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From the Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/12/atheist...

But there are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones. This is for two reasons. The first is that if we're going to be consistent, and to demand that babies only be ascribed identities that they themselves embrace, there are no German, British or Chinese children either. There are simply the children of German and English and Chinese parents, who will in due course learn the habits and the rules of the cultures around them and grow into their parents' language, nationality, food habits – and religious opinions. The way in which they express these will become more subtle and more interesting as they grow up – or at least we can hope it will – but the fact remains that babies are entirely anchored in the world by their parents.

-------------------------------------

To reach the state where you can really reflect critically on your own beliefs – rather than simply understanding that your parents are deluded old fools – takes a long time if it ever happens at all. As Bertrand Russell observed, many people would rather die than think and most of them do. And that is why no one can really be called an atheist or an agnostic until they have grown up.


I have some issues with this, because

1) Religions can and do claim babies at birth for their own teams. Yes, this is clearly the choice of the parents and not the baby, but they are conferred that identity immediately upon birth, and most religions have a much lower age than they are purporting for atheism to become fully "a member of the community" (confirmation and bar/bat mitzvah at the age of 13 or 14 comes to mind.

2) Essentially, they are saying that atheism can only happen through the rejection of religions, rather than as a state where they simply do not believe in a god at all, as if the default is to believe in a god, and only by rejecting that can someone come to atheism.

In the article, they reference children's preferences for "supernaturalism" like fairy tales and playing pretend, and note that they keep this until they are trained out of it.

Rather, I think that most people know very well the difference between reality and pretend at a much younger age... see the 12-year-olds who attempted to murder their friend on behalf of Slenderman. The shock, horror and outrage of this means that the expectation is certainly that people that age should be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy, whereas such an expectation of, say, a four-year-old would be more difficult.

Yet, the expectation here is that these kids should have known that Slenderman is not a "legitimate" fantasy, but religion is totally fine? The author argues from the perspective that god is a default, actual reality that takes far more to reject, but Slenderman should not be, as if god has more reality than Slenderman.

I argue that this is not true, god just has had much better marketing for a far longer period of time.

The author makes a good point about culture, of course, there is no such thing as a culturally-German or culturally-Chinese baby, culture and language are, of course, learned. There are certainly phenotypes that can dictate certain genetic tendencies, and of course place of birth/place of parents' birth dictates citizenship, but an adopted child raised in a home of another culture will grow up within that culture.

But the point remains, that, left to their own devices, it is highly unlikely that a child will invent a god, given other explanations for natural phenomenon. A child told that "the gods are angry" during a thunderstorm will believe that there are gods, and a child told about sound waves will not invent a god to explain what already has a perfectly reasonable explanation.

There are, of course, larger questions ("where did the universe come from?") but I would be hard-pressed to believe that a child would arrive naturally at the idea that a woman was impregnated by a spirit and then a bunch of people nailed him to a cross because you are a bad person without that sacrifice, all on their own otherwise.

GSF
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2) Essentially, they are saying that atheism can only happen through the rejection of religions, rather than as a state where they simply do not believe in a god at all, as if the default is to believe in a god, and only by rejecting that can someone come to atheism.




And this is, of course, entirely wrong.


AM
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2) Essentially, they are saying that atheism can only happen through the rejection of religions, rather than as a state where they simply do not believe in a god at all, as if the default is to believe in a god, and only by rejecting that can someone come to atheism.

As is so often the case with these kinds of discussions, it all comes down to disagreements over what it means for someone to be "atheist."

I don't think the author is saying that one has to first believe in a god before one can be atheist. Rather, he's saying that to affirmatively believe that no god exists, one has to have the mental capacity to be aware of the concept of god. In other words, before one can say "I believe that god does not exist," one has to be able to: i) be aware that things exist or don't exist; and ii) generally have an idea of what the term "god" might embrace.

In this formulation of what atheism is, babies are no more atheists than they are holocaust deniers. IOW, "atheism" (to the author) is a specific belief about god(s) - a belief that babies are incapable of forming, since they unfamiliar with even the concept of god.

This is different from how Dawkins uses the term "atheist," I think. In his usage, "atheism" is the absence of a belief that god exists - something that babies are perfectly capable of having. After all, they don't even believe that sattelites or pollination or the New York Stock Exchange exist.

So it's just a difference of definition:

1) Atheists believe that god does not exist.
2) Atheists do not believe that god exists.

Albaby
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I don't think the author is saying that one has to first believe in a god before one can be atheist. Rather, he's saying that to affirmatively believe that no god exists, one has to have the mental capacity to be aware of the concept of god. In other words, before one can say "I believe that god does not exist," one has to be able to: i) be aware that things exist or don't exist; and ii) generally have an idea of what the term "god" might embrace.



But this is where they go wrong.
Atheists do not "believe" yada yada pertaining to God.
Atheists have a LACK of belief when it comes to God.
There is a big difference.
I know it sounds like semantics - but it isn't.
There is a difference between believing something - whatever that something might be - and a lack of belief in that something.

So all people come into this world with a lack of belief about ANYTHING. They have to be taught - or learn through their own experiences - before they can believe something.

AM
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But this is where they go wrong.
Atheists do not "believe" yada yada pertaining to God.
Atheists have a LACK of belief when it comes to God.
There is a big difference.
I know it sounds like semantics - but it isn't.
There is a difference between believing something - whatever that something might be - and a lack of belief in that something.


It is semantics - but that doesn't mean the distinction isn't important. That's why I said this comes down to definitions. The difference between Dawkins and the author of the article is not over what babies believe, but what the definition of atheist is. Dawkins is using the term the way you are, and the author is using it to mean the affirmative existence of a belief that god does not exist.

To be fair to the author, there's some support for that. Colloquially, the term "atheist" is used in both senses. For example, the wikipedia entry for "atheism" begins:

"Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

I'm not citing the wikipedia as evidence that any of these definitions is "right" to the exclusion of the others - rather, that the word "atheist" is sometimes used to mean different things, and apparent differences of opinion in these discussions sometimes are just people using the terms differently.

Of course, there's another sense in which the author is correct that babies can't be atheists, under either definition. After all, "atheist" is a term we reserve for people (or collections of people). We would never say that an endtable or a sidewalk or an ammonia molecule is atheist. Those objects don't have any beliefs about god, either. Clearly the capacity to form a belief about god(s) is integral to what we mean by the term "atheist."

Babies don't have the mental capacity to form such notions, any more than an eggplant does. They lack the ability to engage in that type of abstract thinking, to form beliefs in the existence or nonexistence of things. That's usually a precondition to whether something can be "atheist" or not.

Albaby
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After all, "atheist" is a term we reserve for people (or collections of people).

I'm pretty sure my dog and I are equally atheist.

Cathedral bells elicit no response from him.

A squeaky toy does.
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I'm pretty sure my dog and I are equally atheist.

How about you and your shirtcollar? Or the driver's side airbag in your car? Would you say that you and those objects are "equally atheist"?

Albaby
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How about you and your shirtcollar?

My shirt collar? Dude, my shirt has no collar ;-) The collar on my dress shirt, however, has never expressed any belief in a deity, so I assume it is also atheist.

A thing or critter needn't be able to consider the concept of a deity to be atheist. It simply needs to be atheist to be atheist.

A thing does not need to reject the concept of theism to be atheistic.

This is just an exercise in semantics, right?
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This is just an exercise in semantics, right?

Somewhat. Semantics are important. Although, of course a lawyer would say that.

When an author appears to be saying something foolish (as the OP in this thread was suggesting about Andrew Brown), sometimes the issue lies not in the argument but in the terminology. I don't believe that Brown would disagree that if atheism is defined as the "absence of any belief in god," then of course babies are atheist. As are flathead screwdrivers and mooring piles.

So obviously he's using the term differently - as an affirmative disbelief in god, rather than the absence of conscious beliefs altogether. Thus, it's not accurate to characterize his argument as a claim that one has to believe in god before one can be an atheist. Rather, he's claiming that a child has to develop to the point where they have the capacity to form beliefs, and to be aware of the concept of god, before they can be said to have that affirmative disbelief in god.

Albaby
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I don't believe that Brown would disagree that if atheism is defined as the "absence of any belief in god," then of course babies are atheist. As are flathead screwdrivers and mooring piles.


But even you must agree, albaby, that this is just silly. Flathead screwdrivers, mooring piles, shirt collars, and button hooks have no brain with which to think at all. "Belief" is a word that cannot even be used as pertaining to or descriptive of any of them.

Babies do have a brain. Dogs have brains. Luckily for them, we don't expect them to consider religion.

I have been exposed to religion all my life. But I can honestly say that I haven't rejected it as much as it occurred to me that I simply didn't believe any of it. You can't force yourself to believe something. Especially something that makes zero sense. Likewise, you can't just "decide" to NOT believe something that you actually do believe.

AM
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Rather, he's claiming that a child has to develop to the point where they have the capacity to form beliefs, and to be aware of the concept of god, before they can be said to have that affirmative disbelief in god.

Consider feral child... you know, the tarzan, raised by apes. the feral child raised by wolves, girl raised by bears.

In the absence of a society to teach impart a theology to him/her, the child simply eats, sleeps, and runs about oblivious to theism. Is not that child an atheist even thought the concept of theism never crossed his mind?

The child simply does not think of anything but getting through another day.
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2) Essentially, they are saying that atheism can only happen through the rejection of religions, rather than as a state where they simply do not believe in a god at all, as if the default is to believe in a god, and only by rejecting that can someone come to atheism.

And this is, of course, entirely wrong.

AM


I wonder about the Polynesians. They seemed innocent of a creator-god until the missionaries came along. The missionaries had to teach them to be ashamed of their bodies, and of sex. The Hawai`ians did have Mau`i to create Hawai`i,

CNC
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I wonder about the Polynesians. They seemed innocent of a creator-god until the missionaries came along. The Hawai`ians did have Mau`i to create Hawai`i,

Polynesians had scads of gods

I know Kane was the #1 dude. Pele comes to mind. My friends boat was named Lono. Lotsa gods.
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albaby1:

<<<This is just an exercise in semantics, right?>>>

"Somewhat. Semantics are important. Although, of course a lawyer would say that.

When an author appears to be saying something foolish (as the OP in this thread was suggesting about Andrew Brown), sometimes the issue lies not in the argument but in the terminology. I don't believe that Brown would disagree that if atheism is defined as the "absence of any belief in god," then of course babies are atheist. As are flathead screwdrivers and mooring piles.

So obviously he's using the term differently - as an affirmative disbelief in god, rather than the absence of conscious beliefs altogether. Thus, it's not accurate to characterize his argument as a claim that one has to believe in god before one can be an atheist. Rather, he's claiming that a child has to develop to the point where they have the capacity to form beliefs, and to be aware of the concept of god, before they can be said to have that affirmative disbelief in god."


Except at the end, he seems to default to a babies have a belief in God, so while your argument may make sense, I do not believe that it is the author's argument.

From the original link:

"There is another reason why babies can't be atheists or agnostics. Everything we know from science shows that supernaturalism comes naturally to children."

IOW, children are born believers.

Regards, JAFO
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How about you and your shirtcollar? Or the driver's side airbag in your car? Would you say that you and those objects are "equally atheist"?

I think they're saying that atheism begins at conception! ;)
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Everything we know from science shows that supernaturalism comes naturally to children."

Does the possibility of a child developing a supernatural belief mean that belief is theistic?

I don't think so.

It could be simple superstition. "If I pee under the coconut tree the tree will drop a coconut on my head.'

He teaches his sibling, also being raised by monkeys, "don't pee under the coconut tree or it will drop a coconut on your head," imparting the belief or superstition that the tree has a supernatural capability. The other sibling says 'don't be stupid, trees are just trees.'

That's a long way from pushing sacrifices to the tree gods off the cliff.
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How about you and your shirtcollar? Or the driver's side airbag in your car? Would you say that you and those objects are "equally atheist"?

I think they're saying that atheism begins at conception! ;)


Is the author saying that in the absence of theism there cannot be atheism?

I don't buy that either.

One is atheist before one becomes theist.

I don't believe I ever believed there was a god, which is why i got into a fair share of trouble at catholic school.

I never bought into the story.
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But even you must agree, albaby, that this is just silly. Flathead screwdrivers, mooring piles, shirt collars, and button hooks have no brain with which to think at all. "Belief" is a word that cannot even be used as pertaining to or descriptive of any of them.

But the only way for the brain to be relevant to this issue is if it does something. I don't see how "Atheism" has any meaning as a human behavior if it doesn't involve brain activity, an active choice to not believe in theism. If the brain doesn't have to be involved in being labeled an atheist (as with an infant who has no concept of god) then albaby's screwdriver example is valid.

I don't think the term atheism was ever meant to include the "absence of knowledge of god". It is to not believe in god, which in my mind implies both knowledge of god and a choice.
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But the only way for the brain to be relevant to this issue is if it does something.

All animals have brains. Of all the animals with advanced brains, only some humans pretend there is an FSM.

No animal stops and kneels to the east 5 times a day except humans.
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All animals have brains. Of all the animals with advanced brains, only some humans pretend there is an FSM.

No animal stops and kneels to the east 5 times a day except humans.





And we call animals dumb.

AM
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No animal stops and kneels to the east 5 times a day except humans.

They will if a reward or punishment is involved. This is the basis of dog training.

The same motivation explains religious belief, IMHO. Rewards include social acceptance, psychological comfort, material gain, power, etc. Punishment includes hellfire, brimstone, stoning, damnation and stuff like that.
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No animal stops and kneels to the east 5 times a day except humans.

They will if a reward or punishment is involved.


Brilliant constructive nitpicking.

Sheeeeeesh.

Even if I were talking about trained animals, that animal would still be atheist.
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Even if I were talking about trained animals, that animal would still be atheist.

Not nitpicking IMHO. The religious think humans have some mystical extra dimension called a soul, that no other living thing has. But evolution tells us that there really is no clear demarcation between humans and animals.

Ergo, if humans have religious instincts, the same urgings almost certainly exist in animals. They may be in more rudimentary and inchoate forms, but that would be nitpicking.

Superstition has an evolutionary basis. It is not some magical gift from Goddie guy.
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Superstition has an evolutionary basis.

Isn't superstition a learned trait only humans have?
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Really, it simply boils down to how one defines atheism.

If atheism is the rejection of theism, then only educated humans can be atheists.

or

If atheism is simply a lack of theism, then my dog is an atheist and a baby is atheist until educated sufficiently that it can reject or accept a theistic belief. Until a human understands theism, it is just a trained monkey doing what it is told to do.
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If atheism is the rejection of theism, then only educated humans can be atheists.



As I have said many times before, I don't really think a person rejects religion/theism so much as they simply realize that they don't believe it. I don't think you can turn on and off a "belief" at will. I think you just come to a realization of your own "place" in things after contemplating whatever it is being examined.

I don't think people suddenly "decide" to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster - or Yahweh - or Ra - or anyone or anything else. It doesn't seem to be a conscious decision.

Again, try truly believing something you don't currently believe. Bet you can't do it no matter how hard you try.

I think we mostly come to believe things that make sense to us - and it's not instantaneous. It sneaks up on us until one day, when we are thinking about it, we realize that we either do or do not believe whatever it is being put forth.

So yes, a baby truly does lack a belief in God - any god - and is, by definition, an Atheist. But s/he's an atheist with regard to everything - not just religion - until s/he's old enough to understand and digest the goings on around her. Then, things begin to click.

Why do you think the Catholic Church wants to get those kids at birth and before they are 6 years old? Lots of set-clicks happen during those years, though I'm not sure anything really clicks wrt religion at that early age.

AM
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If atheism is simply a lack of theism, then my dog is an atheist and a baby is atheist until educated sufficiently that it can reject or accept a theistic belief. Until a human understands theism, it is just a trained monkey doing what it is told to do.

My dog thinks I am god. My cat knows she is god.
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Isn't superstition a learned trait only humans have?

Not at all. Dogs will readily become superstitious of coincident events. For example if they get scared by another passing dog at the same time when some odd sound or sight occurs, they will fear that sound or sight in the future even when no dog is around.

In the same way that humans imagine one consequent event being related to another, even when they aren't - say a baseball player wearing the same color underwear in hopes that it will extend his batting streak - because he happened to be wearing that color underwear when the streak began.

Religion has the same basis - imagining a connection between things that are really unconnected, like saying prayerful words can change your daily life events. This is also the basis of Las Vegas' economy - people hope they can beat the odds, they have this gut feeling about the way they are rolling the dice or combing their hair.

There is an evolutionary explanation for it, I think I read this in a Dawkins book (may be mistaken): sometimes coincident events are indeed causally related even if the animal has no understanding of the actual cause-effect relationship. The crack of a branch gives away the approach of an enemy, a change in air pressure signals a coming storm, etc. Evolution favored genes that didn't wait for an explanation but rather fled for cover when a coincident event happened.

There's an evolutionary balance struck of course between fearing one's shadow and never taking risks at all - being too superstitious leads to missed opportunities. Some curiosity and risk-taking is evolutionarily positive but too much curiosity kills the cat, so to speak.

Possibly the risk-taking genes were favored by the evolution of intelligence - which is taking the smarter risks i.e. those supported by some kind of factual information. So humans developed intelligence in order to improve their odds in risky situations.

Which is why being a "guns & religion" redneck tends to be negatively correlated with education and (implicitly) intelligence, as Obama pointed out. Religious people are those overly willing to believe in coincident events. They are evolutionary throwbacks, in a sense. But we're stuck with them.
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For example if they get scared by another passing dog at the same time when some odd sound or sight occurs, they will fear that sound or sight in the future even when no dog is around.

I'm not sure that's superstition. That's a learned response to potential danger. Sometimes when that motion sensor light turns on in the yard it really does mean there's a coyote or bobcat out there. That the dog doesn't get it right 100% of the time doesn't make it superstition.

My neighbors pit bull is dangerous. When we hear their gate open I want my dog to flee into his dog door. If he learns to fear the sound of that gate opening it enhances his chance for survival. If I can teach my dog to fear the pit bull when it hears my neighbors gate open that's a prudent learned behavior. Gate may well = loose pit bull.

The lucky jersey/homerun thing isn't analogous as no cause/benefit relationship ever existed, except in the players head.
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As I have said many times before, I don't really think a person rejects religion/theism so much as they simply realize that they don't believe it. I don't think you can turn on and off a "belief" at will. I think you just come to a realization of your own "place" in things after contemplating whatever it is being examined.

I don't think that's completely true because I've seen some children really believe in Santa Claus when they're young (and partially because their parents are putting up a charade and not showing them they go out and buy the gifts) and those kids eventually learn the truth that Santa was never real.

To a baby, the mother-figure is "God" (and not necessarily a woman). For traditional definitions of religion and atheist/agonist, no babies are atheist/agonist just as none are Christian/Jewish/etc - there are just babies being raised Christian/Jewish/etc, some being raised Atheist/Agnostic, and some just being raised with no concept of religions/lack-of.
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I don't think that's completely true because I've seen some children really believe in Santa Claus when they're young (and partially because their parents are putting up a charade and not showing them they go out and buy the gifts) and those kids eventually learn the truth that Santa was never real.

----------


Of course they do. You can see those little wheels working as they listen to their parents lie to them. They can really envision an old fat jolly guy with white whiskers living up at the North Pole and making toys in his workshop. It seems very real to them and so they believe it.

It is only later, as they begin to wonder how he goes to every house in the world on a single night that they begin to doubt. Then, one day they realize it was all just a story and they no longer believe it.

They never actually make the decision to believe it or not believe it. They just come to a state of realization that they do or don't.

You can try it now. Go ahead and decide to believe that the tooth fairy will bring you money if you lose a tooth. Or.....how about this: decide to believe that music comes from your radio because it is propelled out wards from the breath of little invisible gnomes.

What you will actually do is realize that you don't really believe these things and you cannot make yourself believe by simply deciding to.

AM
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But this is where they go wrong.
Atheists do not "believe" yada yada pertaining to God.
Atheists have a LACK of belief when it comes to God.


I disagree. Again semantics, I can lack the belief that god exists and I can believe that one doesn't. Lacking the belief that god exists does not preclude being able to believe yada yada.

Which of those statements is used to define an atheist is debatable. It should be defined what definition you are using and not equate the two.

Let's look at the key point in the OP:
But there are no atheist babies, and certainly no agnostic ones.

Depends on the definition of atheist (lack of belief or belief that there is no god) and on the definition of atheist (don't know if there is one or believes we can't know).
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Of course they do. You can see those little wheels working as they listen to their parents lie to them. They can really envision an old fat jolly guy with white whiskers living up at the North Pole and making toys in his workshop. It seems very real to them and so they believe it.

I've posted this a few times before, but I am so enthused about it I can't resist posting again in case others haven't seen it yet. Here's a great blog by a parent whose child finally figures out the Santa truth. It caused me to completely re-think my opinion on whether or not the Santa myth is good for kids.

http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=6665
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discurro wrote:
My cat knows she is god.

Your cat can open her own food cans? Mine has to demand that her servants do it for her.

-IGU-
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Of course they do. You can see those little wheels working as they listen to their parents lie to them. They can really envision an old fat jolly guy with white whiskers living up at the North Pole and making toys in his workshop. It seems very real to them and so they believe it.

It is only later, as they begin to wonder how he goes to every house in the world on a single night that they begin to doubt. Then, one day they realize it was all just a story and they no longer believe it.



This was your original statement:
As I have said many times before, I don't really think a person rejects religion/theism so much as they simply realize that they don't believe it. I don't think you can turn on and off a "belief" at will.

With some kids, they did believe in Santa Clause - when they stop believing it's not because "they realize they don't believe it" - they realized they were being lied to. They don't even need to sit and "wonder how he goes to every house".
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Go ahead and decide to believe that the tooth fairy will bring you money if you lose a tooth. Or.....how about this: decide to believe that music comes from your radio because it is propelled out wards from the breath of little invisible gnomes. What you will actually do is realize that you don't really believe these things and you cannot make yourself believe by simply deciding to.

Isn't that only because of the preponderance of evidence against? That's why science works. But try beliefs where the empirical evidence is more subjective, or at least less certain. Does reality exhibit purposeful order? Are there moral absolutes? Is there free will? These are things that one can choose to believe or not depending on experience and information.
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Mac, that was so lovely it brought tears to my eyes.

I'd missed it before, I guess.

Thanks.

SLL
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Isn't that only because of the preponderance of evidence against?


I know of no evidence against the breath of little invisible gnomes. There is no way science can prove the music from your radio does not come from the breath of little invisible gnomes. That is why I put it forth as a challenge of belief by choice.

I suggested it to demonstrate that you cannot simply DECIDE to believe something that you don't actually believe. Likewise, you cannot decide to not believe something that you actually do believe.

Belief is, as far as I can determine, not a choice at all but, rather, a state in which you find yourself. It's like a light switch that gets turned on or off. And you realize that you actually do believe something or that you actually don't believe something. But you never really make a conscious choice regarding that belief. It's not something you can deliberately turn on and off like a spigot or a light switch.

At least I don't know of any instances where that is the case. And I can't think of any.

AM
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Does reality exhibit purposeful order? Are there moral absolutes? Is there free will? These are things that one can choose to believe or not depending on experience and information.

I disagree. One cannot choose what one believes any more than one can choose what food one likes or how one has pillows arranged in order to feel comfortable.

We can choose what evidence we look at such that we can only consider evidence to support our beliefs (just as we can eat foods we don't like until we become accustomed to them) but belief itself is not an active decision.

Case in point: are we actually in a computer simulation? I don't know. I understand the concepts but I don't believe it. I can understand why others might but I don't. I have seen the case for it but I can't bring myself to believe it. I cannot choose to.

Belief is an automatic reaction to a concept based on evidence and experience (and possibly some kind of natural predisposition). An individual's experiences and exposure to evidence vary so their beliefs vary.

That's my view. Do you believe me? If not, could you choose to believe me and then change your belief back?
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One cannot choose what one believes any more than one can choose what food one likes

The core strategy of the proselytizing religions, is to convert non-believers into believers. "Deciding for Christ." They claim to have converted billions over the course of history. Are you saying that many of those billions are just faking it?

I think belief in the supernatural is an inherent weakness that clever preachers bring to the surface through emotional manipulation (fear of pain and death, etc). Just like a good salesman can make you buy something you didn't want a half hour before. But now that you bought it, you are determined to make yourself believe that you did the right thing, rather than admit you made a mistake.

Which is why it's important to educate people so they can detect and defend themselves against superstitious manipulation.
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They claim to have converted billions over the course of history. Are you saying that many of those billions are just faking it?

No. They have probably convinced those billions to believe. That doesn't mean anyone decided to believe. I can deceive you into believing something: I present untruths as if they were true and you might believe me. That doesn't imply a consious decision on your behalf to believe.
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I can deceive you into believing something: I present untruths as if they were true and you might believe me. That doesn't imply a consious decision on your behalf to believe.

You mean you require that beliefs be "true" in order to qualify as an actual decision to believe?

I don't get this connection. Many religious believers are fully aware of the massive evidence of untruth of their beliefs, yet they consciously decide to reject that, treating that evidence as irrelevant. They believe in god-myths because they say there are "different ways of knowing" and they feel god in their hearts or their guts or their dollar bills. Of course that belief is malarkey, but millions if not billions have decidedly rejected the evidence in order to subscribe to that malarkey. And many of those fervent believers were converts, not born believers. Others less fervent nonetheless use confirmation bias to convince themselves to disregard the facts, religion is my decision and I'm gonna stick with it.

Sir Thomas More (16th century)m a true believer went to the gallows rather than betray religious dogma. Very much a thinking man, no dummy bandwagon-jumper, he. He put it this way:

More says to Norfolk, "What matters is not that it's true, but that I believe it; or no, not that I believe it, but that I believe it." More fears that if he breaks with his conscience, he will be damned to hell, while his associates and friends are more concerned with holding onto their own temporal power.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Man_for_All_Seasons
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You mean you require that beliefs be "true" in order to qualify as an actual decision to believe?

No. There is no decidion to believe. That's my whole point.


Many religious believers are fully aware of the massive evidence of untruth of their beliefs, yet they consciously decide to reject that, treating that evidence as irrelevant. They believe in god-myths because they say there are "different ways of knowing" and they feel god in their hearts or their guts or their dollar bills.

There are many examples of psychological phenomena by which people justify their beliefs. It isn't an active decision to believe or not to believe. There are things like post-rationalization, confirmation bias, etc.

The example you give is of people who hold a belief already and you describe how they treat the evidence. It's not an example of people making a decision about whether or not to believe.
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I know of no evidence against the breath of little invisible gnomes. There is no way science can prove the music from your radio does not come from the breath of little invisible gnomes. That is why I put it forth as a challenge of belief by choice.

You do not believe in the supernatural (like invisible gnomes) because of the preponderance of evidence indicating that the events you experience in the world have natural explanations. It is belief based on experience, not instinct.

I suggested it to demonstrate that you cannot simply DECIDE to believe something that you don't actually believe. Likewise, you cannot decide to not believe something that you actually do believe.

Lots of kids believe in Santa Claus at some point in their lives. They choose not to believe as they get older. There was a time when most people believed cigarettes were good. Now most believe cigarettes are bad. I find it hard to accept that either belief is involuntary.
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You do not believe in the supernatural (like invisible gnomes) because of the preponderance of evidence indicating that the events you experience in the world have natural explanations. It is belief based on experience, not instinct.

I agree that it is belief based on evidence and not instinct. Instinct is what we are born with, not necessarily all subconscious reactions. Belief based on evidence can still be not a choice.


Lots of kids believe in Santa Claus at some point in their lives. They choose not to believe as they get older. There was a time when most people believed cigarettes were good. Now most believe cigarettes are bad. I find it hard to accept that either belief is involuntary.

In both circumstances, the presentation of evidence caused a change in belief. The subconsious reaction to said evidence is what caused the change, not a consious decision.

Can you think of any occasion of someone spontaneously changing belief at will? If it is possible, one should be able to change belief from one thing to another and back again whenever they like. I've never seen nor experienced this. Have you?
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Lots of kids believe in Santa Claus at some point in their lives. They choose not to believe as they get older. There was a time when most people believed cigarettes were good. Now most believe cigarettes are bad. I find it hard to accept that either belief is involuntary.

If you ask me to pass you the salt, I can voluntarily choose to hand you the salt. If you ask me to believe the salt is actually powdered unicorn horn, I cannot do so. Could you? Do you possess the ability to voluntarily choose to believe things?
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If you ask me to pass you the salt, I can voluntarily choose to hand you the salt. If you ask me to believe the salt is actually powdered unicorn horn, I cannot do so. Could you?

Why not? The Bible says we should believe that Sodom and Gommorrah are built of salt.

Religious leaders often make guest star appearances at the dinner table. Remember Mary on a piece of burnt toast? Then Jesus appeared on a leftover tortilla, which was enshrined near Roswell NM and attracted 35,000 pilgrims. Jesus was also seen on a fish stick...

Ever since the Shroud of Turin, graven images have been worshiped. In fact long before that, ever since the dawn of civilization... the whole religious sector called animism sees god in objects all around us...

Once 'evidence' and 'rationality' become unnecessary, anything is fair game. Evangelicals swooned over the song 'What if God was One of Us'. Are you going to reject The Lord's gracious visit to your breakfast table, simply because it seems unlikely? Beware, you could be damned for that, you ingrate!

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/WolfFiles/story?id=30722...
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Can you think of any occasion of someone spontaneously changing belief at will? If it is possible, one should be able to change belief from one thing to another and back again whenever they like. I've never seen nor experienced this. Have you?

Problem is that what you are asking is not compatible with the concept of belief. Belief depends on the perception that something is true. So it is not possible to believe in something that one feels is false and it is not surprising that a reason is needed to change belief. I strongly suspect most people feel they have control over what they accept as truth. Not sure I see any good reason to disagree.
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Belief depends on the perception that something is true. So it is not possible to believe in something that one feels is false and it is not surprising that a reason is needed to change belief.

Exactly. How you feel about something is not a decision that you consiously make. If I showed you a picture of a dog poo, you probably wouldn't like it. You don't decide not to like it. If I told you the dog poo picture was made by a green elephant, you probably wouldn't believe me. You don't decide not to believe me, you automatically don't because it's abnormal.


I strongly suspect most people feel they have control over what they accept as truth. Not sure I see any good reason to disagree.

I reiterate my point that if they have control over what they accept as truth then they should be able to switch back ond forth at will. If they can't, they can't control what they believe.
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How you feel about something is not a decision that you consiously make. If I showed you a picture of a dog poo, you probably wouldn't like it. You don't decide not to like it. If I told you the dog poo picture was made by a green elephant, you probably wouldn't believe me. You don't decide not to believe me, you automatically don't because it's abnormal.

There probably should be a corollary to Godwin's law with respect to unnaturally colored animal references.

The issue probably comes down to how one defines free will. You seem to define a willful belief as necessarily being arbitrary and spontaneous. I in turn assert that willful belief can be deliberate. This means that gathering and mulling over the evidence and coming to a decision about what is or is not true can be a voluntary process over which the person has conscious control.

I reiterate my point that if they have control over what they accept as truth then they should be able to switch back ond forth at will. If they can't, they can't control what they believe.

What you are asking is unfair. It would be like asserting that if people had control over "commitment", they would be able to change commitment back and forth at will. Problem is, if you change commitment without cause, in what way can it be said that you were ever committed to something? Belief represents a commitment to an idea. To change your belief without cause is to not really have believed.

Now I would argue they folks can switch belief back and forth, but it is typically done within the context of a deliberative process. I currently believe the affordable care act is good thing. I can willfully give myself the opportunity to change this belief by listening to Fox news and attending Tea Party meetings. That's a voluntary choice on my part. I can then decide whether the opposing evidence is sufficient to shake my belief. That too is a voluntary choice.
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You seem to define a willful belief as necessarily being arbitrary and spontaneous. I in turn assert that willful belief can be deliberate. This means that gathering and mulling over the evidence and coming to a decision about what is or is not true can be a voluntary process over which the person has conscious control.

I guess you can deliberate over the evidence but your reaction to the evidence isn't controllable. I think we're closer than I thought we were - perhaps it's a definitional thing.

One can choose to examine evidence in many way and for as long or as hard as they like. I think that the belief that comes from this comes to us as a realization of our subconsious, rather than as an active decision. It seems you think the latter. Fair enough.
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I reiterate my point that if they have control over what they accept as truth then they should be able to switch back ond forth at will. If they can't, they can't control what they believe.


Exactly. You either believe something or you don't. You can't just choose to believe something. It just doesn't work that way. You can become enlightened on a particular subject as more and more information and evidence comes your way. And, after a while, you come to the realization that you actually do (or don't) believe whatever it is under consideration. But you don't really make a conscious choice to believe (or disbelieve) something or, as you said, a person could switch back and forth at will. And that's not really possible, I think.

AM
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This means that gathering and mulling over the evidence and coming to a decision about what is or is not true can be a voluntary process over which the person has conscious control.

It doesn't feel that way to me at all, internally. I can voluntarily, under conscious control, type 'bteresist.' I can voluntarily, under conscious control, type 'camcorder.' Or any number of other actions.

I cannot, voluntarily and under conscious control, change a belief.


Belief represents a commitment to an idea.

Again, this doesn't feel that way to me. Beliefs are not things I commit to. They are conclusions, tentative and subject to revision.
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But you don't really make a conscious choice to believe (or disbelieve) something or, as you said, a person could switch back and forth at will. And that's not really possible, I think.

You read a post that makes a lot of sense ("it feels right") and so your first impulse is to believe the assertion. But then you remember that this poster was not always accurate in earlier posts so you become skeptical. But then you see posters you respect praise the OP and this pushes you toward belief once more. But just to make sure, you decide to check the info and you find that it isn't quite what the OP said it was, so disbelief prevails. Finally LorenCobb demonstrates that your Google source was inaccurate and confirms the accuracy of the OP. You are a believer again. At what point in this process did your capacity to believe or not become involuntarily?

If to believe or not are both rationally defensible positions, then it seems very possible to switch from one to the other depending on how one consciously feels about the supporting evidence at the moment. However, the examples being brought up (e.g., green elephants pooping dog poo) are a choice between rational and irrational. I agree that it is very difficult for a rational mind to switch between belief in the rational to that of the irrational. Not so much in a choice between two rational positions.
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You read a post that makes a lot of sense ("it feels right") and so your first impulse is to believe the assertion. But then you remember that this poster was not always accurate in earlier posts so you become skeptical. But then you see posters you respect praise the OP and this pushes you toward belief once more. But just to make sure, you decide to check the info and you find that it isn't quite what the OP said it was, so disbelief prevails. Finally LorenCobb demonstrates that your Google source was inaccurate and confirms the accuracy of the OP. You are a believer again. At what point in this process did your capacity to believe or not become involuntarily?

At every step, the state of belief or dis-belief was involuntary IMO. The decision to check the info I would label as conscious and voluntary, but that's it. (I do think willful ignorance is a voluntary, conscious choice.)

I don't know what a 'capacity to believe' is except a mental capacity to hold beliefs.
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Finally LorenCobb demonstrates that your Google source was inaccurate and confirms the accuracy of the OP. You are a believer again. At what point in this process did your capacity to believe or not become involuntarily?


LOL! If that's all it takes you could just email Loren and ask him what to believe and save yourself all that extraneous thinking.

AM
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At every step, the state of belief or dis-belief was involuntary IMO. The decision to check the info I would label as conscious and voluntary, but that's it.

Does that mean there is a disconnect between the conscious mind checking the info and the unconscious mind deciding what to believe? Does your conscious mind ever get surprised by what you end up believing (Hey, I didn't know I believed Justin Bieber was talented!)? Must be exciting.

I dunno. Seems an odd thing for a rational and self-aware brain to have evolved with one of the major motivators of behavior occurring at the involuntary level. Belief would seem to require higher brain activity, which is generally associated with conscious decision making.

I skimmed through a Michael Shermer book a ways back about brain and belief. I recall a compelling argument for belief arising from the interplay between the conscious and rational mind, emotions, and memories. Don't think you can take "conscious and voluntary" out of this equation. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-believing-brai...
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I suspect nobody really cares anymore but the ability of the conscious mind to change belief sees pretty straightforward if one looks at it from a reductionist POV.

One can reduce "belief" in something to a pattern of neuronal firings, lets call it A. When faced with certain stimuli, pattern-A fires, one experiences "belief" and becomes predisposed to certain responses. At any time the conscious mind can express doubt or misgivings about that belief. It can choose to consider other options. This will express itself in new neuronal patterns and associations that interfere with and weaken pattern-A. Eventually, pattern-A breaks down as the neurons emphasize the new associations, which expresses itself as a change in belief. So one can voluntarily choose to work against a predisposition, like a belief, and this will tend to weaken that predisposition until it eventually disappears.

Its pretty much analogous to how one changes habits.
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Its pretty much analogous to how one changes habits.

To change a habit is an act of volition. IOW, you have to want to change the habit. Maybe you could want to change a belief, but this would mean you want to change the belief. That seems circular.

CNC
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Maybe you could want to change a belief, but this would mean you want to change the belief. That seems circular.

It begins with simply having doubts about the belief.
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Does that mean there is a disconnect between the conscious mind checking the info and the unconscious mind deciding what to believe? Does your conscious mind ever get surprised by what you end up believing (Hey, I didn't know I believed Justin Bieber was talented!)? Must be exciting.

I think we have very different subjective experiences of coming to believe things and voluntarily choosing to do things. Because I can't parse this.


I dunno. Seems an odd thing for a rational and self-aware brain to have evolved with one of the major motivators of behavior occurring at the involuntary level.

Why?

involuntary - not voluntary; independent of one's will; not by one's own choice
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/involuntary

Beliefs are generally useful when they're true and harmful when they're false. There would be an advantage in holding to true ones. Where is the advantage in being able to will yourself to hold to something on a basis other than its likelihood of being true?


I recall a compelling argument for belief arising from the interplay between the conscious and rational mind, emotions, and memories. Don't think you can take "conscious and voluntary" out of this equation.

I read the article...I don't see anywhere that it supports an ability to consciously and voluntarily choose beliefs to hold. It more argues the opposite - that beliefs come first and then rational arguments are used to defend and support the belief that someone has already come to hold.


One can reduce "belief" in something to a pattern of neuronal firings, lets call it A. When faced with certain stimuli, pattern-A fires, one experiences "belief" and becomes predisposed to certain responses. At any time the conscious mind can express doubt or misgivings about that belief.

??? The conscious mind is also patterns of neuronal firings. Why did you switch point of view?
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Beliefs are generally useful when they're true and harmful when they're false. There would be an advantage in holding to true ones. Where is the advantage in being able to will yourself to hold to something on a basis other than its likelihood of being true?

The advantage is being able to switch to a more beneficial belief. I assume that higher brain function allows for a more sophisticated appraisal of information that manifests itself in a greater capacity for voluntary (rather than instinctive) behavior. Therefore, if one also assumes that better information processing allows for a more accurate perspective of reality, then conscious thought with voluntary decision-making optimizes the development of advantageous beliefs.

It more argues the opposite - that beliefs come first and then rational arguments are used to defend and support the belief that someone has already come to hold.

Don't think so and it doesn't make sense if one believes that making rational decisions provides a fitness advantage. The evolution of the human consciousness is much easier to, well, rationalize if one assumes selection for conscious/voluntary/rational behavior over unconscious, instinctive behavior.

The conscious mind is also patterns of neuronal firings. Why did you switch point of view?

If conscious thought equals neuronal firings, then conscious thought can direct subsequent neuronal firings.
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