Atheism is not a choice

Picture this: your colleague is in a wheelchair. She broke her back years ago, and is completely paralyzed from the waist down. There are some nasty people who claim she is not paralyzed after all, she can walk. You scoff at this: haven’t you seen with your own eyes how helpless she is? Hasn’t she explicitly said she is totally incapable of moving a muscle from the waist down? Then you go for a run one day and come across your supposedly paralyzed colleague doing the same. You’re stunned, shocked to the core, question your senses. Convince yourself you were mistaken. But you see her running again, and again, and again. You come up close to her and talk to her, question her in hope that it’s a case of mistaken identity. This is definitely the same woman you work with every day, who goes around in a wheelchair claiming to be paralyzed. She can walk, in fact, she can run, and this is not a doppelganger.

Your belief that she can walk – is that a choice?

If you were to claim my belief no gods exist is a choice, you would be making the same kind of claim. Where choice comes in, is if you’re faced with evidence and choose to run away, to stick your fingers in your ears and go lalalalalalala instead of facing the truth and its implications. Choice also comes in where you choose how to interpret what you observe. This is a complicated and delicate aspect of choice, which deserves a thorough examination of its own. Suffice to say that there is a difference between taking a certain perspective and living in denial. In my case, I lived in denial for at least a year before finally accepting the truth.

Let’s hope Lou will one day turn around at just the right moment, and do the same.

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2 thoughts on “Atheism is not a choice

  1. I’ve been a full T-12 Paraplegic for 21yrs now. I knew at that time I wasn’t going to walk again. I even tried leg braces. I’ve been reading for the past 3 hours, articles (one I just finished by Psychology Today)which are arguing atheism is not a choice. 1st off I’m sorry, but your comparison of paraplegia and atheism was just terrible. What? Are you saying your having no choice as an atheist (theory?) puts you in the same kind of reality of your forever paralyzed freind? Forget it, I do feel sorry for you and hope you never know her reality. Other than that after reading your article and all those before it I have concluded that you definitely made a choice. You believed for a year, how can you even argue that after what you learned you decided there was no God afterall. Most talked of lifelong indoctrination, the fact that their minds were so clear if religious ‘junk’ it wasn’t even a matter of disqualification. They argued knowing nothing else their brain chemistry, gemetic everything MADE their choice. I don’t agree with that either in that they also all claim to be well read and intelligent people. So how does one not look at alternative ideas if they are in fact open to knowledge as a whole. As far as I’m concerned had they just said they were brought up in an atheistic commune void of any God think I’d perhaps give them a pass. An intelligent person like yourself, who has tried at least one other way, has indeed made a choice. In fact your once believing in a God may in some way, deep down inside, help you feel better about any residual guilt you might still have in turing away from whom you once believed.

    1. Read the blog again, because clearly you didn’t read it properly the first time. I am not comparing atheism with paraplegia, I am creating a fictional situation in which someone makes a claim and the reader comes across evidence that the claim is false. I am trying to show through this metaphor how disbelief in gods is not a choice. Instead, it is a situation in which you come across evidence that convinces you gods don’t exist. There is no choice in the matter.

      Let’s put it another way: you have a colleague who claims to have six toes on their right foot, but one day you see them with their shoes off, and it is clear they have only five toes on that foot. No longer believing their claim that they have six toes on their right foot is not a choice. Or they claim to be unable to write, but you witness them writing an eloquent letter. No longer believing they are unable to write is not a choice. Just so, many people come across information that leaves them completely unable to keep believing in the existence of gods. That lack of belief is not a choice.

      Do you believe water is dry? No? Why don’t you believe it? Because you have seen evidence that water is wet. Can you choose right now to believe water is dry? Of course not. Can you understand some beliefs – convictions, rather – are not choices? Some people come across evidence that convinces them gods don’t exist.

      Again you clearly didn’t read the blog properly, because I didn’t say I believed for a year, I said I lived in denial for at least a year. I was a believer for more than thirty years.

      Everything else you said in that comment is more or less incomprehensible, but I hope my clarification helps you understand the point I made.

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