Is your belief/lack of belief a choice?

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Shiny

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I was wondering whether those who believe feel they could choose to not believe in god/gods, and for atheists/agnostics whether they could choose to believe in deities?

I'm asking because, from what I can see, people come to conclusions based on experience, evidence or emotion etc. rather than decide as an act of free will. People often seem to frame belief or non-belief as a choice (people are free to choose what they believe) and while I agree with the sentiment, I'm not convinced that's actually what's happening. I was wondering if other people do experience it as a choice?
 

DrZoidberg

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It can still be a choice even if you don't have free will. It's got nothing to do with it.

You have no way of knowing if your every decision is based on data fed to it by orbital remote controlled alien mind-control lasers.

I suggest you reformulate the question and make it more specific. Or why not just ask, do we have free will.... and open that can of worms.
 
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Shiny

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It can still be a choice even if you don't have free will. It's got nothing to do with it.

By free will, I mean to freely choose or select. People talk about choosing god, or choosing not to believe in god.

You have no way of knowing if your every decision is based on data fed to it by orbital remote controlled alien mind-control lasers.

I could be a brain in a jar and this is all a dream. But I have no evidence of alien mind-control lasers, or that I'm a brain in a jar.


I suggest you reformulate the question and make it more specific

Okay, I'll try. Do you think that your beliefs or lack of beliefs are a choice? If you don't already believe in a god, do you think that you could believe in one simply by making a choice, a selection, to do so? And Vice versa.
 

DrZoidberg

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Not to be an annoying know-it-all but this is a huge philosophical question. And one of my favourite ones.

What's a choice? Is it your ability to evaluate and select between different realisable alternatives (the answer is then yes, aka Libertarian free will) or is it the neurochemical selection process by which alternatives are selected (the answer is then no, aka determinism). Either are perfectly valid solutions.

There's a whole list of questions that need to be asked and answered before you're anywhere near getting a conclusive answer. From what does the will emanate and what is it free (or not) from? I think we can agree that the one you feel is making your choices is you. So where is "you" located (aka your ego or your sense of self located)? If "you" are making the choice, where is it? What is it made of? Where is it making it from? How is it making the choices? What does it base the choices on? How does it take in data to evaluate? How many limitations are allowed before you judge a choice as non-free? What about perceptive biases? What is a will for? What does it do? What is it supposed to do?

As you've formulated the question the answer is yes and no. Both are correct. We can and can't chose freely, depending on what you're implying with the question.

...and to delve deeper into the nerd cave.

Antonio Damasio thinks we have free will.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/António_Damásio

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0380726475/?tag=absowrit-20

Thomas Metzinger thinks we don't have free will.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0465045677/?tag=absowrit-20

Both are correct, because they formulate their questions differently. And these are two of the current big names in research on the mind and consciousness.

Anybody who reduces, "do we have free will?" to a "yes" or "no" question, has in advance already loaded the deck to favour whatever they want to be true. I don't think its a meaningful question.
 

Chris P

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All I can choose to do is be open to it or not. If I look for faith, faith comes (but I can't control when, how, or in what form) and if I look away from faith, faith goes.
 

DeleyanLee

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I'm asking because, from what I can see, people come to conclusions based on experience, evidence or emotion etc. rather than decide as an act of free will. People often seem to frame belief or non-belief as a choice (people are free to choose what they believe) and while I agree with the sentiment, I'm not convinced that's actually what's happening. I was wondering if other people do experience it as a choice?

Say I have a really bad marriage. It's a horrible experience filled with emotion and evidence that this is really a BAD choice of mate for me.

Theoretically I can choose not to marry the next one that comes along that is much the same kind of person as the one I had the really bad marriage to. I could also not think about it and fall into the same kind of relationship. Or I could ignore my experience and actively make the choice to marry into the same kind of hell as before, for whatever reason.

Just an example (however off-the-cuff-bad it is) that experience, emotion and evidence don't negate the fact that people make choices, even if it's on a sub/unconscious level. The two feed into each other; they're not mutually exclusive.

I guess I don't understand your question.
 

Shiny

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(In response to Dr Zoidberg) Actually, that's really not quite what I'm asking, and I think I'm phrasing things poorly.

So...I'll try again. I make choices every day. I choose what to wear, what to eat, mostly my choices are mundane. Whether or not what is happening in my brain really is a free selective choice, that is how I experience it.

But I've never been able to choose to believe in a god. When I was younger, I actively tried and failed many times. My lack of belief never seemed to be a choice.

When people talk of choosing Christianity, or choosing Islam, or choosing Atheism, it leaves me baffled.

My experiences may not be typical, other people may indeed actively choose to believe or not. Hence my question. And thank you to everyone who is replying despite my inability to be clear over this.
 
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ether

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Since I was a teenager, I've wanted to believe in some sort of God or higher power. I went to church - several, actually - and got involved. Tried looking through other religions besides the one I was in to see if anything else clicked.

But I never "felt" it. I still don't. I have this need to believe in something, but I'm unable to. So for me, personally, my disbelief in God isn't a choice at all.
 

Shiny

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But I never "felt" it. I still don't. I have this need to believe in something, but I'm unable to. So for me, personally, my disbelief in God isn't a choice at all.

That was my experience. I no longer feel I should or need to believe, but I certainly wanted to when I was younger.
 

DrZoidberg

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(In response to Dr Zoidberg) Actually, that's really not quite what I'm asking, and I think I'm phrasing things poorly.

So...I'll try again. I make choices every day. I choose what to wear, what to eat, mostly my choices are mundane. Whether or not what is happening in my brain really is a free selective choice, that is how I experience it.

But I've never been able to choose to believe in a god. When I was younger, I actively tried and failed many times. My lack of belief never seemed to be a choice.

When people talk of choosing Christianity, or choosing Islam, or choosing Atheism, it leaves me baffled.

My experiences may not be typical, other people may indeed actively choose to believe or not. Hence my question. And thank you to everyone who is replying despite my inability to be clear over this.

I think you're underestimating the depth of your question. Don't you agree that you've simply replaced "do we have free will" with "can we freely chose to believe in god"? It's fundamentally the same question, isn't it? The answer to one is an answer to the other.

Doesn't your taste in clothes dictate what you want to wear? Is that free choice? Can you freely change what your tastes are?
 

kaitiepaige17

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I understand what you're asking, and my feelings are much like yours.

When I was younger, I was afraid NOT to believe in God. Eternal damnation? No thank you, so I CHOSE to believe. Now that I'm older, however, I've accepted that I cannot force my mind to believe in something that my heart does not. So is my lack of believe a choice? No, I don't think so. Belief or non belief isn't a choice, in my opinion.
 

Shiny

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I think you're underestimating the depth of your question. Don't you agree that you've simply replaced "do we have free will" with "can we freely chose to believe in god"? It's fundamentally the same question, isn't it? The answer to one is an answer to the other.

Doesn't your taste in clothes dictate what you want to wear? Is that free choice? Can you freely change what your tastes are?

With the examples I gave I at least experience it as a choice, whether or not free will is real. This is not the case with religious belief for me. What I'm trying to work out is whether other people do or do not experience it as a choice.
 

shadowwalker

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I think it's hard to choose to believe or disbelieve in a god. There are too many factors involved. For many, their beliefs are formed by their parents and it takes something more than "thinking about it" to disregard those beliefs. I know for many years I said I didn't believe in God - but then, in times of stress, I'd find myself praying. Now, I've come to terms with him/her/it and they aren't at all orthodox - but the basic belief is still there.

As to trying to "find God" - I think that's just something that happens. Something inside you opens the door - just declaring you believe doesn't really mean anything. As someone else said, you have to "feel it". I think, for me, I realized that no matter how angry I was at God, and how much I tried to put her/him out of my life, I still knew s/he existed. At my son's confirmation, I took communion for the first time in years - and I suddenly had this feeling of such warmth and love. And only moments before I'd been sitting there, wishing the whole bit of hogwash was over.

So can one choose to believe or not? I guess I'd say no. If one has been raised to believe, then the only choice is to acknowledge or ignore. If one hasn't been raised that way, then if it "comes" you have the same choice - but it will always be there. If it doesn't come on its own, then you can either decide to pursue it and hope it happens, or let it go.

Very hard to explain and I don't think I've done a very good job of it. :(
 

Maxx

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I was wondering whether those who believe feel they could choose to not believe in god/gods, and for atheists/agnostics whether they could choose to believe in deities?

I'm asking because, from what I can see, people come to conclusions based on experience, evidence or emotion etc. rather than decide as an act of free will. People often seem to frame belief or non-belief as a choice (people are free to choose what they believe) and while I agree with the sentiment, I'm not convinced that's actually what's happening. I was wondering if other people do experience it as a choice?

I've chosen to believe everything except that there is a benevolent, all-loving, good and kind Creator personage who loves me but thinks I should spend more time thinking about Him and even do Him the favor of thinking He really Exists just for once for Pete's sake.

The hard part of believing in everything (with that one exception noted above) is spending any time at all with many of the potential Beings even for a purely mental split second. I'm working very hard on believing in Acupuncture at the moment. It seems like an impossible thing to believe in. Belief in an all-loving Creator of the Cosmos who loves me all the time but finds me somewhat full of Sin would be much easier. But that's the problem. Why exercise the faculty of belief if just to believe in easy-to-believe things? Where's the fun in that?
 

Alpha Echo

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I think it's hard to choose to believe or disbelieve in a god. There are too many factors involved. For many, their beliefs are formed by their parents and it takes something more than "thinking about it" to disregard those beliefs. I know for many years I said I didn't believe in God - but then, in times of stress, I'd find myself praying. Now, I've come to terms with him/her/it and they aren't at all orthodox - but the basic belief is still there.

As to trying to "find God" - I think that's just something that happens. Something inside you opens the door - just declaring you believe doesn't really mean anything. As someone else said, you have to "feel it". I think, for me, I realized that no matter how angry I was at God, and how much I tried to put her/him out of my life, I still knew s/he existed. At my son's confirmation, I took communion for the first time in years - and I suddenly had this feeling of such warmth and love. And only moments before I'd been sitting there, wishing the whole bit of hogwash was over.

So can one choose to believe or not? I guess I'd say no. If one has been raised to believe, then the only choice is to acknowledge or ignore. If one hasn't been raised that way, then if it "comes" you have the same choice - but it will always be there. If it doesn't come on its own, then you can either decide to pursue it and hope it happens, or let it go.

Very hard to explain and I don't think I've done a very good job of it. :(

I think I agree with you - and know exactly what you're saying.

My hubs and I have had this conversation because it seems that most people just believe, or claim to believe, whatever it is their parents taught them growing up. Most people don't think beyond that. But I think that it's possible to "find God" when you never even knew about Him - b/c as you said it's that feeling of warmth that you feel, that fulfillment that fills you unlike anything else.
 

Rhys Cordelle

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I'll try. Do you think that your beliefs or lack of beliefs are a choice? If you don't already believe in a god, do you think that you could believe in one simply by making a choice, a selection, to do so? And Vice versa.

No. This doesn't mean I couldn't believe no matter what. It just means I couldn't simply decide to start believing. I would need to be witness to an experience or gain some knowledge that I found convincing enough to become a theist.

This is something I tried to explain to family members that were trying to convert me. They kept saying I just had to "take that faith step". I had to get them to clarify what they meant by that. Essentially, what they were saying, is that I would need to start believing it, without reason to, before I could see that it was real.

*brain implodes*

So basically, fake it til you make it. I just couldn't do that, my brain isn't wired that way.

I was raised in a christian family. My mother was never particularly strong or vocal in her beliefs, but all of my extended family are. We went to church on sundays and went on christian camps and all that jazz, but even as a child I didn't believe it. To me, the story of Noahs Ark or Moses parting the seas were indistinguishable from Puff the Magic Dragon or Jack and the Beanstalk. I looked around and I saw reality, not miracles. That sort of thing only happens in your imagination, as far as I could tell.

It was a concious choice for me to start identifying as an atheist, but an atheist is what I've always been. Prior to "coming out" I tended to just keep my mouth shut and let people think I was a believer. Everyone else seemed to believe, so I did have to fake it. But it was never with the thought that "if I just keep pretending I'll eventually believe it". It was just a ruse, and it wasn't the only one. I had to pretend to be straight too!


This subject reminds me of a thread I saw on the forum for a game called Dragon Age. The question asked by the OP was "what religion would you adhere to if you lived in Thedas? (The Dragon Age setting)". There are several religious beliefs explored in the game, and a few others in the game world that don't get any face time but are discussed online. But a lot of people simply replied "I'm an atheist. I'd be an atheist in Thedas, too".

To me, that sounded absolutely, completely and utterly absurd. I mean, Thedas is a world in which spirits and demons make themselves known to humans. It's a world where magic exists, as well as a dream realm where the spirits and demons dwell, which surrounds an impregnable city where the Maker is said to reside. Even if you chose not to believe in this Maker (who is never shown to exist or not in the game), you couldn't ignore the fact that you live in a world where the supernatural is real. That there is such a thing as an afterlife, and therefore, quite likely something exists out there that has made all this possible.

Sorry to go off in this tangent about a computer game, but the point I'm making is that I do believe that, with enough evidence, I could be convinced of gods existence. But even if that were to happen, that would make me a deist, not a theist. To become a theist, I'd need convincing evidence that supports a religions particular view of what god is and what god wants from/for us.
 

Kitty27

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I come from a family and culture that holds belief in God as an absolute must. Those who don't believe are Satan's whores. Southern Baptist is the only acceptable affliation. It was very hard to go against that expectation so when I was younger so I made the choice to believe. Because I wanted to fit in and not anger my relatives. I didn't care for any of it. As I got older,I came to the realization that while I do believe in a higher power,I have no particular desire to give it a name,religion,or worship it.
 
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Kitty27

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One of my characters is based on the whore of babylon. Is that bad? ><





Not to me,Rhys!

My family is quite strident about religion and I am considered a godless nut who needs to be doused with annointing oil.

It took all the courage I had to tell my mother that I considered the Bible a marvelous work of literature and that's all. I swear she shot hellfire out of her eyes at me.
 

Aphotic Phoenix

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In my own personal experience I never chose belief, or chose a particular religion, I simply found the name of it: Buddhism. There was no need to convert, because I always was a Buddhist, even if I didn't realize what it was called growing up, or had never been taught it. Although I would love to "choose" the Mahayana sect which has more colorful theology, in reality my beliefs fall much more in line with the Theravada.
 

benbradley

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I think the question is clear enough, it's just a "big" concept.

And now my life's story, condensed into a paragraph or three.

For 30 years I was an atheist, what I now consider a "weak" atheist. Despite growing up in a Baptist church and a believing family, I never believed in God. The "weak" part was I never really knew why I didn't believe.

At age 30 I went to Alcoholics Anonymous to stop drinking. Don't let them fool you, if they had their choice between you stopping drinking and finding God, they'd have you find God. But then they believe you can't possibly find God without stopping drinking - drinking alcohol, even one sip, makes for a "spiritual falling out" with God or whatever. They'll even argue you left God well before taking the first sip.

But yeah, I quit drinking and found God and went to 90 meetings in 90 days, and kept going to daily meetings for a couple years after that, and while I saw some things in AA I didn't think were quite right, whenever I'd say something about it I was quickly dismissed with "you're still young in the program" - the biggest awe and respect went to "old timers" those with "double digit sobriety" and especially those with 20 or more years in the program without drinking.

After a couple years in that "perfect program for imperfect people" I started to really see the cracks in the program, and started seriously questioning the things I saw, at least to myself and in my own mind. I'd learned not to question things OPENLY - most people would just think I was a newcomer and hadn't learned yet.

But I started to believe it was a lie, not that anyone was so much lying to me, because they apparently believed what they said, the same as I had believed it the previous years, but I was discovering that something isn't neccesarily true just because I or a million or two billion people believe it's true.

I went against AA's slogan of "uitilize, don't analyze" and I searched out evidence that God doesn't exist. Well, not really, I started reading up on cults, and I DID find evidence that people can be convinced that something is true just by spending time around those who believe it's true and hearing them talk about it as if it were true.

(Insert long bibliology here, dozens of books, Nova "Secrets of the Psychics" and Frontline "Prisoners of Silence" but perhaps most pivotal was Susan Blackmore's "Adventures of a Parapsychologist").

All I can choose to do is be open to it or not. If I look for faith, faith comes (but I can't control when, how, or in what form) and if I look away from faith, faith goes.
So you CAN control when faith goes away! Fascinating.
Say I have a really bad marriage. It's a horrible experience filled with emotion and evidence that this is really a BAD choice of mate for me.

Theoretically I can choose not to marry the next one that comes along that is much the same kind of person as the one I had the really bad marriage to. I could also not think about it and fall into the same kind of relationship. Or I could ignore my experience and actively make the choice to marry into the same kind of hell as before, for whatever reason.

Just an example (however off-the-cuff-bad it is) that experience, emotion and evidence don't negate the fact that people make choices, even if it's on a sub/unconscious level. The two feed into each other; they're not mutually exclusive.

I guess I don't understand your question.
I think your point about a bad marriage has to do with belief about oneself, and questioning oneself - "There's some things I don't like about this marriage, maybe I should get a divorce. But could I find a better wife/husband? I don't think so, I doubt it. I don't deserve anyone better."

It may not seem like hell if the person doesn't really know any better (as in having experienced an abusive childhood), or doesn't believe they deserve any better (ditto).
(In response to Dr Zoidberg) Actually, that's really not quite what I'm asking, and I think I'm phrasing things poorly.

So...I'll try again. I make choices every day. I choose what to wear, what to eat, mostly my choices are mundane. Whether or not what is happening in my brain really is a free selective choice, that is how I experience it.

But I've never been able to choose to believe in a god. When I was younger, I actively tried and failed many times. My lack of belief never seemed to be a choice.

When people talk of choosing Christianity, or choosing Islam, or choosing Atheism, it leaves me baffled.

My experiences may not be typical, other people may indeed actively choose to believe or not. Hence my question. And thank you to everyone who is replying despite my inability to be clear over this.
I think that's not how it happens. What happens is you get invited to a church, you're new so you get "love bombed" with attention and welcoming and "Oh, we're so GLAD you decided to come worship with us this Sunday!" and so going there becomes a regular thing, and...

When I was early in AA "chose to believe" in God totally of my own accord, OR SO I THOUGHT. I thought I had independently made the decision to believe in God and that I should follow the 12 steps and everything else it says to do in the first 164 pages of the Big Book of AA. I had "independently" decided to do THE EXACT SAME THING THAT EVERYONE AROUND ME WAS DOING. That was not just a coincidence.
I've chosen to believe everything except that there is a benevolent, all-loving, good and kind Creator personage who loves me but thinks I should spend more time thinking about Him and even do Him the favor of thinking He really Exists just for once for Pete's sake.

The hard part of believing in everything (with that one exception noted above) is spending any time at all with many of the potential Beings even for a purely mental split second. I'm working very hard on believing in Acupuncture at the moment. It seems like an impossible thing to believe in. Belief in an all-loving Creator of the Cosmos who loves me all the time but finds me somewhat full of Sin would be much easier. But that's the problem. Why exercise the faculty of belief if just to believe in easy-to-believe things? Where's the fun in that?
Want to believe in Acupuncture? Stop TRYING to believe. Go spend some time with people who believe, ask them about it, maybe get acupuncture treatment if offered, learn everything they say about it, etc. I won't say you WILL believe, but you're chances are a lot better doing that than sitting around in isolation trying to believe in acupuncture.
No. This doesn't mean I couldn't believe no matter what. It just means I couldn't simply decide to start believing. I would need to be witness to an experience or gain some knowledge that I found convincing enough to become a theist.

This is something I tried to explain to family members that were trying to convert me. They kept saying I just had to "take that faith step". I had to get them to clarify what they meant by that. Essentially, what they were saying, is that I would need to start believing it, without reason to, before I could see that it was real.

*brain implodes*

So basically, fake it til you make it.
That (bolding mine) is an often-repeated AA slogan!
I got more (the next post about childhood and quoting Alice Miller about surviving childhood) but I'm up way too late.
 

Lhun

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Belief is not a conscious action, and as such no-one can make a choice what they believe. One can of course engage in actions which are known to change belief (or which one believes will change belief) but that is not the same as making a choice regarding belief.
Free will does not enter the discussion at all, since that question is extremely pointless since it is impossible in principle to answer (and even it was possible to answer, it wouldn't matter, by definition). Mostly it's just a remnant from times when philosophy and theology were muddled up.
 
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