Hello there Richard Dawkins,
My name is James and I live in Seattle. It was a year ago that I began a very organic and naturally-unfolding, or should I say “undoing” of my established yet flimsy beliefs in God, Christianity, the origins of life, and my created story of why I had come into existence. I grew up in a very Christian home, my father a minister, my mother a staunch conservative Christian (much more conservative and need I say bigoted than father), and was raised with a definitive spirit that caused me never to question for myself or think skeptically or critically about anything. My father had an imaginative and inquisitorial disposition, but my mother’s Christian view of reality had been painted for me, and I accepted her rigid Christian view of life without protest, and, par for the course, without further question. I should also mention my being gay, how that was not an issue with father, this in turn furthering my acceptance of Christianity, even though mother found my condition to be horribly condemning, and still does.
Fast-forward much later, I’ve come to find myself living Seattle as a dancer and musician, shall we say performing artist. My twin brother came out to me as Atheist in 2006, and I thought nothing of it, save for a slight fear for him and his “choice.” Last year, I moved to a quieter, beautiful and older neighborhood that remains quite overgrown with innumerable varieties of flora–local varieties, vines, moss, trees so tall they’ve probably been there for 150+ years, that sort that you might not expect to find in a city in so concentrated a fashion, lawns so green that no wasteful extra human watering is required (thanks to the incessant rain), the distant and regal Cascade mountains, covered white with snow, and pristine Lake Washington.
Needless to say, I was and now remain confronted with the most beautiful natural elements one could ask for on a daily basis, whenever I walk anywhere. I felt “blessed.” I began looking at various domestic vegetables in people’s gardens–kale, cabbages, brussel sprouts, the way they develop/grow, how certain varieties are so uncannily like the others. I began to think more deeply about animals and insects–yes, when you look at lineages and briefly think about the established hierarchy of life, it seems so orderly and so sensible. From simplest tadpole to a complex giant thing like a great whale, or a human, the pyramid sensibly becomes the monarchy that most of society asserts carelessly with us at the top.
Around this time, I thought about evolution, how things come to be, and how very little I knew of the Earth’s natural history. I was surely taught evolution by my high school Biology teacher–I had been placed in the honors Science class my first year. I recalled the learning of natural selection, the “survival of the fittest” concept was all I could recall, and the furthering of ideal traits, but it didn’t go much further than that. Somehow, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution had made no impression on me whatsoever. I wondered why, and wanted to revisit. So I read “On the Origin of Species” (very dry, couldn’t really get through it), a book by Jonathan Miller & Borin van Loon with a comic-strip approach called “Darwin for Beginners” (many “aha” moments), and of course, your very thorough books “The Greatest Show on Earth”, and “The God Delusion”, all whilst watching BBC’s “Planet Earth” series and your lecture 90’s series “Waking Up in the Universe”, which have been some of my favorite viewing experiences of anything, ever. I do not now see all of life on Earth as a hierarchical pyramid of categorized importance, but as a level playing field where ecology and environment is key in shaping biological form. We’ve, in essence, created ourselves.
Apologies for the ‘thank you’ to be so far along in this letter, but I want to now THANK YOU for literally changing my life. At 28 years old, I wish I had awoken sooner–you have truly wiped the layer of mist from my view, the anesthesia from my life. In the last year, there have been so many moments of complete understanding, love and joy because I can finally grasp the utter beauty of our evolved selves (and I include all living things when I say “selves”), that we have come into existence because of the fixed laws of gravity, and that the utter specialness that so many are tragically unaware of has slapped me in the face, to ideal effect. Your lectures have explained this unified theory, the theory of everything (and I do consider it to be the “theory of practically everything”) in such a clear and unfettered way that I needed to pause every so often to simply process the enormity and humbling beauty of what you were saying to all of us watching. I still find time during the day for a pause, and this has become my meaning in life. To me, there is nothing more beautiful, more serenely natural and wondrous to actually comprehend the simple truth that we are here because Earth can support life. 14 billion years later, here we are, talking about our existence, because in essence, we’ve practically made ourselves
I really do think that, given the chance to fully comprehend the Theory of Evolution with the just a little effort, the immense time and pain and energy it costs, the hundreds of billions of adaptations that occur, the countless lives consuming and being consumed, the unique rarity of conditions that must be present for life to exist in the first place, the application and relevance of such a theory to so many aspects of life, many would fall to their knees in religious fervor. This is something that I have now become extremely passionate about. I am now non-theistic in my views (to my relief), I think about science and nature constantly, and wish to devote the rest of my life appreciating every moment as it is happening because it will never happen again. This concept has left me in a state of meaningful awe, as it is consciousness-raising to the point of changing the whole world. I have a vision that one day, the bio-dynamic ways of living off of the land will be hand in hand with the exponential ripeness of technology–most will have have realized the folly of religion by then. There will not be a country that persists in any kind of religious war. I for one will carry forth the truths you’ve helped me realize and, thanks to you, I will not hide in the closet any longer! I am an Atheist, I comprehend and love the vastness of life and all other lives, and like Carl Sagan said, I fully believe that “the vastness is only bearable through love.”