This post was motivated in part by Homer Price's excellent blog post, The Theology and Science of Free Will.

An important question in my mind is whether free will applies to belief. I can choose my behavior, but can I choose what I believe? Some people apparently think so. In the brand of Christianity to which I was subjected in the past, it didn't seem to matter whether my behavior was "good" or "evil"; either way, I was condemned to Hell, because I was "born in sin". But either way, said the preachers, I could avoid that fate by "believing in Christ" (or "on" Christ -- not sure what that was about). I took that to mean I must believe that there was a fellow named Jesus who was "the Son of God" and whose hideous death somehow compensated for my sins.

But could I really have chosen to believe such a thing through an act of will? To me, belief feels like something that is served up autonomically by the logical part of my mind, a conclusion based upon the available facts and probabilities. Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could choose to believe that the Earth is flat, or that wine is turned into blood by a priest's incantation, or that the Jesus narrative is true.

What is your own experience? Can you change your genuinely held beliefs by choosing to do so? Are you aware of any scientific inquiries into this question?

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Vine wrote “I should have phrased my question as ‘Can you choose to be a theist?’”

Vine, phrasing it as you did and seeing responses here has been a learning experience.

I had a similar learning experience. In 1957 I quit Catholicism and all religion in 1957 when I was in a Florida university. I kept some of the habits of religion, not by choice but because I was not then aware of them.

In about 1980 I was in San Francisco doing volunteer work and on a bulletin board saw the advice someone had written, Don’t should on yourself.

i recovered a little bit that day.

I'm not sure I understand.  Does "Don't should on yourself" mean that I should (!) not tell myself what I should do?  Or does it really mean "Don't 'should have' on yourself ", i.e., don't dwell on my past mistakes?  Or does it mean something else entirely?

 "Shoulda," Oughta," "Gotta" are Killer Words, similar to Killer Phrases that stop critical thinking. 

If someone tells you that you shoulda, oughta, gotta do something, stop, breathe, think, make a decision that is right for you, take action, evaluate the outcome.

If the desired outcome happens, continue. 

If the desired outcome does not get you what you want or need, stop, breathe, think, make a decision that is right for you, take action, evaluate the outcome.

These are also the ways to block free will.

Vine and Joan, read “Don’t should on yourself” as “Don’t shit on ....”

Or as “Don’t oughta on....”, or “Don’t gotta on....”

Can people change what they believe?

In a word, YES.

ln a Darwinian sense, if they would survive they will adapt.

Offer a guy a higher salary than his present employer pays and, with other things being equal or better, he will change one or more of his beliefs

Because belief too easily follows benefits or costs, I don’t say I believe no gods exist.

Evidence, to its credit, stubbornly refuses to appear or disappear.

From my ventures into and out of religion, I find that:  Belief is based on Certainty.

If you are uncertain of something, you really cannot believe in it.
you may accept it, and even claim belief among others of that show belief, but really, you don't have the belief, because there is that element of doubt. 

That is what I tell theists when they poke Pascal's Wager at me.
If their god is omniscient as they claim, then there is no use pretending and since I don't have certainty due to lack of sound evidence, I will not be accepted due to lack of belief, so pretence at belief is pointless.

That is also why Agnostics are actually Atheists.
Since atheism = lack of belief.
Agnostics, since they doubt anybody can know God, have uncertainty and thus cannot actually believe in God and thus lacking belief makes them atheists.

Whereas except for babies, who are natural atheists with no knowledge of God, so they cannot be called Agnostic, the rest of us are also agnostic in that we believe that nobody can have knowledge of god.

So atheists that know of religion, are also agnostic and agnostics are atheists.
i explain it as that Atheism is the belief position of Agnosticism and Agnosticism is the knowledge position of Atheism.

Those atheists that have never had the concept of God, like babies, toddlers and those raised in a totally atheistic environment are just pure atheists.  

That's my view of belief and religion. 

Nicely put.

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