Wednesday, June 18, 2014

134. Fate Versus Free Will . Part one


This is one of the knottiest problems of all times.

Mankind has thought about it for centuries. I have no intention of stating what philosophers, scientists, rationalists and religious scholars have said about it. I will discuss this problem in an entirely different light; the insight of mysticism. Right at the outset, I want to state that, despite years of thought, I have not arrived at any solution. I think it is an insoluble problem. It ends in a paradox, which I will state somewhere. Let this mote start with stating the two theories. Then the pros and cons of each hypothesis will be examined.  We will see if one or both hypothesis can be rejected


Hypothesis. Fate. According to this hypothesis, in its pure and extreme form, everything is predetermined. What a person will do during his life has been determined before his birth, by God (1-2). I quote from al-Ashqar:


               The central knowledge of Allah, by which He ruled that He would create whatever He wanted to exist, and……………….. He wrote down all of that in Al-Lau hal-Mahfooz ‘the preserved tablet’ in His words. So the heavens and the earth…….and everything in between them and in them___ all of that is preserved in the Al-Lauh al-Mahfooz.

               The creation of whatever Allah, the Almighty, has decreed should exist, according to His prior knowledge and what was written by His pen; whatever happens in reality is identical to that prior, written knowledge.

In other words, God has decreed all things as they will be.


To a modern man it is a preposterous notion. Nobody infringes on his independence. If this hypothesis was true then he was a mere puppet. He does not for a moment thinks that he is a puppet. Moreover it flies against one’s own daily experience. Let us say I want to move my arm. I think about it and will my arm to move, and it moves. I do not have to get permission from anybody. All our actions are our own. We usually have multiple choices; we choose one of them, for whatever reasons


But others, who have thought about free will a little more deeply, have come to a different conclusion. They think that free will is an illusion. In other words we think that we have free will but in reality we do not. It is a mere illusion. This passage from Somerset Maugham’s novel ‘of human bondage’ illustrates this point:

At last Philip said: “Well, I can’t say anything about other people. I can only speak for myself. The illusion of free will is so strong in my mind that I can’t get away from it, but I believe it is only an illusion. But it is an illusion which is one of the  strongest motives of my actions. Before I do anything I feel that I have choice, and that influences what I do; but afterwards, when the thing is done, I believe that it was inevitable from all eternity.”

“What do you deduce from that?” asked Hayward.

“Why, merely the futility of regret. It’s no good crying over spilt milk, because all the forces of the universe were bent on spilling it.”

I had read these passage decades ago, and at that time was struck by its novelty. Why do Philip and others arrive at that conclusion? I believe for two reasons:

First, they think it was determined as such. It was in their destiny. It was written in the stars. If there were two choices to a possible action, and they took option number one, they were destined to choose option number one. Had they taken option number two, they were, since all eternity, chosen to take option number two.

The other reason is that one is a product of nature and nurture. Our nature is made by the genes that we inherit; half the genes from one’s father and the other half from one’s mother. We are nurtured by where we are born and where we are raised. Our parents, our teachers, our peers, the environment surrounding us, are the predominant forces that mould our character____all during childhood. We have absolutely no independence during nature or nurture. Nobody asks us where you want to be born? Where you want to be raised? Who should be your parents?

Therefore, although it appears that we perform actions according to our own free will, how much of that free will was made by the twin forces of nature and nurture_____both, as we have determined, were beyond our control. That is why the character of Philip said that the free will is an illusion.

Now, let us examine the evidence and the arguments in support of fate

1. The hypothesis of fate has been handed down to us through religious books and scriptures. John Calvin in Christianity, Ibn Tamiyah in Islam, Swami Vivekananda in Hinduism(3), believed in it and their beliefs were derived from their scriptures. Partial support is also found in Judaism.

However, since this mote does not regard scriptures as evidence or argument, he is going to completely disregard it.

2. Some persons have been able to tell future events. That means future exists somewhere, which these persons have the ability to read (or see )

To be continued


(1)  “Divine will and predestination” by Umar S. al-Ashqar

(2) Majmoo’ al-Fattawa by Ibn Taymiyah

(3) Swami Vivekananda (1907) "Sayings and utterances".. “Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is molded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here”

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