Thursday, February 07, 2008

Libertarian fatalism

Jason said:

"I agree that fatalism, as you describe it, is not what I've seen advocated on this blog. It sounds like you and Steve are advocating the point that our own wills are constrained. Wouldn't this be a deeper form of 'fatalism' (not only are we doomed, but we actively seek our doom and we have no choice but to want to seek it)."

1. Depends on how you define fatalism. In Classical fatalism, a character like Oedipus or Croesus knows his fate. It may be revealed to him through an oracle.

The character then attempts to escape his fate. But no matter what he does, his evasive maneuvers are futile. Indeed, the very attempt to escape his fate is the means by which he fulfills his fate.

The key idea is that he is doomed against his will. A modern counterpart would be the B-flick Final Destination, where the characters try desperately and unsuccessfully to cheat death.

2. You use the word “constraint.” But Calvinism doesn’t take the position that the human will is under constraint. For constraint implies an opposing force. Left to my own devices, I would do X, but my desire is overridden by a superior force.

In Calvinism, by contrast, the reprobate are not unwilling participants in the outcome. Indeed, it’s the other way around. Common grace is a restraining influence. The unregenerate commit evil to the extent that God relaxes common grace, to the extent that their sinful impulses are allowed to go unchecked. They sin through lack of constraint.

3. I don’t know why you say that, according to Calvinism, we are “doomed” to fulfill our destiny. You might say that about the reprobate, but to say the elect are “doomed” to wind up in heaven is a rather odd adjective for such a blissful “fate.”

4. One more thing about Calvinism. Critics of Calvinism typically level two contradictory objections:

i) On the one hand, they claim that Calvinism is an axiomatic system. We begin, so we’re told, with the axiom of predestination, and then we deduced everything from our axiom. So our method is aprioristic. And we filter the Bible through our Calvinistic grid.

ii) On the other hand, they attack Calvinism because of the unacceptable consequences of our theology. How can we believe in a God who blames us for Adam’s sin? How can we believe in a God who predestines some people to hell? How can we believe in a God who decrees natural disasters?

The answer is: we believe these things because they are taught in Scripture, and we believe the Bible. We begin with the Bible and take it from there.

By contrast, it’s the critics of Calvinism who begin with certain consequences, which they deem to be unacceptable, and then construct a theological system to avoid those consequences.

5. Ironically, where you find examples of theological fatalism are not in Calvinism, but in libertarian theological schemes. Let’s take a couple of examples:

i) Open theism begins with the axiom of man’s libertarian freedom. But open theism still wants God to win the war between good and evil. It doesn’t want to create an even playing field for God and Satan. It doesn’t want to posit an eternal dualism between good and evil, a la Manicheanism.

So it uses the analogy of a chess game. God is the Grand Master. For every move that I make, God can make a countermove. And because God is a better chess player than I am, he always wins. No matter what move I make, God can outmaneuver me.

But this is a form of fatalism. No matter what I do, I lose. Every move I make is a losing move.

So, in open theism, my actions are irrelevant. Nothing I do makes any difference to the ultimate outcome. Whether I do something or nothing, whether I opt for A instead of B, or B instead of A, God always backs me into a state of checkmate—so that I end up wherever he wanted me to be.

In open theism, the game might as well be rigged, the deck might as well be stacked, the dice might as well be loaded, since the outcome is inevitable.

ii) Molinism tries to harmonize libertarian freewill with divine determinism. The way it does this is to say that human beings are libertarian agents in possible worlds. There’s a possible world in which Judas betrays Jesus, and another possible world in which Judas remains loyal to Jesus.

God determines the outcome, not by determining what Judas will do, but by determining which possible world will become the real world. God determines to bring about the possible world in which Judas will betray Jesus.

But this harmonization is fatalistic. For Judas isn’t given a chance to choose which world he will live in, in terms of which possible world will end up having real world consequences.

It doesn’t matter to Judas if he goes to hell in a possible world, for in a merely possible world, Judas is not a real person. He is not a conscious agent. He can’t actually suffer. The consequences of his hypothetical actions don’t stick. For he is just an idea in the mind of God—having no objective, extramental existence. But if the hypothetical, hellbound Judas happens to land in the real world, then his infernal fate will be the real deal.

Now, if Judas were given a choice as to which scenario would play out, whether the heavenbound Judas or the hellbound Judas, I assume he’d rather wind up in heaven than in hell.

But, in Molinism, God chooses between one possible world and another. Judas isn’t given that all-important choice. Judas has no control over his actual destiny.

So Judas is trapped in a world which is not a world of his own choosing. He is doomed to play his fateful role to the bitter end.

This is not the destiny that he would have chosen for himself had he been given the chance to opt out and select a happy ending instead.

Hence, Calvinism is deterministic without being fatalistic while libertarianism (of the theological stripe) is fatalistic without being deterministic:

6. Finally, secularism is both deterministic and fatalistic. In secularism, libertarian freewill is illusory, for all our thoughts and feelings and actions are predetermined by a combination of genetics, social conditioning, and natural laws.

And here’s the rub: unlike other animals, human beings are aware of these determinants. Yet they cannot escape their fate. They are doomed to age. They are doomed to die. They are doomed to pass into oblivion when their brain ceases to function.

Love is just a chemical reaction. Morality is an illusion. Indeed, according to eliminative materialism, even consciousness is an illusion.


  1. The answer is: we believe these things because they are taught in Scripture, and we believe the Bible. We begin with the Bible and take it from there.
    Well isn't that special? I believe in the Koran and take it from there. I believe things because they are taught in the Koran. We are truly spirit brothers, you and I. The bah bull says it, I buhleev it, that settles it!
    Sincerely, Osama

  2. I'm so glad the atheists always respond with such relevant comments. It's difficult to find anything to make me more secure in my faith than knowing that if I ever rejected Christianity I'd be just as dumb as you.

  3. This is a good post.

  4. osama bin laden said...

    “Well isn't that special? I believe in the Koran and take it from there. I believe things because they are taught in the Koran. We are truly spirit brothers, you and I. The bah bull says it, I buhleev it, that settles it!”

    Dear Atheist in Burqa drag,

    Since you’re not the brightest bulb in the socket, let me explain it to you. In this post I’m discussing an intramural debate between different professedly Christian positions. Adherents to all three traditions accept the Bible as some sort of authority. Therefore, my analysis takes that starting point for granted.

    Likewise, when Darwinians get into intramural debates over the sociobiology or the evolutionary mechanism(s), they take the truth of evolutionary biology for granted.

    For someone who flaunts the intellectual superiority of atheism over Christian faith, your performance evinces a conspicuous lack of rational competence.

    In addition, it’s not as if I’ve never made a case for the Bible. Just not in this post. And it’s not as if I’ve never made a case against the Koran. Just not in this post.

    Next time you wish to demonstrate the blinding brilliance of infidelity, you might try to muster a higher IQ than a popsicle.

  5. Steve and GeneMBridges,

    Thank you for your replies. I've had a hard time understanding the Calvinist position on free will, predestination, etc. and your comments have helped me understand where you are coming from (at least a little bit).

    Best Regards,

  6. Steve,

    Apparently the Christian faith IS superior to atheism, because they make claims, and if you believe them, bingo!

    Atheism simply doesnt make any claims, others, than there isn't 100% certainty that one of those millions of Gods/Goddesses exists.

    And as Russel said:" I doubt if such being exists, He will cast people to hell, because of honest doubt."