Dear Mr Dawkins,
I e-mail you simply as yet another grateful fan and admirer. I, like so many others (particularly in a Catholic stronghold like Ireland), I was raised by fundamentally religious parents.
As a child, obviously I never really questioned what I was being raised to believe. However, as I advanced into my teenage years, I found myself becoming more and more interested in nature. I’d watch a lot of Attenborough documentaries, and I was fascinated by dinosaurs and ancient life-forms. I suppose it was the glaring contradictions between religion and natural science that planted those first seeds of doubt. However they were merely seeds and I retained my belief in the Christian God.
As I hit my mid to late teens my faith was shaken when I learned the extent of my parents literal belief in the Bible, that communion was actually the body of Christ, the wine was his blood, and (probably) most astonishingly of all, the preposterous Genesis account of creation. I began to take my mothers religious ramblings with a whole handful of salt. They believed The Big Guy created heaven (believed to be about 3e24 stars) and the earth in one ‘day’ (what was a day before the sun?). This is essentially, the entire universe. To me, this is like rowing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic in a canoe, dropping anchor millimeters short of New York, and saying “I’ll finish the journey over the next five days!” Having said that, I found it hard to shake off the feeling that there was a judgmental deity ‘up there’, and I questioned the wisdom of religious satire.
By this point I was confused about life and its origins, and probably quite vulnerable. I was desperately looking for some proper, straight answers. However the lack of broadband in our area, or Internet in our house for that matter (Ireland generally lags years behind the rest of the western world in a lot of respects, at least in the midlands, where I’m from) was a hindrance, to put it mildly. This is when I first came across your work, in the form of the documentary ‘The Root of All Evil?’. The name Richard Dawkins stuck in my mind. I had stumbled upon just the kind of straight talking, intelligent, pull-no-punches arguments I had been searching for. I began looking through book stores for more information on the subject, when I stumbled upon the (un)holy grail: The God Delusion. I must point out that I was by no means a book worm, and very rarely picked up and read an entire book. This has of course changed since I read God Delusion, and now I’ve got an increasingly large library of books, including the likes of Climbing Mount Improbable, The Selfish Gene, The Greatest Show on Earth and The Origin of Species.
Not only has your work lifted the fog of religion out of my life, but as a result I now view nature in a whole new, wonderful, inspiring light. I feel for all the people who are unaware of the ‘theory’ of evolution, or who dismiss it as contradictory to their beliefs. I don’t think these people could possibly see the true beauty of nature and of life; that every life form is the result of a pectacularly long ling line of successful organisms, since the dawn of life. As Darwin said, “there is grandeur in this view of life”. Indeed, this is probably an understatement. On a side note I think it’s a disgrace that children aren’t thought Natural Selection in schools. In the entire length of time I was in school, I only remember a few fleeting references to evolution, compared to a countless hours wasted on Bible stories.
Despite not being a confrontational type of person, I take great satisfaction in getting into religious debate. Whilst in town recently, one local man just so
happened to be letting everybody who would listen know what he thought of Atheism. He began feeding me the usual nonsense like how do I explain morality, what do I think will happen when I die (to which I was glad to produce one of my favourite quotes, from Mark Twain, “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it”) and all the usual vacuous crap. He was nothing but courteous at first, but soon gave up his hollow debate, along with his integrity, and stormed off whilst calling me an “atheist scumbag”.
I don’t take this kind of comment personally, but it annoys me that most people simply will not listen to scientific evidence, and choose to believe their own baseless fables. The level of superstition that people believe leaves me both amazed and depressed in equal measure. There seem to be more people who completely deny global warming is happening, despite the mountain of evidence, than people who accept there is a problem. When they are presented with undeniable evidence, they often reply “If it is true, then it’s Gods doing, not humanities”. This is, of course, a very dangerous view.
So, I think I’d better wrap up this letter as it’s getting quite long. While I wasn’t a person of strong faith, I was a vulnerable teen looking for answers. Your book was essentially a guiding hand towards liberalism and rationality, away from simplistic thinking and prejudice. I shudder at the thought of what might have been had I not seen that documentary and found The God Delusion. Perhaps I would have been reeled back into their cult, and be writing a letter for the “bad” or “ugly” page of www.richarddawkins.net. So, thanks for everything you weren’t aware you done for me.
Paul HensonWestmeath, Ireland