Dennett gets atheist defenders of religion wrong

I myself am not religious. I absolutely agree with the vast majority of philosophers that the arguments for the existence of God are unsuccessful, and I have never felt the sort of presence or comfort that believers claim to feel that could not be more aptly attributed to a mere emotion on my part. I stop short of calling myself an atheist out of respect for my limited cognitive powers, but there is a lack of evidence for God. However, I think belief in God is defensible, and I resent the snide tone of atheists such as Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins.

Dennett can apparently think of only one reason why an atheist would defend belief in God from Dennett's smugness, and that is he thinks we must think that believing in God is useful, psychologically or socially. (h/t Patrick Appel)
Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the "I'm an atheist but" crowd, who publicly deplore our "hostility", our "rudeness" (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we're right...I am confident that those who believe in belief are wrong. That is, we no more need to preserve the myth of God in order to preserve a just and stable society than we needed to cling to the Gold Standard to keep our currency sound.

As it happens, I think a secular society can be just as successful, and most likely more successful, than a religious one. One does not need God to ground moral beliefs. One also does not need God to be psychologically healthy. So this is not why I defend the religious.

The question is whether evidentialism is true, that is, the position that one should not believe something for which one has no evidence. Of course, in general one should probably not. I should not insist, on pain of irrationality, that an invisible blue elephant is in the corner of my room softly singing inaudible jazz standards just because no one can prove that there isn't one. One would hope, too, that in the sciences one would not take on beliefs without evidence. However, it does seem to me rationally permissible to believe certain propositions without evidence. I've been persuaded by William James (although plenty have not) on this. In cases where there is no evidence or arguments one way or the other about a hypothesis AND the hypothesis is a live option (meaning one I could believe - it's easier for me to take on a belief in a monotheistic God than it is for me to believe in the tooth fairy) AND it is a hypothesis of consequence (if we have no evidence whether tiger moths can jam bat sonar, we can wait until the evidence comes in, since it is not of psychological moment to people that this be true or not) AND the decision is a forced (that is, by waiting for more evidence you are effectively choosing one side) -- in these, and only these cases one may rationally believe something for which one does not have evidence.

For example, I believe my husband will make me happy for the rest of my life. I do not have enough evidence to conclude this is true. But for me, this hypothesis is a live option, of some considerable consequence, and it is forced - if I do not believe that my husband will make me happy until I have enough evidence that he will do so, I am effectively creating a situation such that he cannot make me happy. I do not think it is irrational under these circumstances to believe that my husband will make me happy.

While I don't feel the same way about God, it certainly seems that belief in God for many meets these criteria, too. Therefore, it should not be considered stupid or irrational to believe in God. So I wish to defend the religious, and it is not because I think religion is instrumentally valuable. Believers do not deserve scorn because their beliefs are not necessarily irrational. So: quit the smugness!

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