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?