The Problem of Predeterminism

UPDATE: This is a relatively old piece of writing. It was first written in early 2014 for a long defunct website I maintained called Scientism Central. It made it’s way to another former website before landing here, and somehow gets spotted in search engines more than most of my other works. As it goes with anything I wrote years ago, rereading it is a combination of pride and cringe. Not so much that I disagree with my former perspective, but in how limited I was in framing that perspective at the time. For example, why would I use ‘predeterminism’, rather than just ‘determinism’, since my argument applies to the entire spectrum of determinisms? If you want to get to the heart of my argument against determinism, please read The Determinism Paradox.

From Wikipedia ‘Predeterminism’:
“Predeterminism is the idea that all events are determined in advance. Predeterminism is the philosophy that all events of history, past, present and future, have been already decided or are already known (by God, fate, or some other force), including human actions.”

The question of predeterminism is a very old one, prevalent throughout the history of philosophy, religion and science. In a general sense, the opposite of predeterminism is ‘free will’, which is the idea that individuals are capable of determining future events and making choices of their own agency and accord.

Through Catholicism the prevalent thinking in the western world was that man was given free will to exercise in all matters, whether or not they chose to exercise it. The Protestant movement through Calvin and other theologians marked the widespread rejection of free will and the advancement of predeterminist notions.

This thinking has been extended in the modern western world to even the secular worldviews in the forms of naturalism, physicalism, materialism and others. This is not the only example of Protestant beliefs creeping their way into secularism and science. For instance, the Big Bang is a repetition of the philosophy that the universe is mechanistic, linear, causal and has a finite beginning and end. For this reason, the Big Bang was rejected by scientists at the time of its inception for being too similar to Judeo-Christian theological notions. It was, in fact, a man of the clothe who originated the idea.

Scientistic materialism continues to rehash predeterministic notions even to this day. The fields of genetic biology and neurology are ripe with the idea that our every thought, perception, reaction and decision have been determined by forces independent of human consciousness itself. This thinking extends itself to the idea that human consciousness itself is nothing more than a circumstantial byproduct of material substances which were themselves the result of another coincidence, ad infinitum.

However, both the religious and scientific claims of predeterminism carry self refuting statements. For the religious, determinism endangers both the doctrines of faith and acts, for which all religions depend upon one or the other. In science, determinism violates logical principles, the same logical principles that uphold the veracity of the scientific method. It is of little wonder that the adherents of determinism in either science or religion tend to be the most literal minded fanatics whose truths are often accompanied by hypocrisy. Predeterminsim is a toxic foundation for any ideology or worldview because of its inherent inconsistency, as we shall soon see.

The problem with predeterminism is that it is self-refuting. Whatever basis is used to make a claim of predeterminism would itself be rendered invalid by predeterminism. Predeterminism would become the cause of the claim itself. Let me be more specific.
In religion, faith and/or acts form the basis for salvation. Yet we must choose to act or have faith. This choice determines our eternal fate. However, if our lives are already written and known by a divine force prior to the creation of the universe, even our faith is predetermined and we are able to make no choices of our own agency or accord, even those of faith or deeds. This eliminates the entire purpose of religion, unless, we were to suppose that a God of infinite love and wisdom created the majority of people for no reason other than to experience eternal suffering or agony. I cannot take the suggestion of such an omnipotent sadistic force very seriously.

Scientifically, predeterminism is self-refuting in the following way. If our genetic and neurological patterns produce a consciousness determined by biology, than any claim to predeterminism would be said to originate from biology, and therefore it cannot be claimed that predeterminism has logical or empirical causation. If you say that our thoughts are caused by our physical bodies, then you cannot claim that the thought that predeterminism is correct is caused by anything except the same biology. Logic and empiricism are removed as factors by the necessities of predeterminism.

Simply put, if you believe that everything is predetermined, so is your belief. You can no longer claim that belief has a basis in rationale or faith. Predeterminism erodes faith and rationality equally alike. The fundamentalism of religion and materialism are products of the incongruency intrinsic to predeterminism. While both groups, the religious and the scientistic materialists, make radical claims that the other side is responsible for all that ails humanity; they may do much better to focus on their common problem, on that which they are both wrong. The problem of the world is not religion nor science, but the idea that our choices and agency are limited or do not exist, so that all the problems of the world become somebody else’s fault. We are crippled by the blindness and repetition allowed by a species who does not believe that individual responsibility or accountability are amongst the most meaningful values.

2 thoughts on “The Problem of Predeterminism

  1. Your argument is sound, yet it assumes that the workings of the universe are in fact rational. There has been no evidence to prove this PHILOSOPHICALLY. Scientifically, maybe, however, science is just a tool humanity uses to explain the world as we observe it. Our narrow, narrow slice. Because science is based in rationality, it could never conceive of anything irrational. Rationality may be crucial to humanities’ understanding of the workd around it, however, just like predeterminism, it too can only recreate and reinforce itself.

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    1. Not only do I not assume that the universe is rational, I do not even assume the question of its rationality is a meaningful one. But this writing was meant to address determinists who do believe universe is rational, so the best way to break that delusion is using their own language and beliefs.

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