There are many reasons why people hold on to their beliefs in supernatural things. Many of these reasons, I think, are psychological ones—people hold on to supernatural beliefs because not having them would be psychologically unacceptable in some way (or in many ways). In other words, they have—or think they have—certain psychological needs that could not be met if they did not hold on to some sort of supernatural belief. For instance, my stepmother has told me multiple times that she has to believe in God because she has to believe that she will see her dead parents again. A more extreme example here is the tendency for people to think that, without belief in the supernatural, they would not be able to have any hope whatsoever. Nonbelief, they think, is "a recipe for despair." This view of nonbelief probably stems from the belief that belief in God, or at least belief in some supernatural power, is the source or foundation of hope. For if this is believed, then the rejection of the supernatural amounts to the rejection of the source or foundation of hope, which makes hope impossible and despair the only appropriate reaction.With this working conception of hope in place, I can now turn to the idea that nonbelief is a recipe for despair. I imagine that this idea is due, at least in part, to the fact that there is indeed no room for certain hopes without some sort of spiritual or supernatural belief to prop them up. For instance, if no belief about spiritual realms or entities is true, then there can be (a) no immortality of any kind (and thus no evil-free afterlife in Heaven, and no reunion with dead friends or loved ones) and (b) no guarantee that justice will ultimately prevail. If no belief about spiritual realms or entities is true, then death permanently ends our conscious experience—our own as well as that of our friends and loved ones. So even if we desire to live forever in Heaven or elsewhere, or to see our deceased friends and loved ones again, these are not live possibilities for nonbelievers. And if no belief about spiritual realms or entities is true, then there is also no supernatural figure or power to ensure that justice will ultimately prevail. So although we want to be sure that justice will prevail, this too is simply not a live option for nonbelievers. Consequently, condition (3) cannot be met for any of these desired outcomes, and thus nonbelievers cannot have any kind of hope in regard to them.Nevertheless, it does not follow that there is no room whatsoever for hope if one holds a naturalistic worldview. For no matter how important the "lost" hopes might be, their exclusion does not entail the exclusion of all hope, just like the exclusion of 18-wheelers from the average residential garage does not entail the exclusion of all motor vehicles. In fact, there is plenty of room for both confident and fairly reasonably hopes on a naturalistic worldview: a nonbeliever can confidently or reasonably hope that he or she will get that dream job, be admitted to a good doctoral program, make a positive impact on the lives of others or the community, recover from setbacks, find true love, live a long and fruitful life, and so on. When it comes to these sorts of things, nonbelievers are just as entitled to confidently or reasonably hope for them as believers in the supernatural are; for such things are definitely not desperately improbable in a naturalistic world and, in many cases, they warrant confidence in their realization. Therefore, it is patently false that nonbelief is a recipe for despair.
Can atheism lay a foundation for hope? Take “making a positive impact on the lives of others or the community, recover from setbacks, finding true love, living a long and fruitful life.”
But if atheism is true, then we’re just sand people. What does a sandman “making a positive impact” on the lives of other sandmen amount to? What does the “fruitful life” of a sandman amount to?
Every generation is an Etch A Sketch generation. The passage of time turns us upside down and shake us up, reducing us to a pile of sand. Then the process begins all over again. A new generation of sand people. We live in the sandbox until the passage of time turns us back into heaps of sand.
Yes, you can fall in love with a sand woman, and you can father sand children. But the sand is continuously recycled.
Where’s the hope in that? Does life inside the sandbox lay a foundation for hope? Hope is forward-leaning. Future-oriented. But what’s your future in the sandbox?
Suppose an outsider walks by the sandbox every year. Every year he sees a new set of sand people as he passes by. New sand families where last year’s sand families used to be. A new sand community where last year’s community used to be.
It doesn’t matter who existed or never existed. It doesn’t matter in what order the sand people appear or pass away.
Nothing lasts. Nothing endures.