Dear Professor Dawkins
I want to thank you so much for your outspoken devotion to the cause of reason and science. While I cannot say that I was deconverted as a result of reading your books or watching any of your debates, interviews, or documentaries, but I have found in you a kindred spirit.
I was raised in a conservative Seventh-Day Adventist home, and I remained a staunch Christian until my early twenties. I went to church, I was active in my youth groups, started preaching in my teens, and even went on some mission trips. During college, I thought I felt God leading me to switch schools to go attend an Adventist school and study theology.
My first year at the new college was the worst in my life. I was in a car accident. My great-grandmother died. My first girlfriend broke up with me. My cousin committed suicide. Add all these stressors to the natural stress of attending a new school, and it was a recipe for severe emotional distress.
This difficult time in my life made me start to question the things I believed. I pondered the Problem of Evil carefully. I asked my theology professors for help figuring things out. I read articles and books. I started out trying to defend my beliefs. I thought that if I studied hard enough, I would find satisfying answers that would confirm my faith. What I found was that my beliefs were illogical, and that if God existed, He was evil.
The process of deconversion was difficult for me on an emotional level, and it sunk me into a deeper depression than I had ever been to before. I switched majors and began studying psychology. The entire process took about two years, and the troubles did not end once I had finally made up my mind to stop believing in God.
I come from a very religious family. My father and his father are pastors. My stepfather is a deacon. My maternal grandfather is an elder. They have not taken the news well. My own mother even accused me of being demon-possessed.
It was this last event that finally made me realize how dangerous religion can be. Until that point, I believed religion to be a fairly harmless delusion that wasn’t really hurting anyone. I assumed that there were good and bad people, and that bad people did bad things regardless of their religious affiliation. However, when my mother declared me to be demon-possessed, that was when I realized the truth: that religion can and does convince otherwise good people to do bad things, believing they’re actually doing good.
My life is still difficult. Without religious ties, I have discovered how difficult it can be to find a social group. Since I am now isolated from my family and many of my religious friends, my entire social structure has collapsed, and I must rebuild it from the ground up.
I am grateful to you and to those like you for standing up against irrational beliefs and for spreading information about the scientific method. Children are not taught in schools how to think through a problem logically, or at least I wasn’t. I did not learn how to do that until college, and I was still not very good at it until my third year.
I would encourage you and your organization to push to have schools teach logic and reason as part of the core curriculum from a very early age. I discovered in high school that logical thinking was not something most students were very good at while watching them trying to learn how to program computers. They could not understand how to read through a set of instructions and determine how a computer would behave based on those instructions. They could not think through a problem and determine all the steps necessary to get from the starting point to the desired solution. I was particularly good at this, having taught myself to program in middle school, which is one of the reasons I think I was able to eventually break out of my religious beliefs. Though my ability to think rationally was not fully developed until well into college, the groundwork was laid back when I learned the simple logic of computers and algorithms. If all students were equipped with the tools necessary to evaluate evidence and come to logical conclusions based on that evidence, irrational beliefs would have a much harder time spreading.
I imagine a future in which all people are raised to think for themselves. I want to see a world where people are not afraid to challenge established beliefs – even (and perhaps especially) those made by credible scientists – and to look at the evidence clearly and honestly in an attempt to discern the truth. I want to see a world where no one is fooled by cults, scams, frauds, or cons, because they will have the tools necessary to show them for what they truly are.
I wish you the best of luck in your fight to promote science and reason.
A Friend of Science