First of all, I wish to express my deepest gratitude for the work you have done over the years in spreading the light of logic and reason to a world full of dogma, delusion, and mental darkness. Without the books, articles, lectures, and documentaries written and presented by you and others such as Sam Harris, I would most likely still be caught up in world of faith, dogma, and unquestionable loyalty.
I was raised a Jehovah's Witness. I lived the first 23 years of my life “in The Truth”, as the son of the presiding overseer in my congregation. Looking back, I can see now that I never quite attained the level of deeply rooted faith that those around me seemed to revel in. I think I always had the feeling that some of my strange beliefs were misguided or badly thought out. However, living in the house of my staunchly religious father and mother while going to public school prevented me from doing much in my spare time other than proselytizing, studying the Watchtower Societies publications,and attending religious gatherings – be it the three local meetings per week, the semi-annual assemblies, or the large annual conventions. Being a Jehovah's Witness takes up a LOT of a person's spare time.
The high school that I attended did not spend much time discussing
evolutionary biology. Not that I would have cared to learn about it back then, as I had been “fully armed” by the Watchtower Society to refute evolutionist claims with scripted creationist accusations. I vividly remember sitting in one of my biology classes, while my teacher attempted to navigate through the evolution section of the textbook. I waited in anticipation for him to just mention the word “ape” so that I could pounce on it and ask the question that I had been taught to believe no evolutionist could answer: “If we evolved from apes, than why are apes still here?”. I do not remember his answer. It no doubt made complete sense, but I was not very scientifically literate, and was too busy basking in the “glow” of God's holy spirit to really pay attention to his response. I sometimes wonder how much more I could have learned in high school, had I not been biased about much of it from my studying such books as “Life – How Did It Get Here? By Evolution, Or By Creation?” at my religious meetings. My religious education as a child was in a constant battle with my secular education. Plain and simple, I was ignorant of how evolution worked (which is sadly not uncommon amongst Witnesses today).
Then, around the age of 23, I moved out of my parents home, and into my own apartment. Here, free from the dogmatic bondage that I had been enslaved tofor the first part of my life, I was free to learn about whatever I wanted. I had already completed a Computer Science course and got a job in a well paying communications company, so I was able to support myself financially and spend my free time reading, watching, and learning. This was to be the conclusion of the prologue of my life, and the start of the first chapter.
There is a bookstore located between my office and my apartment. One day while passing by I noticed a book called “The Ancestors Tale”. I thought to myself, “Who is this Richard Dawkins fellow? His name sure has a certain ring to it.” I didn't buy the book at the time, but later on, I arrived at my apartment and Googled “Richard Dawkins” in Google Video. The result was “The Root of All Evil?”. Much of what was presented in this show made a lot of sense to me, but I was a bit put off by the antagonistic way in which it was investigated. I thought to myself “This Richard Dawkins fellow sure is onto something, but why is he going about it in such an aggressive way?”.
I have to admit that this put me off for a little while. However, many of the things you discussed in the show lingered in my mind, and I began to do more research using Wikipedia. Eventually I got a copy of The Teaching Company's audio book of “Theory of Evolution”, hosted by Edward J. Larson. I learned quite a bit about the history of evolutionary thought from this recording.
It was at this point that I realized I had stumbled into the rabbit hole. My first instinct, being a Jehovah's Witness, was to immediately stop all research into evolution, and instead use my time to study the bible and the Watchtower Societies publications. Ironic as it may seem, one of the goals of the Witnesses is to instill a desire for truth amongst its members (of course, they mean the truth as fed to them from their governing body, as they are believed to be hand picked by God). However, I decided that it would be hypocritical of me to claim to seek Truth while restricting myself from learning about something which seemed to be upheld by all of the evidence thus far. So – further down the rabbit hole I went.
I am currently no longer attending meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, and have cut off all ties to the organization except, of course, my family. I have begun planting seeds of logic and rational thought to everyone that I know, and strive to water those seeds as much as possible. I'm currently only a few minutes away from completing The Blind Watchmaker, and I have a stack of other books by my bedside that I have waiting in queue, including The Selfish Gene, The End of Faith, The Ancestors Tale (I will finally read it!), The Making of the Fittest, and The God Delusion. I'm also currently enjoying the video from the Beyond Belief 2006 conference. There's some great points to be taken away from those discussions.
Anyway, be sure to keep up the good work Richard. It is a humbling thought that we can look up into the night sky and feel so inconsequential on our little gem of a planet, but yet make such an impact on this world because of some courage, intelligence, and the support of millions of like-minded beings that we will never meet.