In defence of determinism and predestination.

Good afternoon everyone. How are you all doing? I would say “I hope you’re all enjoying the sunshine” but there doesn’t appear to much of it about today; it is for this reason I find myself sat inside with a toasted tuna and sweetcorn sandwich, a glass of cherry coke and a bag of chilli heatwave Doritos attempting to explain to you all, the concepts of determinism and predestination. You see, the lack of sun (for some reason), inspired me to pop across the road to see my mother and, as always, a philosophical and theological conversation ensued.

As the title suggests, we got onto the topic of free-will, determinism and then ultimately, predestination. As the conversation continued, I found myself arguing in defence of my beliefs in determinism and thought, “Hey, this could make for a pretty interesting blog”. So ladies and gentlemen of Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else that you managed to stumble across this post from, I give you my views, my beliefs and my reasoning behind determinism.

Firstly, I guess I should start by explaining the key terms that I’ll be waffling about in this post; especially for any of you who aren’t budding theologians or philosophers.

Free-will: This is the gift that mankind believes we are all blessed with; the complete and utter freedom to do what we want, when we want to, according to our own decisions.

Example

I ask you to stand up, and take off all your clothes. You decide not to. This decision is made because you have the complete freedom to make up your mind as to whether or not you want to comply. There are no external factors influencing you, and I’m not holding a gun to your head. You have made this decision on the spot and it is your individual consciousness that has helped make that decision.

Soft-determinism: This is where things start to get a little confusing. Determinism if often split into two categories: soft and hard determinism (no rude jokes please). Soft-determinism is half way between free-will and total (hard) determinism, expressing a degree of freedom of choice whilst having that decision influenced by external factors. The example should help clear this up:

Example

I ask you to stand up, and take off all your clothes. You decide not to. This decision is made because you are influenced by external factors e.g. what is acceptable in normal social situations, common sense etc. These factors help you in your decision. You know that it is socially unacceptable to take of all your clothes in an inappropriate setting, but yet you still have the free choice to do so or not. You decide that you shouldn’t, because of the social conditioning.

Hard-determinism: Things here get a little more simple. Hard-determinism states that every action and every decision made is predetermined; there is no freedom of choice.

Example

I ask you to stand up, and take off all your clothes. You decide not to. This decision is not actually a decision at all. You may think and feel like you have had to make up your mind whether to do it or not, but in actual fact, from the beginning of time it was destined that at the point of me asking you to take off all your clothes, you were never going to comply.

I think a lot of people have difficulty comprehending the idea that we don’t have any freedom in the things we do or the decisions we make. In reality though, whether we have free-will or not doesn’t have any real impact on us; we still feel like we’re making decisions but we are in fact, just following the path already set out for us.

(It must be noted that the above explanations are heavily simplified. I suggest if you wish to know about free-will and determinism in more depth, you do proper research. I ain’t perfect…all time time).

So…why do I hold the belief that all of mankind’s decisions are in fact, predetermined? Why do I not think that humans have the free choice to do something or not? Well, let me try explain.

Firstly, as this is a predominantly theological issue, we must assume that God is somehow involved. Secondly, as this is my defence of determinism, we must assume God exists in the form that I believe it exists. God, in my thinking, is the name given to the entity that resides outside the realms of any human or empirical comprehension; it is not a person nor a man, it is what it is. To take the example from the Exodus story where God reveals its name to Moses, God simply…is. God is behind the creation of the universe and everything that resides within it; be it as the direct creator as seen in Genesis, or as a catalyst of another form of creation i.e. the Big Bang as seen in the teleological argument, is largely irrelevant to this argument.

Everything in the universe from the movement of planets to the forces seen on Earth (gravity, upthrust etc.) is present because God made it so. Everything that resides in the universe is subject to a series of causes and effects that are determined because a) God made it so and b) empirical observations have proven that, for example, if an object is dropped it will fall to the ground. The planets orbit the sun and satellites orbit the planets in an orderly way; animals hibernate at the same time of year every year; babies will cry when they are hungry. These are examples of what I will call, ‘cosmic order’; things happen because they are meant to – either they were created this way or there is a cause that leads to an inevitable effect. Everything in the cosmos is subject to order, random occurrences are extremely rare and, will often, have a ‘first cause’.

Free-will is incompatible in the cosmos that has been created by God. As explained, everything in the created cosmos is subject to order; everything is determined by causes and effects. Free-will is the absence of order; how can humans be the only entity in the cosmos that are not subject to this cosmic order? As we are part of God’s creation we must therefore be subject to the exact same conditions as the rest of the cosmos. Many people may argue against this notion suggesting that, like Aristotle, humans are above the rest of creation as we have the ability to rationale. And who am I to argue against Aristotle?! The ability to rationale does not have to cover ‘decision-making’; humans are capable of other demonstrations of rational thought without decision-making being present – the ability to formulate an argument such as the one you’re reading right now is evidence of rational thought. The fact that I am writing it however, was predetermined by the creator of the cosmos; I am subject to an order of things. It is this order that has led me to write this blog post right now.

The exact nature of how or why our lives are seemingly ‘mapped’ out for us is unknowable. As pointed out earlier, the entity that we call God resides in a realm beyond our consciousness, so we cannot nor are we meant to understand all the ins and outs of the how  or why questions humans are constantly asking.

So, to sum up my argument…briefly. Free-will is incompatible in a cosmos that, by defintion, is bound by cosmic order and a series of causes and effects; free-will allows for random occurrences and anomalies to be present which, by the nature of the cosmos demonstrated by empirical observation, are inconsistent with the nature of the created world in which we live. Therefore, humans must also be subject to the same cosmic order seen in the rest of creation. Our ‘decisions’ and our actions are predetermined by the creator, we cannot know our path or ‘destiny’ as such knowledge resides in the divine consciousness only. The only knowledge of such paths or destinies comes, when one immediately experiences them.

Here’s a picture of a fat monkey, just to lighten the mood slightly after a pretty heavy and intense philosophical rant. If you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said, please do feel free to leave comments. I’m interested to know what you think. But for now, I’m going to go make myself a long overdue cup of tea and play some more Mass Effect…because I am way too cool.

Enjoy the rest of your day. I’ll write to you all again soon…or will I?

3 thoughts on “In defence of determinism and predestination.”

  1. Interesting to read someone defending determinism or more specifically hard determinism because doing A Level RE and being the only supporter of hard determinism caused a lot of debate all aimed at me (the majority were soft determinists who couldn’t take that extra step)!

    I understand that you are writing this from a theological perspective but replace God with the ruling class (Marxism) or men (feminism) and you can come to the same conclusion in my opinion. In short, it does not have to be a theological question.

    “The only knowledge of such paths or destinies comes, when one immediately experiences them.” – This sentence does perhaps highlight the limitations of determinism and predestination though. As past events can’t be repeated or changed (despite how much we wish we could sometimes!), we are only able to view one path after it has been experienced by which time it is very easy to say ‘that was inevitable/fate/predetermined’ when there are no alternatives possible.

    There’s a saying that life is a rollercoaster. Predestination would imply that the rollercoaster track has already been built. My own opinion is that it is in the process of being built as we go but at the end of the ride we can look back and see the cause and effect of the journey. Hope this makes sense lol.

    PS. If you’re wondering how I know about this blog despite hardly talking to me, I saw it advertised in your MSN once and like reading blogs so check it out whenever I get bored.

  2. Hi Clarke,

    Two questions to put to you:

    1. From the above, I assume you follow Christianity. If this is true, do you acknowledge the book of Job?

    2. You mention random events having no place or function in a cosmos with a rigid order. Does this mean you deny the existence of probability in any form? Assuming the rolling of a dice is predetermined, and giving a thousand monkeys a thousand type-writers over an infinite amount of theoretical time would never yield a Shakespeare script?

    And two smaller, pernickety points:

    1. ‘Rationale’ is a noun, not a verb. You cannot use it as an infinitive (e.g. “the ability to rationale”. It ought to be “the ability to rationalise” or “the ability to think rationally”, or else “humans, using their inherent rationale”.

    2. If you’re arguing for humans having rational thought, don’t cite yourself writing this as an example for it. I can understand if you are religious, and I can even be tolerant of this, but don’t try and claim any form of religion is rational. Religion is derived from faith, and stands juxtaposed to rationality. Based on what we see in day-to-day life, and what we know of the operation of day-to-day life, we have no rational bases to suggest a being exists with powers which defy the operation of the world. The only rational conclusion would be that life is a byproduct of a set of very happy coincidences.

    Holla back at me,

    Summer Love x

  3. Hi there Summer Love, thank you for taking the time to read the article and for leaving a reply.

    I’ll answer each of your points in turn:

    1) I do follow Christianity but not in the conventional sense that most people would understand. I would class myself as a Liberal Christian; whilst I believe in the idea of God and I hold the belief that Jesus was a phenomenally good religious messenger and leader, I do not concern myself with more conservative aspects of the Christian faith. So for example, I do not believe in miracles, I do not believe that Jesus was in fact God incarnate and with regards to the Bible – whilst I acknowledge that it has provided the foundations for not only the Christian tradition but also the Jewish faith, I maintain the opinion that it has been written by man throughout history and is thus a) fallible and likely to contain inaccuracies and mistakes and b) a collection of myths, stories and metaphors that aid with the understanding of God and its nature, and that also attempt to convey the message of Jesus of Nazareth. So, in regards to your question – I do not ‘acknowledge’ the book of Job in a conventional sense.

    2) As per the argument I have made throughout the piece, I do not believe random events can occur and so thus, probability is not actually probability. If I roll a dice and it lands on a six, it has done so because it was always meant to land on a 6. Certain factors that have preceded the rolling of the dice have effected the outcome. In regards to monkeys writing Shakespeare (which I would love to see happen!), if monkeys are meant to reproduce a Shakespearian script, then at some point in time, they will.

    And for your smaller points:

    1) Perfection is something I strive for – obviously I don’t always get it right. (Sarcasm must be noted here!)

    2) This is where I would have to disagree with you. Religion can rationalised – this is the job of the liberal theologian! By integrating science and philosophy into religion, certain elements of faith can be rationalised. For example: my dissertation is studying the issue of Jesus’ supposed divinity. John Hick, a liberal theologian suggests that the incarnation of God as a human being is in fact a metaphor; to cut a long theory short, Jesus demonstrated characteristics throughout his life that one would often associate with divinity. He is the closest any human has come to the level of being, and thus he is referred to as being divine. That there is a rational argument that has been used to support a religious claim. So whilst I agree that more conservative elements of faith cannot always be rationalised, it is the job of the philosopher and liberal theologian to rethink these ideas so that they can be rationalised and thus accepted in a 21st Century context.

    I hope that’s answered some of your questions/queries!

    Clarke

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