Choosing to believe in god: Choice is not an option

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.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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14 Responses to Choosing to believe in god: Choice is not an option

  1. John Accolade says:

    Another atheist here. Don’t like your analogy. There’s no right / wrong answer when it comes to liking chocolate; it’s a thing of preference. When it comes to believing in (a certain kind of) God, you’re either right or wrong.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      The scope of this post is not about right or wrong. The scope is strictly about choice. You are right that the analogy doesn’t work for matters of correct or incorrect, but in terms of choice, it’s a useful analogy.

      • John Accolade says:

        True, fair enough. I would develop the metaphor by saying, there’s no reason to try and change your taste in chocolate, but there are often benefits when we analyze the validity of our beliefs around religion, whatever they may be.

    • spotterlynn says:

      Hey John, I am not an atheist but I do appreciate you for the respect by placing the big (G) in God! 🙂

  2. spotterlynn says:

    …and yet you can’t stop yourself from thinking about the “god” you don’t believe in or writing or posting about him…hmmm….could it be that chocolate is what would really satisfy your “palate” but you are more deliberate in abstaining from giving into your cravings in fear of the truth that you may lack the control necessary to stop? Maybe God is your “chocolate” and you really like the look and smell of Him but refrain only because you like the thought of controlling your own destiny – and after all, the cost of fuju’s are pennies compared to the real rich dark chocolate that is full of anti-oxidants that are actually beneficial to the health of the body.

    • Rayan Zehn says:

      I’m not certain what you assume I’m craving. If you considered the post, I don’t fear truth; I seek it out. I don’t fear god; I merely don’t believe in supernatural agencies. I made no claims about my desire to control my own destiny. That was an assumption on your part. Finally, I think and post about religion because of the prevailing harm it causes me and the global human society as a whole. These are ideas that must be criticized to mitigate their abilities to harm us.

    • John Accolade says:

      Hey spotterlynn. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I’ll admit it: I absolutely love discussing religion and the idea of God. Why? Well, a lot of my friends believe in God and I often help out at church as it earns me a bit of money, so I am certainly exposed to religion. I am therefore fascinated in it, and equally so as I used to be a Christian myself. So yes, the topic certainly does interest me, and I find it interesting to think about and to talk about. I also have a love of psychology and the human mind, which for me ties into the nature of belief, why humans would believe in God etc, from a slightly different angle. Finally, I enjoy solving problems analytically, and there are lots of logical arguments which it can be fun to think about.

      I’m glad that you’ve noticed my enjoyment of this subject. You’ve misdiagnosed where it comes from, but I won’t take it personally – hey, that pretty much comes from your beliefs prior to seeing my comment.

      All the best spotterlynn,

      • spotterlynn says:

        No harm here, however my misdiagnoses comes from the fact that I don’t know you personally so it was an attempt based on limited facts; you like vanilla but don’t like chocolate excreta… that’s why I asked “could it be?” and “Maybe?” I find Atheists amusing because all they do is sit around and talk about the “one thing” they do NOT believe in!!! I’ll look forward to more discussions and hopefully in time get to know the REAL atheist and how his tinkering mind REALLY works! 🙂

    • John Accolade says:

      Oops! My eyes are playing tricks on me, thought this was a reply to me. Oh well, you can have my response as well! 2 in 1 bargain.

      All the best!

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