Is belief in God a choice?

The following satirical video, “Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene”, pokes fun at the concept of a “gay gene” and religious opposition to homosexuality.

The proportion of people who believe that homosexuality is chosen is decreasing. That’s not to imply that homosexuality is the phenotype expressed by a “gay gene”. Just that whatever makes one gay – e.g., some range of interactions between genetic, hormonal, neurological and/or social/environmental factors – it’s not the sort of conscious deliberations a teenager makes when choosing which college to attend.

Part of what makes the video above funny is that it suggests that being Christian is not a choice. To me, this invites the question (ignoring the particular religion)

Is belief in God a choice?

Can you simply choose to believe or not believe? My inclination is to doubt that you can. I’m an agnostic atheist. As far as I can tell, in the absence of incredible new evidence, I would be unable to choose to genuinely believe in a God. I’ve come across several other non-believers who’ve said similar things. Likewise, I’ve met many believers who have indicated that their belief in God (or reincarnation, for that matter) are beyond their choosing.True-belief

Social scientists like Jonathan Haidt have pointed out that the minds of conservatives and liberals appear to operate differently in certain ways. Could this also be true of theists and atheists? Going more broadly,

Is a love for baseball and disdain for hockey a choice?

I love baseball and utterly despise hockey. Being Canadian, I’ve met countless people of the opposite position. I don’t think that I could just choose to like hockey. As a youth I tried. Never took.

Famed psychologist and one of the main figures of Behaviorism, BF Skinner, once defined free will as the ability to do what one wants. He then went onto say that we cannot choose what we want. I would add that we cannot choose what we like/dislike or believe/disbelieve. We can act so as to bias our predispositions – e.g., actively seeking out sources of information to validate a particular position. But at the end of the day, we’re either compelled or we’re not.

Going back to the initial question:

What do you think? Can we choose belief in God? If so – or not – what implications does this have for how we should act toward each other?

Feel free to also comment on our free will (or lack thereof) to choose other types of beliefs, tastes, etc.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays 🙂


3 thoughts on “Is belief in God a choice?

  1. First off, I’m a Christian, just so you have some context of where I’m coming from. Secondly, I agree for the most part that I never CHOSE to be believe in Jesus as a saviour just as you don’t CHOOSE to be atheist. So this is my Christian response to your Atheist point of view. ————– It is my belief that no amount of holy, religious action can make me right with God. If I prayed every day, read my bible, gave to the poor, etc. it is all static action in God’s eyes since I am in a nature of sin. Christianity is not a tally list of good deeds vs bad deeds where a life of more good, righteous deeds offers you a seat next to God. Rather, I believe that we are all sinful in nature. Sin is a disease which is slowly killing us (spiritually). And the actions I perform which go against God’s instruction are not sins in themselves, but rather a reflection-or a symptom of the disease called sin-of my nature. And just as one who is sick with cancer can still express signs of life and health (such as sight or good blood flow), I, with my ‘sin disease’ can still produce actions which are good. However these good actions do not prove that I am cured of a disease, just as someone’s ability to see does not erase the fact that cancer is slowly killing them.
    Now here is where I believe many Christians go wrong. They believe that if they simply state that they believe in Jesus as their saviour, then they are magically saved. But as I said before, no action of my own performing can cure me of this disease. Romans 4 states: 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” So is not the word ‘believe’ a verb, expressing action and works? The idea of Christianity is that God did all the work to save us. We cannot rely on ourselves to bring ourselves closer to God or to make ourselves righteous in his eyes. If our doing was any part of the ‘equation’ (for lack of a better word) of salvation, then that takes away from the perfect nature of God, because it would show that God needs our effort as well as his to save us. The spread isn’t 99 percent God’s effort and 1 percent ours. It is 100 percent God’s.————— And in conclusion, that is why I believe I never CHOSE to be Christian. Instead, God revealed his salvation and his love to me, and he made me believe. I had not a choice in the matter. [I don’t quite understand how God chooses to whom he wishes to reveal himself to (and i do not wish to sound elitist by proclaiming that God chose to reveal himself to me), but that is a subject for another discussion i guess]. If you have any questions or further discussion please share them. Also I would suggest reading Romans in an ESV bible to see more about the idea the human sinful nature and such (ESV is the most literally translated bible from the original hebrew and greek). Hope you’re having a fantastic holiday season.

  2. People would have a genetically greater or lessor propensity to believe in God, but belief is primarally determined by society. If everyone in your society believes in God it is very likely you will too, not matter what you gentics and ingrained personality. That would be especially true if the scientific method had not been discovered.

    In societies like ours, and to a greater extent societies like Japan where Athism is common, gentic factors are an important determining factor.

  3. Well, social pressures to believe something is because of our cognitive bias. If everyone believes something, then it makes sense to believe it too, as a shortcut for learning about our surroundings.

    While in the wild these tools make sense to have, for example, if everyone is afraid of the crocodile because it is eating people, then it’s advantageous to avoid the crocodile without the direct evidence that we sometimes require.

    When these are extended to bigger questions like that of a deity, then the advantage for survival no longer applies and it’s more of a hinderance than a benefit.

    Thanks to the scientific method and rational thought we’re able to apply these principles now instead of relying simply on the pre-wired biases that we have.

    Unfortunately people tend to compartmentalize certain areas from inquiry and end up making poor decisions in certain areas of their lives.

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