Fate vs. Predestination

I believe in fate.  Which isn’t to say that we can’t all make our own decisions, or that our destiny isn’t up to us, but to say that we were fated to end up in certain places at certain times.  What we choose to do in those places and at those times is entirely up to us, but arriving in those particular circumstances has a hint of the divine behind it.
I was raised in a conservative Christian household.  I went to church all through my formative years.  I spent the first 18 years of my life in a conservative Southern Baptist environment.  My father is an ordained minister.  I was told that everything was preordained, that God foresaw it and planned it and was omniscient going forwards until the end of time.  That struck me as bullshit.  Especially, when you think about it, the entirety of Christian belief hangs upon the idea of humankind being given the ability to choose.  Free will is integral to Christian faith, yet we’re supposed to believe that even our free will doesn’t matter because it was all determined what we would choose ahead of time.  I think if that were true, God would be a calloused asshole, for knowing all the terrible stuff human beings would choose to do to one another, yet do nothing to stop us.  I think He sees our paths and gives us choices everywhere we look to change our path, or keep going on the same one.  Fate, to me, means stepping into a situation that was orchestrated for me to have an opportunity, then to make my choice of my own free will.
Much of my questions began appearing in my teenage years when I started encountering people outside of my beaten path who had different experiences and beliefs.  I’ve always thought you learned more by keeping an open mind, so I listened.  The best part of listening, is that you can sort the information you receive and choose which sounds good and which sounds bogus.  And so I did.  I took a class at a technical college taught by an Anglican priest that had briefly studied at the Vatican.  Yeah, that Vatican.  He spoke a lot of the spirit of God, and the nature of biblical myth.  It’s important for us to understand what things come from culture and what things come from God.  He helped me make sense of questions I had about my faith, and this was a guy who knew A LOT about the subject.  I learned the most about my beliefs, not from the faith of my father, or from my mentors, but from looking within and questioning everything I was handed.
A lot of people don’t believe in fate.  Between evolution, natural selection, and the injustice of the indifference of an all-powerful, all-knowing being, I think a lot of people don’t believe in a higher power.  Maybe even they’re unable to believe in something orchestrating anything.  A lot of times when things don’t make sense, it’s easier to assign them a random probability or chalk it up to science we can’t explain yet.  But, every so often, something comes along that seems to be way too big to deny as anything but providence.
Is God apathetic?  No.  Far from it.  He cares enough about us to let us choose for ourselves, often to our detriment.  But, more often than not, that’s our(or someone else’s) choice.  If I get raped, was it destiny?  No.  That was the choice of the attacker.  But maybe I was destined to be in that spot at that time.  I view it as Wheel of Fortune.  By giving us free will, God spun the wheel of chance.  Does He determine where it lands?  No.  But He is the one that keeps it spinning.  I remember an episode of Futurama, a show that is satirical in nature but, often, very prodigious as well.  Bender encounters God at one point, who he characterizes as lazy for not being more active in people’s lives.  The last thing “God” says is something to the effect of, “You know you’ve done something right when no one realizes you’ve done anything at all.”  Does He present us with opportunities to greatly change our own paths?  Yes.  Does He pave one single road for us so that we can only walk in one certain direction.  No, I don’t believe so.
I understand when people don’t believe in fate.  I understand that, ever since the big bang, how everything else could be random collections of particles and energies that collide in different forms.  Natural disasters, diseases, crazy accidents out of nowhere; it’s easy to think nothing could be fated.  A lot of people cite the horrible things that happen to people as a reason not to believe in a fate arranged by a higher power.  People who have lost a loved one, or gone through personal tragedy like illness or rape- these people have every right to be angry and question how fate could engineer these things.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Fate is either engineered by a malevolent God, in which case, what’s the point?  Or, the more simple explanation is, there is no such thing as God or fate.
My English professor turned me onto the movement this concept falls under: Compatibilism, or the belief that God presents us with opportunities but allows us to choose.  Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher that helped champion the issue into the public consciousness, would state that, “I hold that ordinary definition of a free agent, namely that a free agent is that which, when all things are present which are needful to produce the effect, can nevertheless not produce it, implies a contradiction and is nonsense(1).”  Hobbs means here that to determine that there is no God simply because we are allowed to make our own choices is completely foolish.  The concept of a creator is what allows us to have an existence, much less a choice.  Meanwhile, arguments against compatibilism would suggest that an individual might choose something completely at random and mess up the probability matrix of “fate.”  Hobbes might argue against this, that there are no unpredictable outcomes, and that the consequences of said outcome can yield an infinite number of other possible choices presented by a divine power.  Think of it as finding yourself on the wrong road after taking the wrong turn.  But rather than seeing it as a dead end(which, if it were, you would be afforded and opportunity by God to do a U-turn and return to the given path) it’s a highway.  You can get off on the wrong exit, then get back on at a later exit and continue on the path toward where you need to be.  You’re not predestined to take any one way, and can choose whichever way you like, but you’re always presented with more opportunities provided by an all-knowing power.
The premise of free will is one of three components affecting action.  There is action out of necessity(which it might be argued that God causes), chance(which is by definition, completely random, but, again, might be argued to be God’s hand) and free will, which, under any definition, is the choice of the willful alone.  The Catholic church came to accept free will as a philosophy inherent in man’s choices, but this was actually redacted by the Protestant movement, citing that Saint Paul himself did not support the notion “that disputes that question largely and purposely, never uses the term of `free-will’; nor did he hold any doctrine equivalent to that which is now called the doctrine of free-will, but derives all actions from the irresistible will of God, and nothing from the will of him that runs or wills.” (1)  Now we’re into the meat of the issue that starts to smell funny.  In doctrine, I have no grounds for my argument of compatibilism, which also factors in logic.  The Catholic church came to recognize free will, but Protestantism denied it.  Ironic, since I was raised in a Protestant church.  Which merely emphasizes the Enlightenment ideals that we cannot simply believe what we are handed and not analyze and form our own opinions of it.  We must think for ourselves, and question what it is we truly believe.  A theologian might argue based on doctrine that my beliefs are wrong.  I would argue that, based on me taking into account all the information, if not solely for the fact that I believe in them, make my beliefs accurate.  And this, the fact that my opinion is dissenting from the “Holy Word of God” handed down to the church by Divine inspiration, may be my strongest evidence yet in the case for free will.
But doesn’t the existence of free will itself preclude the existence of a higher power? When you start to account for men choosing their own destinies, what if the concept of God was merely invented by man to explain the things they couldn’t explain, or take credit for the actions they themselves didn’t want credit for.  The harder choices we make are much easier when we justify them by the ordination of some magical puppet-master in the sky, telling us we have no choice in the matter.
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3 thoughts on “Fate vs. Predestination

  1. This is a great start to the assignment. You do a great job of laying out the reasons why you believe what you do and the reasons people might have for holding different beliefs. For instance, here you say:

    “Free will is integral to Christian faith, yet we’re supposed to believe that even our free will doesn’t matter because it was all determined what we would choose ahead of time. I think if that were true, God would be a calloused asshole, for knowing all the terrible stuff human beings would choose to do to one another, yet do nothing to stop us. I think He sees our paths and gives us choices everywhere we look to change our path, or keep going on the same one. Fate, to me, means stepping into a situation that was orchestrated for me to have an opportunity, then to make my choice of my own free will.”

    This is great. Remember, though, that the assignment was asking you to think about your social history. Where did you develop these beliefs? When and how did you first learn to make this argument? What have been the most important influences in your life.

    The assignment isn’t about making arguments, it’s about reflecting on where your ideas and beliefs come from.

    Later on you say this about other people:

    “Between evolution, natural selection, and the injustice of the indifference of an all-powerful, all-knowing being, I think a lot of people don’t believe in a higher power. Maybe even they’re unable to believe in something orchestrating anything. A lot of times when things don’t make sense, it’s easier to assign them a random probability or chalk it up to science we can’t explain yet.”

    As above, your focus here is mostly on the arguments for or against competing ideas. Instead, I want you to think about *why* other people might find these counterarguments compelling. What happened in their lives to make them think this way, do you think?

    Please review the assignment prompt. To receive a grade of S, this post must be revised to meet the requirements of the assignment. You have until September 24 to complete the revisions, but I strongly suggest submitting them ahead of time in case a second round of revisions are necessary. After you’ve edited the post, inform me in-class and I’ll mark it for review.

  2. Hunter,

    The first half is getting good. The second half still doesn’t get into the mindset of someone who might disagree. Part of the problem, I think, is that the “belief” you’re arguing for is a really complicated philosophical concept. It’s known in the history of philosophy as “compatibilism.” As I think about it, it’s rather hard to imagine life circumstances that would lead someone to have a strong feeling one way or the other.

    As I see it, you have two choices. You could simplify the point you make into either a belief in God’s directing power or individual free will, rather than on your more complicated belief that the two ideas are compatible. That would free you up to speak about how someone might come over time to disagree with one side or the other.

    The other choice — and because of the highly intellectual nature of this belief, I’d permit it — would be to focus the second half of the essay on serious counterarguments to compatibilism. This means finding an actual philosopher who disagreed with it and explaining why they found it contradictory. You might start here:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/

    Lots of competing views have been put forward. One of my personal favorites is a treatise Ben Franklin wrote when a young man, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity — unfortunately, there’s no easily accessible online text, as far as I can tell.

  3. Hunter,

    Good work on this. It’s a difficult set of ideas. If God is all-powerful, and if he knows what choices we’re going to make during the course of our lives, how can it be said that we’re “free”? On the other hand, we feel ourselves making choices, and we can see the consequences of them, so to deny free will seems perverse. It’s a thorny problem that philosophers continue to debate, either from a theological or psychological ground. (If our decisions are based on subconscious prejudices, to what extent do we really control them?)

    I’ll give this a pass now — but I’d like for you to do one thing: fix the spelling of Thomas *Hobbes*!

    Good work,
    M

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