Search Results for determinism
Determinism is the belief popularized by John Stuart Mill that choice and free will are unreal. In determinism, every event is the outcome of previous causes and nature is believed to be uniform. Moreover, the notion of chance is merely a concept incorrectly used by those unaware of all previous causes.
This differs from the idea of fatalism, where things unavoidably happen but not necessarily from previous causes. For instance, with fatalism a sovereign transcendent power or powers could arbitrarily decide what will happen to mere mortals. This is a widespread idea, not particular to recent religions. For example, the Homeric Fates were able to have power over the future.¹
The distinction between determinism and fatalism is further outlined at Wikipedia:
Fatalism is normally distinguished from “determinism”. Fatalism is the idea that everything is fated to happen, so that humans have no control over their future. Notice that fate has arbitrary power. Fate also need not follow any causal or otherwise deterministic laws. Types of Fatalism include Theological determinism and the idea of predestination, where there is a God who determines all that humans will do. This may be accomplished either by knowing their actions in advance, via some form of omniscience or by decreeing their actions in advance.²
This quotation raises some difficult philosophical questions. For instance, does God knowing in advance what we will do mean the same thing as God determining what we will do? Some say yes, and others no. On the yes side, we could say that God created everything in the first place, and having full knowledge (omniscience) not only knows but also is responsible for what we do. On the other side, the no side, we could say that God creates us with free will. Although God knows how we will choose, we are totally free to go any way we wish. This latter argument is usually held by Christian theologians while the former crops up among agnostics and atheists (atheists do not believe in God but may use the argument to try to lampoon the whole idea of God).
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The definition of evil is informed by one’s core beliefs, and different kinds of arguments try to explain its existence.
Some materialists and scientists scoff at the idea of evil as if it were an antiquated legacy from a superstitious past.
Violent criminals are usually described in the news in psychiatric terms. Murderers are often reported as having a mental illness instead of being possessed by the devil. However, sometimes callous murderers are called “monsters” so the idea of evil can creep in to our essentially scientific worldview.
Meanwhile, savage tyrants and warlords are often viewed through a historical or, perhaps, political lens.
Evil in Christian theology
A basic theological distinction exists between natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil includes “acts of God” such as floods, earthquakes and avalanches. Moral evil is a conscious human choice to turn away from God’s will and participate in some action harmful to self and possibly others.
Duns Scotus classified “intrinsic evil” as acts that are inherently evil and accordingly prohibited. But intrinsically evil acts are not evil because they are prohibited.
In Christian theology evil is often seen as a necessary component of God’s plan of salvation. Here one accepts as an article of faith that God permits evil for some greater good, beyond the comprehension of mere mortals (see Isaiah 55:8-9).
A Christian school of thought, begun by Irenaeus and popularized by John Hick, argues that evil is permitted, but not caused, by God. Why, one might ask, would an all-powerful God permit evil? According to the Irenian school, the answer lies in the idea of ‘soul making.’ A soul freely choosing to abstain from evil is of greater value than one that automatically avoids evil like a programmed robot. The free soul apparently better glorifies God than would a sinless automaton.
Although evil may ravage, test and torment good souls living on earth, the true goal of our finite, earthly life is to be made worthy of eternal heavenly life. According to this perspective the evils of the world act as a crucible. Souls not succumbing to but resisting evil are purified and strengthened toward the good. Evil, then, is necessary. It acts as a kind of hammer that pounds out the soul’s impurities.
God permits some evils lest the good things should be obstructed.
Another Christian argument, influenced by Plato‘s idea of the Forms, is given by St. Augustine. Augustine sees evil as a privatio boni—the absence of good. According to this view, since God is good, evil must be where God is not present. Therefore God doesn’t create evil. It’s a choice. But the theological debates get complicated here, and some ask whether Augustine’s theodicy holds up for both natural and moral evil.
Different branches of Christianity hold different views about what happens to evil souls in the afterlife. Some Churches damn sinners eternally. Martin Luther, for instance, believed that some souls are predestined for hell. Meanwhile, some contemporary Christians pray for the liberation of souls in hell while others do not.¹ And the Catholic Purgatory is neither heaven nor hell, but a difficult preparation for heaven.
Evil in non-Christian religions
Evil in Islam is similar to that of Christianity. But for Muslims it is evil to suggest that Christ is one with God (John 10:30). And the prohibitions in the Koran differ from those of the New Testament. Notably, killing is permitted in the Koran in some circumstances (see http://www.yoel.info/koranwarpassages.htm and http://www.islamreview.com/articles/jihadholywarversesinthekoran.shtml), whereas the very thought of killing is denounced in the New Testament. Many branches of Christianity do, however, entertain the idea of a Just War.
In Hinduism a different view of evil is presented. Evil is permitted to maintain a proper balance of sacred heat or power (tapas) within the universe. Aspects of Hinduism speak to the reality of hell for evildoers. But evil in Hinduism is mostly viewed in terms of personal ignorance and spiritual development, making hellish punishments temporary instead of eternal.
According to this perspective, the evil soul reincarnates on earth until it is cleansed of the ignorance that influenced it to commit bad deeds. This differs dramatically from the Catholic view that souls in hell are eternally damned and, strangely enough, would never want to leave. Unlike the Christian, the Hindu aspires to transcend apparently relative ideas about good and evil through an experiential knowledge of universal truth.
Accordingly, the goal of Hinduism differs from both Christianity and Islam. For the Hindu, heaven is a halfway house on the road to ultimate realization. The reincarnating soul may enjoy periodic visits to different heavens but, though the round of rebirth, it eventually transcends all heavens and ultimately achieves the greatest good of the Brahman. A similar but in some ways different view of evil is presented in Taoism.
An interesting but often overlooked question is whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu heavens and hells are identical in character. The celebrated Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade notes that heavens and hells are described differently among world religions. But do they all feel the same? We can’t really know but my guess is NO.
Most cultures around the world at some point in history have seen evil as a cause of mental or physical illness. This view is prevalent in Shamanism. And some religious writers, such as the Catholic, Michael Brown, say they feel the presence of evil almost anywhere.
And on the inferiority of evil as compared to good, W. H. Auden writes in A Certain World:
Good can imagine Evil; but Evil cannot imagine Good.
¹ See this excellent discussion: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=329730
- The freewill defense (St. Augustine of Hippo): Part 1 (thatreligiousstudieswebsite.com)
- One’s Good and the Other is Evil (conservativetickler.wordpress.com)
- Why God Won’t Allow Me to Heaven (ichosethebluepill.wordpress.com)
- A Scene from “Doctor Faustus” (alyssajmammano.wordpress.com)
- Medieval Good (ideasandotherstuff.wordpress.com)
- What is evil? (andrewejenkins.wordpress.com)
- Random Musings: the concept of a ‘just war’ (jmatthanbrown.wordpress.com)
- A reading from the Church Fathers: Love the Sinner Hate the Sin (gingerjar2.wordpress.com)
Free Will is the belief that human beings have the ability to make choices. Most philosophers advocating the belief in free will agree that personal freedom has practical limits, but not all agree that the freedom to choose is limited with regard to ethics. That is, some say that we can always choose the good, even though we may not always be able to choose certain activities.
The view that we can always choose the good, however, is complicated. As both Catholic theologians and psychiatrists will say, personal culpability for doing bad things might be lessened by such factors as peer pressure (with teenagers), stress, trauma, emotional immaturity or instability, and so-called mental illness or mental injury. Of course, just what constitutes a bad thing is not always agreed upon among theologians and psychiatrists—masturbation being a good example.¹
J.-P. Sartre called the practical limits of personal freedom ‘freedom in facticity’, meaning that individuals have a limited range of choices, particularly with regard to available opportunities and activities.² But for Sartre individuals can choose to do ethically right or wrong actions, and to give or not give consent to issues involving ethics.
Meanwhile, the Protestant Christian reformer John Calvin believed that some people are predestined for hell and others for heaven.
Who can figure!
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¹ Here’s a good comment: http://www.debatepolitics.com/archives/40072-masturbation-religion-and-psychiatry.html
² When I was at school a common example you’d hear was, “can someone in a wheelchair be a mountain climber?’ Today, however, this example doesn’t really hold up because new attitudes about persons with so-called disabilities are, in many cases, contributing to these people being seen as persons with difference. And in many instances, truly extraordinary things are being achieved by persons different from statistical norms. See, for instance, The Blind Painter (below).
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Fatalism (also called determinism) is the philosophical and religious belief that life (and by implication history) is strictly predetermined or unalterable, governed by the laws of necessity. There’s no room for free will here. All apparent choices are perceived as resulting from past influences.
Some who believe in the illusion of free will argue that fatalism and the belief in free will are the same. The argument goes as follows:
Most theologians will tell you that you are free to choose but God knows in advance how you are going to choose. That means that you may believe you’re choosing but your’re really not. Why? Well, because God created you in the first place, knowing, all along, how you’d make your choices in life.
So where’s the free will? critics of the belief in free will will ask.
Defenders of the belief in free will usually reply as follows, appealing to ethics:
God made human beings free, otherwise they would be of no value. The presence of evil in the world enables us to learn why it’s good to choose the Good and shun the bad. If we didn’t have free will, we’d be no better than mindless machines.¹ And God, being Good, made us better than machines. That is, God made us free.
I might add to this debate that the fatalist critique about God creating us in the first place is an argument bound up in the human idea of linear time. The Swiss psychiatrist and thinker Carl Jung falls into this trap when talking about God in his Answer to Job. Jung is not strictly a fatalist but his many comments about God complicate his outlook. Sometimes he seems like an innovative Christian. Other times he comes off like a New Age pantheist. And when talking about being inconsistent, he simply asks, “who isn’t inconsistent?”
I mention Jung’s approach because it highlights the difference between those who have it all figured out by an official church teaching vs. those who want to figure things out for themselves. That is, Jung illustrates the difference between the passive acceptance of dogma² vs. individual investigation. Interestingly enough, each camp tends to demonize the other.
¹ This argument is now complicated by the fact that some software can appear to learn and “choose” new routines. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning
² This in contrast to those who say they accept dogma after much thought and experience, all of which, they say, supports the dogma. An example here would be someone who believes they receive a revelation about the Christian Trinity. Also, some say that the belief in a dogma is a “divine gift” (without the need for a great revelation), so this debate can get complicated.
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John Stuart Mill (1806-73) was an English empiricist philosopher best known for On Liberty (1859) and Utilitarianism (1863).
In the latter, Mill follows David Hume‘s principle of utility by saying
Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
Mill critiques Immanuel Kant‘s categorical imperative. Put simply, the categorical imperative means that we should do those actions which are morally good in every circumstance.
Mill believes the principle of utility amounts to the same thing as the categorical imperative because moral actions are defined as good and bad through a cost-benefit analysis of their results.
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Providence is a theological term referring to the belief that God is free to choose the course of temporal events in all of creation.
Opponents to the idea of providence stem back to ancient times. St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his Summa Theologica:
Certain persons totally denied the existence of providence, as Democritus and the Epicureans, maintaining that the world was made by chance (“The providence of God,” Prima Pars, Q. 22)
Others ancients add an interesting wrinkle to the debate by claiming that natural events are ruled by God, but particular human events are not. To this idea St. Thomas replies according to standard Catholic teaching:
…all things are subject to divine providence, not only in general, but even in their own individual being (ibid.).
If God really is in control of everything, or, at least, has knowledge of how all events will unfold in the course of human history, many ask why so many bad things are found in our world. This leads to the problem of evil, a theological issue which scholars have called theodicy.
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Predestination is a theological idea that takes two main forms.
The first is the belief, articulated by St. Augustine, that some individuals are divinely predestined to reside in an eternal heaven. Many believe the following New Testament passage supports this view:
Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23, NIV).
The second, often called double predestination (sometimes dual predestination), is the belief that God predestines some for everlasting heaven and others for eternal hell.
A much debated question arises here as to whether God would actively endorse or, perhaps, passively permit eternal damnation. This question relates to other questions concerning God’s absolute goodness and power.
Gottschalk of Orbais, an unorthodox theologian of the 9th-century, met imprisonment for holding the view of double predestination.
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Teleology (Gk: telos = end, purpose; logos = discourse)
This is the philosophical and theological idea that all of creation is directed toward and unfolds according to a meaningful and rational outcome.
In philosophy one of the most famous teleologies is that of G. W. F. Hegel, where a presumed World Spirit guides human history through successive resolutions of contradictions.
According to Hegel, the main characteristic of this unity was that it evolved through and manifested itself in contradiction and negation. Contradiction and negation have a dynamic quality that at every point in each domain of reality—consciousness, history, philosophy, art, nature, society—leads to further development until a rational unity is reached that preserves the contradictions as phases and sub-parts by lifting them up (Aufhebung) to a higher unity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegelian#Progress_through_contradictions_and_negations)
In social theory, Karl Marx is said to have ‘turned Hegelian theory on its head’ by creating a historical teleology devoid of spirituality that predicts the supposed inevitability of Communism.
Marx believed that human history went through definite socioeconomic stages:
- Primitive Communism
For Marx Capitalism inevitably passes into Communism.
In theology different teleologies have been devised. Some stress God as an omnicient and external ‘designer’ to creation while other say God is within the creation, learning and evolving as things progress through time.
On the Web:
» Determinism, Epicureanism, Fatalism, Free will, Providence, Soteriology, Theodicy
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Augustine of Hippo, St. (354-430) St. Augustine is one of the most influential figures in Christian history and one of the four Latin Doctors of the Catholic Church. Another theological luminary, St. Thomas Aquinas, often refers to Augustine.
In his Confessions Augustine says that prior to his conversion he was a libertine, flatterer, hedonist and dabbler in just about every philosophy in existence during the early years of Christianity.
Before converting he was a leading scholar and teacher. He had read Plato and Cicero, and became especially fond of Manichaeism.
In 372 he had a son, Adeonatus, out of wedlock.
After years of intervening prayer from his mother, St. Monica, Augustine allegedly “saw the light.”
A passage from the New Testament utterly changed him and he quickly embraced his new-found faith. Adeonatus followed.
Augustine was ordained in 391 and leveled an attack on the non-Christian religions of his day, especially Roman paganism.
In The City of God (413-426) he asks: If the Roman gods are so powerful, why did they allow Rome to fall?
He writes of two cities: one ruled by God and inhabited by the chosen people, the other ruled by the Devil and inhabited by those lost to darkness.
Augustine also refuted the Christian heresies of Donatism and Pelegianism.
His understanding of time is sometimes likened to that of Albert Einstein and Carl Jung‘s but this is a mistake. Augustine’s view of time is rooted within primitive, old-world thinking.
For Augustine God exists above and beyond creation in an eternal present but this does not mean that the past and the future always exist within creation, as some New Age and New Physics thinkers believe.
Rather, time for Augustine is a subjective experience discerned through motion and change.
If the past and future do exist…they are not there as future of past, but as present.” He continues “…it is only possible to see something which exists. So when we speak of foreseeing the future, we do not see things which are not yet in being, that is, things which are future, but it may be that we see their causes or signs, which are already in being.” From this he concludes, “…it is abundantly clear that neither the future nor the past exist, and therefore it is not strictly correct to say that there are three times, past, present, and future. It might be correct to say that there a that there are three times, a present of past things, a present of present things, and a present of future things.
Saint Augustine Of Hippo, Confessions. Trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1961. pp. 267-269.
For Augustine, God knows every event that has happened, is and will happen, not because God is all events and all time but because God creates and exists above and beyond all events and time. God, therefore, has perfect knowledge of past, present and future or, as some writers put it, such knowledge exists “in the mind of God.”†
Thus Augustine’s view of God differs from theorists who tend to associate God with a so-called “world soul” (anima mundi) and from pantheistic philosophers claiming that Creator and Creation are identical or two interconnected phases of one unified process.
For many Christians and other monotheists, God is above and beyond but also immanent within creation–this being a very different conceptualization (with equally different ethical and perhaps experiential implications) that merely saying God is “All That Is.”
On the issue of Free Will vs. Determinism, Augustine essentially says that we are free to make personal choices but God knows in advance how we will choose.
Atheists find this standpoint unsatisfactory, while those who have taken a leap of faith do not. The former tend to want to understand everything with their intellects first. The latter believe that they will be taught by God what they need to know when the time is right.
It seems the two positions (atheism vs. faith-based) represent qualitatively different approaches-that is, different modes of being, experiencing and understanding. Although this claim is complicated by the fact that many say that atheism is founded on belief and furthermore, that the word “faith” has a variety of connotations among believers.
Augustine is also known for articulating the idea of the Just War, a view which some Christians find appalling, regarding it as a Satanic distortion of Jesus’ message, perpetuated by various man-made religious doctrines purporting to be divinely inspired.
†This may seem a trivial distinction to some but it has important implications for discourse on memory, intuition, insight, premonition and precognition and, in particular, the hypothesized mechanisms which would enable these faculties.