Atheists Do Not Choose to Be Atheists


Most atheists will eventually be told by a religious believer that we are choosing not to believe in their preferred god(s) and are somehow to blame for doing so. It is almost as if they think we could simply flip a switch and have god-belief like they do. Never mind that this is not how belief works.

I have written previously about whether atheism is a choice and why I think this is important for atheists to address. It is good to see other atheist bloggers I respect asking the same question.

Poodles (Poodles Place; blog no longer active) came up with a great way to explain the issue of choice to religious believers when one expressed this common misconception:

I told her that it would be like trying to unlearn how to read. Once you become educated about some things, it’s impossible to go back. Knowing what I know about the bible and religions I could never go back.
I really like the unlearning to read metaphor. Like Poodles, I could no more resume god-belief than I could unlearn how to read, unlearn my native language, and so on.

And here is what Austin Cline (About.com Agnosticism/Atheism) had to say on the subject:

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.

Exactly! Bring me evidence sufficient to support belief in whichever god(s) you want me to believe in, and we'll talk. Otherwise, it does not seem accurate to characterize atheism as a choice we atheists make. My guess is that religious believers may feel compelled to believe this because it is the only way they can justify the eternal punishment they imagine is in store for us. If our lack of belief wasn't a choice we were making, this would look unbelievably cruel.

For more on the subject of whether atheism is a choice and why it matters, see The Implications of Recognizing That Atheism is Not a Choice.