Thursday, July 15, 2010

Predestination and Psychological Determinism

In order to to compare three things, I must give them distinct definitions, even if it means using words in a specialized way. I use predestination to refer to the idea that God is in control of all things (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Psalms 135:6) and all the events of history are determined by Him (Genesis 50:20; Daniel 2:21; Isaiah 44:28). Determinism I will use to refer to the idea that all things are determined by previous physical circumstances and human behavior is entirely the product of heredity and environment. While some have identified these two, they need not be equated. To say events are controlled by God is not the same as saying they are determined by preexisting circumstances. Another option I will call fatalism. This is the belief that events are fated to happen in spite of preexisting circumstances. If I am fated to be in an auto accident, it does not matter how I drive. It should be clear fatalism is in direct conflict with determinism. It also need not be identified with predestination, though some, again, may do so.

I maintain predestination should not be equated with determinism or fatalism. The problem with determinism is that it makes all human thinking the result of irrational forces. In this situation, human thought is meaningless because it is the of result of past circumstances and cannot be a genuine pursuit of truth. The same does not follow from predestination, which says we are controlled by God, but allows our thoughts, knowledge, and choices to be legitimate. If I am reading a book, the thoughts and choices of the people in the book are real from their perspective. But they are what the author made them to be. This is possible because the author is personal and can produce characters who are personal. A purely mechanistic source cannot do that. Now it is clear that our actions are affected by preceding circumstances, but there is a difference between affected and wholly determined.

But fatalism makes meaningful action impossible. If everything is fated, then nothing I do will change it. I might as well not bother. But God, as a good author, controls both means and ends to make them work together for His purpose. Therefore, while God controls all things, our actions produce real results and have meaning.

Now I have no illusions that I can by these clarifications overcome the strong antipathy many have toward predestination. But I do believe we can eliminate some of the misunderstandings on both sides. For instance, to say predestination makes evangelism unnecessary is to confuse it with fatalism. Also, determinism helps reinforce the idea that predestination makes us robots. Further, those who hold to predestination need to consider whether they are really want to identify it with the other two. This far from solves all the problems, but it does help to be clear on what we are disagreeing over.

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