Can we choose what we believe or disbelieve?
Posted: 10 August 2007 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This question came to me in the context of a theism vs. atheism discussion but I’m interested in it in a broader sense.  How much control do we really have over our beliefs?  I suspect that most of our beliefs are formed unconsciously through a variety of biological and cultural forces.  It is rare that we have a defining or life-changing experience that suddenly changes a belief.

Now let me be clear that I wish to avoid devolving into a free will vs. determinism debate.  Even I as a determinist acknowledge an everyday ordinary experience of choosing.  I can say that I am choosing what I will have for lunch today even though it seems to conflict with my foundational philosophy.  Beliefs seem to escape even that definition of choice.

In discussing and examining my atheism I see that I’ve accumulated many arguments that bolster my position.  I can’t say that any one or group of them caused me to become an atheist.  It seems more likely that I’ve accumulated those arguments because they appeal to me on some deeper level.  I don’t recall ever having a conscious moment where I intentionally selected atheism.  (Though there are quite a few moments where I seem to have chosen what to do about being atheistic.)  I imagine that theists have a similar experience.

This isn’t just about the great questions of existence.  Do you believe that a bridge collapsed recently in Minneapolis killing several commuters?  Did you choose to believe that?  Could you have just as easily chosen to disbelieve it? How many of our beliefs can we say are consciously, intentionally chosen?  Can they be changed as with the flip of a switch?  I don’t believe so.  Can you change my mind?

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Posted: 10 August 2007 10:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’ll bite.

No, we cannot choose to believe or disbelieve.

What we can do is to choose to put ourselves into positions where we may end up believing. If I wanted to believe in god, I could choose to go to church every Sunday, or to enroll in a theological seminary. That might convince me that god existed. (I doubt it would, but it might).

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think we can influence our own beliefs deliberately and, for want of a better word, unconsciously to a great extent. As the Franciscans say, “act as if you have faith and faith will come.” I think we can choose to ignore evidence and deny conflict in order to persist in a belief. Now is any belief aver 100% solid, without doubt or question? Probably not. So in that sense we don’t choose whether or not we doubt our beliefs. But we’re remarkably good at maintaining internally consistent, complex sets of ideas bout things despite overwhelming reasons to stop believing in them.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Now what sort of argument can we have here if the two of you insist on saying things I agree with?

wink

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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the PC apeman - 10 August 2007 11:08 AM

Now what sort of argument can we have here if the two of you insist on saying things I agree with?

wink

ok, ill play along:

yes, you most certainly can choose what you believe. just like you can choose NOT to be gay.

if you accept Jesus you can move mountains

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“truthaddict” date=“1186785386]
ok, ill play along:

yes, you most certainly can choose what you believe. just like you can choose NOT to be gay.

if you accept Jesus you can move mountains

Funny you should mention that.  I came to terms with my atheism in my mid-teens and came out as gay when I was 19.  I’m 43 now and both conclusions strike me as unchosen.  I do recall choosing how I dealt with them.

Other than the self-brainwashing described above, what would an intentional conscious acceptance of Jesus be like?  I can’t imagine such a flipping of a switch.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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the PC apeman - 10 August 2007 11:48 AM

what would an intentional conscious acceptance of Jesus be like?  I can’t imagine such a flipping of a switch.

it would go like this: Phew, I narrowly avoided the Inquisition!

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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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truthaddict - 10 August 2007 12:15 PM

it would go like this: Phew, I narrowly avoided the Inquisition!

Heh. Yeah, on a much smaller scale, I can recall a few times where I “butched it up a bit” or chose my pronouns carefully to avoid potential confrontations.  But I didn’t suddenly become straight in my mind.  I doubt those unfortunate victims suddenly truly believed in the divinity of Jesus either - no matter how much they may have wanted to.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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no one REALLY believes in Jesus. If they did they wouldnt need the threat of eternal damnation!

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Posted: 09 September 2007 09:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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The onthological proof of the ability to believe because we want to :

We have the idea of believing because we want to.
We can use this idea to turn itself into existance, by believing it, because we want to.

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Posted: 09 September 2007 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 10 August 2007 10:49 AM

I’ll bite.

No, we cannot choose to believe or disbelieve.

What we can do is to choose to put ourselves into positions where we may end up believing. If I wanted to believe in god, I could choose to go to church every Sunday, or to enroll in a theological seminary. That might convince me that god existed. (I doubt it would, but it might).

I have to agree with Doug to some extent, because I have chosen not to read the books of the Evangelical Fundamentalists, but I have chosen to read books of those like Spong, Price, Dawkins, Harris, and alike.  Yet at the same time, the religious extremists have never made any sense to me, even though I was raised among them.  I was also raised among non-believers too.  There was a constant battle between the two and it turned me off towards religion.  However, I have also seen the emotional and mental tragedies that occur due to religion too, which has turned me off even more.  How can one accept the religious view point when they see relatives become mentally ill and commit suicide based on irrational religious grounds?  How can one accept religion when they see religious views tied into people’s mental illnesses?  How can one accept religion when they see someone become physically ill due in part to those views?

I have seen very few non-religious people become mentally ill or if they do, there is no crazy religious ideology tied into it.  More often than not, I have seen the less religion and non-religious have less physical and mental health issues, unless it was tied into age or genetics.

However, I am not so nieve to think that there are no non-religious people who don’t have physical or mental health issues.  I’m sure there are some, but from what I’ve seen, the worst of religion comes out of those who become depressed or what have you.  Why would anyone chose to believe the fairy tales of religious texts and dogma when so much cruelty to self and others comes out of it?  Personally, I rather make my “god” love, compassion, inner drive, and reason.  Yes, I know, these are things of being human and not a supernatural god or even a god, but in reality, we choose our god(s)- be they natural or supernatural- and we choose to call them god(s) or not.

After that, we associate with those who view the world as we do or close to it and avoid those who would try hard to change our world views.

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Posted: 09 September 2007 09:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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You can choose to believe in this way:

If you see a really good sleight of hand magician do something impossible with a deck of cards, you can choose to believe that it is a trick, and that it is not magic.  The empirical evidence may be to the contrary, but reason tells you what to believe.

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Posted: 10 September 2007 05:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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And the reverse is true. Unless someone can come up with proof that no religionsits actually believes what they do about gods, and that every single one of them is lying, then there are people who willingly ignore proof of their senses, logical arguments and/or compassion for innocents. Some people not only willingly ignore those things, but often argue against their value as ways to determine the truth or falsity of an idea.

People choose what they believe whenever they turn on the TV or watch a movie or a play or read a novel. It’s called “suspension of disbelief.” There is no way any kind of fiction would be tolerated without it. If you want to see a very clear example of the difference between those who choose to suspend their disbelief and those who do not, go find a discussion on the internet between people who like Star Trek and the spinoffs and people who don’t.

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Posted: 11 September 2007 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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are these two unrelated questions - can we choose what we believe, and can we choose what we disbelieve, or one?

If we choose what we believe, does it mean that we can choose to believe “not X”, and therefore to disbelieve it? Is disbelieving X equal to believing “not X” from a psychological point of view (not from a strictly logical ? )

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Posted: 18 September 2007 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Hi Apeman,

I think the question do we choose our beliefs is a fascinating question.

I think we often consider various options and settle on one.

You could say I choose to be an agnostic as I hear all the arguments for and against God, favour all those against…....................and yet? I won’t go into the and yet but if the and yet didn’t exist, I would be an atheist. And if the and yet was strong enough, I’d be a theist.

So if considering all the options and settling on one isn’t choosing (I’m not certain it isn’t) then we need another ingredient to make something a choice.

The ingredient seems to be, we need to be able to select another option, if we want to.

I’ve heard people say they want to believe but can’t.

What interests me is what the word want means? I mean I think if somebody was willing to believe something without evidence they could, couldn’t they?

and I think if you are an atheist it is your favoured option overall isn’t it?

So what It seems like, is what I’m willing to believe and what I want to believe are different things.

Stephen

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Posted: 18 September 2007 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Being a hard determinist, I feel that our conditioning determines what we believe.

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