When I am weary of writing here because I have a gazillion other things to do, and I am facing a blank page with little to say, I get dispirited, and then the Black D*g comes and whispers to me that all of this is in vain. But then I get some encouraging emails from readers that lift my spirits and keeps me going. And, coincidentally, I got two this morning. Both of these have been slightly edited to provide anonymity, but I am posting both with permission of the writers. They both attest to the possibility that reason can dispel superstition.
The first was from reader D., who is reading The Voyage of the Beagle:
Thanks for your thoughts. I am about half way through Beagle, with the ship now through the Straight of Magellan and headed up the Chilean coast. You can see how Darwin’s thinking about natural selection and population checks was developing as he looked at the relatively recently extinct megafauna in Patagonia and the fauna present during his visit. I had also forgotten how much time he spent on horseback!You can never know how much I have appreciated your thoughtful discussions on WEIT. I finally came to terms with what I now understand is full-out atheism. My younger brother, an avowed atheist, guided me to your book (WEIT) and the names of other prominent thinkers (Hitchens, Harris, et al.). As long I can remember, I never accepted the beliefs in any religion, much less the collection of tales assembled into the Christian bible. I have gone along for all these years not rocking the boat about what I did or didn’t believe. Growing up in Mississippi made it unlikely that I could own up to being a non-believer: it was clear to me that there could be serious repercussions. When really pressed, I would work in that I was pretty much an agnostic, which baffled most people as they may have never heard the word, much less understand what it means! I still go along quite softly while trying to disabuse my grandchildren of the strong prejudices already in place because of their churches and the wishes of my wife who might suffer more from potential ostracism than I would. But now, if asked, I answer it straight up without being concerned about how the questioner feels about it: Yes, I am an atheist.
I love that last line. And a second from reader John:
Hello Mr. Coyne,My name is John [last name redacted] and I have just recently been introduced to your book Why Evolution is True.My reason for writing you is to simply express my appreciation for such a well written and thoughtful book. My background is rooted deeply in fundamentalist Christianity. I went to a fundamentalist Christian high school and then to undergraduate work preparing to be a pastor, spending 5 years in training. During those years in college, I never gave much thought to evolution or really understood how it worked. I mainly knew that whatever evolution was, it was against the Genesis account of creation. I also have many friends who would write your book off as the work of Satan! After college, something changed in me and has since stuck with me. I began to doubt, question, and critique my own beliefs. There was always in the back of my mind the question, “Is what I believe really true?” I am still trying to hash out my worldview based on evidence and reason. Your book is helping me through that process. One of my biggest grievances with the church and its followers is that so many people simply do no due diligence or investigative work to try to understand if what they are being told in Sunday School or from behind pulpits is accurate. Most Christians that I know take the pastor at his/her word and leave it at that. I don’t know that I will ever fully come to a place to say that there is no God, but at the very least I am moving towards a more enlightened understanding of how we got here. Layman that I am, I appreciate the clear language of your book. I look forward to finishing your book. I trust this email finds you well and in good spirits.
Aren’t those nice? Now I have the heart to publish the latest readers’ beefs, some of them quite nasty; but I’ll do that tomorrow.
And for those who say there is no connection between accepting evolution and giving up faith, I refer you to the two letters above. They are, of course, just two anecdotes, but there are many more on Richard Dawkins’s site.