Subject: From a medical student– Thank you Professor for educating me.
Dear Professor Dawkins,
I have written and rewritten this email so many times, all in the somewhat vain hope that it will do enough justice to the thoughts I wish to convey. Despite its imperfections I send it to you now, because I am aware that I many never send it otherwise.
I think you will be happy to know that the role you played in my de-conversion was that role which you play best: that of teacher and of educator.
My teenage years were lived out in Belfast, where, to avoid religious controversy, the teaching of evolution by natural selection was simply ignored by biology teachers. This left me prey to creationists from whom I “learnt” that Darwinism was a theory concocted by atheist scientists who “rejected God”.
I was fortunate in that I moved to England which is where I first stumbled upon one of your books. As I read, the elegance, simplicity and grandeur of Darwin's “dangerous idea” became so clear to me. Not only clear but intellectually delightful. As I read more of your books I learnt how to think critically, scientifically and probabilistically. Before I knew it I had the mental tools with which to distinguish sense from nonsense.
I wish I could say that I gave up belief in the Christian God there and then. Although it was obvious to me that the whole point of Darwinism was that no intelligent designer was necessary, I clung to some conception of God for one overriding reason. This was the lie that had been seared into my mind that without “God”, life, love, morality… indeed everything would become meaningless. It took me a few years of reading other great thinkers from the secular tradition to realize that the real nihilism is forsaking this world for an imaginary hereafter. (I'm sure you'll be delighted to know that you introduced me to the works of the wonderful Carl Sagan.)
It appears to me that many people cling to God primarily for this very reason. They have already been so indoctrinated that “atheism” and “nihilism” mean the same thing to them (as it did for me once). This, in my humble opinion, seems to be the simple explanation for the incredible amount of hatred directed towards you as evidenced by the “Bad” and “Ugly” sections of your website.
I hope one day to be able to join you in combating these “unquestionable-dogmas” that continually perpetuate ignorance, bigotry and human suffering.
Professor, in all humility, I ask that you do not allow the term “atheist” to become the basis of yet another in-group vs. out-group situation. As you know, we have a strong psychological tendency towards this kind of thinking.