Religious believers often claim that atheists choose to not believe in God for various reasons. Some will even say that our choice not to believe is just a phase. Obviously I disagree with that point of view, but more than that I disagree with the premise that atheism or even belief is a choice at all.
People don’t choose to believe something or not believe something. This isn’t something we are generally capable of doing. I’m going to take a scene from Star Trek: The Next Generation to illustrate my point. In the two-part episode, Chain of Command, Captain Picard is captured by the Cardassians and tortured. During the torture scene, Picard is shown four lights. His torturer asks him how many lights .he sees and he responds with the correct answer. The correct answer is punished with pain.
The idea is that the Cardassians want him to tell them that there are five lights instead of four. More than that, they want him to actually believe there are five lights when he knows there are only four. He can say there are five lights and avoid the torture, but he can’t choose to believe there are five lights when he knows there are only four.
As an atheist, I know with reasonable certainty that God is imaginary. As improbable as the existence of a generic deity might be, it is even more improbable that the specific God of the Bible exists. And while I will admit to be open to the possibility that some sort of deity might exist, the probability that such a deity actually exist is extremely low.
No matter how much I might want to believe such a claim to be true, I can’t simply choose to believe it. I could be tortured into saying I believe it or perhaps I could be rewarded greatly for telling people that I believe it, but that can’t make me choose to actually believe something that I don’t actually believe.
Although in Captain Picard’s case, he was tortured to the point where he started to actually start to believe there were five lights. This however, wasn’t a choice on his part. It was his minds way of protecting itself from the torture. This is generally referred to as brainwashing and it happens with religion all the time.
Belief isn’t a choice. We believe things based on evidence, reason, and/or conditioning. Religious believers don’t choose to believe in the ridiculous crap in the Bible, they are conditioned to believe it – usually from a very early age.
This is why arguments against religious beliefs don’t change people’s minds right away. They are part of a re-conditioning process. Religious believers have to re-condition themselves over time. When they are presented with atheist arguments, these arguments might jar them into starting that process or they may add to the process which may have already begun. But there is no single argument that alone will convince a religious believer that everything they deeply hold to be true is actually false.
The same is true with atheists. We can’t choose to believe in deities, but because religious belief is so pervasive in our society, we are conditioned toward belief all the time. The fact that there are atheists even in the face of such pervasive conditioning shows just how weak religious ideas are.
- Atheism 101: Why isn’t everyone an atheist? (examiner.com)
- 4 Things Atheists Should Be Doing (skepticink.com)
- Response: ‘5 Lies Atheist Tell’ (examiner.com)
- Atheism 101: Response to ‘can’t prove God doesn’t exist’ (examiner.com)
- 5 Best Books To De-Convert A Christian (skepticink.com)