From the archives of Verbose Stoic:
The Courtier’s Argument is precisely the sort of argument that allows
those “neoatheists” to ignore theology and all of the more profound
thoughts on religion to instead pick on “folk religion” that’s easier to
mock. And even when they engage, so many of their replies are, in
fact, shallow readings that are there just to mock the argument without
I've been recently thinking along the same lines, and I've seen Daniel Fincke over at Camels With Hammers make very similar points. Here's what I think the nub of the issue is: atheism, as discussed by atheists, has shifted over time from a philosophical position to a scientific one. It used to be the case that calling yourself an atheist meant you had certain epistemological and/or metaphysical commitments about the existence of God - now calling yourself an atheist usually means that you consider the empirical evidence for God insufficient, and have reverted to the null hypothesis of no belief at all. Why is this? One explanation: it's to do with the creationist movement encroaching into science education, galvanizing atheist scientists in response.
The problem is that New Atheists - and I hate using that term unironically - all too often venture into philosophy or theology to 'attack believers on their own turf'. Unfortunately, understanding science does not automatically qualify you for philosophical debate.
(Why do so many of the commenters on atheist blogs assume that it does? Maybe it's like physicists butting into other disciplines. If you think that your area of expertise is the only real route to 'how reality is', I suppose you'd think that those who work in other areas would be grateful you took the time to set them right.)