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Is belief a choice?
Posted: 17 June 2012 09:41 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I recently have seen the movie Prometheus, and one of the major ideas that it was trying to impress on the viewer was that the protagonist chose her beliefs in God/Christianity. This has been something that I have been arguing (in my mind) against for a while now. I figured it would be a good idea to bring it up to the CFI boards and see what others thought just in case I might be missing something. I’m not sure if my question is too ambiguous, so I’ll clarify by saying belief in the sense of what we believe to be true or untrue.

ie.

“I believe/do not believe a God exists”
“I believe/do not believe UFO’s exist”
“I believe/do not believe Chupacabra exists”

Please give your answer and an explanation as to why. Any input regarding this question would be appreciated.

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Posted: 17 June 2012 10:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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ExMachina - 17 June 2012 09:41 PM

I recently have seen the movie Prometheus, and one of the major ideas that it was trying to impress on the viewer was that the protagonist chose her beliefs in God/Christianity. This has been something that I have been arguing (in my mind) against for a while now. I figured it would be a good idea to bring it up to the CFI boards and see what others thought just in case I might be missing something. I’m not sure if my question is too ambiguous, so I’ll clarify by saying belief in the sense of what we believe to be true or untrue.

ie.

“I believe/do not believe a God exists”
“I believe/do not believe UFO’s exist”
“I believe/do not believe Chupacabra exists”

Please give your answer and an explanation as to why. Any input regarding this question would be appreciated.

Belief in God or not are options in some sense, we do weigh them up and believe or not on the bases of our evaluation. So in a sense it’s a choice. But you believe it’s also not a choice (as I do) in some sense. So the question is what do you/we mean by that?

Is it perhaps that it’s not a choice that we can make according to our will, as beliefs are what go to make up the will?

Stephen

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Posted: 18 June 2012 02:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Interesting question.  Each of us has a set of ideas or beliefs that describe the universe around us.  We develop them in a number of ways.  Many come from our personal observation, but we are given a great deal of information when we are very young before or outside our range of observation.  Much is pretty straight-forward, e.g., “Look both ways before you cross a street.”  This is information from authorities that we accept as true and to be believed.  As we get older, we learn to varying degrees how to think logically and critically.  This can allow us to examine new ideas that are presented and decide whether or not they are believable. 

I’m not sure why, but there’s a range among people of how we use our reason.  At times we start with a premise and compare it with observad data and probabilities to determine whether we add it to our belief system.  Other times we start with our belief and work backwards to try to develop a “logical” framework to validate our belief.  Some of us use the first system more frequently, but many people use the second system almost exclusively.

If a child has belief in a god taught him/her very strongly, and s/he is discouraged from questioning (the beginnings of logical thought), the person usually won’t have any choice but to believe in a god. If the child is exposed to people who use critical thinking and is allowed to question things s/he has a good chance of examining such concepts as a god and deciding (choosing) to believe or not to believe. 

In short, for most theists it’s not a choice but their view of truth and not accessible to questioning.  On the other side are those who a) didn’t have it pounded into their heads as strongly, and b) tend to think more critically and use logic more objectively.  (I’m sure a theist would find these statements severely biased. LOL )

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Posted: 18 June 2012 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t think that belief is a choice.

People may say they choose belief in god, but I think they’re mistaken. Believers believe, and then pick the words they like for it afterwards, IMO.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 05:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I’m not sure why, but there’s a range among people of how we use our reason.  At times we start with a premise and compare it with observad data and probabilities to determine whether we add it to our belief system.  Other times we start with our belief and work backwards to try to develop a “logical” framework to validate our belief.  Some of us use the first system more frequently, but many people use the second system almost exclusively.

Believers, theists, whatever you wish to label them are taught to use the latter, and yes I was one of them. One hymn comes to mind here “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus you must trust and obey”. We were programmed as children to turn off our critical thinking and follow what our parents, guardians, etc. wanted us to think. Take a closer look at cults if you want and example of this thought pattern. With that setting, when we were finally faced with the concept of critical thinking in school we were ready to fit the framework of validation. And now, reading further into Harris And others I wonder if There is a “belief gene”. Any thoughts?


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Posted: 18 June 2012 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Well, is anything really a choice?  wink

This is a timely discussion, as I just read the following piece last week:

When the contemporary secular movement is compared to the gay rights movement, objections are sometimes raised by those who distinguish between the two on biological grounds. Whereas sexual orientation is not a choice, the argument goes, one’s religious outlook is.

The great weight of science indicates that the first part of that argument is correct (i.e., one’s sexual orientation is determined by biology), but the latter part is somewhat misleading and merits scrutiny. After all, though we can choose our religious affiliation, none of us can ultimately choose what we truly believe or don’t believe. I disbelieve in unicorns and I could not choose otherwise, just as I also could not believe, absent new evidence that changes my understanding of geography, that New York is south of Florida.

And:

Thus, although causation is always complex and the specifics are going to vary from one individual to the next, in general we find two interesting patterns with regard to the formation of religious belief and disbelief. That is, the major environmental factor that promotes disbelief (and discourages belief) tends to be accumulated knowledge, whereas the most significant environmental factor in promoting belief (and discouraging disbelief) tends to be family and social indoctrination.

And:

Thus, while sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, we should realize that neither are one’s sincerely held beliefs about divinities. One can hide or misrepresent one’s real beliefs, but one cannot change those beliefs on command.

Full article (worth a read): Disbelief Is Not a Choice (Psychology Today)

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Posted: 18 June 2012 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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FreeInKy - 18 June 2012 06:55 AM

Well, is anything really a choice?  wink

Yes, unless by real choice, you mean unreal choice (the magical could do otherwise in the actual situation kind)

Thus, while sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, we should realize that neither are one’s sincerely held beliefs about divinities. One can hide or misrepresent one’s real beliefs, but one cannot change those beliefs on command.

What the author appears to be saying is that for beliefs to be a choice you would need to be able to change them on command.

Stephen

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Posted: 18 June 2012 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Interestingly, we can see that in many ways believers don’t really choose either, but when we consider theistic beliefs we see different causal environmental factors at work. Early childhood indoctrination by family, for example, is a key environmental factor that promotes such beliefs in many, as is the pro-religion conditioning that one receives from the community and broader society. Even if the overt promotion of religiosity by society is mild (which usually isn’t the case in much of America), prevailing social views that disapprove of open disbelief will often discourage serious exploration of secularity

My point exactly, and religiosity is attached to societal conditions in many ways. Ex. when I first started teaching one of the first questions the supertindent asked me was what church I attended as a matter of course. This was in 1971 and I was a Methodist at the time, a nice middle of rthe road protestant religious belief. I couldn’t imagine the horror that he would have experienced had I said “I’m an atheist and I think all religions should be treated as myth and legend”. Probably wouldn’t have gotten the job!


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Posted: 18 June 2012 08:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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If belief or unbelief is not a choice, if we really don’t have free will, then I have to wonder why it is we even bother investing so much effort in a debate at all? Why try to convince somebody…anybody at all….that “I’m Right, You’re Mistaken, And Here’s The Proof” when we believe there’s no chance of the person we’re debating being persuaded in the first place?

Just something to think about. You are as free to be persuaded or as unpersuaded as you like.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 08:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 18 June 2012 08:09 AM

If belief or unbelief is not a choice, if we really don’t have free will, then I have to wonder why it is we even bother investing so much effort in a debate at all?

Well, you really don’t have a choice not to bother to debate, do you?  wink

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Posted: 18 June 2012 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s also interesting to ask how do we know someone believes as they say they do (i.e. have they really chosen to believe X).  My favorite is these bumper stickers you see “Jesus is my co-pilot”. I want to ask that person, if you truly believe that, let go of the steering wheel the next time you’re on the expressway.  You’ll be able to tell right away whether or not they believe.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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ExMachina - 17 June 2012 09:41 PM

I recently have seen the movie Prometheus, and one of the major ideas that it was trying to impress on the viewer was that the protagonist chose her beliefs in God/Christianity. This has been something that I have been arguing (in my mind) against for a while now. I figured it would be a good idea to bring it up to the CFI boards and see what others thought just in case I might be missing something. I’m not sure if my question is too ambiguous, so I’ll clarify by saying belief in the sense of what we believe to be true or untrue.

ie.

“I believe/do not believe a God exists”
“I believe/do not believe UFO’s exist”
“I believe/do not believe Chupacabra exists”

Please give your answer and an explanation as to why. Any input regarding this question would be appreciated.

One cannot choose to believe, any more than one can choose to desire. Belief is forced upon one by how one views the world. What one can do is to expose oneself to evidence for ‘the other side’. One can also mouth words such as, “I believe!” when really one does not. But that isn’t the same as believing; it’s just acting hypocritically.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 10:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Well said, Doug. It reminds me of one of my favorite Thomas Paine quotes:

Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I think a bit of confusion among the posts is that some are thinking of choice as immediate and others as long term.  I agree that I and probably almost all people can’t say in one paragraph, “I have my belief system about the existence of a giod.  Whoops, I’ve changed my mind.  Now I believe just the opposite.”

However, as we’ve seen in the biographies of many of the members here, quite a few of them started out believing in a god, but over time and with additional information, experience, and analysis they changed from theist to atheist. 

One may not be able to choose one’s beliefs instantly, but many can over time.  We also see that in those who were once strong Democrats and are now Republicans and the reverse.

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Posted: 18 June 2012 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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This is why the free will discussion will never die…

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Posted: 18 June 2012 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Of course, one reason for that is that Doug is a merciful god.  Were I to occupy that position rather than being stuck as one of the minor Jesus Christs, I’d be vengeful and have struck it down with a bolt of lightning long ago.  LOL

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