Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is Belief a Choice?

It may seem like an odd question. Most people seem to feel that belief is a choice. When they know I'm an atheist, they all seem to think I could choose to convert to a religion, and be a believer of that religion, but I simply don't want to do that. I've had people justify treating me badly on the basis of religion as acceptable because I could choose to believe (I don't think something being a choice makes prejudice against it acceptable, but that's another issue).

But honestly, thinking back, I don't think I chose to become an atheist. In fact, I don't think I really chose any of my beliefs, except inasmuch as I chose what data to examine.

There are things I know to be facts. And once I know them, the only thing that can change that is more facts. My beliefs follow naturally from the facts I know (or think I know).

When it comes to religion, I know the laws of physics. I know Big Bang Theory. I know what the universe looks like. And I just don't see any room for a God anywhere in that picture.

I have a good imagination. I can imagine a world where God is real. I can also imagine worlds where vampires are real, aliens have visited earth and are secretly invading in the form of mind controlling slugs, and shapeshifting into an animal is possible. All of these are things I've wanted to believe in, have actually tried to believe in, at some point or another. But I just can't make them fit with what I know of reality.

Now, I could be different. I know I have less 'suspension of disbelief' when it comes to fiction - I'm fine with fantasy, but if I spot any logical inconsistencies in the world, I can no longer enjoy the story. (Old science fiction holds no interest for me due to this issue, while old fantasy often holds up well.) My father can enjoy some stories that seem ridiculous to me. I don't know if this is related to my inability to choose beliefs, but it could be. Maybe most people can choose to suspend their disbelief when they want to believe, and I can't.

Or maybe, this whole idea of choosing beliefs is wrong to begin with. Maybe no one actually choses what they believe. Given the findings that certain beliefs can be correlated to certain neurological makeups (for example, belief that everyone is in it for their own gain and no one is really trustworthy is correlated with psychopathy) it's possible that most people overestimate how much people can choose their own beliefs.

Did you choose your beliefs?


Blogger Kaminiwa said...

I have the ability to change my sexual orientation via, for lack of a better word, meditation. It's a very deliberate action, and it generally requires spoons to maintain. I can occasionally invest a lot of work and build a stable change, but generally I'm back to my "default" state a week or two after I stop making the effort.

Changing my beliefs feels exactly the same - it's like I can temporarily suspend "who I really am" and build a simulacrum to run things for a couple weeks. It's not a real change, but it can help me examine things I'd otherwise have turned away from - and THAT can result in real change.

5:10 PM  
Blogger DJay32 said...

I don't think belief is naturally a choice. I'm sure there are people who are able to choose, but it's not the kind of thing your average person can do. I know I can't do it. I'm an atheist who, if given a choice of beliefs, would rather believe a God exists and that my life will get better. But I know there's no logical basis to think this, and I make do with what life I have.

1:09 AM  

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