Hi, Harv. I figured I'd throw in some last thoughts on this subject before the topic gets lost in the mists of time. Also, I'm bored, so here we go:
I disagree with your assertation that in the absence of concrete evidence, we should side with the belief that is most pleasing to us. I find this statement to be profoundly and deeply depressing. I have always liked to believe that people have genuine reasons for faith other than something along the lines of "It sounds good." What you're doing is picking Door Number 2 instead of Door Number 1 because Door 2 has pretty trim around the edges and a good paint job. You're picking philosophies based on aesthetic appeal rather than intellectual rigor (at least, that's what it seems like.) Not to say that theism is without merit, but to discard a view simply because you don't like its implications is not something a well-balanced intelligent adult should do. How happy an opinion makes me feel comes dead last on my Validity Detector List. And honestly, I think the same should be true of most people. Faith based on appeal and appeal alone is a dangerous thing. It suggests that our happiness is paramount over all else, and that whether or not the belief is true is irrelevant, as long as it makes you happy. I cannot express in words the horror I experience when someone honestly admits that a belief's truth is secondary to its appeal. It's a kind of subconscious cynicism second to none. Would you rather be a theist out of fear or an atheist out of gloominess? Is belief borne from horror over its absence an honest belief?
That is, of course, to say that you're arguing about theism's objective validity, not its worth to society. If you're arguing that we should believe because it benefits civilization, that's another issue. Let me ask you a question before I pursue this subject more, though: if it could be scientifically proven, beyond a shred of doubt (let's say, with equal confidence that we say the world is round today) that God does not exist, would you want to know? If you came across this discovery yourself, would you release it to the world?
Though I say I'm an atheist on occasion, I think of myself more as a pure agnostic. When you claimed, a few posts back, that agnosticism is as gloomy as atheism, you hit a nerve. If admitting that we don't know the truth is a gloomy position, then damn, Harv, we just live in a gloomy universe. When faced with pure atheism versus pure theism, I can understand why you would call atheism a gloomy outlook. However, agnosticism is a perfectly fair compromise because we simply admit our lack of knowledge. For you to call that position deluded or dismal frustrates me to no extent. It sounds strongly like you would discard intellectual honesty in favor of a dose of morphine. It's almost as if you've reveling in humanity's ignorance, taking advantage of our position inside the box to believe whatever the hell you want.
And by the way, I find the prospect of Hell to be far more terrifying than no God at all. In my opinion, no-one -- not Hitler, not Stalin, not bin Laden, not Dahmer, not even my physics teacher -- deserves an eternity of torment. And no-one -- not Saint Theresa or Gandhi or Jefferson or Aquinas -- deserves an eternity of reward. A God who casually hands out eternities like this would be an absolute monster. I cannot even conceive of a being cruel enough to condemn its own creations to neverending pain. Such a being would not be worthy of worship. If that belief truly gives you hope for the universe, well, then, have fun with that. If I were to pick between philosophies based on appeal alone, I would stick to agnosticism before throwing my lot in with an arbitrary tyrant.
In the end, I find hope to be infinitely preferable to belief. My ideas on spiritualism are probably best expressed in the movie Dogma. Have ideas, not beliefs. Ideas can be changed, they're not absolute, they're not worth killing over. Speculation over conviction.