Dear Dr. Dawkins:
I want to relate to you something of my evolution from a “non-believing Christian” to an intellectually satisfied and comfortable atheist. In particular, I want to tell you how your book Unweaving the Rainbow and a particular friend nudged me decisively.
I remember, like it was yesterday, arguing with this friend, let's call him Jack, about religion. Jack is a good friend, with whom I have shared some amazing experiences in diverse parts of the world. I felt we saw the world mostly eye to eye. At the time, I was no longer a religious believer due to my experiences at university and in various parts of the world and due to reading very diversely and extensively. However, I was still suffering from a hangover from my Protestant Christian upbringing: I still wanted to believe in belief.
One day he said something to the effect that religion was superfluous and really not a good idea at all. I remember my “belief in belief” attitude sprang forward and I snapped something at him that I fortunately don't remember. I even pulled out the “you need religion for people to be moral” nonsense. It was one of the most uncomfortable moments between us.
A few years later, I'm sure more on a whim than by plan, Jack, now living in the UK, sent me a beautiful hard-back copy of Unweaving the Rainbow. At the time, amazing to me now, I had never heard of you. In fact, I put off reading it for a long time, in spite of the subtitle, Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, which should have grabbed me immediately.
I remember even better the impact Unweaving the Rainbow had on me when I finally did pick it up. I was blown away by many things, especially the wonderfully clear, concise, and excellent writing (I'm mainly a non-fiction reader), the humanity of your treatment of the subjects, and the impact your essays related to the religious view of the world and the scientific view of the world had on my own worldview.
Your splendid essays began a rapid, complete, and very satisfying conversion from a non-believing former Christian who had a soft spot for religion to a firm and intellectually satisfied atheist. (I am a 6.99 on your scale.) It included buying all of your books (and many others) and reading them through with great interest in rapid succession. I am still particularly moved by Unweaving the Rainbow and The Ancestor's Tale (though I enjoyed all your books and I found The Selfish Gene wonderfully explanatory – I never really understood evolution by natural selection until I read it). I love The God Delusion and it has helped me write down my own thoughts on religion, science, naturalism, and atheism, which has been a very helpful exercise. (I'm trying to take Atul Gawande's advice to write, about something, some of the time, no matter what.) I also found your recent The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing especially useful in directing me to other excellent writers on science.
But I think Unweaving the Rainbow had the greatest impact because it was first, it deals with something that had been bothering me in the back of my mind for a long time (I no longer believed but hadn't completely broken the spell), and, maybe more than anything else, because it deals with the aesthetic pleasures of science and biology. I'm a romantic at heart (despite my insistence on data) and have a large “creative” side in addition to my large “analytic” side. In all of the “personality tests” I've ever taken, I come out all over the map.
So, as you can see, your one book of essays had an enormous positive impact on my life. I truly consider my initial reading of Unweaving the Rainbow to be a life-changing event. Books have very rarely done this. Thank you for your wonderful books, your efforts in promulgating reason, and for the nudge you gave me personally. Please keep it up! I'm anxiously awaiting The Greatest Show on Earth.
J Blilie, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA