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What is Fate / Determinism and How to Conquer It?

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Fate vs. Free Will

There is no rational reason to believe that free will exists, because there is no evidence for such a thing. Free will is the ability to choose otherwise than one might have chosen. But at a closer look, what is really the reason to choose otherwise?

Fate is defined as the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events and actions. It was once said that fate is for those who are too weak to determine their own destiny. But is it that simple? Or is it just the romanticized notion of the medieval knight in us that clouds our minds and prevents us from seeing the truth?

Proponents of the idea of free will insist that without choice, moral responsibility cannot exist. But what's the difference between moral responsibility and just responsibility? They also believe in punishment as the solution to crime. But what does punishment accomplish? What does believing in free will accomplish for us?

This is the question I asked myself when I set out to explore the subject of fate vs. free will. Since science has yet to come up with an answer to this, I have decided to examine the meaning and history of fate in various perspectives.

The Fates

The Fates

The 3 Goddesses of Fate in other Mythologies

A triad of goddesses associated with mortal fate turns up in many forms in mythology. Beside the Moirai, the ancient Greeks knew a triad of goddesses called the Horae, associates of the goddess Aphrodite. Their names were Eunomia, meaning “order”, Dike, meaning “destiny”, and Eirene, meaning “peace”.

In Norse mythology the three Fates were known as the Norns: Urth, “the past”; Verthandi, “the present”; and Skuld, “the future.” The Norns were also referred to as the Weird Sisters, from the Norse word wyrd, meaning “fate.”

The Celts had three war goddesses, known as the Morrigan, who shaped the fate of warriors in battle. The image of a triple goddess is sometimes associated with the very ancient worship of a moon goddess in three forms: a maiden (the new moon), a mature woman (the full moon), and a crone (the old moon).

The Norns

The Norns

Symbols of Fate, and the Fates in modern Culture

The threads of the loom woven by the Fates symbolize the fragile nature of a human's life. The threads also represent how the lives of mortals are interwoven on Earth.

In art and literature, the Fates are a little overshadowed by the Norse goddesses called the Weird Sisters. The Weird Sisters show up most notably in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and Richard Wagner’s opera Twilight of the Gods.

Lately, the Fates have showed up in many video games and Japanese mangas. A modern-day version of the Fates was featured in the 1994 Stephen King novel Insomnia, and they also presented themselves in the 1997 Disney animated film Hercules. More recently, the Fates appeared in Rick Riordan’s 2005 novel The Lightning Thief.

Fate: a Historical Perspective

Who were the Fates?

The Fates were three female goddesses who influenced human destiny and determined how long an individual would live.

Although many cultures knew the concept of three female deities who shaped people's lives, the Fates were most notably associated with Greek mythology.

Where they came from, no one knew exactly, but Hesiod held that the Fates were the daughters of Nyx, the goddess of night. However, in another place he also said that they were the children of Zeus, father of the gods, and Themis, the goddess of justice.

The notion of the Fates evolved over time. The poet Homer, composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey, described Fate as a single force, perhaps the will of the gods. The poet Hesiod, described the Fates as three old women. He called them the Keres, which means “those who cut off” or the Moirai, “those who allot.” They were said to be present at the birth of each child to determine what they will or will not accomplish in life.

Hesiod also called the Fates Clotho, “the spinner”, Lachesis, “the allotter”, and Atropos, “the unavoidable”. The name Clotho became the basis for images of the three Fates as pulling the thread of a person’s life. Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured it out, and Atropos cut it with a pair of shears so that no one would live forever.

These three tasks resemble the three Gunas of Hindu mythology. The Gunas are sattwa, or creation; rajas, or maintaining; and tamas, or concluding. Lord Krishna, the avatar of God in the Bhagavad Gíta, teaches his disciple to go beyond the gunas and recognize the things that are eternal - God and one's eternal unchanging soul. The notion of going beyond the gunas, in turn, parallels the ancient Roman belief that the goal of one's life on Earth is to conquer his or her fate through sacred action.

The Romans called the Fates Parcae, “those who bring forth the child.” Their names were Nona, Decuma, and Morta. The Romans adopted the Greek notion of the three weavers of the thread of one's life. They already had Nona and Decuma, so they added a third goddess to complete the triad. The ancient Romans also referred to fate as a single goddess whose name is Fortuna.

The Fates wielded great power. They actually possessed power over Zeus and the gods. Countless ancient authors, such as the Roman poet Virgil, emphasized that even the father of the gods had no way of eluding the decisions of the Fates.

However, as mentioned before, fate could be altered via clever action. In one myth, Apollo tricked the Fates into letting his friend Admetus escape death and live beyond his assigned lifespan. He got the three goddesses drunk, and they accepted the death of a substitute in place of Admetus.

The Greeks firmly believed that their lives were ruled by fate. They though that a person’s life path has already been determined by the gods, and no particular action can change it. Fate offered a perfect excuse for people's shortcomings in life as their destiny explained why things happened the way they did, despite the person’s best efforts.

The idea of free will that holds that people have the power to select their own ways escaped the Greeks. Well, not completely, since the subject has been ground for an ongoing debate for thousands of years.

The Three Fates

The Three Fates

Just like the precipitation cycle, Karma is a function of nature.

Just like the precipitation cycle, Karma is a function of nature.

Fate, Karma, and Dharma

How does fate relate to the Hindu concept of Karma?

"Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence." 

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Consider Karma as something similar to a spiritual bank account. If you withdraw more than you have (owing to your actions, words and thoughts), you create a deficit that you must repay either by apologizing or incarnation etc.

Science agrees with Karma when it teaches, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction."

Folklore agrees with Karma when it says, "As you sow, so shall you reap."

Religion also agrees, when bidding you to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Dharma is life purpose. According to Dharma, each one of us has come here to fulfill his or her life purpose, whether it be accomplishing something, voicing a message or just standing up for the less fortunate.

You're fulfilling your life purpose when you act based on your intuition as opposed to making decisions rooted in friendship, herd mentality, trends, political correctness or in hopes of gaining something. 

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Naturalistic Determinism = Fate?

Naturalistic Determinism = Fate?

Arguments Pro and Contra Fate in Christianity: Fate = Determinism

Determinism is the belief that all events, including human choices are determined or caused by another. Proponents of this view believe that human choices are the result of antecedent causes, which in turn were caused by prior causes.

Two Types of Determinism

Basically, there are two kinds of determinism: naturalistic and theistic.

One famous naturalistic determinist was behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, author of Beyond Freedom and Dignity and Beyond Behaviorism. Skinner was an atheist and he wrote that all human behavior is determined by genetic and behavioral factors. According to Skinner, the human being is at the mercy of societal manipulation and chance, simply the instrument whereby they are expressed.

Pro Determinism

I. Theistic Determinism = Fate

Theistic determinism suggests that God determines all human actions. Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will and Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will are examples of this theistic determinism. It is the view held by all strong Calvinists.

You know you're a determinist when...

... you believe in an omnipotent God.

All human behavior is caused by something external to it: they are either uncaused, self-caused, or caused by something else.

However, since nothing happens without a cause, human behavior cannot be uncaused. Similarly, no act can cause itself. To do so, it would have to be prior to itself, which is impossible.

II. The Nature of Causality

In Freedom of the Will, Edwards reasoned from the nature of causality. Since the principle of causality demands that all actions are caused, then it is irrational to claim that things arise without a cause.

According to Edwards a self-caused action is impossible, because a cause is prior to an effect, and one cannot be prior to himself.

Therefore, all actions are ultimately caused by a First Cause (God). Thus, Free choice is doing what one wishes, but God gives the desires or affections that control action. Hence, all human actions ultimately are determined by God.

III. God's Sovereignty

If God controls all, then he must ultimately be the cause of all. Otherwise, he would not be in complete control.

IV. God's Omniscience

If God knows everything, then everything he knows must happen according to his will. If it did not, then God would be wrong in what he knew. But an omniscient Mind cannot be wrong in what it knows.

Is our Fate determined by our Creator?

Is our Fate determined by our Creator?

More Arguments Contra Determinism

I. Weaknesses of Determinism

Determinism is self-defeating, because determinists suggest that both determinists and non-determinists are caused to believe what they believe. However, determinists believe self-determinists are wrong and should alter their view. But “should alter” implies they are free to change, which opposes determinism.

II. Determinism is Irrational

C. S. Lewis insisted that naturalistic and complete determinism is irrational, since for determinism to be true, there should be a rational basis for their thought. But if determinism is true, then there is no rational basis for thought, since all is determined by non-rational forces. Thus, if determinism claims to be true, then it must be false.

III. Determinism Destroys Responsibility

If God is the root of all human actions, human beings are not morally responsible. One is only responsible for a choice if there was free will to avoid making it.

IV. Determinism Makes Praise and Blame Meaningless

If God causes all human actions, it makes little sense to praise humans for doing good, nor to blame them for doing evil. If the courageous really had no choice other than to show courage, why reward it? If the evil had no choice, why punish them? Rewards and punishment for moral behavior makes sense only if the actions were self-caused.

V. Determinism Invites Fatalism

If everything is determined beyond our control, then why do good and shun evil? If determinism is right, evil is unavoidable. Determinism destroys the very motive to do good and avoid evil.

VI. Determinism is Unbiblical

Theistic non-determinism suggest several objections are offered in the Scripture. If you define free will as “doing what one desires,” it contradicts experience. "People do not always do what they desire, nor do they always desire to do what they do" (cf. Rom. 7:15–16 ).

If God must give the desire before one can perform an act, then God must have given Lucifer the desire to rebel against him. But in that case God would be giving a desire against God.

Theistic determinists have a faulty, mechanistic view of human personhood. They liken human free choice to balancing scales in need of more pressure from the outside in order to tip the scales from dead center. But humans are not machines; they are persons made "in the image of God" ( Gen. 1:27 ).

Contra Determinism

I. Self-Determinism: Opposing Theistic Determinism

Non-determinists, especially self-determinists reject the premises of determinist arguments.

If we make a distinction between two forms of determinism - hard and soft - the determinism rejected by self-determinists is hard determinism.

  • Hard Determinism says that God is the only cause of all, all action is caused by God, and human choice doesn't exist.
  • Soft Determinism says that God is the first cause, but humans are the second cause, therefore not all action is caused by God. Free choice is compatible with sovereignty. Hence, the name compatibolism.

II. Alternative Possibility

Human behavior can actually be self-caused, as there is nothing contradictory about a self-caused action.

An action does not have to be prior to itself to be caused by oneself, it's only the self that must exist prior to the action. Therefore, a self-caused action is simply one caused by my self.

III. Nature of Causality

From the fact that all actions are caused, it does not follow that God is the cause of all these actions.

A self-caused action is not impossible, as one’s self is prior to his actions. Therefore, some actions can be caused by humans through God-given free moral agency.

IV. God's Sovereignty

Determinism can be wrong without having to reject God’s sovereign control of the universe.

God can control by his omniscience, as well as by his causal power. Also, God can control events by willing in accord with his all-encompassing knowledge of what will happen by free choice.

He does not need to make the choice himself. Simply knowing for sure that a person will freely do something is enough for God to control the world.

V. God's Omniscience

All that God knows must happen in accordance with his will. But it does not follow that all events are determined.

God could simply choose that we be self-determining beings. The fact that he knows for sure what free creatures will do with their free will is enough to make God omniscient.

In other words, God determined the fact of human freedom, but free creatures perform the acts of human freedom.


We might never know for sure the truth about fate and determinism, and the arguments will never cease. People love to argue, run their mouth and make a point. They make this a sport as if intelligence depended on the display of one's stubborn beliefs and the inability to respect other "truths."

The ancients believed in fate, they imagined three goddesses and made up stories about how these would predetermine one's life. But the point, in my opinion, is not the suggestion that we are confined to what has been allotted to us, but the fact that these bonds and obstacles exist to test us, make us better and give life a purpose.

No matter if you call the overcoming of one's fate mastery of the self, zen, nirvana or simply learning, you cannot overlook the fact that without imperfections in life there can be no goals, challenges, improvement or learning that give human existence a meaning - in other words, there can be no change. When everything is perfect how does one express his or her love of another?

What's your take on fate and determinism?

Shaun Black from myrtle beach, SC on May 16, 2012:

"There is no rational reason to believe that free will exists, because there is no evidence for such a thing"

Did you choose to write this hub, or was it a predetermed force that guided you? You could have chosen to do something else completely. The human mind is volitional, hence it cannot be forced to think or act, the individual human must make a choice between different alternatives. The fact that we are rational beings backs this up. We are able to take in precepts and create concepts via our reasoning falcuty. But, this does not happen automatically, in some mystical form of determinism. A person must choose to think, learn, and grow.

Haunty (author) from Hungary on February 26, 2011:

That sounds just about enough to know, Ma. I admire people who operate out of such simple truths. :)

Mentalist acer from A Voice in your Mind! on February 26, 2011:

Fate is for the fortunate to tremble,and the unfortunate to curse...I simply know that if I fall I must get back up.;)

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