark, FINS