UPDATE: The guy who wrote this letter will be reading this (you’ve probably guessed that already), so if you have any words of advice or support, by all means let fly.
Emails like this one (posted with the writer’s permission) make it all worthwhile. I can’t boast a “converts’ corner” like the one Dawkins has, but as Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The point here is not to brag about my conversion skills, but to show that “militant” atheism does not completely turn people away from evolution—or science in general. Granted, this email is an anecdote, but could we please see some testimony from religious people saying, “You know, I really liked Richard Dawkins’s books, but in the end I found that I couldn’t buy the idea of evolution because he’s such a loudmouth atheist”?
I hope I’m not bugging you at your work email, but I couldn’t find a contact address on your website (besides for your publisher). Sorry if you’ve got a site-specific one and I didn’t see it.
You mentioned in your post yesterday (“Religion doesn’t make people nice”) that you get a lot of hate mail. So I just wanted to do something different and just say “thanks.” I’ve been lurking around your website ever since the infamous home-schooling article from the AP included a link to this strange place called whyevolutionistrue. I’m not much of a commenter, but I have your blog linked to the very top of my phone’s RSS reader. It’s the first thing I check in the morning. (And at lunch, and just before dinner.)
I really appreciate what you’re doing for the advancement of reason in this country. It’s not just affecting those who are already “in the know.” People like me are starting to wake up and smell the evidence. 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.
It was actually my interest in biology that led me into creationism. That hunger to know about the intricacies of life on this planet, though, was quickly sated by the triple-quarter-pounder of bible literalism, what-if speculation, and absolute certainty. It was filling, sure, but for a curious young guy like myself, it sat like a rock in the gut. My biggest regret in my short time here is that I let myself get talked out of going to college to study biology. And, since biology was the only thing in which I ever wanted further education, talking myself out of college in general.
I would have remained in that state of mental stagnation had I not broken the cardinal rule of creationists, which is: “Never read the stuff from the other side.” I’d grown up reading about the statistical refutations of evolution, the argument of irreducible complexity, and Flood hydrodynamics. There was actually a warning in more than one of these books and courses advising against reading anything published by secular scientists. Satan was clever. He could fool innocent people into believing the lies told by his scientific minions. (Scientific, by the way, is quite the insult among Southern Baptists. Or was in the churches I attended.) Really, I just wanted more ammunition to use for my debates against evolutionists. That was the whole reason I started reading about evolution from the scientific perspective. I wanted to see for myself these great holes in the logic of scientists that I’d been hearing about.
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.
Note: As far as I can, I’ve verified the writer’s identity. And for those of you who worry that this letter is too well written to come from a person with “little education,” read The Elegance of the Hedgehog. When I complimented the writer on his epistolary skills, he replied, “I appreciate the compliment. Though I am uneducated in the traditional sense, I’m a voracious reader. I believe that if you read widely and densely enough, you’ll pick up a smidgeon of good grammar just through osmosis.”