Friday, April 13, 2007

Is Everything Pre-Determined Such That We Are Merely Pawns?

For those who believe in God, the idea of the existence of free will is rather simple to believe in. We have the evidence of its existence in our daily experiences of making choices in thought and action. But the person who does not believe in God, or who rejects the idea of God altogether -- along with the idea that human persons possess a soul, a spirit from God -- both the agnostic and atheist have a dilemma to overcome with respect to the supposed existence of free will. If they persist in their unbelief, then many necessarily must logically conclude that "free will" and "self-determination" do not really exist, indeed, "thought" does not really exist, they are simply illusions that we think that we are experiencing.

That is because the physical world is governed by certain fixed and uniform physical laws, as well as the law of cause and effect, and if God does not exist, that is, if a cause above and independent of the physical universe does not exist, then all effects are necessarily caused, or determined, by some prior pre-existing physical event or condition, just like dominoes falling according to their initial set-up and the falling of the first domino. In the case of a human being, he does not have a soul, but is merely a body, a biological entity whose apparent "independent thoughts" are nothing more than electro-chemical impulses interacting with chemical markers that have been laid down in brain tissue, and which we know as memory, with both those impulses and markers being themselves pre-determined by other purely physical causes.

Determinism, then, is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinism may also be defined as the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future. Determinists believe that the level to which human beings have influence over their future is itself dependent on present and past. Thus, most determinists believe that “free will” is merely an illusion, a mere feeling of independent agency. And if are thoughts and actions are all pre-determined and we have no personal power to think and do otherwise, then they are not really our own thoughts and actions, and we cannot justly be held morally responsible for them.

“Causal determinism” is the thesis that future events are necessitated by past and present events combined with the laws of nature, that is, the universe is nothing more than a chain of events following one after another according to the law of cause and effect. Causal determinism is associated with, and relies upon, the ideas of causality and materialism. Causality always implies at least some relationship of dependency between the cause and the effect. Causal determinism as been associated with Newtonian physics, which depicts the physical matter of the universe as operating according to a set of fixed, knowable laws. For example, Newton's first law, the law of inertia, states that "an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force, while an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force." The "billiard ball" hypothesis, a product of Newtonian physics, argues that once the initial conditions of the universe have been established the rest of the history of the universe follows inevitably.

“Biological determinism” is the idea that all behavior, belief, and desire are fixed by our genetic endowment. There are other similar ideas of determinism, including cultural determinism and psychological determinism.

“Theological determinism” is the thesis that there is a God, but He determines all that humans will do by decreeing their actions in advance. The problem of free will, in this context, is the problem of how our actions can be free, if there is a being who has determined them for us ahead of time, that is, if He has predestined us to a particular outcome. Ultimately, such thought often leads to the idea of "God as puppet master," with human beings being the puppets.

Fatalism, as a philosophy, does not refer to the idea that "we are all going to die," but instead refers to the idea of "fate." That is, in the philosophical sense, fatalism is the idea that all events are subject to fate or inevitable pre-determination. Such fatalism can refer to at least one of three interrelated ideas: (1) There is no free will, and everything including human actions, could only have happened as it did. This version of fatalism is very similar to determinism. (2) Although human actions are free, they are nonetheless ineffectual in determining events, because "whatever will be will be." This version of fatalism is very similar to predestination. Whereas determinists think the future is fixed because of causality, predestinarian fatalists think it is fixed in spite of causality. (3) An attitude of inaction and passive acceptance, rather than striving, is appropriate. This version of fatalism is very similar to defeatism.

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