A determinism meme

My cousin, a Christian, shared this on Facebook:


I found it an interesting expression of determinism, although the last phrase is kind of ambiguous and can be read as a contradiction of the rest of the statement.

The part that’s consistent with determinism is the part that acknowledges the vast, complex causal chain that lies behind a person’s every action, decision, thought, and emotion. “Something in the past created them” — or more accurately, everything in their past created them.

This view conflicts with the Christian tenet of individual accountability to God, especially with regard to ‘the big decision.’ Most Christians would say that a person’s eternal fate depends on whether he or she has chosen to believe one or more claims about Jesus. This position hinges on the ‘free will’ view: A person has a volition — a soul — that exists and makes decisions independent of the organism.

By contrast, determinism says that organisms simply process input and respond to it. How they process it is entirely dependent on genetic and environmental programming.  The organism is the person — there is no soul.

It’s the last line of the meme — “and sometimes it’s impossible to fix them” —  that may be inconsistent with determinism, depending on how it’s read.

  • The ‘free will’ interpretation is that if a person’s volition/soul (independent of the organism) is intent on being a certain way, no amount of input will have any effect.
  • The deterministic interpretation is more consistent with the rest of the meme: A person may have been programmed in such a way that overriding his or her programming would be very difficult — in practical terms, impossible.

By the way, the ‘free will’ view is hard-pressed to explain why beliefs correlate with  external factors like geography — for example, why more than 80 percent of people in Indonesia ‘choose’ to be Muslim while more than 80 percent of people in Croatia ‘choose’ to be Catholic. The deterministic view provides a satisfying explanation.


Posted on November 16, 2013, in Better explanations. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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