If one is a theist, it should not matter when God made the universe — 10,000 years ago or 10 billion years ago. The difference of six zeros is meaningless to an omniscient and omnipotent being, and the glory of divine creation cries out for praise regardless of when it happened.
Likewise, it should not matter how God created life, whether it was through a miraculous spoken word or through the natural forces of the universe that He created. The grandeur of God’s works commands awe regardless of what processes He used.
Surely, though, if you believe that God is loving it should matter to you that His chosen mechanism of creation is one of singular cruelty and waste. If it is part of your religion that humans occupy a special place in creation, then it must be disconcerting to learn that evolution does not seem to have had us in mind. If it is part of your faith that the Bible is holy and inerrant, it ought to bother you that science contradicts much of the first eleven chapters of the book. And if you think natural theology, in which God’s existence and attributes are inferred from the evidence of nature, is a valid project, then it has to be troubling that evolution refutes the argument from design.
The literature records many counters to these points, and individual theists will have to decide for themselves whether or not they are plausible. They are certainly not trivial, however, as evidenced by the inordinate amount of effort philosophers and theologians have gone to in answering them. And if many people think about these issues and conclude that the story of natural history as told by science makes the claims of traditional theism seem rather implausible, they deserve better than to be lectured about what is, and is not, important.
Shermer seems to be encouraging a rather unreflective sort of theism. He could as plausibly argue, “If you are a theist it should not matter to you that the world is marked by relentless cruelty and suffering, for God’s plan transcends the minutiae of our day to day experiences.” He writes as if theism is, or ought to be, a view held for reasons entirely separate from any consideration of nature. Doubtless it is that for many people. For many others, however, it is Paley-style design arguments that made theism seem so plausible in the first place. Others still were raised to have an unswerving faith in the Bible. Why should such people not alter their views of God, perhaps to the point of abandoning belief altogether, upon learning more about science?
Moving on, Shermer has replied to Jerry Coyne’s post. I liked this:
What is the right way to respond to theists and/or theism? That is the question asked at every atheism/humanism conference I’ve attended the past several years. The answer is simple: there is no one “right way”. There are multiple ways, all of which work, depending on the context. Sometimes a head-on, take-no-prisoners, full-frontal assault á la Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or Jerry Coyne is the way to go. Sometimes a more conciliatory approach á la Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, or your humble servant is best. It all depends on the context and what you are trying to accomplish.