Can we chose what we want to believe?


I have given this a lot of thought over the years and have come to the conclusion that people believe what they want to believe, much of the time.

I don’t mean to say that people believe things without any reason, but they believe, oftentimes, without good reason.

As I said, I didn’t come to this belief lightly, I have real world evidence to back it up and there is some science to it.

It is always nice to discover that something you hoped were true really is true. But, can your desire for an answer affect the way you evaluate the evidence?

This question was explored in a clever study by Anthony Bastardi, Eric Uhlmann, and Lee Ross published in the June, 2011 issue of Psychological Science. They examined how people evaluated new evidence when what they believed to be true conflicted with what they wanted to be true.

In this study, participants were people who expected to have children in the near future. All of them believed that caring for young children at home was better for the child than sending them to an outside daycare. Of these participants, half were people who expected they would send their child to daycare someday, while the other half were people who expected they would keep their child at home.

The experiment was conducted in a different session from when the participants expressed their beliefs about daycare and home care, and so it was not obvious to participants that this study was intended to be related to their existing beliefs or plans for the future.

In the experiment, everyone read one study that supported the conclusion that home care really is better than daycare. The other study supported the conclusion that daycare is better than home-care. The methods of the two studies were different. People were asked to evaluate the studies for whether The methods were valid and whether the studies were convincing.

Not surprisingly, the people who believed that home care is better and planned to care for their children at home believed that studies demonstrating that home care is best were more convincing than those demonstrating that daycare is best.

Those who planned to care for their children using daycare showed the opposite pattern. Even though they originally believed that home care is best, they found the study demonstrating daycare to be best to be more convincing than the study demonstrating home care to be best.

In many real-world situations, there is conflicting evidence from different studies. So, it is important to make judgments about which evidence is strongest. But, these results suggest that people are biased to interpret the evidence in ways that are consistent with their desires. That means that people may ultimately come to believe that the weight of evidence supports the position that they already wanted to believe was true. And they will believe this without recognizing that their own desires influenced the evaluation of the evidence.

*If you read that and immediately jumped to the conclusion that it’s BS, why? Is it, in fact, BS or did you jump to that conclusion because you want to believe it is? Your mind, right now, whether you like it or not, could be making my point.

Anyway, this isn’t conclusive proof of anything but it’s fascinating still, No?

But how does this apply to me, how have I seen it in action countless times, and how does it relate to people who read this blog?

How it applies to me is easy.

In the weeks prior to my Christian conversion I had what I thought was good evidence for faith in Christ.

I didn’t have concrete irrefutable proof that would stand up to the scrutiny of an ardent skeptic but I had little doubt any part of Christianity wasn’t true.

Even though I “knew”, I willfully rejected what I was convinced of because Christianity was something I didn’t want to be true, didn’t need to be true, and didn’t (I thought) need in my life.

Of course I ended up accepting Christ as my personal savior but I didn’t have to, no one coerced me, no one held a gun to my head, I made a choice, I did what I wanted to do.

I could have continued to reject faith because of my pride, because I didn’t want to submit, because I liked my life the way it was.

I could have claimed to this day that I am an atheist.

I could have talked the atheist talk, walked the atheist walk, shunned God…

In other words; I could have pressed on in disbelief despite what I knew to be true. People do similar things all the time and not only with faith.

A good example of this is, “Everybody knows that homosexuality is genetic; it’s constitutional. Science has proven it.”

But science hasn’t proven it. There is some indication that there may be some physiological factors contributing to a person’s homosexuality, but no one has demonstrated any necessary genetic link.

I don’t want to start a debate about homosexuality or the science behind it but I talk to people all the time who, in spite of the lack of supporting evidence, are absolutely convinced people are born gay.

Granted, some of these people aren’t critical thinkers and will believe anything but many of the rest of them are intelligent and well meaning people who simply believe what they want because it is in-line with their ideology and their presuppositions.

In other words, they believe what they want to believe, by choice, and do so with seemingly genuine sincerity.

Same thing goes for evolution. People who do not believe in God cannot believe in anything other than the “fact” that all life in the universe came from nothing and has evolved into what exists today.

In other words. To many people some evolutionary process must be true simply because they want it and need it to be true, not because it is objectively true.

Same thing goes unarmed citizens who seem to get gunned down by the police with an alarming regularity lately. These incidents either are or are not motivated by race. What opinion you hold is, most likely, based on your ideology and what you want to be true. You, despite what you might think, likely choose what “facts” you want to believe.

Same thing goes for abortion. It’s either murder or it’s not, can’t be both. If you want to support abortion, you want it not to be murder so you declare that it isn’t using nothing but the power of your own will and then you believe it, again, because you want to.

People believe in the health virtues of being a vegetarian because they want to.

People believe in Global Warming because they want to.

People believe religion is the worst thing that’s ever happened to humanity because they want to.

People embrace Socialism because they want to.

People cling to atheism because they want to.

I could go on but I think you probably get the point.

So how does this relate to readers of this blog?

God says:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

– Romans 1:20

To varying degrees and with varying degrees of passion, readers of this blog either believe in God, the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity or they don’t.

They all have evidence and they all have a choice.

Chose wisely my friends.

For if you go to the grave with ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!'” in your mouth, God will remind you that you had a choice and that you chose poorly.


Categories: Apologetics, Christianity

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. I agree, its always a choice. Independent of facts we are responsible for our choice. The facts will stand and declare our decision right or wrong. Nevertheless, we are responsible for our decision, not the facts. Great post makes total sense, thanks..

    Liked by 1 person

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