I am writing now as a twenty-one-year-old university student in southwestern Michigan. Though my relatives are mostly moderate Christians, I fortunately avoided much of a religious upbringing. Religion was never important to me as a child. In fact, I considered myself an atheist for a time. However, Christianity reentered my life at the age of thirteen.
I’m sorry to say that I was not served well by my primary school science teachers. I don’t remember a single occasion when evolution was mentioned, nor was the scientific method emphasized. In the years that followed, I drifted toward the arts (which, unlike science, I was encouraged to pursue by my teachers and parents alike). Though I would still say that science classes were typically my most enjoyable periods, in hindsight they were rather lacking. Perhaps more upsetting than the mediocre quality of the lessons, it was my seventh grade science teacher who made a Christian of me during a summer camping trip which he led. I felt isolated, finding myself to be the only non-Christian in the group, and I was drawn to the sense of belonging which was on offer. In the year or two that followed, I read scripture and prayed fervently, but all the time struggling with my doubts, with insecurity that was not healed by my attempt at faith, and with guilt surrounding my developing sexuality. Over time, bit by bit, that which I had built began to fall apart. At the age of seventeen I branded myself an agnostic. Having left my formal education behind after that summer of 2003, I began to take tentative steps into the college environment, but these first steps were slow and erratic.
At eighteen, I was becoming more and more secular and happened upon ‘The God Delusion’ in my curiosity. I was delighted, thrilled, entertained and inspired…and not just by the eloquently phrased arguments which took a sledgehammer that which I had come to detest. Here too I found what was my first true introduction to the theory of evolution by natural selection. My appetite was building. Soon afterward, I began to read ‘The Ancestor’s Tale’, which had a powerful impact on me. I began to pursue science courses in school again, becoming more eager all the time. Shortly after my twentieth birthday, I was struck by a realization: science was quickly becoming much more than a mere interest for me. This, I thought, was the path for me. It was a well-traveled path, I noticed, but still there were places where soles had yet to tread, still copses and caverns left unexplored, still secret ways to find. Here was the community that I craved, one of careful thought and hard-won knowledge, not one of fearful minds huddled beneath crumbling shelters.
My love affair with science (and with biology in particular) is still young, but my hopes are high. I plan to pursue this path beyond my undergraduate career, and it is my hope to help to educate young minds and to help them appreciate the beauty and excitement in a scientific view of nature. And so, most of all I wish to thank you most deeply, Dr. Dawkins, for helping more than anyone to guide me to the open doors beneath a sign which reads:
“Step right up! Get a front row seat for the greatest show on Earth!”
I send my best regards.
Yours most sincerely,
Owen T. Stacey