Some of us however – including many who regard ourselves as non-believers – suspect that the new new atheism forces the pace, distorts the issues, and underestimates the intelligence of its enemies. If the older versions of atheism – from Moses and Socrates to Shelley and Nietzsche – were less straightforward than they might have been, the reason may be the complexity of religious phenomena rather than the obtuseness of those who sought to describe them. The difficulty is that people may commit themselves to a religion without buying into any particular theory as to what does or does not exist: they are simply throwing in their lot with some historic community, identified not by doctrines but by rituals, stories and a shared sense of the sacred. Religion as it enters the lives of many believers will not be damaged by a demonstration that it is not much good as science, any more than poetry will be threatened by the collapse of literary theory, or capitalism by a refutation of neoclassical economics. We atheists should not assume that theory always gets the last laugh.

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