Determinism to Succeed

I’ve been watching some episodes of Morgan Freeman’s Through the Wormhole, the recent Science Channel sop to the masses to explain what scientists are thinking. I always appreciate when scientists (and other specialists) are willing to abandon argot and talk to the rest of us in plainspeak. Even if the implications are a little scary. The episodes I watched this weekend shared a near determinism. The physicists interviewed stopped shy of saying that all is ordained by the rules of science, but the implications still rang loudly in my ears. This concept is at home in the church.

Back as a college student attending a Presbyterian school (I have never ascribed to this particular flavor of Christian thought), I first chanced upon predestination. In fact, the subject was well nigh unavoidable. Students of all majors and backgrounds ended up discussing it around dinner tables as well as in the classroom. The instigator, instead of physics, was John Calvin. His theology suggested that mere mortals had no say in their destinies; God created some to be saved, the rest to be damned, fairness be confounded. I sat through many classes where the professors would argue with erudite words that all this had been foreordained. Some, “double predestinarians,” went as far as to argue that every firing of every synapse, every motion of every muscle, had been predetermined by God before the creation of the world. When I asked “why?” I was told that God has his (always “his”) reasons, and that I, a non-Presbyterian, should simply accept my fate.

Four years of wrangling and no one managed to convince the opposite party. One of my more intelligent professors once told me after class, “you free-willers always win on philosophical grounds, but we predestinarians always win on scriptural grounds.” He seemed to think that solved it. Perhaps he was predestined to conclude that. I disagreed. No greater monster could exist than a deity who predestined the horror we’ve created in our world. To see all this human suffering, much of it pointless, and simply shrug and say “God has his reasons,” is to implicate the creator in a cosmic Nuremberg. For me, I’d feel safer with the physicists saying it is all a matter of unfeeling cosmic laws. Perhaps I’m predestined to write this, but I still think they’re all wrong.

Was Calvin predestined to wear that hat?

5 responses to “Determinism to Succeed

  1. I’m always amazed at the paradoxes of predestinationist Christianity. It sort of plays hell with the whole notion of “ethical monotheism”: rather its non-ethical machinism. A god so omniscient and omni-everything that nothing can be left to chance is even scarier than the cop-out from ethical action that one sometimes hears in (non-ethical) karmic circles: that the poor, etc. deserve what they (don’t) get because of offences in a previous life, so nothing can be done about it.

    No one can actually believe in the strong predestination you describe, however. If they truly believed it, then they could not take any action themselves or end up like the confused computers in 1960s sci-fi, blowing up while muttering “this does not compute….” I think it is purely sophism and a rhetorical stance that diverts critique away from the institution. Don’t question, the church or fate because you question its god.

    • Logical, Dr. Jim! But o they were serious! In those days discussions of predestination nearly came to blows in the classroom. I even had one professor state, “if you fail this class, don’t worry. It was predestined.” He was not smiling when he said this.

    • Supposed belief in Predestination is an admission that Christianity doesn’t make sense. They realize that God having to crucify himself to enabled himself to forgive us is total nonsense. They realize the Bible is contradictory. So they say “you have to be predestined to believe.” That settles it, right. If anyone finds it all illogical it just means they weren’t predestined and they and all their evidence can simply be ignored. Its the ultimate intellectual cop-out. But more than that, its a moral cop-out that enables them to be the meanest and and most disgusting things on the planet and still think themselves morally superior to everyone else. There must be a special place in hell for predestinarians.

  2. Frederick Santal

    Please. Learn what you’re complaining about before you start complaining. God is the *first cause* but He acts through secondary causes which can either be free, determined or contingent. If you think that is way too complicated Calvinists managed to put it into a rather short and to-the-point Confession of faith at Westminster.

    You also have to know the difference between free agency and free will as Calvinists use the terms to describe total inability. Free agency is about choices such as will be turn left or turn right, eat and orange or an apple, etc. Free will relates to our ability or inability to turn towards God. I.e. our will is not free to turn towards God unless God draws us. The living Word of God is the wild card in the process.

    • Thank you, Frederick.

      Both having majored in religious studies at a Presbyterian college and earned a doctorate at a Presbyterian university, I do believe I know what I’m complaining about. The comments I respond to were made by religion department college professors at Grove City College in the early 1980s. If they misrepresented the teachings of their own denomination, I am not qualified to judge.

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