I Did Not Choose to Be an Atheist

BeliefsI never chose to be an atheist, and I hardly think I'm unique among atheists in this regard. I suspect that most atheists did not chose to be atheists. So when a Christian asks me some version of their "what if you're wrong" question, I often point out that this question assumes I have a choice in what I believe about their "god." I do not accept this assumption.

I could not simply start believing something I do not believe because I thought there might be something in it for me. Belief does not work this way.

For a primer on voluntarism vs. involunarism, I highly recommend this post by Austin Cline.
I try to explain to evangelists that I do not in fact “choose” atheism. Instead, atheism is the only possible position I can have given my present state of knowledge. I can no more “choose” to just believe in the existence of a god than I can “choose” to just believe that the computer on my desk doesn’t exist.
I accept the involuntarist position on belief. Atheism is not a choice I made; it is an inevitable outcome of my experience to date. Outgrowing gods was not a choice I made; it happened naturally as I encountered no evidence to support their existence.

This is why the "what if you're wrong" questions have no impact. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. The only thing that would change my belief is evidence, and it would have to be evidence that was proportional to the claim I am being asked to accept (i.e., that some sort of god or gods exist, want to have a "personal relationship" with me, etc.). Without this, I'm simply an atheist because that is what my mind and the subtotal of my experience tells me I am.

Of course, none of this means that I have not made several choices related to my atheism. I have. Here are just a few examples of choices I have made:
  • I choose to identify myself as an atheist when asked what I think about religion.
  • I choose to speak out when confronted with religiously-motivated bigotry.
  • I choose to write about atheism on this blog.
For more on why atheism is not a choice, see this post by Dave Niose on Psychology Today.