Determinism: Twisted thinking?

by Andrew S. Kulikovsky B.App.Sc.(Hons)

February 4, 1999.

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Determinism is the notion that humans have virtually no control over the path their life takes. Everything that happens to us has been predetermined by external forces or entities. In today's world, this kind of twisted thinking manifests itself in various ways:

Astrological Determinism

It is quite astonishing to see how many people turn to the horroscope pages in various magazines and newspapers, in order to find out what life has in store for them. But to think that the arrangement and relationships between hunks of rock floating around in space billions of light years away has an effect on our lives is the epitimisation of irrationality! How can a thinking person seriously believe this stuff?  

Sociological Determinism

This is essentially the belief that "we are products of our environment." The events of a person's formative years and the environment in which a person grew up will determine how that person will turn out. Society has determined what they are. If a person has a bad marriage it's because of their home life. If a person is poor it's their parent's fault. If a person can't get the job they want it's their primary school teacher's fault. A rapist violates women because he was not loved as a child, and so on. This whole belief system is motivated by a denial of personal responsibility. Instead of admitting that the reason I don't have the job I want is because I haven't worked hard enough or because I am just plain lazy, I am inclined to blame someone else. Of course, their is no doubt that such factors do have a strong influence on our lives, but they do not stop us from changing. But instead of changing the way they are, many people are just content to stay the same and blame everyone but themselves for their own failings.  

Genetic Determinism

This is the belief that our genes determine who and what we are. Our personality, orientations, likes, dislikes and behaviour are written into our DNA. According to this view, people are "born gay." Even Time Magazine recently ran an article called "Infidelity: It's in our genes" which suggested the reason why men tend to infidelity is due to their genetic composition. This belief system derives directly from evolutionary thinking i.e. that humans are nothing more than complex biological machines, and is motivated by a denial of moral absolutes. However, the whole basis of this view is simply not true. There is no scientific evidence at all that genes determine behaviour. We do know that genes determine "features" ie. blond hair, blue eyes, big nose etc., but never behaviour. In addition, those who believe this idea do not live consistently with it, since that would mean endorsing the behaviour of rapists and pedophiles. After all, they are just doing what the genes tell them.  

Theological Determinism

Unfortunately, this kind of twisted thinking has also found its way into the church. Many christians believe that everything that happens is "God's will." But this shows a very poor understanding of both the nature of God and the nature of Man, not to mention a severly deficient knowledge of scripture. Actually, this belief is more in line with Islam than Christianity, since Islam teaches that "whatever happens is the will of Allah." But even a casual glance at the Old Testament reveals that it was not God's will for Adam and Eve to sin - but they did. It was not God's will for the Israelites to wander around in the desert for 40 years - but they did. It was not God's will for the Israelites to be carried off into exile - but it happened. It is not God's will for a person to be murdered or for a child to be run over. Neither is it God's will for a person to go to Hell, but if someone wants to go there, God will not stop them.

All human beings are made in the image of God and therefore have free will, just as God does. Although God is sovereign, He has sovereignly declared that all humans shall have free will. Therefore, it is wrong to say that "God is in control" if we mean that God is the only actor in the universe. He is not. Neither God, nor our genes, nor society, nor the stars determine what ultimately happens to us. Human beings have the ability to make choices and act on those choices. But we must also realise that choices have consequences - consequences which we have to live with.

On a similar theme, see also Udo Middleman's article on The Islamization of Christianity.