Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is Being an Atheist a Choice?

After many debates with people over the issue of whether sexuality is a choice, I recently wondered whether atheism is a choice in the same way. I believe that sexuality is innate in that we are born into our sexuality at a biological level. Gay people are born the way they are and can't help it, and straight people are as well. One cannot alter their sexuality just as one cannot alter their race. Is is because of the fact that people are born into their sexuality and gender that I support equal rights for the LGBT community.

This makes me think whether atheists are born that way too. Atheists have a certain skeptical personality type that appears to be innate. I for example, was always quick to hesitate the acceptance of extraordinary claims on faith, ever since I can remember. Like Hitchens, I am so made that I cannot believe. But was I born this way? Is Atheism a choice? Or, was I born with a skeptical personality, that is more inclined to being an atheist? If so, then it means that atheism for me was almost determined. Considering my secular upbringing, you might think that it was my environment that determined my atheism. But then there are numerous people who are inculcated into one religion or another, and who later follow their hearts, and their minds, to atheism or agnosticism because they cannot go on believing on faith. I think that I would have been one of those people had I been raise with religion.

I am inclined to believe that being an atheist is not really a choice, but a logical conclusion given a certain personality type. But if being an atheist or a theist is a condition of one's own innate personality, does this have any say on the truths of these mutually incompatible beliefs? Could theists just say that atheist are disbelievers because of their genetics, and further conclude that atheism loses its ground on that behalf? I say no, because there are certain personality types unable to grasp scientific claims, and their existence does not render evolution, or relativity false. One of us is correct, and one of our beliefs is true.

I do not think reality is dependent on your inborn personality type, because otherwise, science would be purely subjective and it is not. Rather I think, that most people are theists, because evolution it seems, has determined it to be beneficial. The believing brain makes sense when you consider that false positives are less harmful than false negatives. If our ancestors, living in small isolated tribes heard a rustle in the bushes, and imagined that it could be a saber-toothed tiger and took their guard, but later found out it was just a squirrel, they would live another day. But if they heard that rustle in the bushes, and did nothing and it was a man-eating saber-toothed tiger, then they were history. So it was beneficial for our ancestors to imagine and assume things weren't there. This is, in a nut-shell, how god concepts developed.

So if being an atheist isn't a choice, then I suppose that just like gay people we can have fabulous coming out parties, and must fight against discrimination oppressing our beliefs and lifestyles. If atheists like me cannot sincerely bring themselves to believe on faith, as theists do, then we should be treated as equals. I like to justify my support for equality towards gays and women because they didn't choose to be born that way. Why should someone's very nature, as long as it does not harm others, be grounds for discrimination?

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