Determinism and the Destruction of Truth

My basic problem with determinism is really quite simple: if, by some cosmic, cultural, or historical forces, I am externally determined to do and believe all that I do, it follows necessarily that my belief in determinism derives from the same. And in that case, I cannot assume any greater truth value in my belief in determinism than in another’s belief in libertarianism or compatiblism, as these beliefs are the result of forces outside of our control, rather than our ability to seek the truth (which seems to be impossible given determinism). For this reason, while I think that an interesting philosophical case can be made in favor of determinism (see, for example, Spinoza or Schopenhauer–not to mention cultural relativism, psychological egoism, and much of post-structuralism and postmodernism, which appear to appropriate Nietzsche’s idea that “a “thing” is a sum of its effects” (I), meaning that I do not exist in any meaningful sense, but instead that my sense of self is constructed by external factors), in the end I find it to be self-referntially inconsistent.

And, as it happens, the same applies to theological determinism. If it’s true that God has predetermined me to be a determinist,  then, again, I can posit no truth value in that belief. After all, the Armenians and open theists and process theologians would presumably be similarly determined by God and so we could not possibly say who was right and who was wrong–again, the entire enterprise of seeking truth is undermined. Nor could the truth be found in the Bible, for, presumably, if I were to interpret the Bible as teaching that God predetermined everything, I must concede that my interpretation of the Bible was predetermined. Hence, my beliefs being the result of God’s predetermined will rather than my own ability to seek truth, I have no reason to assume that my beliefs about God or my biblical interpretations are true (I). Again, God must also have predetermined the Armenians and open theists and process theologians to hold their respective beliefs, which means that God necessarily predetermines at least some people to hold wrong beliefs! Who’s to say who was predetermined to find the truth and who was not? (This similarly has profoundly problematic moral implications–i.e, God causes us to “sin” (a word that no longer has meaning apart from what God says–think Euthyphro Dilemma) and to not believe in God and then punishes us for doing what we could never choose to do or not do!)

One final point: if it is true that all of our actions, decisions, beliefs, etc. are determined by causal forces not our own, whence comes the concept of freedom? At the very least it seems strange that, should determinism be true, we should possess such concepts as determinism and freedom at all.

I certainly do not deny that there are many complex factors that contribute to our holding the beliefs that we do, but it seems to me to be the case that if determinism is true, it is at the same time necessarily not true, for there is no “truth” of which we can meaningfully speak–there is only what is determined.


(I) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale.  New York: Random House, Inc., 1968.  Print.

(II) The common objection that critiques of theological determinism focus too much on the philosophical debate and not enough on the biblical debate (which, as it happens, is not true–see Greg Boyd) is severely undermined by this point. Surely we must establish–philosophically–whether or not it is possible to arrive at a true interpretation of the Bible at all before we can begin the discussion of the content of the interpretations themselves.


2 thoughts on “Determinism and the Destruction of Truth

  1. I suppose we could say that a non-deterministic cause is effected by the free choice of a self-conscious being. Obviously, “free” is a bit of a loaded term, but the idea is that my choices and actions are not–at least not always–conditioned solely by culture, history, etc. Assuming that “I” exists in a meaningful sense, I am not bound by determining factors, but can step outside of them and make free choices. In the spirit of the name of this blog, I prefer a bit of grey as opposed to the black and white offered by determinism and libertarianism.

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