I’m strange because I don’t like chocolate. I never have. Give me vanilla or strawberry any day of the week over chocolate. I didn’t choose to not like chocolate. Early on my parents noticed me swapping my chocolate Halloween candy with my siblings for Juju fruits. I admit that this makes me miss out on some enjoyment in life. I think life would be more joyous if I enjoyed more things. But I don’t. I can’t. Even if I try, chocolate will never sit right on my palate.
This is very much the same with belief in god. I’ve posted about this before, but I continue to hear the questions made over and over again: “Why do you choose to be an atheist?” Or the comments: “You can believe in whatever you want to believe in.” Or atheists might say, “When I chose to stop believing in god…” These are errors in logic. One presupposes that belief in god is determined by choice. It is not.
Belief in god is merely a conclusion that the god theory best supports the data gained through observation. Unbelief in god is the conclusion that the data gathered through observation is insufficient to support the god theory. One has no choice in whether or not one will adopt the god theory. Try as we might, we cannot change our beliefs by our own free will. To change our beliefs, new and contradicting data must be observed.
In my case, I would have to find a version of chocolate that I actually enjoy. Enjoying chocolate, even if only for a moment, would require me to at least say, “I sometimes enjoy chocolate” instead of “I don’t enjoy chocolate.”
But choice is not completely irrelevant in regards to belief in the divine. Choice plays a major role in the quest for new and contradicting data. Many atheists (especially scientifically-minded atheists) are constantly choosing to seek evidence that will change their minds. We read scriptures, probably more than many believers. We don’t believe what we are reading, but we try to ignore the cognitive dissonance that plagues all human thought. We choose to keep an opened mind because conclusions can only be made after observing all available facts.
Many believers do the same thing. They choose to seek out new and contradicting data. Most believers don’t subscribe to impossible claims of a young earth or creationism. Even some Christians have abandoned the idea of immaculate conception. They stopped believing such things because they chose to view all of the data through (mostly) non-biased lenses.
But cognitive dissonance is a very powerful force, and even many people who choose to consider all available evidence will still make illogical conclusions, because they want to make those conclusions: the fallacy of assumption.
So believing in god is not a choice. It’s a feeling, an idea, based on observations. The only choice we have is whether or not we seek out new and contradicting data and whether or not we honestly examine and consider new and contradicting data when we find it. Considering this data will not lead us to finding fact (because the god theory cannot be proven), but it will alter our beliefs. You might choose to call yourself a Christian, but you cannot choose to believe that Jesus is your personal savior. If you don’t believe me, try it. Try to stop believing in god for an entire day. You’ll find it’s impossible if you truly believe. It’s also impossible for me to choose to believe in god for an entire day. I can say that I believe in god all I want, but without new data my actual lack of belief will not be altered.