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ninjacolin's avatar

Is belief (or disbelief) in God even a choice?

Asked by ninjacolin (14243points) August 12th, 2013
117 responses
“Great Question” (4points)

There won’t be any spoilers here from me but I just watched Promethus again for the second time. In the movie there’s a line where a scientist (who happens to be Christian) is asked why she believes her long range scans and theories will prove accurate. Her response was: “That is what I choose to believe.”

I also read a comment in another thread that said: “Humans do not have the answer whether God actually exists or not, until then just pick what you believe ”

However, I call bull**** on both of these claims.

You can’t choose to believe in a thing or not, can you? For example, if you are a theist, can you simply choose not to believe in God on a whim? I doubt you can. Or if you happen to be atheist or agnostic, do you have the power to choose to believe in God on a whim?

Why do people (including the writers of various holy books) assume that it is a choice whether or not they believe?

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ragingloli's avatar

It takes massive talent in self delusion to simply decide to believe something.
Also, I wanted that “scientist” to be the first to die.

cazzie's avatar

I may anger some people, but Promethus was a dumb movie for that very reason.

Humans are not rational beings. Your premise seems to conclude that they are rational and simply select one path and go for it, but that is over simplification of how they develop as people, cultures and societies.

Belief systems can be highly illogical but so strongly held that people willingly put themselves in harms way to defend them and even kill themselves to prove their point. Simply NOT rational. I’m so glad I’m not human.

zenvelo's avatar

I think you’re overstating the process of “choose.” It’s not like flipping a coin and if it’s heads you’ll believe in God.

You have a choice as to which things demonstrate one belief or another, and how you construct your own internal belief system to arrive at a conclusion. But there is choice involved in how you interpret the world. And people choose how subsequent events will fit into that system or not. So there is choice, and the verb to describe the act of accepting a choice is “to choose.”

And, basing a philosophical process from a lousy movie script is not a strong intellectual argument.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Of course it’s a choice, like any other voluntary pursuit.

Belief in a being larger than ones-self is probably the most fundamental choice that a person has.

(note: I never saw Prometheus, so the move references are lost on me).

I have my own personal, strong reasons for choosing not to believe in God. They are my reasons and my choice.

JLeslie's avatar

It is a choice. I don’t see why someone would not see it that way. Belief is a personal thing, we can choose to believe whatever we want. I chose to believe something about my health (I won’t go into the details here) when supposedly medical science was saying there was no proof for my claim. I chose to deny the doctors and have faith in what I believed was evidence in my observation from my body.

Kropotkin's avatar

I think the irony in this is that the conviction in the power and independence of one’s volition is itself a belief that isn’t a choice.

For something like a belief in god or any other religious belief, there is almost always years of exposure to those very ideas, which is why we see beliefs cluster geographically. Could one of the supposed choice proponents explain why children grow up to often “choose” the exact same beliefs of their parents and community?

I think this idea of choice, and it extends to related concepts like “personal responsibility” and all its political connotations, is itself at least partly determined by a culture where the Christian concept of free-will is prevalent. I think there are other spin-offs from this, like the self-help culture and PMA.

In conclusion. No. It’s not a choice. And the belief that it is a choice is also not a choice. Am I certain and dogmatic about this? Not remotely, but it’s my belief and I’ve reached it because of the information I’ve been exposed to, and my own cognitive processes making sense of it to a conclusion I think is logical. I am basically compelled by the evidence and the mode of my own thinking to believe that it is not a choice, just as I am compelled to be an atheist, and all the other philosophical, economic, and political perspectives I adhere to.

Seek's avatar

I think belief is ingrained early, and once one has the capacity to make a leap of faith, they are able to make choices as to which faith. Those choices are usually made emotionally, as evidenced by the right billion times a person of one religon has argued against another that their dear sweet grandmother couldn’t possibly be in hell.

On the other hand, it’s really hard to go from disbelief to belief. I mean, once you start demanding evidence, its unlikely you’re going to stop.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr – yes, it’s those of us who demand those damned facts in order to prove assertions. We’re the real problem.

In a world without facts, well, you can believe the most ridiculous things. Such as: the world was created 6420 years ago….

KNOWITALL's avatar

Of course it’s a choice! I was raised in church by believers, to believe in God. As a teen, my mother stopped church and started at bars, so it was more a secular time in my life. I was around a lot of bad people doing bad things A LOT, and I didn’t like it. Some time in my life, the difference between good and bad was clearly defined, so I knew the way we were living was ‘wrong’.

Later, when I started asking questions and studying other religions and belief systems, I realized that for me, the stability & love I lacked at home was easily found in church and the chaos & confusion disappeared. I feel I’m a better person with God in my life.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@KNOWITALL – was the difference between good and bad defined by religion? Or by something else? In other words, did you need religion to know right and wrong?

Seek's avatar

I spend lots of time in bars, and I’m a WAY better person now than I was when I was in church 5 days a week. Just saying.

Coloma's avatar

Of course it’s a choice, just as it is a choice to educate oneself or to choose to remain ignorant.’
Those that cling unquestioningly to bizarre belief systems, without challenging those beleifs not only choose to do so, but they also choose to remain ignorant.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@elbanditoroso No, but it was obvious in bars and elsewhere that people weren’t interested in leading a Godly life. One of the bartenders tried to be my first lover at age 13, I was fondled by old drunks every time mom turned her back. I saw a lot of bad stuff that I don’t necessarily care to describe in detail, but basically I learned people are NOT innately good, and DO NOT always choose to do the right thing when given a choice. Even if they call themselves Christians.

@Seek_Kolinahr You’re an adult, and that’s your choice. What would be interesting is to ask yourself how many of those people you’d trust to watch your child without you being present. Are they really good people or are they really good people to party with?

ucme's avatar

I’m fundamentally atheist, but I choose to paint myself as agnostic because it’s a con trick & I figure if there is a god, he’s almost certainly gullible enough to fall for it.

Seek's avatar

Many of them, love. What kind of a question is that? Are you implying that people who patronize establishments that sell alcohol are all irresponsible, all child molesters, or what?

Mariah's avatar

I’m surprised so many think it is a choice. I definitely don’t. I would love to be a believer – to feel that comfort that something benevolent and powerful is looking after my life – but I can’t. It simply doesn’t make sense to my brain.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah Interesting point. Supposedly there is a God center in the brain. Some of us just don’t have a very active one I guess. Which begs the question is God real, or is believing just all in our minds.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I’m saying that alcohol, as with any drug, can dispose of inhibitions and blur the lines between right and wrong. I’ve seen weapons/fights, drug deals, sex (of several varieties), people laying in their own fluids incoherent, all kinds of things that are distrurbing.

I’ve met really great people in bars, as well, and some of them are still my friends today.

All I’m saying, is that in my life, I was exposed to a lot of bad things and bad people, and instead of making me bad, or do bad things, I clung to the safety and security of my Heavenly Father. I truly believe that I made a conscous choice to remain on the righteous path due to a lot of what I went through.

cazzie's avatar

So, we know why @KNOWITALL ‘chooses’ to believe. Without it, she would feel lost and tempted into an immoral life. I hope @KNOWITALL keeps going to church. ? I don’t think it is that simple. (sorry, I was being sarcastic) I think she went through something in her life at some point that led her on a particular trajectory, probably through a slow process and several choices. I don’t think it is a ‘zero’ and ‘one’ exercise either.

DominicX's avatar

Hmm…what’s the usual stock answer when people ask about “choices”: “I guess it can be for some people”?

I agree with the people who are saying that it’s no coincidence that people “choose” the same religion they’re raised with. I think in that case, the belief is ingrained into them and it’s not really a choice. However, things can happen later in life that may cause them to lose their belief (and possibly form a belief in a different god or religion), but again, that’s not really a choice. I think some people are more inclined to believe in a higher power and some people are not. It would be difficult to just say “today, I’m going to believe in God”. You have to want to and something in your life has to convince you. It’s not enough to just say the words. It’s part of the reason I think Pascal’s wager is such bullshit.

Seek's avatar

@knowitall – well, rest assured that I’m not friends with assholes.

flutherother's avatar

Do I have a choice in how I answer this question?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@cazzie I don’t attend church and haven’t for over a decade. :) God, the Church and His followers are all seperate choices.

What you may not understand is that I did get bad and immoral, and I had a lot of fun, and I did some bad things that scared me. When it came down to doing what a WP gang wanted me to do, I had a choice to make and I chose to do what God wanted, and I’m pretty sure it saved my life.

@Seek_Kolinahr Of course not.

cazzie's avatar

I was raised by believers too. I was taught the prayers. I also went through some tough times and I looked at religion. I really did, but it didn’t answer my questions. I looked at it rationally. Perhaps that was the stumbling block. I don’t think all things moral or right come from some supernatural power. I think we know when we are doing something wrong, regardless of some idea of a paternal superpower in the sky is looking down on me. I don’t think that was a choice. If I decided to change my choice, like my brand of toilet paper, tomorrow, I could NOT believe in a god as a real thing or that the bible is some sort of holy sacred book written by men he spoke to. Not going to happen. So, for me… not a choice. Simply is me.

OpryLeigh's avatar

I didn’t choose to believe in God, I just do. I was not raised to be religious, I didn’t go to church regularly and I don’t follow the Bible to the word. My faith isn’t always strong and sometimes I would like to be an atheist or at least more agnostic than I am (because I can understand why so many don’t believe and, being a lover of nature and science, believing in a God doesn’t make sense) but even if I say I don’t believe, in my heart, I do and I couldn’t tell you why.

Sunny2's avatar

I was a believer, tryng to live a godly Presbyterian life. Because I got engaged to a Catholic man, I took instructions in Catholicism and found all the rules I’d made for myself on a list in a book. Great! When the engagement was broke by my fiance, I was heartbroken. Here I was following “God’s” will (as I saw it) and I was miserable. I decided that if I made my own decisions I’d be better off. So I stopped believing. Then I grew up.

kess's avatar

All existence is incorporated with the concept and Idea of God.
so by this the very fact of existence reveals the reality of who God is.
So where does unbelief comes from?

Existence itself by the law of absolute freedom ( freedom to any and all to do what so ever they will).

The nature of man causes him to perceive the operatives which constitutes all existence. They are Light and dark the ultimate of all contrast.

And because of this it might appear as if unbelief is a choice. But it is not…
Meaning that the unbeliever makes choices but not the choice of unbelief.

The unbeliever can only make choices only within that which he is…And what he sees existence to be determine what he himself is.
So if ultimately all is darkness, then he would make the choices within that spectrum for exactly so he himself is.

These are the ones who insist that others should do the right thing, inferring of course that they are also well capable of doing the wrong thing as they themselves frequently find themselves doing.

Those who see all existence as light, will operate with the same nature as light/existence is…

Which would mean they would allow freedom to any and all to do what soever they will as they see. Knowing fully well that they are incapable of doing any wrong thing, for in the end despite and because of every single choice made Light will always be the ultimate reality.

These do not operate with the rule of right and wrong, but are fully confident that all they actions would flow from that which they see within themselves and that is Light of which there is no darkness.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think it is. I know it doesn’t feel like it is, to many.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@kess, that’s your theology, not mine. From your first sentence—“all existence is incorporated with the concept and idea of god”—you say that as if it were true.

I object and disagree, because I cannot buy the assertion that there is some benevolent (or maybe not so benevolent) overseer that has been making my rules since I was born.

Since everything else you wrote follow from your initial assertion, I can’t buy into that either.

If that theology works for you and gives you comfort, good for you. But that certainly doesn’t make it true, and that also doesn’t mean that others buy into it.

cazzie's avatar

and @kess is going for the ‘Amen!’ Sorry dude.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I think that @kess makes sense, seen from that perspective. I don’t know if I agree, but I do understand.

tom_g's avatar

Wait – what? Belief is a choice?

So, I can choose to believe that a god exists right now? How exactly do I go about doing this?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Oh sorry, we Christians have been asked repeatedly not to TRY to convert anyone here, so if you need to know anything like that, you may have to ask via PM. ;)

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL – I’m addressing this to everyone – atheists included – who have surprised me with this “belief is a choice” thing. If it’s a choice, than someone should be able to demonstrate how this is possible.

Also, for the record – I have never asked anyone to not try to convert me. I am always open to new evidence.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Leanne1986‘s answer caught my eye “I didn’t choose to believe in God, I just do.” When you are taught something from a very, very young age, beyond your memory, you don’t really have a “choice” whether to believe it or not. An adult presents it as a fact and you just accept it without question. The idea of “choice” doesn’t kick in until your brain matures. At that point, however, you firmly “believe” certain things that you have been told as though they were a hard fact, like you need air to breath.

I believed in God without question until forums such as Wisdm and Fluther really caused me to think. I honestly didn’t want to change my mind, because my belief was such a source of comfort but…I had a choice to make at some point. A “choice” couldn’t have made as a 2 year old.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@KNOWITALL No! I want to know how I can just “choose” to believe in God again too!

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’ll answer you, @Dutchess_III. The voluntarist school of thought argues that belief is a matter of will: we have control over what we believe much in the way we have control over our actions. Theists often seem to be voluntarists and Christians in particular commonly argue the voluntarist position.

In other words, just drop to your knees and invite God into your life again.

Stephen King on God:
I choose to believe it. … I mean, there’s no downside to that. If you say, “Well, OK, I don’t believe in God. There’s no evidence of God,” then you’re missing the stars in the sky and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, “Well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar,” and you have to wonder about that guy’s personality — the big guy’s personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I’m saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I’m totally inconsistent.

ragingloli's avatar

And stephen king is missing all the killing and maiming that goes on in the wild, and all the parasites that feed on little children’s eyeballs.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t know @KNOWITALL. I don’t know that I can just believe any more than I can just choose to believe that I’m really invisible. I just can’t choose to believe something that I don’t think is true. Please don’t take this as insulting. I have the utmost respect for you and your beliefs.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL – Stephen King is wrong about a lot of things in that quote. But the relevant one seems to be about this question. He doesn’t explain how he has chosen anything. He is convinced because the evidence (as he sees it) supports the claim. He accepts the claim based on the knowledge he has. So now that the evidence (in his mind) is pointing to the existence of a god, is he capable of choosing to not believe? How exactly would that work?

@KNOWITALL: “In other words, just drop to your knees and invite God into your life again.”

If this is the method for “choosing” belief, it’s rather odd. It starts with the assumption that a god exists. Also, it’s not an effective method for non believers.

Anyway, do you choose to believe? In other words, are you choosing to believe in a god despite the fact that the evidence and logic say otherwise, or do you simply see the evidence supporting the claim and accept the evidence? I would imagine that you would say that you see the evidence supporting the claim that a god exists, therefore you accept it. Right?

And atheists who claim it’s a choice. Please, tell me how this is remotely possible. When did you choose, and how exactly did that work? How can I choose to be a believer?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@tom_g – I can answer about how I chose NOT to believe. But that probably isn’t what you want to hear.

tom_g's avatar

@elbanditoroso – I would love to hear that – because it would show me that choice was involved. It would necessarily show me how you could have chosen to believe.

EDIT: I’m not talking about specific arguments for or against the existence of god. I’m talking about the concept of belief itself, and whether or not we choose our beliefs.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Dutchess_III I’m not insulted in the least, honey. :)

@tom_g Logic and/or hard science would prove that God doesn’t exist right? Evidence of my own personal experiences, finally, proved to me that He does more than any words from any preacher or the stories in the Bible.

But I had to make the conscious choice to search, to be open to Him, and to learn about God & other religions to help me understand a broader view. This happened in my late teens and again in my mid-30’s, a kind of spiritual re-awakening.

tom_g's avatar

So, @KNOWITALL – you chose to go on a quest. You chose what your standards for evidence are. When you “found” god, did you then choose whether or not to believe it it? What I am saying is that I find it an odd use of the word “choose” to simply describe that you accept a claim. (Others seem to be using this interpretation as well.)

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g Yes, I did choose to go on a quest for spiritual truth, I was raised by a hippy for goodness sakes. Question everything.

I’m one of those people that have to see for myself the proof of God’s existance, I’m not taking anyone’s word for it.

I’m from the Show-Me State, we don’t generally take anyone’s word on anything – lol

Someone found it odd that I used the word ‘devolve’ the other day on fluther and yet I heard it used this weekend by a broadcast journalist. People are sometimes just wrong.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@tom_g I’ll say again…The things we believe, without question, are things we are taught before we even have memory. Those are not choices at that age. Not until after we have matured physically and mentally to learn to rationalize for ourselves do we make choices whether to continue believing or not. Two year olds don’t rationalize well.

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL“I’m one of those people that have to see for myself the proof of God’s existance, I’m not taking anyone’s word for it.”

So, seeing the proof yourself, how could you possibly choose not to believe? I can’t choose to not believe in the existence of my right hand.

I could be completely wrong here, I’ll admit. I just never thought of belief as something we choose. It seems to fundamentally change either the concept of belief or the concept of choice.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g I didn’t believe until I opened myself to the possiblity of His existance. If you’re forever questioning like me, you’re bound to find a few answers, one way or the other.

If you sit pontificating the existance of rain in the desert, you may not ever believe in rain, but if you actively seek a place where it rains, you’ll find the proof of rain’s existance. Then you can decide if you require more proof than the water leaking from the sky.

I hope that analogy makes sense. You can seek God and find Him if you choose to.

ragingloli's avatar

So, which of the 3000 gods do you believe in?

tom_g's avatar

@KNOWITALL – I know we’re being repetitive here, but I appreciate your patience.

@KNOWITALL: “You can seek God and find Him if you choose to.”

To be clear, I’m talking about belief in anything – not specifically about a god or gods. But when you say that you can find him if you choose to, does that mean that this applies to anything? You haven’t answered my question about whether you could choose to not believe now that you’ve found Him. Also, you are aware that many of us nonbelievers are former believers (heck, you’re talking to a former alter boy)? And I have also spent more time than is healthy searching for this god, yet I have not found him.

Anyway, I am not sure we’re going to see eye-to-eye on this. I am not entirely sure we’re in much disagreement, to be honest. This all might be semantics. Or it could be an important distinction to make. I don’t know. I’m getting dizzy.

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin I think there is a great big straw man hiding in your question. I do not think anybody with a grain of common sense claims that people just choose to believe or disbelieve on a mere whim. We also clearly don’t all choose to believe in the actual creator of the Universe, because people in various cultures mostly believe in the god or gods their culture holds to be true, and most of these gods claim that they are the one and only god or gods, and that the whole lot of the others are human inventions with no basis in fact. Indeed, many gods claim that believing in any but them is heresy; and that they will torture your soul eternally for making such an error, even though it was they, if their claims of omnipotence can be believed; that chose to plop the believer down in a nation where they would be exposed to a false god and grow up believing in heresy.

One doesn’t change beliefs on a whim, but those with healthy skepticism do change beliefs on strong evidence. Only ideologues are utterly immune to evidence.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@tom_g No problem. I’m not very patient actually, so it is taking a little

The Bible actually specifies “See and ye shall find” in regards to God I believe, I’d have to look it up to be sure.

I couldn’t choose not to believe at this point, but I could turn my back on God and all that He stands for. A lot of people blame God for any and all bad things that happen in the world, which is how they justify rejecting Him.

Sure, I understand perfectly that a lot of people seek and do not find. I’m not sure why that is or why it happens, but I’ve seen it myself quite often.

My aunt was going to school to be a missionary, then she was raped on her way to night school and since that point in time, she has completely rejected God. It happens all the time. If you ever want to chat, you can PM anytime. :)

Rarebear's avatar

I hated Promethius. One of the worst overhyped movies ever.

Paradox25's avatar

I’m not into using strawman arguments for a god/s, which is why I feel arguing for its existence is futile at our current point in time. I’ve changed my views on this topic over the years. It’s just like when I knew a Christian who had dumped their religion altogether, or when an atheist that I knew converted to Christianity. It’s also not rare to read about a former atheist turn theist/spiritual after a near death experience. I’ve seen former hardcore sceptics change their views on some topics too.

Personally I’m on the side that fundamental disbelief is just as bad as fundamental belief. I really do feel that people, whether they’re an atheist or a theist, vary in the reasons for their beliefs/nonbeliefs.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Paradox25 Exactly, well said. We all evolve & change at our own pace and for our own reasons.

ninjacolin's avatar

I’ve read all your comments guys. Thank you, let me know if I missed anything.

@cazzie What makes you think we aren’t rational? I’ve never performed an irrational action and I doubt you have either. You seem to be equating “Rational” with “Omniscient” and I don’t think that’s fair. Rational just means you do the best with what you have. It doesn’t require you to be right. It only requires that you be convinced.

@zenvelo, it’s not just a lousy movie script.. You’re accusing the writer of freely choosing to write something lousy. You think they spent all that money to achieve lousiness? I don’t think you were paying attention. The suggestion of that line was based on a very popular notion that I hope you’ve seen throughout this thread: People think they have the freedom to choose their beliefs. They think this makes perfect sense! Don’t shoot the messenger here. I’m not happy about it either.

@elbanditoroso I rather prefer to think of “Choice” as a phenomenon that occurs. Not a thing an individual is responsible for. Choices are better understood, in my mind, as the story of how a decision came about. The whole path that lead to it in the causal order. For example: @JLeslie‘s choice in health is caused by her personal experience and memories of her body and medical science or lack thereof. The whole of @JLeslie‘s education and personal history has brought her to this point where she has no choice but to reject the conclusions of her doctors. Her actions are coerced by her conviction was is built out of her memories and experiences. (JLeslie, sorry to speak in 3rd person about you like that but i thought it would be stylistic, would love to know your thoughts on my summary)

@Kropotkin I am compelled to believe that we are on the same page. It’s not a thing I purposely choose to believe. It’s more of an observation.

@Seek_Kolinahr I think science has belief down to a science: We believe based on the weight of the evidence we have observed. Fallacy and lack of evidence, however, tips the scales between people and as a result we end up believing different things. Sometimes slightly different.. sometimes very different.

@Coloma you might enjoy today’s ted talk on Willful Blindness.. however, I don’t agree with you. I don’t believe that people make wrong decisions about their beliefs and behaviors on purpose, ever. I believe people make wrong decisions only ever by accident, as a result of fallacy or mistake. Decisions to remain ignorant, for example, who would do that if they believed that it would benefit them to become educated? The problem is that they don’t believe that it will benefit them, and so they decide to do something that they believe will benefit them.

@Mariah hi-5
@DominicX also hi-5

@flutherother I don’t believe you do, no… sorry..

@Leanne1986, thank you for your comment. Very honest and straightforward. I would say you’re in a state of belief while I’m in a state of disbelief. And I don’t think it’s either of our faults and I don’t think we have any control over it. I think it’s possible that one day we might share opposite opinions and there’s nothing we can do about it.

@kess i always have a hard time understanding what you’re trying to say.

@tom_g crazy huh?!

@Dutchess_III.. I would suggest that maybe you had no choice but to stop believing.

@ETpro, I hope you too have had a chance to examine the different responses in this thread and I hope you can see that I’m not making this up. What you consider a strawman and/or an over simplification is exactly what I’m addressing.. but that strawman exists in the minds of many. It’s not my invention.

@ninjacolin says: I think to believe is to be convinced and the free will concept of believing on demand is an impossible ideal that can never actually be realized and which no one can ever meaningfully judge you for.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Of course I had a choice. I could choose to ignore what, to me, became obvious. People do it all the time. I chose not to ignore the obvious. It was my choice.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Dutchess_III hearsay. Prove it.
I don’t think you can choose to ignore the things you’ve learned.
I really think believing has become literally impossible for you in your current state of knowledge. Feel free to demonstrate otherwise.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What? Hearsay? What? Of course you can choose to ignore the things you’ve learned! People do it all the time. I guess I don’t understand what you’re driving at.

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin No need to apologize. I actually went back and forth denying my gut instinct and my knowledge I had acquired through experience and education and then sometimes going back to listening to what I believed to be true. It was like at times I submitted to the doctors questioning my own belief, or submitted because challenging them was too anxiety producing. But, submitting also felt like being raped for lack of a better word. I know that sounds dramatic, but it really felt awful. But, the anxiety from challenging them was awful to. I guess maybe we choose whether to acceot what we believe to be true or we don’t. Maybe that is the choice?

I did prove I was right eventually. After years of physical pain and many other complications. I had surgery that showed what I had said all along. Not that it matters for the discussion.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ super cool, @JLeslie! well done.

@Dutchess_III said: “I could choose to ignore what, to me, became obvious. People do it all the time”
No, actually they never do that. Because it’s impossible.
Just like it is impossible for you to choose to ignore everything you’ve learned and just start believing again on a whim.

Others, who you accuse of being so free to decide to agree with you, actually can not. They aren’t faking it. They really don’t believe what you believe and they can’t just snap out of it either. It’s not something any of us seem to have the ability to do.

ninjacolin's avatar

@JLeslie said: “the anxiety from challenging them was awful too. I guess maybe we choose whether to accept what we believe to be true or we don’t. Maybe that is the choice?”

I don’t know, I would say the choice was made by your “knowledge and experience and education” which you seem to have found undeniably compelling. That stuff coerced your actions and however many years went into that knowledge and experience and education.. in essence, all that stuff acted through you as your choice in the matter.

That’s how I would see it.

JLeslie's avatar

@ninjacolin I think it is the same for people who believe in God. They see, they witness, things that reinforce their beliefs. It is proof for them and so they have to believe. Not believing is anxiety producing.

ninjacolin's avatar

Ya! :) I think so too. I don’t think “blind faith” is a real thing. Contrary to @cazzie‘s statement. I think we’re all quite rational but we are all loaded up with different and complex sets of premises that ultimately produce our current opinion. It’s all pretty math to me.

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin I must admit that reading the answers to this does call into question the whole notion of free will. I knew when you posted the question that’s where you were heading with it.

As I have mentioned in the past, I’m agnostic on the question of the existence of free will. All I know for sure is that if it is an illusion, it’s a powerfully compelling one. We will certainly know for sure some day soon. When solid evidence comes along, I will accept it.

Until then, I will live my life and make my decisions as if I do have free will. If I learn that I don’t, I will still live my life and make my decisions as I do now. On that matter, I admit that I have no choice. ;-)

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Dutchess_III I get what you are saying but I haven’t had a religious upbringing and no one has presented God as a fact to me, at least not that I can remember. I have a few family members who believe in God, some who don’t and others who just keep an open mind but it was never really part of my upbringing as I don’t think religious beliefs were a priority for my parents. My brother had a very similar upbringing to me with the same people around him and I don’t think he believes in God (although we don’t talk about it much so maybe it’s just something he keeps on the down low!) I would love to know where my belief (I wouldn’t call it faith as, just because I believe, doesn’t mean I always have faith) comes from and why I find it so hard to believe otherwise.

JLeslie's avatar

This is a great Q. Very thought provoking.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Leanne1986 Well, you live in “Murika so you picked it up one way or another, no matter how directly or indirectly. If you were raised in India or deep in the Congo it would be a different story.

@JLeslie It’s more confusing to me than anything…the insistance that I don’t have a choice. I must be missing something.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Dutchess_III I live in England.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think it is confusing also. That’t the thing, it makes me think, because I feel confused. I’m trying to sort it out.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, same thing, @Leanne1986, as far a religious beliefs. The Pilgrims brought Catholicism with them from England and Spain.

Bill1939's avatar

Conscious choice, like free will, is largely an illusion. We think that we choose to act (or not act), but the actual mechanism of choice occurs before it reaches the frontal lobes and one becomes conscious of the fact. Instinctual predilections, modified by experience both through one’s actions and the witnessing of actions by others (courtesy of mirror neurons), make our choices for us. Reflection can increase one’s understanding of the aspects that were part of choices made. This may enable elements of the process to be modified and thus potentially change the outcome of similar unconscious choosing in the future, which I believe is how free will works.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Dutchess_III said: “I must be missing something.”
haha, I think you are kind of missing the point somehow, yes.. but it’s pretty tricky to begin with so I’m probably just not being clear or something.. First of all, I’m not insisting that you don’t have a choice. I mean, I theorize that you don’t have a choice, yes, but I’m not insisting that you accept it. What I am insisting however, is that you volunteer for a scientific experiment. (Not really insisting.. but I would love it if you would)

My biggest assertion being that said experiment should serve as adequate, verifiable scientific evidence for human choices being determined (aka. not freely chosen). For me, it seems to be 100% accurate/relevant Myhtbusters-like experiment that produces a clear as day result:

If you can’t in any instance help whether you believe a premise is true or false then how could it ever be said that you have free will?

@Bill1939 reflections are themselves the products of the events that you are reflecting on and even the kind of brain you happen to be born with. So, technically it’s as if the truly “free” kind of freedom never really comes along at any point. Everything in the past seems to keep causing the future. But I agree that those mechanics, deterministic as they may be, has certainly earned the title “choice” for all intents and purposes. :)

@JLeslie said: “That’s the thing, it makes me think, because I feel confused. ”
haha, would you describe the sensation more as epiphany or paradox?

JLeslie's avatar

Probably a paradox.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Dutchess_III Sorry but I feel that is a poor arguement. Regardless of what happened ijn ancient history, religion is not shoved down our throats like it is in the States. In fact, people (in general) seem to be a lot more private about their religious beliefs over here, at least in my experiences.

JLeslie's avatar

@Leanne1986 It varies depending on the state.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@JLeslie I’m sure it does, sorry, I was generalising. I have been to a few states (mostly in the west and mid areas of America, I am visiting the East and deep south this year) and religion was far more prominent then anything I have experienced in the UK.

JLeslie's avatar

@Leanne1986 I wasn’t bothered by your statement, just pointing out that it does vary. The truth is, since religion has been wrapped so tightly in politics, mainly with the Republicans, and we have preachers on the television talking their talk, Sunday services, daily programs, if you tune into those things it feels like religion is all around us and we are being bombarded. But, growing up, most little kids are not tuned into politics and cartoons are more appealing than watching some old guy talk about God. So, for children it really is about their immediate community and that is what varies a lot around America. At least that is how I see it. For sure some parts of America are very ostentatious about their religion. Humongous crosses seen from a half mile away, religious language strewn through their speech, everything they do recvolves around the church. But, many places it is nothing like that even if the people do indeed attend church. Their religion is for them personally.

Bill1939's avatar

@ninjacolin, I agree that the very process of reflection depends upon a continuum of one’s experiences, and that in any given moment one is not ‘free’ to make choices consciously. Were it not for sentience (the ability to remember one’s past and imagine a potential future) all behavior would be determined.

One can consider a robot’s actions in a factory’s automated assembly line, where it ‘observes’ and ‘selects’ appropriate operations (such as repositioning or rejecting an item), as making a choice. However given the dynamics of the human brain that enables one to ‘reprogram’ their neural connections, compared with the limited extent currently possible for machines, is choice in both instances the same thing? Eventually the evolution of artificial intelligence will so blur this distinction that machines may be seen as having free will and maybe even considered as alive.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@JLeslie I think it is the same for children over here, for the most part, religion is not at the forefront of a child’s mind unless their family are really religious (I don’t know any who are to be honest). In general families seem to be getting less and less religious with each generation and, whilst we still have Songs of Praise on the TV every Sunday, I believe that is more aimed at my Grandparents generation! Yes, you can still find a Sunday service on TV should you choose to but I don’t think I have ever seen it advertised. Every so often I see a religious statement in the form of a cross on someone’s necklace or a sign outside a church saying “Jesus loves you” or something similar but not much more than that.

JLeslie's avatar

@Leanne1986 Well, for sure parts of our country religion is very alived and kids are bombarded with it from their families. Church on Sunday, prayers said every night and before dinner, adults and children attend Sunday school, adults and children go on religious retreats, etc.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie Can you imagine @Leanne1986 in my neck of the woods?!

I’d love to have that on camera, old-time revival, all the old ladies and their food, etc…haha!

OpryLeigh's avatar

@KNOWITALL Hey! If there’s food, I’m there!!!

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL The same state of shock I was in the first time I saw it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Leanne1986 Man, those old ladies can COOK sista!!

I grew up listening to hellfire & damnation preachers and I even got a little scared when he said “And Gawwwwwdddddd….” then he stared right at me ”...she was a PROSTITUTE!”

HAHAHA, my husband and I laughed so hard afterwards (and after the food!) I meant no disrespect, but I hadn’t been to an old-school Baptist church in so long, I forgot what it was like.

JLeslie's avatar

I still can’t believe some Baptists won’t dance. I’ve never seen a 5 year old not wiggle to music. It’s still so foreign to me. My 40 year old girlfriend got flack from her father that she took Zumba class at the gym.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie Oh yeah. Some churches still won’t let women wear pants either- lol

When I go with mom, I just keep my lips zipped, smile and wear a dress, then everything’s fine. That’s why I always say I love God and prayer, etc.., but the rest of it I’m just not so sure about. I just feel so guilty sometimes when I look at all those old ladies who never learn to drive, or never break out and do what they want, always a second class citizen even with their own husband and children, like a slave. It sucks.

Paradox25's avatar

@Bill1939 I have to ask something here: If determinism is true wouldn’t that allow people who commit crimes or harm others to have a viable excuse for their actions?

Mariah's avatar

^ Perhaps an “excuse” in the most philosophical sense, but isn’t an argument against jailing people. We still need to be protected against people who commit crimes regardless of whether it was a “choice” or not.

Seek's avatar

<—didn’t wear pants or cut my hair for 11 years. Didn’t dance at my wedding either. 99% of Pentecostal women end up super fat, because all they’re allowed to do is cook and eat. And exercise is impossible with the clothing restrictions.

bunnyslippers's avatar

I honestly didn’t read every single comment, and I will admit that I’m a very bad christian, but for me belief in God is not a choice. God is real, in order to not step on toes I will add “to me” to that statement, but adding that is just another example of how I’m a bad christian.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t really think you can choose whether you believe or not. Going from belief to disbelief was more of a realization than a choice, for me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@bunnyslippers what, exactly, is a “bad” Christian?

bunnyslippers's avatar

@Dutchess_III it’s really philosophical, I mean technically speaking I have the same qualifications as any other christian, but I don’t actively give testimony to my faith in everyday life, I don’t attend church regularly at the moment.

I’m still a christian, and I still believe in God but I could be doing better. Also it doesn’t help things that I have a juvenile and often perverse sense of humor. So it’s objective, I am a christian, but I wouldn’t call myself a good one, and I definitely don’t think I should be held up as any sort of example. That’s why I call myself a bad christian, it’s not a real definition but a personal conviction that I’ve been doing things wrong lately.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@bunnyslippers Just do what you know is right.

KaY_Jelly's avatar

It was me. It was my quote the OP used about choice. It’s a strong opinion I gave but I have strong opinions.

I said it because I personally went from an atheist to a believer. I was not really hugely brought up in a religious family and in fact God was just deposited into my life through the ramblings of an Anglican preacher which I had no clue what any of it meant just that it happened a total of 3 times.

Then in school I was given a small little red book which was the pocket bible. Which I never tried to read because I got lost on the do, doeth, have, hath, hast, so I remember later on in my teens carefully ripping the pages out to roll the mj’s with and I remember nothing after that but evilness.

I personally did choose to believe. There is one thing I never forgot from church I was told by someone, I don’t remember who, that if I have any questions ask God and then look randomly to the bible and I should find my answer because God apparently speaks to us through His word. It never made sense to me. Well the whole bible never made sense to me anyway but God was persistent.

Hear me out, whether you choose to believe me or not my bible is now filled with post-it markers of points when I and found an answer. I don’t know why it happens, I just randomly open the book and read what I first see.

For example yesterday I was having a problem with envy so I turned to God asked him to help me with that and I opened my bible to:

Ezekiel 31:9–18

9 I made it beautiful with a multitude of branches,So that all the trees of Eden envied it,That were in the garden of God.’
10 “Therefore thus says the LordGod: ‘Because you have increased in height, and it set its top among the thick boughs, and its heart was lifted up in its height,
—11 therefore I will deliver it into the hand of the mighty one of the nations, and he shall surely deal with it; I have driven it out for its wickedness.— 
12 And aliens, the most terrible of the nations, have cut it down and left it; its branches have fallen on the mountains and in all the valleys; its boughs lie broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the peoples of the earth have gone from under its shadow and left it.
13 ‘On its ruin will remain all the birds of the heavens,And all the beasts of the field will come to its branches—
14 ‘So that no trees by the waters may ever again exalt themselves for their height, nor set their tops among the thick boughs, that no tree which drinks water may ever be high enough to reach up to them.‘For they have all been delivered to death,To the depths of the earth,Among the children of men who go down to the Pit.’
15 “Thus says the Lord God: ‘In the day when it went down to hell, I caused mourning. I covered the deep because of it. I restrained its rivers, and the great waters were held back. I caused Lebanon to mourn for it, and all the trees of the field wilted because of it
—16 I made the nations shake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to hell together with those who descend into the Pit; and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the depths of the earth.— 
17 They also went down to hell with it, with those slain by the sword; and those who were its strongarm dwelt in its shadows among the nations.
18 ‘To which of the trees in Eden will you then be likened in glory and greatness? Yet you shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the depths of the earth; you shall lie in the midst of the uncircumcised, with those slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,’ says the Lord God.”

This is where I now believe it’s a personal choice to either choose faith and believe what I have said or choose not to have faith and believe in something else or nothing else.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Bill1939 just to be clear, I wouldn’t say that sentience (the ability to remember one’s past[, reprogram our neural connections] and imagine a potential future) negates behavioral determinism. I do see it as distinctly more complex than computers today.. but still quite determined behavior. So, yea, it’s the same to me but I mean.. humans and chimpanzees are “the same” as living creatures.. still, they merit their distinct titles because of the difference in their complexity. Neurological/sentient decision making and robotic decision making might share similar distinction based on the complexity of their determination but both are still determined, in my opinion. (We probably see this the same way but I felt the need to clarify)

@Paradox25, can I vent a few ideas here? Thanks, you’re toooo kind… Actually, it’s always been apparent to me that the assumption “all behavior is caused and never truly free” implies positive changes are possible in the areas of morality and justice. If we know people behave according to their experience. You can do things to cause them to see life another way. Their first environment conditioned them to form the kinds of conclusions that they do. Well, it would make sense to take a little extra care in the environment you force them into next. You can give convicts life changing experiences.. like an education.

A little more on that in a round about way: Beliefs can’t be chosen in a deterministic universe. So, to picture that, instead of magically choosing what you believe is true or false or uncertain to you, you rather just observe your state of belief instead. Like.. what kind of shirt are you wearing right now?... whatever your answer, your belief about it is being dictated to you by the weight of the evidence you’ve considered. But imagine if your shirt changed to a clown suit. In that case, your belief would just flip from whatever it believed at first to this new clown suit belief. Easier example: heads or tails? Flip a coin. Answer? Now flip it over once.. twice.. three times.. You believe the coin is heads or tails and your belief is converted from belief that heads is up to belief that is not, as many times as the evidence changes before your eyes.

Back on topic: Conversion has always had a scary religious connotation to it but it’s really what prisons need to go for. They need to convert people away from thinking their life of crime is a good idea! They need to become crime-life-atheists of sorts, disbelieving that a life a crime is worth anything of value to them. But according to this deterministic theory, outside of random inspirational chance, they won’t ever have such a belief conversion event without a taxpayer funded cause.

ninjacolin's avatar

Maybe soon we will be able to create a belief in God at the push of a button: Video

Bill1939's avatar

@Paradox25 asked, “If determinism is true wouldn’t that allow people who commit crimes or harm others to have a viable excuse for their actions?” An excuse does not preclude responsibility. The problem with the notion of determination is that when one considers a continuum of events concluding with an individual’s action, it excludes contiguous events. The connection of serial causalities is constantly disturbed by the presence of other continuums.

From a God perspective, everything that will be has been, and therefore freewill does not exist. Fortunately we experience reality as a sequence of instances separated by moments traveling at the speed of light. If Heisenberg is right, moment by moment unpredictability provides the space for freewill to occur. I do not think that one can look back along a path that they randomly traveled and say that was destiny.

@ninjacolin, I agree that sentience does not negate behavioral determinism, however it does introduce a degree of variability to what is being determined.

ragingloli's avatar

@Bill1939 “If Heisenberg is right, moment by moment unpredictability provides the space for freewill to occur.”
I disagree. Free will means choice. Quantum noise actually works against that because choice would be disturbed by the randomness.

Bill1939's avatar

@ragingloli, I think quantum noise operates at a Planck scale and imagine, that since a light-second covers a lot of space, quantum noise would be canceling and reinforcing itself, creating waves of possibility blurring the edges of determination.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Bill1939 Be still my heart, don’t be offended but I sentences that make me think.

Bill1939's avatar

@KNOWITALL I am not offended, I am flattered.

Paradox25's avatar

@Bill1939 I don’t see any conclusive evidence in favor of determinism nor freewill, but I’ve read material making a decent case for both concepts. Considering long term or closely related events, I feel we have to be careful there. Science has no hard theory about what consciousness, or even the mind really is. There are strong arguments (regardless of what others may say on fluther) for sentience being a brain function, and there’s also strong evidence opposing that assumption. I really don’t feel that we can give an accurate assessment concerning determinism or freewill, at least concerning the human mind, until we know more about the nature of consciousness.

I can agree that determinism makes sense to me concerning mechanical events, even if they occur in a spontaneous manner, because I don’t believe that randomness means choice personally. I’m convinced of one thing however, that there can be no real choice without some type of sentience. Now this is when our theories of what consciousness may be start to come into play. We should be able to answer these questions better (hopefully) in the future.

ninjacolin's avatar

Yes, @Bill1939, I thought I detected a faint bit of compatiblism in your very diplomatic post.

I think there’s lots of evidence for hard determinism and I’ve named a bunch. Free will on the other hand.. i dunno, guys. I think there’s about as much evidence for Angels and Souls. I mean, Heisenberg’s moment-to-moment space exists for rocks and other non-living matter. Why does it need to be special for living matter? What evidence is there that non-living, or even humans, use that space any differently than any other object in creation?

We came from non-living matter so why should I assume that we gained special powers that don’t seem to manifest in the rest of causality? Not opposed to it, mind you, if that’s what happened. I just don’t feel I have any good reason to accept that assumption.

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin There is scant and inconclusive evidence for determinism in human thought. The only evidence for free will is nothing more than anecdotal. It feels like we have it. It feels like we are separate from our brains, too. And I am pretty sure that’s a false premise. There actually is a large body of evidence showing that isn’t so.

Each of us can honestly, in the name of science, make claims for what we think the evidence will show when the evidence is all in. But we overreach if we state that the question is settled. It’s not even close to being so.

Neodarwinian's avatar

” Is belief (or disbelief) in God even a choice? ”

Disbelief would be the default position and not a choice or a non choice.

Belief is the active position here and many of our beliefs seem to be not under our control. Folk physics, biology and the like.

God(s)? Humans look for patterns and seemingly must make patterns of observed phenomenon, so the god(s) thing may just be an offshoot of that.

Regardless, people may hold beliefs, such as my belief that all animal abusers should be impaled, but people need not act on those beliefs, especially acting on crazy god(s) beliefs.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Neodarwinian, when you say “active” position, are you suggesting that beliefs take effort to hold or to form?
I would say they tend to happen on their own, beliefs and disbeliefs alike.

@ETpro I appreciate the admonition to remain skeptic. I guess I do come off as a case-closed type of person on this matter. But it’s not by choice, I promise. ;) Just seems really obvious to me.

Grumblings: Jesus Christ, how could anyone not be convinced by the coin toss experiment? It’s so solid! What’s it gonna take? It’s a good thing your eternal soul doesn’t depend on this one guys. Some of you would be going to christian hell first then the determinist’s hell right after! hahaha

Neodarwinian's avatar


” Belief is the active position here and many of our beliefs seem to be not under our control. Folk physics, biology and the like.”

Obviously I did not mean formed, but more in the sense of being in motion, or just being. Atheism is disbelief, but, analogously, i do not form any ” motion ” toward or even being in a mode of non stamp collecting.

Hard to explain, but refer to folk beliefs, an innate belief humans hold. Heights, for instance. Folk physics keeps us from just walking off a cliff, usually..

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin Yes, strangeness is downright strange, isn’t it?

flutherother's avatar

@ETpro Strangeness is almost to be expected but ordinariness, now that is downright strange.

Bill1939's avatar

@ninjacolin asked, “We came from non-living matter so why should I assume that we gained special powers that don’t seem to manifest in the rest of causality?”

I have given this question considerable thought and am having difficulty answering it. Perhaps the problem comes from considering sentience a special power. An infant learning to reach for an object seems to have some sense of ‘is-to-be’ holding it, an image, not necessarily visual, of a desired future. The number of attempts to achieve this goal, or the number before losing interest, will be the outcome of many variables.

From a God perspective one could know whether the child is successful or what the spin of a fermion is at any given instant. However, reality from any other perspective is temporally bound; nothing exists outside of now. For determination to be true, randomness must be false. Indeterminateness is an opportunity for choice, the possibility of freewill. (Hope I have not belabored this issue).

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ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin What non-living matter acts of its own volition? Isn’t that a unique behavior of sentient life? Why is it impossible that deterministic laws give rise to emergent phenomena?

ninjacolin's avatar

Emergent causal phenomenon, yes, absolutely. Even counter-intuitively causal phenomenon I would freely admit were possible.
But counter-causal?? Where’s the justification for that?

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin I do not know and I do not need to know to entertain that as a possibility;

kritiper's avatar

Of course it is a choice.

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