Determinism – Did you choose to read this?

Rev. Dana Horton

Let’s say we could rewind the Universe and do things over again. 

  • Would lightning still strike in the same place at the same time?
  • Would Michael Jordan still make ‘The Shot’ in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz?
  • Would Ellen McAndless still refuse to go out with me in high school? 

If you take the side of determinism, the answer to each of these questions is woefully “yes.” 

In today’s discussion, we will not take up determinism versus free will. Gawwwd, that would take forever, and we only have four minutes. But even if we accept the idea of determinism, we still have to address whether these predetermined events are a result of:

  1. The invariable laws of physics, or
  2. The action of an omniscient Divine Being.

Most materialistic scientists choose #1. They do not like the idea of a Divine Being getting intertwined with their principles. Fair enough.

Things get more interesting when we examine how various religions deal with determinism. Specifically, religions with a dualistic concept of God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have a real conundrum when addressing how often, and how much, God intervenes in our lives. Here’s a list of options (it’s not exhaustive, and is not easily categorized into each major religions, because they all have factional disagreements within their overall theology):

  • God knows exactly what is going to happen and when. But God still allows us to exercise free will as individuals. Editorial comment: That seems like an oxymoron. If God already knows the outcome, then how do we have free will?
  • God pre-determines every activity in the Universe from the beginning. Editorial: We don’t like that idea because it eliminates free will. But at least the concept is clear.
  • God created everything in the beginning, but let it go after giving it a push. Editorial: This option has intuitive appeal, but quickly morphs into a rabbit trail about the nature of God and creation.
  • God is selective. God lets individuals exercise their own free will. But God inserts himself into pivotal situations in order to give certain groups ‘favored’ status. Editorial: We never liked that one. But y’know … history is written by the winners. And we also recognize that God is inevitable male in most of these stories.

We are going to stop here for today. We could go on with this discussion on determinism. But what would be the point?