Often technical terminology can be headache-inducing, so I usually try to avoid it. But philosophical terms can be helpful if they encapsulate something profound and meaningful that relates to our lives and our understanding of reality. I believe that determinism is one such term which can provoke us to think deeply about the relationship between God and creation.
In this article I will offer some brief and simple definitions of a few different types of determinism, and hopefully they will help you to assess where you stand on the issue.
This is the idea that events unfold in accordance with strict scientific laws, and that one event leads to another. Every event occurs due to a series of causes that preceded it. Many physicists believe that every event we experience can be traced back to a causal chain set in motion with the ‘Big Bang’, when time itself came into existence. There is no free will in this view; only cause and effect.
This is the idea that God has predestined all events to occur and that He has been responsible for every event throughout the course of history. The idea is similar to scientific determinism, except that here God is the originating cause of all events, rather than chance or purely physical processes. There are two main types of theological determinism:
People who take this position believe that God’s omniscience is not compatible with human free will. God is the cause of all events, so there is no room for free will.
In this view determinism is compatible with a specific meaning of freedom, which is that one’s behaviour is caused not only by prior events, but also acts of the will such as choices, decisions and desires.
What are we to make of all this?
I believe the most important consideration here is one that is often overlooked in theological discussions surrounding determinism, which is the nature of God. Here are a few important questions that I invite you to consider:
Did God set the universe in motion and then sit back and watch it unfold at a distance, only intervening at certain times? Or is God an omnipresent being, pervading all of creation and affecting change wherever it occurs in the single eternal moment? Is God distant or involved? Is God boundless or somehow embodied? Is God limited in any way?
Of course, for many scientific determinists, these questions about God won’t even arise, for they see no ‘evidence’ that God exists. But for the theists among us, what we understand about the nature of God will lead us to our conclusions concerning which type of determinism, if any, we embrace.
What are your thoughts on determinism? Feel free to leave a comment below. If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing and/or subscribing. Thank you for reading!