Contrary to your desire to see the eradication of all religions, I would prefer to see a greater degree of cooperation between science and theology. I find your claim that all faith-based beliefs are “flagrantly irrational”93 hopelessly naïve. If the truth claims of various religions were tested scientifically, and the resulting accumulation of evidence favored one religion, its validity would be strengthened. However, if scientists and theologians do not begin to accept such a complimentary approach to the accumulation of knowledge, we will always remain on opposite sides of the fence. We could add the weight of such hard scientific evidence to the weight of existing evidence from the soft sciences, such as that found through archaeology and history.
We clearly cannot conclusively prove any religion wrong due to the impossibility of confirming a universal negative. Suppose I asked myself the question, “Is there enough gold in Alaska to subsidize homes for all the homeless in Seattle?” I could only answer this question in the negative after an exhaustive search of every cubic inch of Alaska. Similarly, I could only affirm the non-existence of God after having searched the entire universe, an impossible task. To answer this question in the positive, I would need to search and find gold nuggets, calculate their value and keep an ongoing tally. Each nugget added to my storehouse would bring me a bit closer to answering the question in the affirmative. Similarly, to affirm the existence of the God of the Bible, I would need to accumulate evidence that adds weight to the argument for His existence.
The archaeological evidence I previously cited provides a few nuggets to add weight to the argument for the validity of Christianity, at least as it relates to the historicity of the biblical manuscripts. The individual testimonies of the life changes attributable to Christian faith provide even more nuggets, although you may disregard these as mere pebbles. If the hard sciences begin to produce evidence for Christianity, this should provide even more weight to the Christian argument. Perhaps such evidence would amount to a gold brick.
In the New Testament, the only sort of evidence available to Jesus’ contemporaries was the evidence of the miracles He had performed and the testimonies of those who witnessed these events. Yet neither Jesus nor Luke would deny the impact of evidence or the role of skeptical inquiry on the faith of the believers.
Seeking Truth - Freethinkers
Most atheists call themselves freethinkers. Yet how can thinking be free if certain areas of knowledge are summarily excluded as unworthy of cerebration? Someone truly free should not hesitate to include all areas of knowledge into their thinking. You claim that, “We desperately need a public discourse that encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty.”94 I couldn’t agree more with that statement. However, I stand in stark disagreement with your next, which states, “Nothing stands in the way of this project more than the respect we accord religious faith.”95 Unfortunately, as I have alluded to previously, that respect doesn’t seem to extend within the hard sciences.
In your conclusion you assert that Christians are “right to believe that there is more to life than simply understanding the structure and contents of the universe. But this does not make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about its structure and contents any more respectable.” The arrogance and omniscience required to label another's claims “unjustifiable” doesn’t befit you. Good and rational reasons exist to accept the validity of Christianity. Nevertheless, I understand your perspective, having once viewed Christianity in exactly the same way. Now, I can say with John Bradford, the English martyr who died under the reign of Mary I, “There, but for the grace of God go I.”