Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Terminology Tuesday: Fatalism

Fatalism: The view that whatever happens does so necessarily and that therefore human choice and effort make no difference. Critics of determinism allege that fatalism is a logical consequence of determinism, but most determinists (particularly so-called "soft determinists") reject this on the grounds that human choices do make a difference as part of the causal order. Some "hard determinists" accept the idea that whatever happens does so necessarily and claim that recognizing this truth frees a person from anxiety and leads to peace of mind.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 44.


Nick Potts said...

This belief is the fundamental difference between Calvinists and Hyper-Calvinists.

Calvinist's being "soft-determinists" and Hyper-Calvinist's being "hard-determinists."

Kief said...

But Calvin was a hard-determinist, no? Just like Edwards.

Ex N1hilo said...

Biblical determinism says, "All things exist, and all events occur, according to the purpose of the Creator. This purpose is ultimately good, even loving."

Fatalism says, "All things have a sufficient cause which accounts for their existence, but none of them have a purpose. Rather, purpose is an illusion, imposed on the world by human minds, by which we make ourselves feel better."

Libertarian free will says, "Some things exist, and some events occur, for a purpose. Others do not."

In the fatalist view, there may be a personal god or gods, but there is no Creator, as the Bible reveals Him, who sovereignly superintends all things. Rather, the gods are subject to fate and to cause-and-effect as much as any of us mortals. Causality is, for the fatalist, ultimate truth; a kind of impersonal, mechanistic force that rules over all.

What the fatalists are missing is that causality itself is a created thing that exists to serve God's purposes. I suppose this view makes me a “soft determinist.” But I think it is important to recognize that almost everyone holds to a form of determinism as a practical matter. If we did not, we wouldn’t ever get out of bed. We’d reason that “decisions of the wills of rational beings can have no effect on reality;” and we would enter into a catatonic state.

Nick Potts said...

Kief, no both were compatabilists.

Ex N1hilo, dude, very nice. precision and tact.

pds said...

I'll borrow your technique, if you will, Ex N1hilo:

Soft-Determinism: "All events are causally determined by God. However, this does NOT mean we don't have Moral responsibility as we are part of the determined chain of events."

Hard-Determinism/Fatalism: "All event are causally determined by God. This means we don't have Moral responsibility as causal agency is required for making genuine Moral choices"

Libertarian free will: "God may determine many events but we can still have casually affect on our actions. Or in other words, our circumstances do not provide sufficient reasons for our actions, we also have a will that can affect what we do."

To be honest, I don't think the Bible teaches causal determinism. It clearly teaches God's sovereignty, but this need not be micro management of every Human action. A King does not need to control every action of his subjects to be sovereign; he only does enough to carry out his purposes. I think God acts in the same way and we see a world which reflects this.

bossmanham said...


Determinism in the philosophical sense cannot be paired with "Biblical" and correspond to an actual state of affairs. As you've defined it, it's fairly ambiguous and doesn't actually capture what determinists in the Christian tradition have meant by it, for one could fit libertarianism into that definition and says it exists, and libertarian actions occur as purposed by God.

Most Christian libertarians would not agree that some acts happen for no purpose. Rather, they would say they happened because God purposed to allow them to happen, and/or because a libertarian agent acted freely for a purpose.

You said: But I think it is important to recognize that almost everyone holds to a form of determinism as a practical matter

The libertarian could agree with that, though not in the way you are meaning it I'm sure. Rather the libertarian would say that our actions are self-determined. We choose for ourselves to act in a particular way out of a variety of available choices. In that regard, we act in a similar way to God in freely willing to do something. That shouldn't surprise us. After all, we are made in His image.


My opinion is soft and hard determinism is a distinction without a difference. Determinism at its core posits that certain facts about reality inevitably cause the choices that agents make. Whether you posit that the facts about reality are inherent within the agent, or external to the agent, the effect is the same and "choosing" is illusory. How moral responsibility remains intact in that scenario is beyond me.

pds said...

Hi Boss,

I was trying to present each category as their advocates see them. I too find it very difficult to see a distinction between hard and soft determinism.

We could after all posit an evil Scientist who determines all our actions by chemical changes in our brain. The soft determinist would be forced to admit that it is us and not the evil Scientist that is morally responsible for our chemically/electronically controlled actions.


Ex N1hilo said...

Well, gentlemen, probably the most obvious difference between soft and hard determinism is that hard determinists deny that the doctrine of divine foreordination of all things is compatible with the free moral agency of human creatures. In this, the hard determinists and the libertarian free willers are in complete agreement.

And they are both, in my view, in disagreement with the scriptures, which teach both doctrines plainly.

We don't need to understand it in order for it to be true, but we do need to humbly submit to God's word in order to honor it.

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