I am an atheist, and I am sympathetic to the so-called "New Atheists." I am also a skeptic, and I have a background in philosophy, which means that I adopt a more tentative stance about knowledge and the justification for belief than most of my counterparts in religion and the hard sciences. Because of my background, I find the recent trend among certain prominent philosophers and public intellectuals to mark out a kind of middle-ground position between hard-atheism and theism to be both disingenuous and alarming. It is disingenuous because philosophers understand the distinction between questions of knowledge and questions of justification, and it is alarming because they are willing to disregard this distinction for the sake of promoting a politically-attractive position.
The question of God’s existence is incredibly loaded because, if God doesn’t exist, the majority of people in the world derive meaning in their lives from a lie. For this reason, the capacity for natural science to explain why things happen without appeal to the supernatural is threatening to religion and to religious believers. After all, if we can explain everything without appeal to God’s intervention, why introduce Him into the equation at all? Nowhere is this issue more clearly demarcated than in the debate between evolutionists and creationists. If evolution can explain why we are here, why we feel the way we feel, and why we do the things we do, then it looks as though God’s part in the equation (creation, intelligent design, etc.) is superfluous at best. Moreover, if the human brain is just one more twig on the evolutionary tree, then there is no good reason to believe that there is some essential, special part of us, such as an immortal soul, which sets us apart and gives us free will and the possibility of life after death. So, from a purely political perspective, it is easy to understand why the scientific community is cautious about addressing the implications of evolutionary theory. If believing in evolution means believing in a Godless, soulless world, fewer people are going to find evolution attractive, and many people are going to be wary of teaching evolution to their kids.
Because of these implications, most supporters of empirical science have chosen one of two strategies in debate with religious detractors. The first strategy is to insist that religion and science are "non-intersecting magisteria", that is, they address different kinds of questions. For example, religion answers big, important, ultimate questions, such as the meaning of life, whereas science only describes the world as it is. The second strategy is to grant that a literal interpretation of Scripture contradicts evolutionary theory but to minimize the importance of this contradiction by observing that a non-literal interpretation of the story of Genesis can be compatible with evolutionary theory. Both strategies offer the promise of peacefully promoting scientific understanding, but unfortunately, in both cases, this peace is won dishonestly.
The first strategy is dishonest because it is plainly untrue that science and religion are non-intersecting. Science and religion both make objective claims about the observable world, and these claims absolutely have moral implications for how we should live our lives. It certainly is the case that people with religious worldviews tend to hold a slightly different set of values from people who hold materialist/naturalist worldviews, but this does not mean that the non-religious have no position on how they ought to live their lives, nor does it mean that the religious have nothing to say about how the world works. On the contrary, the battle between religion and science exists precisely because people on both sides do have answers to both types of questions and those answers contradict each other. For example, it cannot be the case that prayer both works and does not work, nor can it be the case that spirits exist and do not exist. If a person is hearing voices, either the voices are coming from evil spirits that must be exorcised by prayer OR the voices are the result of schizophrenia, which must be treated by medication. The way we answer these questions matters, which is why our grounds for selecting answers -the justifications for our beliefs- matter.
The second strategy, which might be called the "accommodationist" position, does not make any out-and-out false claims, but it is deceptive nonetheless. It is perfectly true that God could exist as a kind of blind watch-maker who got the evolutionary ball rolling and then sat back for the rest of eternity. However, a non-interventionist God, while no contradiction to a naturalistic world view, is entirely superfluous to the evolutionary account of the origin of life. It doesn’t do any explanatory work for the theory. Moreover, it is patronizing for scientists to pretend that this concession is a real accommodation to people of faith because the kind of God that is compatible with naturalistic evolution is not the kind of God that answers prayers or performs miracles, i.e., it is not the kind of God that most religious people worship. Most accommodationists don’t see the harm in religious people praying or believing in an interventionist God because they recognize that most people who hold this kind of faith but also believe in evolution do not recognize the internal contradiction. This makes the accommodationists particularly insidious because they tacitly promote one kind of ignorance (contradictory beliefs) over another, ostensibly more offensive kind of ignorance (religious fundamentalism), rather than risk promoting a more honest but unpopular position.
I don’t claim to know for certain that God does not exist, nor do I claim to know for certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, but I think that my beliefs are well-justified. If my beliefs are well-justified, then people who have access to the same information that I have but hold opposing beliefs are not as well-justified. This is an implication of holding considered opinions: I cannot apply a standard of justification for my own beliefs but pretend that there is no objective hierarchy of justification for the beliefs of others. To pretend that people who believe that the Bible is literally true are wrong, but that those who merely believe in an interventionist God are justified is both absurd and dishonest. But, this is exactly the position upon which the "middle ground" between theism and naturalistic materialism is founded. It is not a moderate position at all. It is sophistry, and it is condescending.