This question of if we have choice in our beliefs is old and well worn, yet I think still worth consideration and discussion.  If it has already been beaten into the ground on AN, I apologize for resurrecting it.  

There is little doubt that our beliefs change and can be influenced by experience. When we first learn that the area of a square is equal to the length of its side squared, we quickly believe that because we are able to understand the logic.   However, most questions are less clear and not addressable by pure logic.  

When Lewis Carrol's Alice is in Wonderland, the Red Queen has this discussion with her:

"... Now I'll give you something to believe. I'm just one hundred and one,

five months and a day." 

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
 

"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath,

and shut your eyes." 

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said "one can't believe impossible things."
 


"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When
I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've
believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...
"
 


I extract from this interaction that the Red Queen is very likely to be 
religious, because credulity is a requirement for most religions.

This is because believers get rewarded and non-believers punished.  A person must have choice of his beliefs if he is to be judged by them.


It seems to me that atheists would tend to feel that we do not have control over what we believe, while theists feel that we do. Do you believe this is probably correct?



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I don't think that we have any control over what we believe, but at the same time I don't think we have much control over what we think or do. It's the physical laws of brain electicity and chemistry that make us think what we think and do what we do while at the same time making the impression that we're the ones in charge.
I love the irony! So far atheists have all posted on this thread (include me) that we are not really free to choose what we believe. But, our ideals are the ones that embrace freedom for individuals. It is going to take me some time to reconcile this conflict.
We are all "deciding" machines, built by evolution and experience. Maybe we don't insist that we have free will until we meet another "deciding" machine that chooses differently than we do.
What I meant by asking if we can choose what we believe was to question if we have the power to control our beliefs. I can not prove that I have free will, but I do make decisions based on how I perceive a question. Do I have a real choice? For example, I can not force myself to believe that two straight lines can cross at more than a single point.
If I was offered $1,000,000 to believe for a single hour that the area of a plane circle is not equal to pi times its radius squared, I would be unable to make myself do so.

This inability to control my beliefs leads me to reject as nonsense the appeals of religious proselytizers who tell me that if I would only believe, I will see that their god really exists.

I suggest that the nature of a "Proof" is to require that any who follow its logic must agree - they will have no choice in the matter. In this sense, I do not think we have choice over what to believe, instead it is determined by our physiology and history.

GaryB

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