Dear Dr Dawkins
I was once a committed 'born again' christian.
I had always believed that creation was far too intricate and wonderful to have just occurred. Evolution was not a problem for me, my beliefs ultimately rested on the existence of god not on the details of how he arranged the universe and life to actually unfold. I had been converted to christianity as a teenager and my life after that had been lived with my faith as the main focus.
The idea that the laws of nature 'always were' seemed to me to be quite untenable. There must have been something that made them. They are too wonderful and productive to just 'be'. Hence, there must be a God! I had never questioned this.
Late one night many years ago I was reading the Blind Watchmaker (and was enjoying learning about evolution having little biology). I was in no way feeling threatened because evolution still required an ordered, rational universe and where else could you get one of those without a god to have made it so?
Then I came across what seemed an almost throw away part in the Blind Watchmaker where you asked, (roughly paraphrased) “which is the more complicated entity, the universe or god?” I was stunned.
Something had to have always kind of 'been'. Which was the easier one to believe had always 'been'? The laws of physics or a being who could put in place those laws and so create a universe? My heart sank. In the space of a few sentences my whole world view was, thanks to the blade of Occam, in tatters. Something always had to have 'been' in some sense, either god or (for want of a better description) the 'laws of the universe'. God is a far more complicated explanation. It stretches my mind to believe that there always was some 'order' but it surely should stretch it further to imagine there was something even more ordered that created the laws of nature.
It was a remarkably similar experience to my conversion to christianity (around fifteen years earlier) in that I was faced with a choice to follow a belief that I knew would change dramatically the future direction of my life and mean turning away from a large part of my previous life. I was quite scared. I knew that I would never be as close to some of my closest friends (where our friendship had been intricately tied with our shared faith) and that I had no idea how to live a life without the idea that there was someone looking out for me and that there was a reason behind my existence.
I actually had to make a decision, do I ignore this 'revelation' and go on living my life as before, do I try to argue against it to keep my faith or do I give in to an idea that seems convincing but at the same time desperately empty. I was actually quite fearful – if there is no god then my life would have no meaning or purpose. How do I live without believing that my life has a purpose and significance. In the end I reluctantly chose to give in and become an atheist (although in a sense there was no choice – you can't believe in something you don't believe in).
The most unexpected part however was once I made this decision, rather than experiencing the feeling of despair and loss I was expecting I actually experienced quite a remarkable feeling of peace (quite similar in fact to what I experienced when I originally 'became' a christian and which was one of the things that seemed at the time to further convince me that all this christian stuff was true). To realise that life is mine to live and that I am the one who creates my purpose for existing was amazingly iberating. It also removed the guilt I felt about my life never seeming to live up to the way it was supposed to be as a christian.
I have often thought to write to you to say thank you for your part in the dramatic change in my life that occurred that night (many years ago now) but had always figured you must be inundated with correspondence and that you would probably not be that interested. Coming across the invitation on http://www.richarddawkins.net/convertsCorner for readers to write if they had lost their beliefs in some way through your books has prompted me to belatedly write and say, thank you!
If you ever want to compete with the testimonials more often found on the covers of the 'self help' books here is one:
Richard Dawkins' book “The Blind Watchmaker” genuinely changed my life. (feel free to add as many exclamation marks as necessary)
Sorry it may not win you many readers but it is honest.
(Born Again Atheist)