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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 10:16 AM
Original message
What I choose to believe.
I hear that expression or variations of it a lot when discussing religion. Often it is in the context of tolerance for the beliefs of others. Everyone is free to believe what he or she wants.

But isn't there something deeply disengenuous about that? Can we really choose what we believe? My mother grudgingly admitted that I was free to choose to be an atheist if I wanted. I told her that I chose no such thing. As I learned how the world and the universe work, how life evolves without direction, the history of religious belief and how people think. Based on all of that and the complete lack of evidence for any purposeful directing force and in fact counter-indications of it, I must conclude there are no gods. It was never a choice.

I don't think we can choose what to believe. I think those who purport to do so are engaging in self-deception. People want to believe something for whatever reason and then convince themselves that they actually do. Excuse me for being blunt as I have never minced words, but that kind of self deception is typical of the religious mind. And yes, I speak from experience on that. Belief means that one accepts something as factually true. If one has no reason to think the Christian Bible is at all divine in origin, how can one simply choose to overrule that conclusion? The best one can do is to pretend to believe otherwise. One can pretend to others or even to oneself.

A Christian accepts as true that Jesus Christ was real and that he was divine in some way and that his ghastly death somehow freed humanity from collective guilt. Those who think JC was merely a wise (or not so wise) philosopher or who think the whole thing is just a metaphore are not Christians. To be a Muslim is to accept as a matter of fact that the Koran is the actual pronouncement of God. Again, if one thinks it is a really wise book, but composed by humans, then such a person is not a Muslim. So how can one choose to believe that God wrote the Koran or sent JC to died for us? One either accepts either of those things as factual statements or else one does not. Even if a person is on the fence, he can't just will himself one way or the other. If before he was undecided, but now he purports to believe, what changed his mind? There may be a lot of reasons including gut instinct to accept the validity of a religious claim, but "I choose to believe" is not one of them.

My objection to the choose-to-believe idea is similar to my objection to the all-faiths-are-equally-valid claim. It is fundamentally dishonest. How can they all be equally valid when they believe contradictory claims? How can the jealously monotheisitic Yaweh and the Hindu pantheon both be real? How can Mohammed and Mormon founder John Smith both be right? Obviously they can't be. Like claims of universal validity of belief, choosing to believe comes from convenience, not conviction.
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MineralMan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 10:20 AM
Response to Original message
1. Very well said.
I simply cannot believe in supernatural stuff. I did, when I was young. Once I learned more, it was clear to me that such supernatural entities did not actually exist. At that point, it became impossible for me to believe that they could. I am an atheist, because I cannot believe in such things. There is no way I could choose to believe something I simply cannot believe.

Belief in supernatural stuff is binary. You either can believe it or you cannot. There is no middle ground. Atheists cannot choose to believe.
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AlecBGreen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 11:16 AM
Response to Original message
2. well said
I disagree. Two scientists looking at the same data set can come to different conclusions. As long as there is a lack of total understanding of the facts, there will always be varying opinions on what is "The Truth." It all boils down to issues of confidence in data in support of and against a certain hypothesis. This leads us to the age-old issue of "what counts as evidence?" Something I, a believer, might construe as the existence of God, another will reject or attribute to other causes.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your opinion. :hi:
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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 11:44 AM
Response to Reply #2
4. goes a bit beyond the scope of my writing.
I'm not arguing why I don't believe as that subject has been discussed here ad nauseaum. And I am not arguing that people cannot come to differing conclusions. I am simply arguing that personal choice has nothing to do with it.
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AlecBGreen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 12:13 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. i hear ya
I am simply arguing that personal choice has nothing to do with it.

I think that "what we choose to believe" is linked to what we choose to accept as evidence. I believe in Christ's existence and divinity because I choose to accept the overall validity of Scripture and the personal testimony of others as evidence. In that sense, what we choose to believe is directly tied to what we choose to accept as evidence. So in that sense, we can choose to believe. Does that make sense?
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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 01:26 PM
Response to Reply #6
8. So you did not know whether or not the Christian scriptures...
...or personal tesimony of others was valid or convincing, but you just willed yourself to accept them based on a personal choice? If I read you right, then I'm afraid it is exactly what I am talking about. If you found those things convincing it is one thing. If you did not, but then chose to believe them, then it could be Exhibit A for my post.
:shrug:
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AlecBGreen Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 02:23 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. the first one
If you found those things convincing it is one thing (yes, this is what I meant). If you did not, but then chose to believe them, then it could be Exhibit A for my post.(no, not what I meant)

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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 02:30 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. Okay, I understand.
:hi:
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Atypical Liberal Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 01:19 PM
Response to Reply #2
7. Ambiguous data.
Two scientists looking at the same data set can come to different conclusions. As long as there is a lack of total understanding of the facts, there will always be varying opinions on what is "The Truth." It all boils down to issues of confidence in data in support of and against a certain hypothesis.

But true scientists would look at the two sets of data and be able to acknowledge that the data sets available either allows both conclusions to be valid, requiring additional data to differentiate, or they will acknowledge that the current data excludes one of the possibilities as impossible.
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Kablooie Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 11:22 AM
Response to Original message
3. To choose what you believe is self deception but many religious beliefs are not chosen this way.
Most religious beliefs are not an individual choosing what he wishes to believe.
It is the acceptance of ideas that other people tell you are true.

For most of us, belief in scientific principles that we can't verify ourselves is similar.
We choose to believe scientists who say they have verified results.
We must put our faith in the belief that what he says is true.

Others hear religious beliefs presented as truth.
We can't verify it ourself but because the arguments supporting it are so prevalent we accept it on faith.

We must all choose WHO to believe, not necessarily WHAT to believe.
That is not self deception but a necessary choice that we must make in life.

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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 11:53 AM
Response to Reply #3
5. People who believe scientists or priests or whomever...
...believe them because they accept that those people are telling the factual truth. I tend to believe scientists because as a general proposition I think, feel, believe (whatever) that they are telling at the very least what they think is true. I don't choose to believe them. For me and for many, it is an acceptance based on what we know about scientists. People have their own reasons for believing religious proponents. To the extent they believe them, they accept those claims as true because they consider the source to be reliable. They don't choose to believe it, they just do.

My point is that to the extent that people claim to choose to believe something, they don't. They either accept the idea, reject the idea or are unsure. Maybe they hear a convincing sermon and now believe what they were unsure about. That is not a choice. That is a change of belief based on new information. They cannot change their view of the matter simply by choice without some level of dishonesty.
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Nihil Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Apr-28-11 09:18 AM
Response to Reply #5
17. Nice post!
I had been reading through the thread and thinking "Hang on, what about ..."
but I agree with your phrasing in this post:

> They don't choose to believe it, they just do.
> My point is that to the extent that people claim to choose to believe something,
> they don't. They either accept the idea, reject the idea or are unsure.
> Maybe they hear a convincing sermon and now believe what they were unsure about.
> That is not a choice. That is a change of belief based on new information.
> They cannot change their view of the matter simply by choice without some level
> of dishonesty.

Thanks for that! :toast:
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Silent3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 03:46 PM
Response to Original message
11. One could also argue that we may well have no choices at all...
...on any matter, not just beliefs. We could live in a totally deterministic world, or maybe a world which is partially deterministic but varied by random factors which are as equally beyond our control as the deterministic factors.

If the concept of choice, and the related notion of free will, have any meaning at all, however, it's interesting to consider what exactly it is that we have choices about. Just so you know, I'm mostly agree with what you're saying in the OP and I certainly identify with your frustration in the way some people discuss "choice" of beliefs, but I'd also like to play devil's advocate here a bit, and dig a little deeper.

For instance, why bother starting this thread unless you feel you there's some chance, however small, of changing minds with what you write? If minds can be changed by your words, is there any choice involved in whether or not changes are allowed to occur? Is being open to reading what you say a choice? Is how your words affect a reader partly a choice of the reader? If stubbornness or ego or fear make it difficult for someone to accept something you're saying, is there choice in whether or not the reader recognizes those impediments and sets them aside?

If any of those things are choices, then I think you can say there is an element of choice in belief to the extent there is choice in what you're willing to consider, and reconsider, that might bring you reject current beliefs and accept new ones.
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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 04:17 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. Yes, there is a choice in what one is willing to consider.
Whether or not I will open and read that Rick Warren book is a choice. Whether or not I will be pursuaded to change my mind really isn't unless resist being persuaded because I don't want it to be the life-changing information it otherwise would be. Suppose after reading, I think this: "This makes perfect sense. How could I have been so wrong?! But I can't admit that. It means I'm some kind of idiot. I must have misread it. I'm going to go back and read some Dawkins to reprogram me to my original position." Well, I am choosing not to believe it by lying to myself.

The truth is, though, I have no real reason not to change my mind beyond normal human reluctance to admit error if I run into what I regard as persuasive evidence. When I was a Christian, I really did choose to disregard certain lines of thinking because I was afraid of the conclusion. I was afraid that if I ENTERTAINED ideas that were critical or even questioning of divinity that I would burn in hell forever. That's quite an incentive to choose to believe. I did all kinds of mental gymnastics to square what I knew to be true from other sources--evolution, the lack of evil in sexuality and even homosexuality, the equality of the sexes and the races--with plainly contradictory pronouncements in God's holy Word. I loved Carl Sagan's show Cosmos and his books, but was deeply troubled that he was going to hell for his atheism. And the more I learned, the less I was able to hold onto an orthodox view of Christianity, then a liberal view of it, then any defensible idea of an interventionist god, then any god at all. The final step for me was going from acceptance Christianity as a man-made ethical system to rejecting most of it's teachings on that subject.

So there is persuation by whatever one regards as reasons and then there is intentionally ignoring some reasons for fear of where they will lead.

I have to say that the whole concept of choice and free will depends on ones perspective. As individuals we think and act as if they were real. Yet we are all products of our environments and our genetics. The electrons moving around our heads follow mostly deterministic--I am aware of the uncertainty principal--physical laws. In that sense, everything is deterministic. In large groups, humans are as predictable as gravity. So while free will and choice maybe useful concepts when examining human behavior--such as this thread--it probably doesn't have any meaning beyond that context.
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dimbear Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 06:18 PM
Response to Original message
13. For a sufficient reward, I will believe whatever you like.
Reward/ penalty ratio, my friends. That is the way of the world. There is a very famous historical case of a chap who was willing to believe for Paris.

I also would take that bargain.

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Deep13 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 10:48 PM
Response to Reply #13
15. Paris is worth a mass.
Was that Henry de Valois?
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dimbear Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 11:49 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. Supposedly Henry IV, but it has the aroma of apocrypha about it....
That's the fun part about French history. All the answers start out Henry something. Or on an off day, Louis something.
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-25-11 07:40 PM
Response to Original message
14. I don't think belief or lack of belief are choices
We're all born unbelievers. Most of us are introduced to belief when we're kids and magical thinkers. Most of us don't question it as belief but might question which flavor of belief suits us and that's where the choice comes in.

There is some evidence that belief and unbelief are hard wired. I tend to buy that argument since no amount of fact or pointing out contradiction will shake a believer's faith and no amount of thundering about hellfire and damnation will convince an atheist. There are atheists in foxholes and there are believers doing cutting edge scientific research.

All religions are equally true. All religions are equally false. And nothing looks sillier than a religion you don't share.
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