The Grauniad online has a bunch of articles about “Can we choose what we believe”.
This is a rather interesting question.
Especially if, like me, you believe you have little conscious choice in what you believe.
[That entire sentence, and most of this discussion, is a nightmare of circular language!]
Like PZ Myers I find her lazy fall-back on the discredited and hackneyed Pascals Wager a little lame.
Her whole article boils down to single statement; “I am a christian because I want to be a christian”, which is pretty lame too.
Pascals Wager in my opinion primarily fails because it tries to reduce the potential answers to the question “Should I believe in god?” to only two options.
“Believe in a christian god” and “Do not believe in a christian god”.
This places the huge body of personal faith that has existed over human history, from belief in the fields of Aaru to the Summerland, in the “do not believe in a christian god” column.
This is plainly absurd.
It assigns greater credibility to the claims of afterlife in christian dogma than it does the claims of afterlife familiar to the likes of Herodotus.
A credibility it does not deserve.
They both, after all, have the same level of “evidence” to support their conflicting claims.
Taking into account all the other gods and personal faith beliefs of humanity since the dawn of recorded history makes Pascals Wager totally unusable as a determiner of faith to anyone who is not intellectually dishonest.
The Wager remains;
“Should I believe in god?”
But the options now become;
“Believe in a christian god… but no other gods”
“Believe in a babylonian god… but no other gods”
“Believe in a norse god… but no other gods”
“Believe in a zoroastrian god… but no other gods”
“Do not believe in any of the above gods”.
I naturally selected the last option as it is the most logical.
I solidified my atheist position wholly because I spent far too much time trying really hard to understand religion.
In my 20s I voraciously read any and all religious works that I could get my hands on.
The Quaran, various versions of the christian bible, the bhagavad gita, the pali discourses, the doa te jing, the confucian analects, various new-age mystical stuff, the, list, goes, on, trying hard to find any level of understanding of religious faith.
[Religious friends and relatives find my bookshelf confusing. God is not great sandwiched between the Quaran and the bible!]
When someone asks me; “Why are you an atheist?”, after all my usual sarcasm, cynicism and avoidant behaviour, comes a far more genuine answer of; “I just don’t get it!”
And I really don’t.
They all make fantastical claims, that are all required to be taken on faith, and any evidence to support any of their claims is extremely shaky at best.
And yet people continue to place such personal faith in these “ideas”, that I cannot for the life of me understand, that they are willing to torture, kill, be tortured and die for them. [Can you see why I just don’t get religious faith with this sentence?]
There are, of course, some things that I would fight and die for.
But these are tangible things like “personal survival” and “loved ones” and not for just “ideas”, albeit evidence based ones, like Natural Selection.
[This is the reason there are atheists in foxholes!]
And so I get to the big question; “Do I choose to be an atheist?”
I do not feel that there is any conscious choice involved in my atheist position.
I do not feel that there is any conscious choice involved Harriet Baber’s religious position.
I think you either believe something or you don’t.
People can change their beliefs over time, but again I do not believe a change in theological position from believer to atheist is a conscious choice.
I personally feel that my atheism is more likely due to natural inquisitive behaviour and the experiences and education that followed from that.
But this is just, like, my opinion, man.
From when I was a toddler, trying to take apart the family television with a screwdriver, to the current day, I have a natural inquisitiveness that I feel probably predisposes me to rational thought and especially to skepticism.
I am not very happy with the answer “that is just how it is”, I want to know why and how.
This was, I feel, the reason for my concerted, but futile, attempts in my 20s to understand religious faith.
I wanted to understand the “why” and “how” of religious faith.
[Why are intelligent people religious? How can intelligent religious people justify this? etc.]
Religious faith seems to be secured by not being interested in finding out truth.
Being un-inquisitive, especially to the “why” and “how” questions of religious faith, seems to be the cement for religious faith.
Harriet Baber even states that she is not at all interested in “workaday truths”, she is content with her level of ignorance of “workaday truth”s, but I immediately looked on wikipedia for an article on the cat flea because she piqued my interest in them.
[And I have no cats and dislike insects!]
“Workaday truths” are very interesting to me even if they have no relation to my everyday life.
From the humble cat flea to space toilets, many subjects fill me with an inquisitiveness that is hard to sate. [Thankyou intarwubs!]
Of course, there are many religious people who are inquisitive, and I note that nothing about the human condition is exact or absolute, it is just that I have noticed the more inquisitive a person appears to be the more likely they are to be a skeptic, and by extension more likely to be an atheist.
[I also note that this could easily be a “confirmation bias”. I am not immune to normal human failings. I do not have any data on the Inquisitive behaviour and its relation to religious faith, or some such. It might be an interesting study.]
I will most probably continue to have the preternatural urge to google anything I hear about which I know nothing.
And I will most probably continue to be an atheist while religious faith is the antithesis of reason.