Dear Professor Dawkins,
I cannot thank you enough for expanding my appreciation of the wonder of the natural world. I write also to convey that I am finding the environment in Britain increasingly oppressive and feel the tide turning not towards freedom of expression and skepticism but against it. Perhaps my impression has been influenced disproportionately by my own personal situation but across the country the rise of anti-free thought movements, in particular those of political correctness and Islamic extremism, does appear to be very discouraging. That therefore provides an even greater incentive to oppose the forces of oppression of course and I am doing what I can to increase awareness on campus at the university where I study.
I know that you do a great deal of work to promote the forces of reason and science, as well as to advocate a democratic republic to replace the existing hereditary system. This last point seems to me to be fundamental if we are to have any hope of winning the fight; one of the greatest things I envy about the United States is its secular constitution and in particular the First Amendment, which is notably lacking in Britain. If we had a constitution to rally around it would make the whole debate so much simpler. When I heard during the recent royal wedding that 80% of Britons support the monarchy I was quite disheartened. Most people just go with the flow and make no effort to change things.
There are a number of Christian Union students at my university who actually do take all of the biblical precepts literally. I went along to a meeting at the start of my second year hoping somewhat naively to hear a sermon on the importance of being good to others but found instead a gathering of followers of Jesus who really believed in creationism. When I pointed out that we share 98% of our genetic identity with chimpanzees one of them actually said to me ‘but according to evolution we are 63% the same as a banana!’ I didn’t even know that such streams of thought existed in this country but in the last few years a lot of ideas seem to have been imported from abroad. One of my mother’s close friends recently became a Jehovah’s Witness and gave her a pamphlet with drawings of butterflies illustrating the beauty of intelligent design and the fact that you can get evolution within a species (e.g. Shetland ponies from horses) but not overall as a general explanation for the diversity of life.
It is not just the diehard believers who worry me but the majority of others who say that one belief is as valid as another. ‘You believe in science, they believe in religion.’ This moral relativism is quite threatening to those who posit that science is the closest thing we can have to any real understanding of the world in which we live. The fact is that not every opinion is as valid as another, at least not on a scientific level, and religion from its outset makes scientific claims.
Thank you, then, for enlightening my understanding of the long journey we creatures took from our humble beginnings, and for encouraging me to be more vocal in my criticism of totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism. After reading The Greatest Show on Earth I discovered many new writers, among them Loren Eiseley and Richard Fortey along with the existentialist literature of Camus and Sartre, who have consolidated my passion for biology and its philosophical implications. On a final note I must admit that while I shall remain in Britain for the time being to fight for a secular constitution and the end of the prevailing relativist philosophy, if that fails I am heading to the states where even though religion is more pervasive at least there is a debate to be had.