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I frequently hear the claim that atheists choose atheism, usually for some morally blameworthy reason like a desire to avoid taking responsibility for their sins. My response is basically the same every time: You may not believe me, but I didn't choose any such thing, and I can't just 'choose' to start believing. Maybe you can, but I can't. I do not believe in any gods. Evidence would make me believe in some god, but all the playacting in the world isn't going to change that.


Read Article: Atheism & Choice: Atheists Choose Atheism & to be Atheists

May 12, 2007 at 12:29 pm
(1) Will says:

“You may not believe me, but I didn’t choose any such thing, and I can’t just ‘choose’ to start believing. Maybe you can, but I can’t.”

I spoke with an old teacher of mine once on choosing to believe Christianity because I thought, for me personally, I would be happier as a Christian than as an Atheist. He asked me if I could ever be honest with myself in that and if I could not torture myself with cognitive dissonance. Not in so many words, but that was his point. I think he was right. Like you said, I didn’t choose to become an Atheism, it’s where my questions and the few answers I received led me.

Secondly, how does one develop critical thinking skills? I don’t feel I am good at thinking critically. Supposedly the university I am at is supposed to develop that, but I think it’s more like they reward you if you have it already and disregard those who don’t.

May 12, 2007 at 5:05 pm
(2) Ron says:

Will. Not good at critical thinking? How do you think you got to be one of us? Same with me. One day it dawned on me that we on the surface of this earth amount to no more than the green fuzz on the surface of a too old orange! It’s a big universe, and we are on our own. kinda scary when it first hit me. That’s what you get when you start thinking.

May 12, 2007 at 6:38 pm
(3) Austin Cline says:

Secondly, how does one develop critical thinking skills?

The same way one develops good language skills: practice. This means “practice” in the sense of reading what others are doing and “practice” in the sense of doing it yourself. I’ve reviewed a bunch of books on skepticism & critical thinking, some of which might help. Letters to the Editor in your newspaper are a good place to look to find examples of fallacies.

May 17, 2007 at 12:55 am
(4) Will says:

Wow, thanks Mr. Cline. I just now came back and got to check out your response. I thank you for actually taking the time. I’ll be sure to pick up a few of those books. For now I just bought James “The Varieties of Religious Experience” and a bit of Thomas Paine.

July 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm
(5) John Hanks says:

Critical thinking is not a craft or a skill. It is an art. When something is an art you don’t quite know where you are going to end up. You just have to mix a bit of doubt with a bit of comparing and contrasting. Courage of convictions helps too.

October 4, 2008 at 3:48 pm
(6) tracieh says:

Hi Will. I don’t know if you’re still around. But if so, just to say that it was actually a job that I had that prompted me to start thinking critically (just to survive in the position). I had gone through school and done my bachelor’s, but still lacked that skill (or art as John prefers).

I honed it right here, actually, online in the forums at this site. There is almost nothing I could say there that went unchallenged. I started out basically getting shot down at every turn, and finally ended up getting replies from people, awhile later, saying things like “nicely argued!” It felt really good to realize how much I’d grown–to a point where I had become good at challenging my own assumptions BEFORE putting them out there.

It’s hard to challenge your own assumptions–because we’re all so used to them in ourselves. Nothing calls out what we take for granted like expressing it in front of someone who DOESN’T take it for granted and doesn’t agree with us. I have issued a lot of “I’ll have to consider that further”s in my day.

Be as honest as you can be, and really think about what people say. Ask yourself if what they’re describing aligns with what you know about reality; and if so, does it align for the reasons they’re claiming?

Learn to ID logical fallacies, and try to avoid using them. And don’t get freaked out if you don’t have a response. Again, it’s as easy as “I’ve never heard it put that way before. Thanks for giving me something to think about.” Then go and really think about it and see what you think. Check facts–make sure you’re not just giving away the benefit of the doubt on issues that are not established. Don’t agree to a premise you don’t agree with. Even if the person is right–if you’re not sure about it–ask them where they’re getting their information.

In a lot of ways, critical thinking is the art of learning not to assume anything.

October 4, 2008 at 3:56 pm
(7) tracieh says:

I have never gotten the “choose to believe” idea. Obviously we are all familiar with the reality that it doesn’t matter how hard someone (including us) tries to convince us we can fly–it would take more than personal “will” to make a sane, undrugged person jump from a skyscraper without a parachute by getting him/her to “believe” he/she can fly.

The closest reality I’ve heard along these lines is the idea of confirmation bias. Certainly that’s something anyone has seen, and maybe even done, in reality. BUT, with atheism, it’s hard to accuse most of the atheists I know of confirmation bias, because they consistently interact and dialogue with theists, they read theist articles, about half of them are fairly familiar with the Bible. In fact, as a Christian I was afraid to read things that weren’t coming from an apologist viewpoint. I thought other people were under the influence of the world or of Satan, and would print seductive lies that could make trouble for me. So, all my data was pretty well biased until I started talking to other humans more and more–who gave me their thoughts and information they were aware of.

As an atheist, I have no restrictions on the authority of any writer. I can read whatever I like. I can read the Koran, Dawkins, the Bible, Apocrypha, Harry Potter, Mother Goose, Upanishads…whatever. Ideas and other people’s perspectives don’t frighten me any more. Very liberating.

But I think a lot of Christians aren’t like that–and are more along the lines of the people I knew and meet today. They read Christian material written by Christians about topice from a Christian worldview. And I think they assume that atheists work the same way–that we will only read a thing or give it consideration if it’s written by an atheist (or a *gasp* scientist!). I think that’s part of how they see it as being “just like religion.” But I’m not restricted under atheism by any creed, doctrine, dogma, holy book, sacred idea that can’t be examined or questioned. Anything is fair game.

Like someone said to me last weekend: Anything is possible.

Hmm. Is it “possible” that caim is wrong?

Question everything–even that everything should be questioned. It’s all double-sided.


October 4, 2008 at 6:01 pm
(8) Ron says:

Hi, Tracie. how are you? Your quote.
(Question everything–even that everything should be questioned. It’s all double-sided.)
I will will now compare it with a Thomas Jefferson quote. Ok?
Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

October 5, 2008 at 6:09 pm
(9) tracieh says:

Jefferson and I have the same birth date (except for the years). Thanks for such a gracious comparison.

I’m doing well, but very busy. I miss my time at this area and am trying to remember to squeeze it in. I like Austin’s input.

October 6, 2008 at 11:45 am
(10) HOBOBOH says:

There are two forms of religious elitists in the United States (I won’t speak for others).

1.) Faithful believers : They think they know the answer and you don’t.

2.) Atheists : They think they know the answer and you don’t.

Only in Agnosticism is a balance struck.
Having the logic to know that the testaments are great stories, but not much more than that. However , also able to know that something much larger “may” exist which produced all we can see and things which we cannot see yet. This does not mean it is something to be worshiped, but simply a willingness to tip ones hat out of respect for something which as yet we cannot perceive. In the end only the Agnostic is willing to say “I don’t know”, and that is the truly HONEST answer. Until a new development comes along at least.


July 26, 2011 at 7:53 am
(11) Darcyj says:

I disagree… If your an agnostic your saying “I don’t know who to worship”, while most atheists are saying I have not seen any proof to believe I should worship anything”

July 26, 2011 at 8:57 am
(12) Austin Cline says:

I disagree… If your an agnostic your saying “I don’t know who to worship”,

No, that’s not the definition of agnosticism.

Agnosticism is the absence of knowledge of the existence of any gods. If you don’t claim to know for sure if any gods or any particular god definitely does or definitely does not exist, then you’re an agnostic.

Thus agnosticism is compatible with both believing (theism) and not believing (atheism).

It has nothing to do with worship. You can believe a god exists but not worship it.

October 6, 2008 at 11:53 am
(13) Austin Cline says:

1.) Faithful believers : They think they know the answer and you don’t.
2.) Atheists : They think they know the answer and you don’t.
Only in Agnosticism is a balance struck.

This is a popular misconception based on misunderstandings of the definitions of atheism and agnosticism. Atheism is simply the absence of belief in gods; while some atheists may feel that they have the answer and you don’t, this isn’t part of the concept. Agnosticism is the absence of knowledge if any gods definitely exist or not; while some agnostics may be humble in not insisting that they are certain about this, others can be quite dogmatic about agnosticism.

Atheism and agnosticism are not mutually exclusive because they are about different issues. Not knowing for sure if any gods exist or not is not a “third option” between belief and disbelief because the absence of knowledge is compatible with both. Every agnostic also either believes in some god anyway (maybe based on faith) or doesn’t bother.

Agnostic is willing to say “I don’t know”, and that is the truly HONEST answer.

This is arguably a way of being dogmatic about agnosticism: describing one’s position as the only reasonable and honest one while dismissing everyone else is not really any better than saying “I know the answer and you don’t.”

October 7, 2008 at 5:33 am
(14) sornord says:

A common response I get from believers is that I can’t prove there ISN’T a god, but my response to that is “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” (Tip o’the hat to Carl Sagan.) I’m NOT claiming there is an invisible, omnipotent being in the sky (or in my head) watching everything, subtly (and at times overtly) directing world events, etc. It’s up to you who ARE claiming that to provide the evidence for it. And NO ONE, EVER, has provided real evidence, just hearsay, anecdotes, and strained, tortured attempts at justification and rationalizations making the ASSUMPTION that there is such a thing.

October 14, 2008 at 11:33 am
(15) John Hanks says:

Agnostics are intellectually honest, but emotionally dishonest. As far as a skygod is concerned an agnostic is just as bad as an atheist because he even considers that he doesn’t exist. The truth is that an agnostic cries peace when there is no peace. He blows neither hot nor cold.

October 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm
(16) Paul Buchman says:

>an agnostic is just as bad as an atheist

October 14, 2008 at 4:20 pm
(17) Irene Jones says:

To John Hanks:

Have you ever gone for a walk and noticed that, when the wind is blowing neither hot nor cold, you are quite comfortable?

I’m an agnostic, after being religious and and then an atheist. It’s an honest response, both intellectually and emotionally, when you are dealing with what you cannot possibly KNOW. You simply learn to embrace a mystery that you can’t solve. No one is waiting around to give you a prize if you believe you’ve solved it. Chances are, they won’t like your solution!


October 14, 2008 at 4:30 pm
(18) Austin Cline says:

I’m an agnostic, after being religious and and then an atheist.

Those aren’t all mutually exclusive. Agnosticism is about knowledge and atheism is about belief (or the lack thereof, to be specific). Knowledge and belief are related, but still separate, so they can’t be different answers to the same question — or to put it another way, agnosticism isn’t an “alternative” to atheism.

Everyone, including every agnostic, either has in their mind the belief that some sort of god exists or they lack any such belief. So every agnostic is also either a theist or an atheist. Some agnostics are theists because while they don’t know for sure if any gods exist, they believe anyway (like because of faith). The rest just don’t bother.

Religion is still another issue entirely. Some agnostics are religious and some are not. Some atheists are religious and some are not. Some theists are religious and some are not. So we can have any combination of the three issues: atheist/theist; agnostic/gnostic; secular/religious. Some combinations are more common than others, but none would be self-contradictory.

An example of a religious agnostic atheist would be a Buddhist who doesn’t claim to know for sure if anything like a “god” exist, but also doesn’t care and doesn’t bother believing because (as the Buddha taught) gods can’t help you overcome samsara and achieve nirvana — that’s something you have to work out on your own.

October 15, 2008 at 6:39 pm
(19) Drew says:

An agnostic who lives his life without believing in, or worshipping, any gods is an agnostic atheist. An agnostic who lives his life worshipping the god of his family/community, but having doubts about that gods existence, is an agnostic theist. Alsmost all people who call themselves “agnostic” are agnostic atheists, because they live their lives without worshipping any gods.

The only reason so many agnostic atheists don’t want to accept and state that they are atheists is because of the millenia of successful persecution of non-believers by theistic religions. This persecution will only end when non-believers stop being ashamed of what they are. Surely such self-loathing and guilt can be left to the religious!

November 17, 2008 at 3:23 pm
(20) Bill F. says:

For tracieh:

“… it was actually a job that I had that prompted me to start thinking critically (just to survive in the position). …”

Sometimes I think I am still just learning, after all these years (critical thinking).

I don’t expect you to go into the kind of detail that would get personal, or violate anyone’s confidentiality, but could you please tell me what kind of a job it is that makes one evaluate their assumptions?

:) – Bill

July 22, 2011 at 2:56 am
(21) Ojodume says:

Once a “Christian” boss asked me, after listening to my views, if I believed in God. I knew that a direct honest answer would offend him, so I told him that I believed BECAUSE I grew up to meet others believing in God. I added that if they stopped believing, I would have no reason to continue believing. Belief in gods of any description remains the most primitive of man’s mental appreciation of nature. If one must believe in anything, then I believe in Man; the creator of the christian and other gods.

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