Believers will invariably respond with some version of The Courtier’s Reply so, if you don't know what that is, now is the time to read PZ Meyer's blog post from 2006. The argument will be that Jerry and his supporters (I am one) are attacking a strawman version of religion. They will claim that there is a secret, sophisticated version of religion, known only to a few experts, that will counter all of Jerry's arguments.
The fact that this "sophisticated" version of theology begins with the premise that god exists seems to escape them but it turns out that that's the whole point of their argument. They just can't seem to get their head around the real question, "Is the belief in a supernatural being compatible with science as a way of knowing?"
We don't really care if the Bible is viewed as literal truth, poetry, or metaphor. It's still a fairy tale because it describes beings that don't exist.
The Emperor has no clothes so there's no point in arguing like the following passage from PZ Myers' blog post.
I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.The first Courtier is Timothy Beal, a Biblical scholar at Case Western Reserve University. He writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Fundamentally Atheist.
Most of you won't be able to see this article and that's too bad because it would give you a chance to see a Courtier at work. I have neither the time, nor the patience, to deal with his entire piece but here's a bit that gives you the flavor of his argument.
A century later, Darwin is a household name while pretty much nobody outside biblical studies has heard of Wellhausen, let alone Smith, Briggs, or almost any other biblical scholar, past or present, who represents that critical academic tradition. Imagine if every introductory course in evolutionary biology had to start with several weeks on Origin because even its basic approach and ideas were completely unknown to everyone in the class. That’s essentially what most of us in biblical studies have to do every time we teach an introduction to biblical literature. No matter how irrefutable the evidence is that the Bible is a highly complex composition representing the work of literally thousands of hands over thousands of years in innumerable social and cultural-historical contexts, we must concede that the presumptions of biblical inerrancy still carry the day — even among those who reject Christianity and its Bible outright. Indeed, like Biblicist defenders, most critics in the God debates presume that the argument is about whether the Bible is or is not the book that God wrote, a tome of answers without error or contradiction.
Given how entirely invisible academic biblical studies has become to the public, Coyne may be forgiven for showing no awareness of it and its role, alongside evolution, as the enemy against which biblical fundamentalism defined itself. Less forgivable, however, is his apparent refusal to engage the field of academic religious studies at all, especially when a quick walk across campus for a conversation with someone like Jonathan Z. Smith, a historian of religion at the University of Chicago and member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, could have done Coyne’s book a world of good, even if it would also have complicated his bold argument.
Academic biblical studies are not invisible, they are just irrelevant.
Jerry Coyne has immersed himself in "sophisticated theology" over the past few years and found it wanting. I've also read the most popular books and learned the arguments. There's nothing there. There's no sophisticated evidence for the existence of gods that theologians have kept hidden under a bushel. It's just apologetics.
Science is the most successful way of knowing that humans have ever invented. It relies absolutely on evidence. You don't believe in something unless you have evidence. You can believe in gods, hobbits, and fairy tales if you want but that belief conflicts with the scientific way of knowing.3 No amount of obfuscation and attempts at diversion is going to hide that fact. It's about time that serious theologians start defending their belief in gods instead of wasting their time on other things.
I'm not holding my breath. I suspect there will be many Courtiers replying in the next few weeks. There will also be a fair number of atheists defending the Courtiers.
1. Bilbo doesn't exist.
2. Neither does Hans Christian Anderson's Emperor.
3. And it is not a valid other way of knowing.