I think the definition of belief is our major sticking point here.
"Thanks for your very lucid and sensible post."
(blushes) Well, I'm just a lucid and sensible guy. :)
"The only thing I'm not sure I agree is your requirement for God to be sentient..... The idea goes alone the lines of 'does the universe care about us or not?'"
I'll stick my $.02 in here. If the universe DOES care about us, a sentient force is neccesary. Caring-by-coincidence is not true caring. For example, say that a humpback whale spends his entire life swimming through areas rife with plankton, and he never grows hungry or unsatisfied. Even though he just got lucky and other whales starve to death, the whale could conclude that the universe loves him. Similarly, a whale who can never get his stomach full might conclude that the universe it out to get him. Probability suggests that these whales will exist occasionally. And they would be both wrong. Just because you live a pleasant life is not evidence for the caring nature of the universe, and just because you live a miserable life is not evidence for the evil nature of the universe. Even if all humans lived lives of bliss, it would not qualify as evidence for the integral properties of the cosmos. Because if there is no conscious, guiding, caring, force behind the universe, our happiness is just there by chance and reality still doesn't give a damn whether we live or die.
The available evidence (Cause and effect, distribution of happiness and sadness, consequences based entirely on secular phenomena; no divine smiting of evil people) suggests one of two things:
Thing 1) The universe is an inherently amoral (not immoral) place. There is no "right" and "wrong" written in the universe's fabric, they are for us to decide and enforce.
Thing 2) The universe (or God) DO care about us, but do not act on that love. They just watch and let the cards fall where they may. A suitable comparison is watching a loved one drown, and just sitting in a lawn chair, offering no assistance.
"Essentially, when a person says "I believe", he or she is simply saying "as of this moment I do not and cannot know, but it is my desire that it be true"."
Here is where I disagree with you. You have no idea how much I want to believe in God. Maybe the desire isn't so insistent now, after I went numb, but my original reaction to my disbelief was psychological agony. But to run from that pain, and in reaction to a logical conclusion, retreat back into belief, would be to deny my true opinions in favor of more palatable ones. I am incapable of doing that. In a similar way, I would never give Prozac to an excitable child. It provides an artificial sense of well-being. My definition of belief is "As of this moment I do not know and cannot know, but my desire to know is so great I will claim to myself that I do."