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Switch to Forum Live View Determinism and Predestination today
8 years ago  ::  Apr 08, 2010 - 7:44PM #1
Dusgfmo
Posts: 12

Was determinism considered to be more of a mainstream thought at any point in  history?  Is it more accepted than it seems?


Why are many people very uncomfortable with determinism?  Why does it currently seem to be unpopular?


Has  determinsm been disproved?


I am a United Church of Christ member.  Ever since I was a child I  have had thoughts  about determinism, even before I knew the term.  I  thought that  everything is caused by something else.  The decisions we  make are based  upon everything that has influenced us in the past.  Are  there other  UCCers who feel this way? 


Was there some of this thinking in  the German Evangelical, Reformed,  Congregational, and Christian  Connection predecessors bodies of the  UCC?


I'm not saying that  other people are wrong.  I've simply had this  leaning since I was a  child.  They can have their opinions and I can also see how and why people would believe in free will.


I was involved in an informal discussion and someone  asked me how I  reconcile this with my faith.  I never found them to be  incompatible.   They also found my belief to be disturbing and possibly  dangerous.

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8 years ago  ::  Apr 08, 2010 - 8:42PM #2
mountain_man
Posts: 44,029

Apr 8, 2010 -- 7:44PM, Dusgfmo wrote:

Was determinism considered to be more of a mainstream thought at any point in  history?  Is it more accepted than it seems?



Determinism is more easily accepted by the religious. They have a god to be the determiner. As an Atheist, I don't have any beliefs in such a determiner.


Why are many people very uncomfortable with determinism?  Why does it currently seem to be unpopular?



I can't speak for others, but I do not believe in determinism for several reasons; no determiner and free will. I see prior events as an influence on, not the cause of, my decisions. If we have no free will, and everything is already determined, then we are nothing but robots with no say in whatever we do.


Has  determinism been disproved?



It has not been proven to my satisfaction. Others believe it has.



I am a United Church of Christ member.  Ever since I was a child I  have had thoughts  about determinism, even before I knew the term.  I  thought that  everything is caused by something else.  The decisions we  make are based  upon everything that has influenced us in the past.  Are  there other  UCCers who feel this way?



This is a part of the forum that is for Atheists. I doubt you'll find many UCCers here. The key word is "influence." In determinism there are no influences, only causes.


I'm not saying that  other people are wrong.  I've simply had this  leaning since I was a  child.  They can have their opinions and I can also see how and why people would believe in free will.



It all depends on where you stand on cause vs influence.


I was involved in an informal discussion and someone  asked me how I  reconcile this with my faith.  I never found them to be  incompatible.   They also found my belief to be disturbing and possibly  dangerous.



Many religiously based people will tell you that thinking is dangerous. They want you to believe, not think.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.   Isaac Asimov
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 08, 2010 - 9:36PM #3
Tolerant Sis
Posts: 4,201

There is of course a pretty big difference between determinism and predestination.


Determinism means exactly what you think it means ... there is a causal relationship among all things.  Events happen because something caused them to happen.  Except for quantum physics and extremely early cosmology, most of science is determinist.  Objects get more massive owing to relativistic effects close to light speed.  Sap runs in maple trees when there are warmish days and cold nights.  Rats that get a shock when a green light comes on learn to fear the green light even when not shocked.  Viruses mutate because they are responding to environmental conditions.  Stars explode when they have fused elements down to iron.  So on and such like. This can all go back to Aristotle's Prime Mover ... or not.  But the laws that govern the universe do seem to spring from Moment One.  For instance, even in the early universe, the laws of thermodynamics operated much as they appear to operate today. 


Predestination is something entirely different.  While predestination has determinism at its core, most of what passes for determinism doesn't have much to do with predestination.  Predestination, of course, means that there is an outcome that is predetermined.  And it is a religious concept, involving a god or a god-like being that sets the stage and doesn't allow objects within the system to deviate from it.  Therefore, no matter the illusion of free will, there can only be one outcome.


Many atheists are determinists, whether they admit it or not.  They are not likely to be believers in predestination, however.

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8 years ago  ::  Apr 08, 2010 - 10:49PM #4
mountain_man
Posts: 44,029

Apr 8, 2010 -- 9:36PM, Tolerant Sis wrote:

There is of course a pretty big difference between determinism and predestination.


Determinism means exactly what you think it means ... there is a causal relationship among all things.  Events happen because something caused them to happen.  Except for quantum physics and extremely early cosmology, most of science is determinist.  Objects get more massive owing to relativistic effects close to light speed.  Sap runs in maple trees when there are warmish days and cold nights.  Rats that get a shock when a green light comes on learn to fear the green light even when not shocked.  Viruses mutate because they are responding to environmental conditions.  Stars explode when they have fused elements down to iron.  So on and such like. This can all go back to Aristotle's Prime Mover ... or not.  But the laws that govern the universe do seem to spring from Moment One.  For instance, even in the early universe, the laws of thermodynamics operated much as they appear to operate today.



That is a good example of taking the side of cause vs influence. My question is; what caused you to write what you did? What caused you to use those specific words?


Predestination is something entirely different.  While predestination has determinism at its core, most of what passes for determinism doesn't have much to do with predestination.  Predestination, of course, means that there is an outcome that is predetermined.  And it is a religious concept, involving a god or a god-like being that sets the stage and doesn't allow objects within the system to deviate from it.  Therefore, no matter the illusion of free will, there can only be one outcome.



I'll agree, predestination is a religious concept. Certain versions of religion put more weight on it than others and there can be a great variation within one religion.


Many atheists are determinists, whether they admit it or not.  They are not likely to be believers in predestination, however.



I'm neither a determinist nor a predestanationist. I came to that conclusion with my own free will. Cool

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.   Isaac Asimov
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 09, 2010 - 1:59PM #5
Tolerant Sis
Posts: 4,201

Apr 8, 2010 -- 10:49PM, mountain_man wrote:


That is a good example of taking the side of cause vs influence. My question is; what caused you to write what you did? What caused you to use those specific words?


A lifetime of scientific study caused me to use those specific words.  I'm an unabashed determinist ... unless I am talking the first millisecond after the Bang and quantum dynamics.  Then I am possibly a closet determinist. Laughing


I'll agree, predestination is a religious concept. Certain versions of religion put more weight on it than others and there can be a great variation within one religion.


Many atheists are determinists, whether they admit it or not.  They are not likely to be believers in predestination, however.



I'm neither a determinist nor a predestanationist. I came to that conclusion with my own free will.



Yeah, sure. Wink

First amendment fan since 1793.
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 09, 2010 - 2:41PM #6
mountain_man
Posts: 44,029

Apr 9, 2010 -- 1:59PM, Tolerant Sis wrote:

A lifetime of scientific study caused me to use those specific words.



Caused, as in forced you to, or influenced?


I'm an unabashed determinist ... unless I am talking the first millisecond after the Bang and quantum dynamics.  Then I am possibly a closet determinist. Laughing



That would be a concern if you were operating on the quantum level. The problem is that QM can't be ramped up to the macro level.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.   Isaac Asimov
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 09, 2010 - 3:38PM #7
Tolerant Sis
Posts: 4,201

Apr 9, 2010 -- 2:41PM, mountain_man wrote:


Apr 9, 2010 -- 1:59PM, Tolerant Sis wrote:

A lifetime of scientific study caused me to use those specific words.



Caused, as in forced you to, or influenced?


I'm an unabashed determinist ... unless I am talking the first millisecond after the Bang and quantum dynamics.  Then I am possibly a closet determinist. Laughing



That would be a concern if you were operating on the quantum level. The problem is that QM can't be ramped up to the macro level.




I suppose I think that the choice between influence in the sense that you are using it and cause is a distinction without much of a difference.  I was trained in physics and astronomy; I suppose I could say that my findings were 'influenced' by the second law of thermodynamics, but that wouldn't really be true.  Universal laws, until proven otherwise, seem to be fairly immutable.  That is, we can't find anything in the universe on the macro level beyond the first millisecond of the UT that doesn't obey those laws.  So even chaotic systems are based on thermodynamics, etc, which means, to me, that thermodynamics and other natural laws cause effects we see in the natural world.  And they could be traced all the way back to Moment One.  


I could be dissuaded with proof ... Smile


Now, there isn't a one to one relationship anywhere, of course.  Gravity and thermodynamics and electromagnetism and insolation and the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle and the butterfly effect all play a causative role in weather, but you can't say that any one factor alone causes weather.  


As far as QM and QED are concerned, I think it is probably deterministic too, but we just don't understand the rules well enough yet.  That's just a guess.

First amendment fan since 1793.
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 09, 2010 - 4:41PM #8
mountain_man
Posts: 44,029

Apr 9, 2010 -- 3:38PM, Tolerant Sis wrote:

I suppose I think that the choice between influence in the sense that you are using it and cause is a distinction without much of a difference.



Then you have grossly misunderstood the way I am using 'cause' and 'influence'. I'm not using any special definitions. 'Cause' means that you had no choice in the matter. Something FORCED you to reply the way you did and use the words you did. 'Influence' is just that, an influence. Your education was an influence on which words you chose.


There is a big distinction between those two words. As I said earlier; where one falls on this topic depends on if they believe something caused you do do something or influenced you.


I was trained in physics and astronomy; I suppose I could say that my findings were 'influenced' by the second law of thermodynamics, but that wouldn't really be true.  Universal laws, until proven otherwise, seem to be fairly immutable.  That is, we can't find anything in the universe on the macro level beyond the first millisecond of the UT that doesn't obey those laws.  So even chaotic systems are based on thermodynamics, etc, which means, to me, that thermodynamics and other natural laws cause effects we see in the natural world.  And they could be traced all the way back to Moment One.  


I could be dissuaded with proof ... Smile



I'm not arguing against any of that. What I am saying that those things did not CAUSE me to do anything. The fact that "the increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy added by heating the system minus the amount lost as a result of the work done by the system on its surroundings" did not cause me to reply to this thread, nor did it force me to use the words and phrases I have chosen to use.


Now, there isn't a one to one relationship anywhere, of course.  Gravity and thermodynamics and electromagnetism and insolation and the water cycle and the nitrogen cycle and the butterfly effect all play a causative role in weather, but you can't say that any one factor alone causes weather.



Nor can you say that anything in physics caused me to mow the lawn this morning. I chose to do it today instead of yesterday.


As far as QM and QED are concerned, I think it is probably deterministic too, but we just don't understand the rules well enough yet.  That's just a guess.



That's fine for them. However, I'm not a sub atomic particle, so those rules have no bearing on which day I choose to mow the lawn.

Dave - Just a Man in the Mountains.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.   Isaac Asimov
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8 years ago  ::  Apr 10, 2010 - 11:41AM #9
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,242

I disagree with much, though not all, of what has been written so far.  I'll explain below.


Apr 8, 2010 -- 7:44PM, Dusgfmo wrote:

Was determinism considered to be more of a mainstream thought at any point in  history?  Is it more accepted than it seems?


You're asking an historical question.  You're also assuming there's a "mainstream" to measure.  How, exactly, would anyone do that?  Which "mainstream" are we talking about?  The popularity of an idea among religious people, scientists, philosophers, etc.?  Those are all different but overlapping communities - none of which have ever been static.


Determinism, as I understand it, is the idea that free will is illusory.  The universe is basically matter in motion.  Events simply occur.  What appear to be "choices" or exercises of "free will" are simply instances of causation.  The interactions between human beings are no different from the actions of apes, which are no different from the interactions between rocks.  All that is different is the difficulty of predicting outcomes living things are complex systems, in an of themselves.  Compared to a person - which is highly differentiated, highly specialized, and influenced on many, many levels - a rock is a fairly simple.  


But even seemingly "unpredictable" phenomena operate according to some detectable pattern.  Nobody thinks the weather has a mind of its own, even if a five-day forecast is pushing it and a ten-day forecast is a total work of fiction.  I'm no meteorologist, but I keep reading that anything past three days is more show biz than science.  People want a five-day forecast but the number of factors that have to be juggled is too iffy to provide a realistic picture beyond 72 hours.  While many atheists may disagree, the "best atheist answer" would be that everything is "determined" in the sense that there is no intervening mind controlling what happens.  There is no God.  By the same token, there is no "you."  It's all just matter/energy and motion.  The universe is just a giant lava lamp.  Even your perception - right or wrong - is as "determined" as the most complex equation.  While it may not be as simple and immediately predictable as 2 x 2 = 4, if all factors and variables were identified, the outcome would never be up in the air.  For a lengthy defense of determinism as a psychological principle, read B.F. Skinner.


Why is it more "atheistic" to take a determinist approach?  Determinism posits one thing in the universe: matter/energy.  Everything we see, in this kaleidoscope of exchanges, is just change, itself.  There is no mind manipulating the machine.  The moment you posit that there are minds in the machine, as exceptions to causation, you turn the universe into a duality between mind and matter.  If mind is a non-material substance interacting with matter, it must have a separate and independent exist.  This raises the obvious question of how mind can be affected by matter, as well as how mind can impact matter in any way.  As we often equate mind with personality, we know that chemical changes affect personality.  If perception is a product of the mind and the mind is a product of the brain, then perception is simply a more complex package of material changes.


If we are an exception to the material universe, we shouldn't be affected by external factors, such as diet, genetics, drugs, full moons, sleep deprivation, past traumas, et cetera.  We should be a hand in a glove.  We should be the hand pulling the strings on a marionette.  Instead, our perceptions can be easily manipulated by something as simple as an airborne chemical.  We are not independent of the material world.  We are part of it.  If, as some would like to argue, there's some part of us that is standing apart from the world, you're talking about the existence of souls.  The existence of souls, which are not capable of being directly experienced, measured or otherwise detected, makes the existence of God a veritable possibility.  If you and I are exceptions to the material universe, why not posit the existence of a mind greater than ourselves?  Atheism is weakened by talk of souls.


Why are many people very uncomfortable with determinism?  Why does it currently seem to be unpopular?


It depends on which people you're talking about.  People like Skinner are just looking for simplicity, a single principle that explains everything.  Matter/energy in motion is clearly simpler than matter/energy sharing the universe with invisible, undetectable, souls.  To have "free will," you must exist.  If you exist, apart from your body, the universe must be full of souls.  There must be some form of an afterlife, and maybe even a pre-earth life.  The universe becomes this giant sandbox in which souls are playing.  You can't get to this without adopting a supernaturalist point of view.  Naturalism would lead us to the conclusion that "we" are just emanations produced by matter/energy in constant motion.  We are flames produced by the kindling all around us.  Flames are phenomena, not entities that exist independent of the matter that produces them.


When you ask why "many people are very uncomfortable" with determinism, it's because determinism kills free will.  It kills the soul.  Most people want to believe that they are making choices.  If you take choice away from them, they might as well be a lump of sand falling through space.  I'm not certain if this is what Democritus and the other atomists thought, but it's certainly the thinking of B.F. Skinner, the father of Behaviorism.  Most religious people find such thinking completely unacceptable.  One exception to this rule is among the Calvinists, who believe in Predestination.  The concept of Predestination says that God cannot be God if he is bound in any way.  God must be completely free of causation in order to be truly Infinite and Supreme.  If God were forced to save any person, God would be less than Supreme.  God, then, must save whom he chooses to save.  But if that is true, why not save all of mankind?  Why let anyone remain damned?  The answer is that God does what he wants.  If he chooses to save you, you're saved; if he chooses not to save you, you're damned.  God cannot be bound by your behavior.  But if God has chosen your destiny, before you were even conceived, how far can we be from Paul's analogy that the potter chooses to make one vessel fit for honor and another fit for wrath?


From the point of view of Predestination, there is no free will, just the illusion of it.  Your actions are about as free as the frames of a movie.  We're all here for God's amusement.


The only difference between Predestination and Determinism is that Predestination posits a God, who stands outside the universe and manipulates it as he so chooses.  Determinism, on the other hand, doesn't need a God.  It imagines a giant lava lamp of matter/energy that is constantly changing.  What we perceive as "choices" are no less soul-driven than a storm.


Has  determinsm been disproved?


I don't think you can prove or disprove it.  It's too big.  You can argue it, but we're dealing at the level of theory.  It's a paradigm.


Here's the weakness I see in it.  Many religious people would argue against it on the grounds that it produces a view of life that is hateful.  If you're one of the "elect," you have reason to rejoice in your Predestinationism.  Random determinism, which turns us into the playthings of chance, just weather patterns with an illusory self-awareness, is paradoxical.  If all things are random, how is there order.  If order is imposed by chaos, isn't that self-contradictory?  And how are we conscious to begin with?  Is Descartes making at least some sense when he mumbles out, "I think, therefore I am?"


It is not just psychologically unappealing to argue that we are just dirt in a high wind.  It is inconceivable.  We can say we believe such a thing.  We can argue that it's the most logical outcome, but deep down inside, we don't believe it.  If free will exists, we exist - as more than just a weather pattern.  And if we exist, the implications at least temper our atheism.


I embraced atheism to be honest with myself, to stop having to deny my doubts.  But when I think hard about these things, with the same measure of honesty, I have to doubt the full implications of the "random universe," not because it makes me feel uncomfortable but because I'm having trouble buying it.  I still think religion is a sham but, like Descartes, I'm having trouble with the idea that I can be wrong without existing in the first place.  Descartes' problem was that he rushed to explain what he was, and he ended up just rationalizing religious belief all over again - with a dualistic philosophy that could have been written on a cocktail napkin.  Descartes' philosophy is a joke but his epiphany - that thought (even error) implies existence - makes more sense than a random universe governed by law.


I'm beginning to think that the further one goes into the theoretical realms, the further one gets from the verifiability of everyday experience and the more one ends up in equally unreliable footing.

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8 years ago  ::  Apr 11, 2010 - 8:51AM #10
Eudaimonist
Posts: 2,036

Apr 8, 2010 -- 7:44PM, Dusgfmo wrote:

Was determinism considered to be more of a mainstream thought at any point in history?



Among Marxists, perhaps.


Why are many people very uncomfortable with determinism?  Why does it currently seem to be unpopular?



It seems to be popular enough among atheists.


Personally, I am not a determinist, but this has nothing to do with being "uncomforable" with the concept, but rather with not being convinced that it accurately accounts for human experience.


 


eudaimonia,


Mark

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