The Fatal Flaw of Fatalism

Materialism is the dominant philosophy among scientists of our day, but that does not make it true. Indeed it has a fatal flaw, and that flaw is fatalism.

Materialism postulates that all that exists are matter, energy, and the laws of nature. Everything that happens, and everything that exists in the universe can be accounted for by the laws of cause and effect working on matter and energy. If this is true, then every event in the universe could be infallibly predicted if we had adequate knowledge of every preceding event. Few people would have any difficulty with this idea as long as the events in question are simply physical phenomenon, such as the orbits of the planets, and so on. But in fact, this must apply to every event in the universe. That includes such things as the behavior of any individual human being. In other words, this world view declares that every action that you undertake was caused by something else, and given the chain of events that preceded it, could not have been different. You were fated by the laws of the universe to do what you did, and it was not possible for you to have done differently. Your actions were caused by the chain of events preceding it, and they are the effect of that cause.

Francis Crick said "'You', your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."

Understand that if all there is is matter, energy, and the laws of nature, then it must be true that all your actions are caused. There is no alternative. But we have to carry this one step further. Not only are your actions caused, but your thoughts are also caused. In other words, every thought in your mind was caused by previous events. You feel as though you came to a conclusion through reasoning processes, but if materialism is true, that isn't possible. The very process of reasoning that you experience was caused, and you could not have taken any other train of thought, or arrived at any other conclusion.

This means, of course, that those who disagree with you also could not have come to any other conclusion than they did. They came to their conclusion simply through the laws of cause and effect. You can see the problem immediately. How do we know which conclusion is the correct one? If the laws of cause and effect can produce two totally contradictory thoughts in two different minds, and neither mind could have thought differently, then it is impossible to know which thought is true. In fact, materialism is self-defeating. If it is true, you can never know that it is true, and if it is not true, then it is not true. Indeed, if it is true, then my sitting here and writing about it is a waste of time, and you reading about it is also a waste of time.

The reason that materialism is a self-defeating system is that it is fatalistic. Things could not be different than they are. I'm not saying that this means that materialism is not true, I am saying that if it is, then you cannot know it, and I cannot know it, and even discussing it, or anything else for that matter is an absolute waste of time, but of course, it is a waste of time that I cannot avoid, because I am fated by cause and effect to discuss it!

This problem does not occur only with materialism. You have the same problem with any fatalistic system. For example, Islam is a fatalistic system. According to Islam, Allah has pre-determined everything that is to happen in the universe. "It is written is the phrase they use. But, of course, everything would have to include the thoughts of every single person in the world. That would mean that Allah is the cause of every thought that every individual has. They could not think differently than they do. There is therefore no way of knowing which thought is really true, and which are not. Thus, no Muslim can say that they know Islam is true.

Calvinism falls prey to this same fatal flaw of fatalism. I know, of course, that my Calvinist friends will take exception to this statement, but think it through. Calvinism is a fatalistic system.

Let me substantiate this claim. Edwin E. Palmer expresses the system this way.

"All things that happen in all the world at any time and in all history “ whether with inorganic matter, vegetation, animals, man, or angels (both the good and evil ones) “ come to pass because God ordained them. Even sin “ the fall of the devil from heaven, the fall of Adam, and every evil thought, word, and deed in all of history, including the worst sin of all, Judas' betrayal of Christ “ is included in the eternal decree of our Holy God.1

This is a fair declaration of what Calvin taught “ that God is the cause of every thought, word, and deed.

Let us think through carefully what this means. It matters not what the cause is, if my thoughts are caused, I cannot know that they are true. It does no good to appeal to the idea that God caused my thoughts, and that they must therefore be true, because, according to Calvin, God also caused the thoughts of the Arminian. Does that make his thoughts true? But of course, Calvinists and Arminians cannot both be correct. Neither can we appeal to Scripture, because God is causing the Calvinist to interpret those Scriptures one way, but He is also causing the Arminian to interpret them in the opposite way. How can we be sure whether God is causing the Arminian to believe the way he does, or if the Arminian is correct? Indeed, if Calvinism is correct, how do we know what parts of it are really true, and which parts are simply errors that God has caused Calvinists to believe? And of course there are all kinds of levels in between Calvinists and Arminians. I hold to neither. There are some Calvinists who believe that Christ died for all men, other Calvinists believe that Christ died only for the elect. If Calvinism is true, then God is causing both to believe the way they do. How do they know which Calvinist God is causing to believe truth, and which one God is causing to believe error? Or perhaps God is causing them both to believe error, and the truth is something that God has not chosen to cause anybody to think! How can we know?

The Calvinist cannot, in fact, be certain that the Muslim is not correct. Perhaps God's name is really Allah, and He is causing the Calvinist to believe what he does believe, in error. If the Sovereignty of God is such as Calvinists hold, it is impossible to know for sure, because God (or Allah) causes people to think erroneous thoughts as well as true ones.

Indeed, fatalism is fatal to any epistemology. If any fatalistic system is true, then knowledge is an impossibility, and we are all engaged in a hopeless and meaningless exercise.

Of course, I do not believe Calvinism, Materialism, or Islam is true, and I disbelieve them for other reasons than this problem of fatalism, but I would suggest that this problem should cause any Fatalist to re-examine his system.

1 Edwin H. Palmer, the five points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, enlarged ed., 20th prtg. 1999), 82

by Pastor Joel De Ford