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Since joining this site, I've seen an excessive amount of posts referencing choice in the held beliefs of themselves or others. Do people here really think they can choose what they believe??

JeffMurray 7 Jan 6

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I believe reading this entire string made my head hurt.

That's unfortunate.

Naw, tongue in cheek. Very interesting, somewhat confusing conversation. I'll have to check out your reference.


Maybe I’m missing the point, but yes...belief is a choice.

So I'll ask you as well, if belief is a choice, can you choose to believe in Santa Claus?

Yes I can choose to believe in Santa Claus...@JeffMurray

@Sophialyn You're confusing saying you believe in Santa Claus with actually believing in Santa Claus.

No I’m not @JeffMurray

@Sophialyn So just a case of intellectual dishonesty? Can you choose to believe something that direct observable evidence is telling you is false?


YES! I am free to do whatever the hell I want, pray to whomever I may, believe or not believe! I believe in ME= I am my own god!!


I may not totally understand your question. for me I grew into whatever a person may want to call my point of view. Others describe being raised in a particular faith and over time rationally picking it apart and coming to their current point of view


Christopher Hitchens one said, "Atheism is not chosen, it is discovered". One can not choose ones beliefs. One can look at the facts and ones understanding will be affected.

I'd like to add that the second part is not necessarily true. People look at facts all the time without being affected by them whatsoever. There are also people that look at works of pure fiction and it changes their entire world.

@JeffMurray You are correct. Theist are a good example of your last two sentences. We can also be guilty as charged.

@DavidLaDeau Yes. In my head, the first example I was thinking about people who believe in free will, but I guess theists are just as good of an example.


well what else is there/ what is it you do ??

Not sure I get what you're asking.


Most people believe what they are taught and never challenge it, for them it was a choice made by someone else. Some make the choice to change their beliefs between the existing religions. For those of us who have escaped it was a choice to not believe, we made the choice to follow rationality and reason and the lack of evidence convinced us to change our beliefs.

Belief is about choice, whether we make the choice or accept the choice made by someone else.
Knowledge is not choice, a true piece of knowledge is true whether anyone believes or not.

@AMGT said it quite well on this thread, "I could not simply choose to believe in a god or a flying purple people eater, if I tried." Can you?

@AMGT I did not mean to imply that we have direct control over our beliefs, just that we choose what we believe in the sense that we choose to educate ourselves, indoctrinate ourselves, or continue the indoctrination that others started.

Consciously or not, we make the choice to continue believing what we are taught without question, or we choose to question and learn.

@icolan That is a huge contradiction. "Consciously or not, we make the choice"?? You think that subconscious decisions are a choice?

@JeffMurray How many people do you think really are conscious of their own decision making processes?

@icolan Zero. All decisions are made in the subconscious, then the conscious mind is made aware of them. There are reproducible scientific experiments that have proved this.

@JeffMurray Can you provide some links to these experiments? I make decisions based on simple numbers, rational facts, or feature comparison that have nothing to do with my subconscious.

@icolan You are wrong about that. Your subconscious mind works as sort of a "black box" and evaluates potentially millions of bits of information in fractions of a second and "tells" your consciousness the answer. Anything you think is conscious decision making is actually just rationalization. Sam Harris has several cited and linked in his book Free Will, plus it's a great, short read.


When I first read this, I thought it kind of trite and easy to answer, but on reflection, not so much, so thank you for this. My beliefs have changed many times over the years based on acquired knowledge - from indoctrinated Christianity, to agnosticism, to western esoteric (Cabalistic) principles, back to agnosticism, to atheism, to humanism & Cyrenaic hedonism. While I have "chosen" to study and live these different philosophies, I'm not sure I ever "chose" to believe them. The inquisitive mind accumulates the knowledge and filters and formulates a belief system for you. Those who never question what they were brought up to believe are doomed to a narrow intellect. Reminds me of a British politician, Dick Crosland who said his father told him "Son, if you're not a communist at the age of 20, you have no heart. If you're still a communist at the age of 30, you have no sense."

Take it one step further. Where did your scales for valuation of principles come from? Why did things that get filtered out get filtered out? Why do say mass murderers not bat an eye at snuffing out the life of a child, but a guy my brother knows picks up stink bugs from the floor of his house and gently places them on the mantle so they're not cold and won't get stepped on? Did the mass murderer wake up one morning and think, "Ya know, I'm going to stop valuing human life"?

And not to be that guy, but agnosticism and atheism are not in competition. Agnosticism refers to what you can know, and [a]theism refers to what you believe. Personally, I am an agnostic atheist because I don't believe in god, but I know I can't possibly know whether or not one exists. I have met a few agnostic Christians.


Cognitive thinking is one of the only places you can exist without outside influences. In your head you can compile whatever you like however those thought have protocols that certain influences and experiences dictate.

Once again, you nailed it. Well said

You think you can choose the next thought that pops into your head? I suppose if you mean to say that your subconscious is part of the "in your head" you'd be right, but then the statement is essentially meaningless.


Personally I think that for a lot of issues, believing is just the lazy way out. The alternative is thinking, thinking hard, desperately trying to find answers, having incredibly complex things make your brain explode. Ahhh, how much easier it is to believe!

I think we're using two different forms of 'belief' here...

@JeffMurray which two different forms?

@josmi6699 You seem to be referring to a specific singular belief. I was taking about the concept of beliefs, and if there's any personal control over them.

@JeffMurray no i am talking about believing in general and stand by what i said.

@josmi6699 You think the entire abstract concept of believing is the easy way out, so you don't do it? At all? You hold zero beliefs? I think our wires are still crossed.

@JeffMurray I never said I do not do it, but yes, I think that it is the easy way out. For most questions which are not related to ethics, thinking can lead to either a fact-based insight or the insight that the question cannot be answered. The problem are questions related to ethics. However, even there I think that a lot of insights can be had by thinking rather than believing, however there are some axioms that probably must be believed to be true: for example, I do believe that the avoidance of pain and hardship to humans is a useful guiding principle. This is not just a belief because I can come up with arguments for it is well, but those arguments are still based on human feelings and assumptions about what humans, in general prefer, so you could call them beliefs.
Other than that, I think personally, believing is something that also comes in when making assumptions about other people and areas of knowledge where hard facts are sparse. However, that kind of believing is still a bit different from what some people call beliefs: it is more something like "assuming something based on insufficient data and experience until proven false".

@josmi6699 See, we were using it differently. Your last statement where you defined beliefs is more the definition of faith, and your "fact-based insight" is a type of belief. A belief can be based on a lot of evidence, bad evidence, or no evidence at all.

@JeffMurray if your definition of belief includes beliefs based on facts and evidence and backed by sound and contradiction free theories, then your question has a trivial answer: of course cannot believe just what one wants, but only that which indeed is fact-based and compatible with a proper theory.
But of course for a proper discussion a unambiguous definition of the term discussed is necessary, if you can provide such a definition it may help to clear up the confusion.

@josmi6699 That is not true at all, there are plenty of things you and I (and most other people) would agree are incontrovertibly true, yet somehow, there are still people that don't believe them. None of any of that, however, has anything to do with the topic at hand. We are discussing whether one can choose those beliefs.

@JeffMurray not quite, your original question was to people here if they think they can choose those beliefs not if "one" in general can choose them. I see that people in general choose their beliefs quite arbitrarily and some of them are even proud of believing strongly despite evidence and others giving them good reasons why it is bullshit. A religious person recently told me that their mantra is "believe to see" instead of "see to believe".
However, coming back to your original question, I, personally do not think I choose my beliefs. I am guided to them through thinking and more thinking may force me to update or change my beliefs. So I stand with what I have said all along.

@josmi6699 There is no difference. If anyone can, they all could. Also, just because you think your reasoning process is better (even if it may be) doesn't change the fact that what you end up believing (regardless of how long you think you put it off or how much thinking you did on the subject) was still governed by things outside of your control.
Also, your last comment is not the same as the first. In the last you admit to having beliefs you were guided to by thinking, in the first, you insinuated you didn't and were in a constant state of contemplation.


Of course we do.


Of course you can choose what you believe or don’t believe. Nobody is forcing you to believe or not believe in anything. Even the rabid religious nuts can’t force you to believe like they do.


We choose what we are exposed to, at least to an extent. And what we are exposed to heavily influences what we believe. So yes, in a way we do choose what to believe.

In what way do you choose what you're exposed to? You may say you chose to join this site, but why? Someone else told you about it? You saw an ad? When you did it seemed interesting enough to spend time on? What if I hadn't joined? You wouldn't be exposed to this discussion. The only reason I joined is because I got dumped (for not wanting babies) and my coworkers did a Google search, found a site they didn't even know existed, and literally made me a profile. Where is the choice in any of that for either of us? The start of me not believing in free will was reading Sam Harris' book Free Will. I believed 100% that I had freedom of will. While reading, I even said to myself, "This is such bullshit." But somewhere along the way, the evidence was too great, hos argument too profound. I learned I was wrong, and I had no choice in the matter. The only reason I read that book was because my sister knew I liked "Letter" and bought it for me. Other people have read it and it didn't convince them, but it did me. Why? I didn't want to believe it. Where is the choice in any of this?

@JeffMurray for starters, I agree that free will is an illusion. But the deterministic mechanism is fed also by our brain. That is the "to an extent" part, or as I prefer, we are part of the deterministic process of reasoning. I just avoid being overly technical.

@hlfsousa Except that we're not. You are no more in control of the next thought that pops into your head as you are of the next one that pops into mine. How you feel about any aspects of what you think you're pondering is completely a product of everything that you have experienced coupled with the physical and chemical composition of your brain. I don't think it's really too technical to play the "Why" game kids play where they ask you why indefinitely until you are finally left saying, "I don't know". All of those "I don't knows" you always reach are the proof that every "decision" you ever make is a result of things outside of your control.

@JeffMurray that relies on how you define "I". "I" am part of the deterministic process. My brain is involved. Decision, deterministic or not, goes through "me". That is why I do not see the same process as you do as something happening independently from me.

I am not disagreeing. I wish we could just focus on using all this knowledge to further the progress of mankind instead of picking on such little technicalities.

@hlfsousa To claim that your subconscious mind is part of you to the point of giving you credit for the decisions it makes would mean we choose our dreams and should be held accountable for what we say in our sleep as well. Whatever agency you feel, is an illusion played by your conscious mind. If not, you'd also feel agency for things which you did not even know you did, yet you don't. How much sense does that make?

Also, what do you think this is all about? I believe understanding these "technicalities" will advance mankind. Once you recognize that you do not have free will, it's a little easier to be forgiving of those that didn't win as much in the genetic and environmental lotteries as you.

@JeffMurray that is one real good strawman you chose. Wait, that wasn't your choice, which makes it alright.

@hlfsousa Please explain how that is a fallacious argument. If you want to claim the subconscious is part of "you", that would include everything that the subconscious does. If, however, you are going to admit that there are times that it is not under your control, you must give sufficient cause to make that assertion.

@JeffMurray I've explained that we do not disagree on principle. You've made clear that you just want a disagreement, to the point of misrepresenting my statements, intentionally or not (not that intention clearly exists in "your" opinion). There being no doxastic openness, I quit this conversation.


Does this extend past "belief" and into "everything else"?

I.e. Do you choose to be yourself, choose your friends, choose your education, choose your most appropriate profession for your skill set and knowledge, choose who you fall in love with, choose the sex of your children (or choose to have no children) and then choose how and when you die?

Or do you believe that all those events were products of other events outside your control? Do you believe that your belief OR non-belief in this statement was your choice or a consequence of all events in your past that has made you believe OR not believe in this statement?


Yes, that's where this goes, but I doubt people here are ready for that.


Is this a free will trick question 😐

Not a trick question, but it is about free will. (Notice I even tagged it with #freewill)


Yes, of course we can chose what to think, what to believe and what we manifest. I say I'm going to comment on this post, then put down my phone and then go to sleep. Then I do it. I'm manifesting my reality. I'm not praying for guidance, and supplicating to a deity to aid me my decisions. I decide what I want, then figure out how to accomplish that goal. Excruciatingly simple process really. This same principle applies in deciding to be happy, fullfilled, inspired or even in deciding to be mundane.

You can choose to believe in god if you wanted to? Truly believe? How about Santa Claus?

@meerasate A woman at work said something similar, that you can choose how you feel about things. I told her she was wrong. Her husband left her recently and she was devastated by it. If I was just a tiny bit more of an asshole, I'd have asked her why she doesn't just choose to be happy about it. Can you choose to be happy when someone texting and driving rear ends you and makes you late for work? How about it that put you into corrective action and then prevents you from getting your full yearly raise? Doesn't even seem like there's a problem of evil for atheists to talk about if everyone can just choose to feel great about everything.

JeffMurray of course I'm not happy about being rear ended. But I can chose to remind myself to be grateful I wasnt hurt, that my car wasn't totalled and that I have insurance. It's nust a fender bender and not a crisis. THIS is MY choice, you can chose to be vexed by things outside of your control, I prefer perspective.

@Eponymous But if you can choose what to think and feel, why not just choose to be happy about it, then you don't even have to compare it to bad stuff to get over it.


I choose not to answer your question.

Ah, but did you? Or has a series of interactions created the framework in your subconscious mind that told you a response wouldn't be worth formulating?

@JeffMurray - Duh!

@GoldenDoll Can you clarify for me if you already know free will is an illusion and you're just being funny?

@JeffMurray - I like dogs.

@GoldenDoll Dogs suck. Cats are way better.

@GoldenDoll Despite some people you exercise your free will to continue living, don't you? 🙂 lol.

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