The value of “stridency”: a creationist becomes a biologist

On October 23, 2010, I published (with the writer’s permission) an email I’d gotten from someone who’d been a dyed-in-the-wool, prosyletizing creationist, but had given that up because of this website. I verified his identity to be sure it wasn’t a hoax.  Here are two excerpts from that email:

I’m a 25-year-old fellow from the backwoods of the Appalachias with little education to speak of. I was raised Southern Baptist, donated time and money to the Discovery Institute, and participated in anti-evolution debates and seminars. I was one of the True Believers who would tell someone straight to their face that they were going to hell if they didn’t kneel down that instant and accept Lord Jesus into their hearts. And I’d say it with a smile. . .

[Interlude: reader describes reading about evolution to use as ammunition for his creationism]

You probably know the rest. The initial rejection of what I’d read, trying to get someone to explain to me why all the evidence pointed toward evolution instead of away, realizing that the answers that I was getting from the creationist side were either evasive, inconsistent, or deceitful. And the long, slow, painful process of shedding a belief I’ve had instilled in me since childhood.

The whole point of this mini-autobiography is that if people like you weren’t out there making such a ruckus, then people like me wouldn’t have the chance to break out of the destructive, irrational belief system that serves as a mental and moral cage. I know you don’t need me to tell you to, but I hope you’ll keep on being a strident, arrogant, uncompromising bastard. The world needs more like you.

I posted that letter to show that, yes, “stridency “does make converts, too. If you go back and look at the 94 comments following that post, you’ll see that many of you who were reading back then were very supportive, suggesting books to read, urging the reader to go to college—that the age of 25 was not too late—and giving some of your own experiences if you used to be a diehard Christian, too.

So here’s an equally heartening update: after two years, I’ve received an email from the same person, giving his progress. He’s in college and on his way to a biology-and-math degree. Oh, and he gives us a bonus kitteh.

Dr. Coyne,

I wrote to you a few years back giving thanks for your work in advancing reason in the United States (and the world), and for your part in helping people like me understand the value of evidence. The time has come, I think, for another bit of gratitude. These thanks are extended not only to you, but to the readers of your website.

In that letter, I mentioned my “biggest regret”–that I had never pursued the opportunity to study biology academically. I now proudly report that in another two weeks or so, I will have completed my first semester as an undergraduate in biology and mathematics. Your book, your site, and the comments of encouragement that your readers posted in response to my first letter were all instrumental in nudging me toward my current position in life. And I couldn’t be happier!

It took two years of work in the banking industry (blech!) in order to build up enough cash to see me through my education. The investment, however, has already paid off in spades. My first semester is not even fully complete, and I am already doing more with my life than I ever thought possible. I am currently working in my genetics professor’s lab as a research assistant for one of his grants, designing my own independent study project, and helping another professor write a textbook! (By “helping,” I of course mean “being an enthusiastic gopher.”) In another couple of years, I should be set to pursue a PhD—something I never would have even considered five years prior.

Many important things have happened in the interim between my first letter and the present that influenced this decision (including the extremely fortuitous acquisition of an Olympus CX21 microscope for my personal enjoyment), yet I feel that my current trajectory was certainly aimed by your initial influence. So, please accept the thanks of a 27-year-old former creationist from the hills of Appalachia for helping open his eyes to a world wider, deeper, and more beautiful than anything suggested by the ancient scratchings of superstitious goatherds and Greek cultists.

To a more reasonable world,
Daniel Metz (name NOT redacted!)

As a post-script, I have attached a photograph of my very best feline friend and companion, Shadow. He is 18 years old, and we have been together ever since I convinced my mother all those years back to let me adopt the little 5-month-old kitten at the local pound. Despite his age, he is as rambunctious as a kid goat. He and I both enjoy reading your website–especially the Caturday felid segments!

I explicitly asked Daniel if he wanted his name removed, and he said, “There is no need for redaction at this point. Your efforts, and the efforts of those like you, are daily reshaping the U.S. into a place where one need not hide his lack of faith for fear of repercussions.”

109 Comments

  1. sschlichter
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I see my mistake now. I thought this was about evolution and accidentally stumbled onto a atheist religious blog.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 27, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      “atheist religious blog”

      Wrong wrong wrong. “Atheist religious” makes no more sense than “married bachelor”.

      And had you waited a while before jumping in with your deity, you would know that it is a website, not a blog.

      • sschlichter
        Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        look carefully at the mention of theism and where it started. Notice how I stated that my religion is not impacted by evolution.

        A blog is on a website. This website is run on a blogging tool called WordPress.

        atheism, like any other set of presuppositions forms creates a substrate for other beliefs and dogma. You are naive if you think that atheism is different from other sets.

        • Posted November 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          You are misinformed and / or confused if you think that atheism typically starts with an a priori assumption of no gods.

          Indeed, the overwhelming majority of regulars on this site grew up in religion and were true believers for at least some time. We have ex-priests and ex-seminarians in our audience.

          Rather, atheism is generally a conclusion based upon rational analysis of the available evidence.

          For example, it is a typical claim of most religions that there are one or more very, very powerful entities who desire good things to happen to humanity and who wish for bad things not to happen to humanity; yet, the world is still torn by war, strife, disease, and famine.

          To that end, many of our horrors would have taken but trivial interventions to avoid; imagine, for example, had a lowly Greek Muse taken Hitler under her wing and granted him but a little more inspiration: he would likely have freely chosen to have become a brilliant (though perhaps disturbed) artist, and the world would have been spared the Holocaust.

          And imagine if somebody had sounded the alarm but a few minutes before the Christmas Tsunami struck! It’s something we hope to be capable of in the not-too-distant future; why should it be so difficult for a god?

          The only possible conclusion is that there are no such powerful entities who are both willing and capable of bestowing their good graces upon us, and that we are all on our own.

          But is that such a terrible thing? It is, after all, no different from what any adult must learn to embrace.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • gbjames
          Posted November 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

          “A blog is on a website”.

          Yes. And as a newcomer to these parts don’t get the joke.

          A bit of humor at your expense, but with the purpose of illustrating that you are unfamiliar with the terrain. You are saying nothing that hasn’t been thoroughly dissected, repeatedly, here.

          Take Ben’s advice go pick up (and read) a copy of WEIT (the book). Then come back and make a more informed case.

          • sschlichter
            Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

            Your inside joke is not at my expense. You have not dissected anything. You are simply making claims that lack any substance and offer me a book on evolution when I already accept evolution.

            • Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

              Evidently you don’t, because you suppose God’s intercession with humanity in some metaphysical way, which is theistic evolution, and that is not evolution at all, as Jerry has taken pains to set out in previous posts on this website. (Search for “theistic evolution” in the box at the upper left.)

              /@ | Phoenix, AZ

              PS. And the joke certainly was at your expense. When you pedantically explained about WordPress, we were laughing at you, not with you.

              PPS. GB was not claiming he’d dissected anything, only that the ideas you are now espousing have been dissected in many previous posts on this website.

            • gbjames
              Posted November 28, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

              And now we get to chuckle again.

              Willful ignorance is not an admirable quality.

  2. Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Science and Atheism and commented:
    I know Jerry and the other Gnu Atheists helped me to choose my post-grad subject.

  3. Posted November 28, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Good for you mate :)

    I returned to university at the age of 32 and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. After reading WEIT and many other books I switched from CS to Bioinformatics to study evolution, so Jerry had a direct hand in helping me to choose to study biology as well.


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