Atheism vs. Belief in gods : Is it a choice, or is it based on more innate psychological function and environment? And why?

I'm hoping we can stick to the topic and really think about this, instead of this turning into a "let's argue and prove god does or doesn't exist" thing. Stay with me. :)

I do think there may be a genetic component or some psychological predisposition that is key to belief and disbelief in god. It's similar to when brain scans are done to observe differences in brain activity between Democrats and Republicans, the same has been done for believers vs. atheists. They tend to respond to specific themes/topics differently, and it seems likely that they process information differently, even in daily life without the brain scan. As an atheist, I see this all the time - believers are moved by certain things in ways that I'm not. Of course, the question is, are those differences the result of belief/disbelief, or are there also differences in the first place that lead to differing conclusions on the existence of god? I would say yes to both.

I think psychological disposition, and then subsequent development, can lead to either more acceptance or rejection of illogical belief systems. (And I only mean logical in strictest sense of concrete, objectively observable evidence and proven givens to move a statement beyond assumption or belief. For example, proving water exists.) For many/most, the experience of religion and other evocative experiences linked to belief in god, or the supernatural in general, are more powerful than doubt. For others, doubt, reason, and logic win by a landslide. I discovered that I was in the latter category at a young age, despite being from a Christian family and attending Christian schools. And the question has always been asked of me, "Why do you think you turned out to be atheist?" This is a huge part of my answer. "It's possible that something about my brain works differently."

What do you think?


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Most Helpful Guy

  • I think that what you say makes sense. We all face the world differently and see things differently. It may be easier for some people to believe in supernatural stuff in certain situations while others will seek a logical explanation for it, it's similar to what make each one of us have different personalities.

    I think that a good example of it is when we consider a life changing happening. Some religious people will say that their faith got stronger after this happening and others will abandon faith completely.

    We can't ignore the way people were raised though. When we're born in a religious country or family, normally our world view grows with religion and beliefs being part of it. As a child you can't choose and you may grow up believing in what your parents or society taught you. Continuing to believe in it or not after you grow up will depend entirely on your personal view of the world and of what happens around you.

    I'll take myself as an example. I was born in a traditional religous family (protestant) in a country where most people consider religion as being importart. As a child I was taught that there was no other way, that the existence of God was an unquestionable certainty, that evolution was a mistake and shouldn't be taken seriously, stuff like that.

    However, I was never religious. The things that I did were the things that I was taught to do, but I never saw any meaning in them. I never felt that happiness that the believers claimed to feel and as I grew up I started questioning many things and I saw that religion couldn't provide all the answers and many of them were nonsense. I think that I don't need to say what happened next.

    The funny thing is that my brother was raised the same way that I was and today he's a devote religious man and I don't believe in it anymore since long ago.

    So many things I want to say... but I think that this is enough for now (I hope you read it xD)

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Most Helpful Girl

  • It's possible, the brain is still a mystery for the most part. I personally think it's more directly involved with conditioning. I'm agnostic, for the most part. I was raised in a casual Christian home. I wasn't forced to go to church or disciplined because I questioned things. The older I get, the more I explore history and the more I question things. This is where what you are thinking comes into play, I suppose! No matter how much I learn, a belief of something I have no proof of still persists.

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What Guys Said 15

  • It's a little hard to argue or suggest this towards religious people because many of them reject the very natural sciences that found these interesting results.
    Personally, I agree with you. Though I'm not a neurologist, I have read a lot about these things and I can well imagine that an important component is physiological and given to us by birth.
    However, I also believe that it's not exclusively genes. It's probably a combination of nature and nurture like in most other cases too. The natural inclination to be an atheist might have always been within you but perhaps it couldn't have risen to your consciousness if your family happened to be part of an extremely fundamentalist christian sect. Perhaps your parents were rather moderate in their religiosity and tolerant towards other opinions and so they gave you the chance to actually start thinking about these things critically without fearing to be abandoned.
    Personally, I also believe that religiosity has a lot to do with education (or lack thereof). I know religious people hate hearing this but it has been proven by numerous studies. Religiosity and education always have an indirect proportional relationship (the better educated, the less religious you tend to be), regardless of race, sex or cultural background. 96% of the members of the American Academy of Sciences (probably the most prestigious science club in the US) consider themselves atheists. I don't think that's just a coincidence. So education would be one good example of how the environment and the way you grow up can also have an important impact on your views.

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    • 3mo

      My parents are somewhere between fundamentalist and moderate. My schools were teaching us creationism and I had a militant teacher trying to scare us into being "young soldiers for god." I had a lot of horrible dreams as a result of the fire and brimstone brand of Christianity I was often exposed to, and most of my family embraces that. This is kind of why I've always found it interesting that I'm so atheist. To say that I reflect on my experience as another every day case of emotional trauma brought on by religion is one thing, but to depart from it so completely is another thing, and unacceptable for most I've known, who also share a similar background.

      My mom and I still have arguments about creationism, and her insistence that evolution doesn't exist and the world is only 6,000-10,000 years old. Shit hurts my ears, but I've resolved to emphasizing this kind of argument, after a little back and forth about science or evolution, what have you.

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    • 3mo

      @candyaurora No, I do not disregard Newton as a scientist. I do, however, disregard him as an example for a religious person who studied science and I already gave you the reasons why.

      Also, you are absolutely wrong about Einstein. This is myth floating around the internet but it doesn't become more true by believing what every other sheep believes. Yes, Einstein spoke of a "god" but the god he was referring to was completely different from your typical christian idea of god. Einstein followed a sort of pantheistic mysticism. He had a great appreciation and admiration for the natural wonders of the universe, such as the power of stars or the almost imaginably large scales of time and distance. He did not, however, believe in a personalized god. In fact, there are lots of evidences for this. On 24 March 1954, Einstein wrote in a letter to Joseph Dispentiere the following words: "It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically

    • 3mo

      repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it."
      If you care to actually research Einstein's beliefs, you will find many more such statements.

      As for Jabin bin Hayyan, that's again somebody who lived many, many centuries ago. So it's ridiculous to quote him as an example. Jabin bin Hayyan lived in a time where people knew very little and thus had to believe. Today, we know a lot compared to 1,200 years ago and we do not need this crutch of religious faith anymore. In fact, just like a real crutch only makes walking for a healthy person with strong legs more cumbersome, so does religious faith make modern life and critical thinking more cumbersome.

  • I like you line of thought here... I actually don't believe in free choice, I think we are all just a walking collection of physiology that are molded to behave and react by our experiences.

    Aside form my extreme views there, I absolutely do not think it is a choice, It is something you are either inclined towards, or not. I know I have read about people who feel euphoric when believing in God on a chemical level, and others who feel the same without any thought of God. However both would be very sad if put in the reverse, because their brains just don't work that way. Of course, considering religion is almost always pushed on you at a young age , and you likely grow up in a community of people of the same faith/ lack of faith- it is no surprise people simply follow their parents most of the time. Except for the few who convert as adults, I am not sure how you could see most religions as choice, that would be like saying you 'chose' your first language. It was chosen for you.

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  • I actually saw this video about Conservatives and Liberals
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4nMzD1OmDE

    I think it is very likely that it takes a certain type of brain to believe or not believe in God. The issue becomes what do you do with that belief or lack thereof. Do you lean left wing or right wing or like myself somewhere in the middle?

    I think people who are more curious tend to be atheist. People who are willing to challenge the status quo and find a real answer. It is possible that my life experiences contributed to me being an atheist especially since I was raised without religion and always questioned authority but I'm quite certain that only some people can only become theist/atheist through a dramatic change in their life because of the environment they're in.

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    • 3mo

      Yeah, "curious" was the nice way my teachers in Christian school liked to describe me. lol

      I agree though, it takes a certain type of brain to be an atheist, and also to believe strongly in gods. I would even argue that there's a very natural, common psychological something that leads a majority of people to believe in one higher power or another. I just wasn't born with it or I just didn't develop it, despite the odds being way stacked in that favor in our Christian family.

    • 3mo

      It's like teaching someone that apples taste good.
      That's impossible. Some people like apples, others don't.

  • Interesting question! Essentially a question of "nature vs nurture", though. I think the real oddity however is that many people are atheists (as in, non-religious) BUT they still believe in concepts like "karma" or "predetermination" or "fate", even though neither of these can be verified either.

    With that in mind, genetics might make you more likely to "take things with a grain of salt", but might still believe in concepts that aren't proven. Weird, huh?

    Personally, as a non-religious person, I think that in order to be religious, it has to become a "habit" and therefore a "norm" so that you would believe it to be a reality rather than a superstition.

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    • 3mo

      My definition of atheist is not believing in god, not simply "non-religious." But it is true that some atheists believe in the supernatural. However, I don't. I think I came across a term for that - "naturalist atheist" in that I don't believe in god, nor do I believe in the supernatural realm.

    • 3mo

      Even the supernatural realm has stuff to consider though such as "ghosts", "aliens" or "fate"

    • 3mo

      Right, I don't believe in those things. That's why I was happy to find the term "naturalist". Some atheists absolutely believe in the supernatural, non-god thingys.

      Aliens aren't really supernatural to me. (But I don't believe in little green people crashing into Roswell. Although, Roswell was a fucking great '90s show for my childhood. ) Supernatural to me is "not of this realm" type stuff and "guiding forces in the universe" like your other examples. Gods, spirits, ghosts, predetermined destiny, etc.

  • Religions are inspired by irrational fears about death and by ignorance.

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    • 3mo

      While I would agree, I'm really getting at why some people are more prone to atheism than others, or to religious belief.

  • The less you understand about logic and science applied to the world and the universe, the more you grasp at religion or the take your "knowledge" from "authorities" to give your world order and to answer life's questions.

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  • I was all for having a reasonable discussion, but than you mention belief in God being illogical.
    If you really want a reasonable discussion you should leave the insults out, just saying.

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    • 3mo

      I don't view it as an insult necessarily. It is what it is. Belief in god is illogical. If part of my entire premise is that I value logic, reason, and doubt, then rejecting the supernatural will inevitably come with the realization that it is illogical. Faith is not supposed to be logical, science is. They stand at two completely different ways of thinking and forming opinions. If it's okay to embrace faith, which is confidence in something without reason, then it shouldn't be an issue in highlighting that it's not based on logic... because it isn't, by definition.

      People have emotional reactions to certain words. This happens. It doesn't really mean the word itself isn't correctly used or that the application of it isn't fitting.

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    • 3mo

      Apriori by definition has to be logical.

    • 3mo

      Logic and scientific are not interchangeable words. Logic is based on reason, science is based on empirical observation. Religion is not scientific, this is true because God cannot be observed. Religion is logical because belief in a Creator is well within reason.
      Pluto and Aristotle are well known philosophers, they used reason and not science to try to answer the questions of the universe. They both rejected myth and religion, and yet both believed in a Creator. Why because it is logical.

  • More than a choice, it's a truth. It's like saying: Is it a choice to believe that the sky is blue?

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  • It is a choice, and though both sides stand militant against the other and ignorant of the validity of both sides, in the end belief and identity are something only you can make for yourself.

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    • 3mo

      This is a very interesting perspective. I'm just curious - are you religious or do you believe in god?

    • 2mo

      I firmly believe in God.

  • I don't think there's a genetic component, but definitely psychological conditioning.

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  • for me, It is about culture you grow up but if you are super smart still you can be an atheist ( like me :p )

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  • I would wager there is a fair amount of both if you look at it from an individual perspective

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  • The best I can figure is some people just believe and some, like me... don't. Its hard to find any simple correlations. For example, many religious people grew up in religious households, so maybe religion is passed down? But then again, I grew up in a very religious household, yet I never really "got it". Ultimately, I don't think we really have a choice. Like I said before, I think you either believe in it, or you don't. We can't help the way we feel.

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  • It can't be explained only by what you said last oh sorry i am so sleepy. to understand it we need deeper researches and it is not that easy and what about undecided ones? Anyway of course how our brains work affect every aspect or our lifes, our choices, our life partners all of those are result of our brain activity for sure. you talk about two opposide sides and want to know if it is how your brain work that turn you to an atheist you seem like you are sure you won't change till the end of your life. oh i want to explain myself but it is not something that can be done in a blink sorry i can't explain myself well i must sleep good night

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    • 3mo

      Well, we agree on the significance of psychology and environment then.

      I'm fairly certain that, like most of humanity, I will stick with my beliefs and remain atheist until I die. I'm quite ordinary in that sense. It would take something miraculous to make me believe in god. I'm pretty sure I would have to see god itself in person, ensure that others were seeing it with me to rule out individual hallucination as a possibility, and question a variety of other factors that might result in collective hallucination, rule those out, and even then, I probably still wouldn't believe it. lol

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    • 3mo

      I did my best to explain myself :) i hope my English is not comic :D hehe by the way you are a good girl :) i know this

    • 3mo

      by the way there is one more thing i observe from people around me. People who believe in a religion are more likely to tend to believe in things like illuminaty and others who are atheist like you tend to believe in different things and what i observe you all resist on what you believe dont ask what i believe in i grew up as a muslim and i am trying to find the truth good night :)

  • You either do or you don't. I can't say your brain is different... every person IS different than anyone else. As a Christian, I cannot judge another person or attempt to change beliefs. You are you and have your own path.

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What Girls Said 2

  • Base on what I've seen with atheists time and time again, it seems like atheism seems to be based on intellectual ego. The whole root of atheism is often "If you can't prove it, then it's not true. If you can't beat me in a debate, then it's false." and there's always this weird, demanding, egotistical tone there like they truly believe that they know everything or that all knowledge can be expressed within a "debate" (which usually turns into a bunch of aimless bickering).

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    • 3mo

      I can't argue with that. I place a high value on critical thinking and logic, and it is the core of how I form opinions and come to my beliefs most of the time, so it's natural that my style of debating or even just talking reflect that. If your basis for your opinions is more on feelings or emotions than logic, it's likely that this will come across more in one way or another in your style of debating. But fair enough, I won't lie. I have been and probably still am this person, to a degree. However, it's not really important that they agree with me anymore, so much as it is that they understand why I think their conclusion is false and giving them some kind of insight into my mind, so they may better understand atheists, as we are a minority.

      Also, I find that logic makes for better thinking. It just should be, in my opinion, important to analyze your beliefs and figure out what really makes sense. But again - thats how my brain has always worked.

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    • 3mo

      You too and good luck in the future with that intellectual ego. It's apparent every time you open your mouth.

    • 3mo

      Thanks, love. Besos! <3

  • I think it's usually done through indoctrination so it may be because of environmental reasons more so than biological or psychological reasons. There may be a gene that predisposes someone to believe in supernatural things than an individual without the gene or genes but I don't know if there is concrete evidence substantiating that.

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