#11A: Fatalism is the belief that people are powerless to
do anything other than what they actually do. Fatalists believe
human deliberation over possible actions they could take is
pointless since in the inevitable end it will not matter.
Determinism is the belief that future events (including those
involving human behavior) are fixed, caused or predetermined by
preceding events (forces acting, a chain of prior occurrences, etc.).
Taken to its extreme, hard determinists conclude that at any
single instance there is but a single physically possible way the future
will turn out.
While fatalism and determinism technically are different, both
fatalists and determinists believe that the future is in some sense
already set or determined. While many people use these words loosely to mean the same
thing, the contexts in which they are used are typically different.
Fatalism is used more in psychological and sociological contexts,
determinism more in physical and philosophical ones.
As for their connotations, the former term carries around more
"baggage" than the latter. Fatalism is often linked with
religious pre-destination of souls, realizing that resistance is
futile—producing growing defeat-ism, succumbing to one's fate, etc.
Sociologists have suggested a link between the prevalence of
belief in fatalism and living in poverty.
They hypothesize some people become resigned to their poverty and
feel no matter what they do, since they were destined to be poor, they
can’t escape it.
one can fully appreciate determinism, one needs to understand
causality—part of most conceptions of an orderly universe.
Causality asserts events
don’t just happen randomly but are linked to some cause. Timing is important: the supposed cause (force that acts,
energy release, triggering event, etc.) must precede or occur
simultaneously with the observed effect.
Causality is a cornerstone of the foundation of classical
physics. For example,
according to Newton’s second law, to change the state of motion of an
object a force must act.
Hard belief in determinism—and the accompanying notion that any
free will humans seem to
possess is just an illusion—was scientifically supportable up until
about 1930 when quantum physics became fully developed.
In the sub-atomic world governed by quantum mechanics, with
seemingly random events occurring, the discussion of causality becomes
more complicated. In the
quantum world, with respect to the occurrence of individual events, it
seems that causality must be abandoned! That
realization, along with
appreciation of the fundamental significance of the related Heisenberg
uncertainty principle (see Figure #1b) and the probabilistic nature of
quantum mechanical predictions, led to a softening of the hard
determinists' position. The
subsequent development of
chaos theory—where, in certain physical systems, it was realized that
small uncertainties in initial conditions can have very large
consequences—had a similar effect starting in the 1970s. Today,
biologists have accepted that random "noise" means
certain aspects of cell development—such as whether a
particular gene turns on to make a protein—are a matter of chance.
#11B: Giving humans free will endows them with the
ability to exercise rational control over their actions—
something hard determinists deny. Consider
this issue in the context of an example.
Suppose I eat lunch—which includes an orange—with a relative
stranger. I seemingly
finish, see another orange in a nearby fruit bowl, grab it and resume
eating. What caused me to do this?
Was it due to 1) conscious recall of the pleasant sensation
eating the first one produced,
2) an unconscious defense mechanism employed to ease my
discomfort around strangers, 3) my metabolism demanding it, or 4) God's
The first reason suggests I have free will, the third and fourth
that I do not. If we agree
with W.T. Stace, that "Acts done freely are those whose immediate
causes are psycho-logical states in the agent," we may link the
second reason with free will. Accepting
Stace's definition allows free will to co-exist with determinism (compatibilism)—something
behavioral psychologists won't allow.
The fourth reason above implies God doesn't grant humans free
will. Many religious people
wish to preserve free will—for reasons that will be explained shortly.
They are thus disturbed that conceiving of God as both all
knowing and all powerful logically requires that humans lack free will.
Disturbed by this conclusion, some qualify God's omniscience by restricting it to knowing everything that
can be known—excluding the free choices human agents will make in the
future! Another way to
preserve free will is by restricting God's omnipotence, not His
omniscience. This results
in a God who knows how humans will act, but is powerless to do anything
to alter their choices or the consequences.
Those who view God in moralistic terms (see worldview theme #14A)
often believe humans have free will—for only if they possess it are
they capable of sinning. Indeed,
free will and sin are linked, for without the former, the latter is
impossible. That is,
without free will, humans are ultimately not responsible for their
actions and therefore have no moral responsibility (see Figure #11a).
If humans lack free will and their (perhaps sinful!) behavior is
pre-ordained, then the character of God and the justice He imparts on
Judgment Day becomes an issue. One
might ask, "What kind of God would pre-determine your behavior long
before you were born, and then on Judgment Day condemn you to Hell for
sinful behavior you had
absolutely no control over? Certainly
not one that I can conceive of?"
Despite the strength of this argument, many Christians throughout
history have disputed it: wanting to maintain both that humans lack free
will and can sin!
vs. Responsibility for Actions
** If humans have complete free will, then they have no excuses: they must take full responsibility for the moral implications of their actions!
Selection Effect Weeds Out Hardcore Fatalists?