Belief and Choice

Rich Woods
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Belief and Choice

Hey Gang...

I have a question that I was hoping you could all help me with.  Recently I recorded a relationship seminar that I occasionally perform, and I do a very brief bit on how religion impacts our views on Marriage and Monogamy...and I have been taken to task over an assertion I make...

I claim that part of the reason theists are able to rationalize the cruelty of a "god" who they will tell you in one breath loves you, and in the next will banish you to an eternity of torture is the misconception that "belief is a choice"...and how fundamentalists will continually claim that we can all "Choose" to believe what they do. I assert that is nonsense.

I claim that "Belief" is what the acumen of our life's experience tells us is the truth, and the word for people who make claims to the contrary (especially when it is out of fear) is Denial. I *couldn't* choose to believe in "God" any more than I could choose to believe in the tooth fairy simply because the better part of my sensibilities won't allow me to capitulate to the fear that he "may" exist...and that I better hedge my bets in this lifestime against what might be waiting for me after I die...

Now I love being wrong, and thankfully I am prolific at it...it's how I learn. But in this case, Am I wrong? Could any of us "Choose" to believe?

 


Wonderist
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What do you think about the

What do you think about the idea of 'choosing to believe someone'? For example, a friend tells you a really strange story, and you're not sure whether to believe him. But then you think, you know what, he's my friend and I think he's sincere, so I'm going to choose to believe him. So, even though it's a story that's hard to believe on the face of it, you lend credence to it by a conscious choice based on the value of the friendship.

I think something like this might be what believers are talking about when they say 'choose to believe'. It really means 'trust me even though it sounds crazy.'

Now, for you, you may have no reason to give credence to Christians or their book, and so you are not swayed by this line of reasoning. It's like they are begging you, "Please believe me, I'm sincere!" But whether they are or aren't it doesn't sway you either way. But possibly for other people who do not have your skepticism and doubts, this might be a persuasive line of reasoning. Perhaps the Christians themselves at one point were swayed by this kind of thinking, 'choosing to believe' their parents or preachers, and so taking a first step toward conversion.

I tend to agree with your line of thinking that belief is more automatic, and less of a choice. But perhaps this is just a turn of phrase that doesn't mean *exactly* 'choosing' to believe a fact/claim, just something similar or reminiscent of this idea, namely choosing to give someone trust or credibility, and thus later on accepting their claims as true based on this trust.

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Hambydammit
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 Part of the difficulty in

 Part of the difficulty in discussing choice is defining choice.  There are several ways to look at it.  The first -- and the way most people think of it colloquially -- is simply the selecting of one out of multiple options.  All animals with the capability for locomotion make these choices.  Imagine an ant walking along the forest floor.  As it walks forward, it encounters a large rock.  There are several things that the ant might do.  It might attempt to climb over the rock by continuing to walk forward.  It might turn left or right, or it might turn around and walk back the way it came.  It might also stand still without moving for some length of time.

At some point, if the ant doesn't die, it will walk in some direction.  We can say that it has chosen one option out of many.

Most people are not comfortable with equating human choice to ant choice.  After all, we are sentient, and ants are not.  When we think of a choice, we are thinking of a set of options which we weigh mentally, forming projections about possible outcomes, and doing cost benefit analyses based on our predictions.  Once we have done all of these mental calculations, we "decide" on one choice which seems best to us.

Having said all of that, I will say that I do not believe in "free will" or "free choice."  The simple reason is right in front of our faces when we look at any human making a choice.  In fact, I said it outright in the last paragraph.  After weighing our options and making predictions, we decide to do what we think is best.

Language can be a real son-of-a-bitch, and can get in the way of understanding concepts like this, but I cannot for my life think of a single example of a human making a choice that couldn't be described as "the choice that seemed best at the time."  In other words, we can say that across the board, humans always opt for the choice they believe to be best.  If that's the case, then there's no element of unpredictability -- just an element of ignorance.  In other words, if we had a massive supercomputer that could exactly replicate the totality of experience/knowledge and the exact "algorithm" used by the brain in question, we could predict what the person would decide.

Of course, we can't prove this empirically since we don't have such a supercomputer, but the logic still works out.  We can also prove it to ourselves by example.  Take any human and ask them to choose to believe something that runs completely contrary to all of the available evidence.  My stock example is to ask someone to believe with conviction that they have no hands.  Obviously, they cannot do it.  No matter how much they might want to, it's impossible.  If I offered them ten billion dollars cash, they could not truly believe that they have no hands.

Where it gets tricky is when there's no preponderance of evidence.  Do I prefer fish or chicken for lunch today?  Hard to say, really, but I have evidence.  I've had the chicken before, and it was good.  I haven't had the fish, but I have plenty of reason to believe it will be good as well.  I'm feeling a little tired of chicken, so fish would be a good change of pace.  Still, I don't know if I want to risk the unknown.  Maybe it will be better to go with what I know...  etc, etc...

The thing is, I will make a decision, and it will be the one I think has the best chance of being what I want.  Any small piece of information might change my decision, because the evidence is about 50/50 each way.  Even the smallest bit of new evidence may tilt me in one direction.  If the person in line behind me tells me the fish is amazing, I might change my mind.  

Here's the thing, though...  If I change my mind, I cannot, barring new evidence, decide that my mind has not changed!

At any given moment, I cannot help what I believe to be the best choice.  Only as time passes, and my experiences give me new data, does my perception of the best choice change.  This, I believe, is the key to understanding why choice is a myth.  My state at any given instant is unalterable, for I cannot go back into the past to change the data which led me to my choice.  I cannot alter my perceptions at this instant, and those perceptions will be the data which shape my beliefs in the next instant.

To speak of genuinely free will is to defy time.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Quote:Could any of us

Quote:

Could any of us "Choose" to believe?

 

Not necessarily.

 

I don't think that YEC for example "choose" to believe the Earth is 6000 years old, it's just that they are more inclined to accept certian fallacies or are less inclined to evaluate evidence.

 

Basically it "sounds right" to them due to their personality, their experiences etc... or that it "explains things".

 

For example, a creator God, would explain why a cell is so complex, and they can't imagine how it could have evolved over the years.

 

 

Another example if I said I was born in Lebanon would you believe me?

 

I could even make it plausable. Notice how I mis-spell words? Maybe because English is not my first language. It would explain my view of Israel. The more "it would explain", the more likely you are to believe me.

 

I think most beliefs stem from not really believing the alternative. That it explains things better whether it is true or not. A YEC can't "choose" to believe in evolution any more than you or I can "choose" to believe in YEC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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You can choose to believe

You can choose to believe whatever you want. As long as you can choose to brainwash yourself, you can end up believing all sorts of things.


Hambydammit
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 Stosis, how would you

 Stosis, how would you respond to my thought experiment.  Suppose I offered you a thousand dollars to firmly and truthfully believe that you have no hands.  Realizing that this is about truth, not financial gain, can you honestly tell me that you could choose to believe that you have no hands?

Why don't you just do it for me now?  Make the choice to believe you have no hands.  Let me know when you achieve the state of genuine belief, ok?

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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Hambydammit wrote: Stosis,

Hambydammit wrote:

 Stosis, how would you respond to my thought experiment.  Suppose I offered you a thousand dollars to firmly and truthfully believe that you have no hands.  Realizing that this is about truth, not financial gain, can you honestly tell me that you could choose to believe that you have no hands?

Why don't you just do it for me now?  Make the choice to believe you have no hands.  Let me know when you achieve the state of genuine belief, ok?

 

I could do it. But $1000 isn't nearly enough. I'd need at LEAST a million to consider cutting my hands off.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.


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Stosis wrote:You can choose

Stosis wrote:

You can choose to believe whatever you want. As long as you can choose to brainwash yourself, you can end up believing all sorts of things.

That is close to what actually happens with many believers.

The start by deciding that actually believing in some dogma would be a good thing, based on accepting someone's assertion about the ultimate rewards for belief and/or punishments for disbelief.

At this point, as per Dan Dennett, they believe in belief, not being able to simply switch their belief on, as Hamby points out.

They then partake in the rituals of the church, which, over a long period may well be equivalent to 'brainwashing', and gradually the belief in belief distinction blurs, and they simply 'believe', for all practical purposes.

This process will also be helped by daily exposure to people who already believe, or who are at least heavily into belief in the belief.

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

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Hambydammit wrote:My stock

Hambydammit wrote:
My stock example is to ask someone to believe with conviction that they have no hands.  Obviously, they cannot do it.  No matter how much they might want to, it's impossible.  If I offered them ten billion dollars cash, they could not truly believe that they have no hands.

It is possible to cause yourself to believe such obviously false things by using hypnosis or brainwashing techniques. In the case of hypnosis, it's a temporary belief, but it is functionally identical to other kinds of belief. A skeptic like you or me would see through it very quickly, but a more credulous person can easily believe he has no hands if he's guided by a skilled hypnotist. That would be a tough one, but I do believe it's doable. By 'choosing' to partake in hypnosis (or if you're exceptionally good at self-hypnosis) you could say that you've 'chosen' to believe you have no hands. To win ten billion cash, I'd undergo such hypnosis to cause this belief in myself. It would be my 'choice' to do so.

It might be an interesting challenge for a professional hypnotist.

What would be sufficient proof to you that a person believes he has no hands? (Obviously, short of causing actual damage to their hands as a kind of 'chicken' test. Perhaps a painful but harmless stimulus?) "You've undergone surgery and are just waking now from anesthesia, and your hands have been amputated. Place your forearm next to this painful shock device to prove it." That kind of thing.

Did you ever see the movie Push? A psychic 'pusher' convinces a guy that he has unloaded his own gun and that it would be harmless to hold it up to his own head and pull the trigger. Obviously, it's a movie, and the psychic powers fake, but I could easily imagine someone being hypnotized to do something that dangerous. All it takes is some deceptive manipulation of memories and perceptions. If you can convince someone under hypnosis that they don't feel pain when they stick a needle through their hand (this is a common hypnosis effect), you could also convince them that a loaded gun is actually safe, or some such thing.

People under hypnosis have come to believe they were abducted by aliens, abused in Satanic rituals, etc. All sorts of weird belief manipulation is possible.

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The basic question looks

The basic question looks like a straw man to me. Seriously, turn this back on the person posing the idea. Can he choose to believe that there is not god? Whatever his response may be, the follow up is that he only has to believe for five minutes. Then he can flip the switch back. Actually that would be two choices but that is not a major detail for me.

 

If the interlocutor can change beliefs like flipping a switch, then he can claim that belief is a matter of choice. However, if he rejects the idea outright, then that gives the lie to his position.

 

Vastet wrote:
I could do it. But $1000 isn't nearly enough. I'd need at LEAST a million to consider cutting my hands off.

 

I think that you missed the point there. You do not have to cut of your hands. You only have to believe that they do not exist.

 

Slightly off topic but possibly relevant is that there was an episode of the original Twilight Zone where some guy took a bet that he could go five years without speaking a word. The people who set up the bet built an apartment for him to live in that was surrounded with glass panes with sensor that would detect any sound in the room.

 

Well, after five years, he won the bet. Only to find out that the person who made the bet never had the money to pay it off in the first place. Because he had believed that he would get rich from the test, he had had his vocal cords cut. Sucks for him.

NoMoreCrazyPeople wrote:
Never ever did I say enything about free, I said "free."

=


Atheistextremist
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Maybe vastet is

Vastet wrote:
Hambydammit wrote:

 Stosis, how would you respond to my thought experiment.  Suppose I offered you a thousand dollars to firmly and truthfully believe that you have no hands.  Realizing that this is about truth, not financial gain, can you honestly tell me that you could choose to believe that you have no hands?

Why don't you just do it for me now?  Make the choice to believe you have no hands.  Let me know when you achieve the state of genuine belief, ok?

 

I could do it. But $1000 isn't nearly enough. I'd need at LEAST a million to consider cutting my hands off.

 

right. Would you cut your hands off for eternal life?

 

Would you cut yourself off from humanity for eternal life?

 

How far would/do some people go for their chosen reward??

 

The answer is right in front of us.

 

 

 

"Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. The rest is poetry, imagination." Max Planck


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Well, if you want to do

Well, if you want to do that, then I really must ask you two questions:

 

Q1: Is nothing better than eternal happiness?

 

Q2: Is a ham sandwich better than nothing?

 

Complete the syllogism.

 

 

 

NoMoreCrazyPeople wrote:
Never ever did I say enything about free, I said "free."

=


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A1:  No.   Nothing is not

A1:  No.   Nothing is not better than eternal happiness.

A2:  Yes.   A ham sandwich is better than nothing.

So...if hs is better than nothing...and nothing is not better than eternal happiness...then...

ETERNAL HAPPINESS WITH A HAM SANDWICH IS BETTER THAN NOTHING!

Wait...that doesn't make any sense.  Or well...it seems obvious.

 

Did I miss something?

"I am an atheist, thank God." -Oriana Fallaci


Vastet
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I think you missed my point.

I think you missed my point. I was saying, in an attempt at humour, that I'd have to have no hands to believe I have no hands. Some people can be hypnotised or brainwashed into believing such things, but said tactics have no hold on me.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.


Rich Woods
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TY

Thanks gang...this helped...much appreciated...


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Rich Woods wrote:Now I love

Rich Woods wrote:

Now I love being wrong, and thankfully I am prolific at it...it's how I learn. But in this case, Am I wrong? Could any of us "Choose" to believe?

Without reading the posts below which I'll assume are going to agree at length, I'll keep it short and sweet.

You're not wrong.

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