A New Error Theory for Theism
Individual human flourishing might require deep gratitude. I'm not sure, but I think so. At least, for many people, their flourishing requires it. Without it they cannot function properly. The ordering of attitudes and dispositions in the soul is dysfunctional if at or near the center of these there is no deep gratitude, by which I mean gratitude that this world exists and that one lives in it. There will be more to say about this in the next post on misfortune, and I've discussed the issue before. Here let us assume that it is so that deep gratitude is prevalent amongst human beings because it is natural for them to have it.
Now, gratitude has a personal object: the one to whom one is grateful. Since that for which one is grateful is the existence of the universe and oneself, the personal object of deep gratitude can be none other than God. Since human beings find themselves given to deep gratitude, they are led to believe that there must be someone to whom they are grateful: God. However,
P: There is no entailment from the proposition that one feels gratitude to the proposition that there is someone to whom one feels gratitude.
So, the error theory is this. People find the belief in God compelling, satisfactory and natural (to put it mildly.) This is because they feel deep gratitude. Deep gratitude, given its intensional structure, explains their belief in God. The causation explaining their belief in God is non-rational causation, since P. There is no need to suppose that there is evidential foundation for the belief that we are unaware of (and we are aware of none.) So the error theory goes.
Atheists can feel deep gratitude, as well, however. When we construe the emotion as deep gladness and modesty, the personal object (God) drops out. One is simply glad that this universe exists and that one lives in it. There need be no one to whom one is grateful. So, the error theory doesn't cast any aspersions on deep gratitude. It is perfectly consistent with holding, as I do, that deep gratitude is indeed part of proper functioning for human beings.
AN ASIDE: Not only P, but also, the existence of gratitude for the existence of the world and oneself does not even merely tend to show that there is someone to whom one is grateful. This is because (A.) there is no other reason to believe that there is someone who created this universe and (B.) the construal of the emotion as gladness is also available.