One response to the paradox of God's omnipotence and our apparent free will. Radical predestination, as articulated by Martin Luther, holds that free will is an illusion and all things are preordained by God. Our salvation or damnation was worked out at the beginning of Time and our moral choices have likewise been predetermined. This answers the problem of evil by placing responsibility for it squarely on God. He wills both good and evil, but in the end only good will come out of the evil He has willed. It's a hard doctrine, but Luther felt it was the only realistic view possible.

Luther, as you might imagine, was a fairly gloomy sort.

1. God exists
2. God is all-knowing ("omniscient")
3. Time is absolute and operates outside the realm of human influence

1. Choice
"Choice" in this description indicates one's ability to take arbitrary courses of action. It follows that, when the ability to choose ("free will") is present, no being with this ability is 100% predictable.
2. Free-will (or, "agency")
The ability to select from a number of alternatives arbitrarily, i.e., to choose.
3. Destiny
In Christian religions, there exists a concept of "salvation", wherein those who make "good" choices will go to a better place after death, and those who do not will not. Variations are commonplace.


Since human beings exist on Earth on a finite timeline, we can represent a person's life in terms of all of their actions taken (however minute). No notion of dependence is assumed by the following, i.e. all actions are looked at as separate from all other actions. We can define a person at any given moment as the sum of all of their actions. "Sum" in this usage does not indicate a numeric sum, but the notion that actions are cumulative. We will refer to the meaningless value of S_n as a person's "state", and that since a person's Earthly life eventually comes to an end, there exists a "final" state S_end, after which no further actions are taken. Let S_n = &Sigma A_n, where A_n denotes the nth action taken by the individual in question. n is assumed to be a member of the positive integers.

Let P(n) be the proposition that "Person p's state after taking action A_n is known to god".
We argue by induction on n:

Basis step: Show P(1) to be true.
By Assumption 2, god knows the first action a person will take, and thus its outcome.

Induction Step: Show P(k) = P(k+1), i.e., show that if god knows a person's state at any given time, he knows their next state as well.
Consider a person in state k (having just taken action A_k). Since "actions" are defined to be as minute as possible, then at every possible time t, the person takes an action A_t. Since life on Earth can be represented as a sequence of actions, A_t becomes synonymous with A_k. By Assumption 2 above, god knows the person's state at S_k. God also knows the person's following action, A_k+1. It follows that god knows the person's state at S_k+1 (at time t+1). This holds whether or not times t and t+1 have already occurred.

By this logic, god knows the person's final state, S_end, and by that the person's destiny.

We have shown, in a cumbersome and somewhat pedantic manner, that if god knows everything, then he knows what you are going to do at all possible moments, and it follows that he knows your final destiny as well. Before your advent on Earth, all of the actions you would take were known to god. Therefore, your life could be safely aborted and you could be filed in your proper place immediately.

A possible objection is that "choice" is a matter of perspective. This is not the case. For example, if mind control were possible, and I could force a person to take actions determined by myself, the person would still believe they were acting with free will. However, since I can predict all of their actions, I know that they do not have free will. The fact that he or she believes that he or she is making arbitrary choices (determined by himself or herself) has no bearing on what actions are taken. Conversely, if I am observing another person who I do not control, I cannot predict with 100% accuracy what actions they will take, and thus must assume that they are acting arbitrarily. The key concept is that once an event is known, it occurs with a probability of 1, regardless of perspective.

Since god knows all the actions you will ever take, god could write out a program for you, before you are born, and you would act out that program. However, a stipulation of the program is that you believe that you take arbitrary actions. Effectively, you are blinded to your own robotic state. Thanks to Reason, the veil has been lifted. Your destiny is foreordained, say the Priests of Reason, if you presume the existence of an omniscient god. Furthermore -- and this should be obvious -- the notion that one person's actions depend on the actions of another is irrelevant if all persons are considered to be acting according to a script.

The concept that everything we do is already planned out is disturbing to most people, because we enjoy making choices and prefer to think that all that we accomplish is the result of our own intelligence. However, we prefer to think that our mistakes and shortcomings are the result of some inevitable circumstance. We would be happy if all our mistakes were foreordained -- then we would not be responsible for them.

But this predestination crap doesn't allow one to escape accountability on Earth. All your actions are known in advance to god, but not to you or to the rest of us. Therefore, as far as the rest of us are concerned, you take arbitrary actions. The concepts of "responsibility" and "blame" are only relevant in the human perspective, but are still relevant. Since your "program", so to speak, is hidden from us and from yourself, the concept of free will springs into existence.

When we finally crack god's password and are able to freely distribute the source code for all the people in the universe, you will no longer be held accountable for your actions -- they're right there in the code. But the notion of accountability will disappear, and although your "mistakes" will no longer be upbraided, your "accomplishments" will likewise go unnoticed.

In terms of religion and salvation, if your religion assumes that god is omniscient, then you can rest easier and ignore religion altogether. God already knows where you are going to end up. You are powerless to affect this, as shown above. This is neither good nor evil, it just is.

However, most modern Christian religions appear NOT to assume that god is omniscient. If they did, they would fall victim to the traps above. What they apparently assume is that god is aware of all information at the present and in the past, but is not aware of the future. This means that he knows everything you have done and why you did it, and can always read your mind, but that your future is stil determined by you. This tenet results in the following:

1. You need to "be good", because if you don't, you will be punished.
Punishment is nonsensical unless there is accountability. If all is foreordained, there can be no accountability. God promises punishment for wrongdoings in the Christian scriptures (all of them), so by this definition, God himself admits that he cannot see into the future and cannot affect it.

2. You cannot deceive god.
Since god is always aware of all details of the past and present, he would know you were lying to him. This is also mentioned explicitly in the Christian scriptures.

3. The purpose of life on Earth is to determine whether you will be eligible for a particular post-death destiny.
It makes no sense for god to "test" people if he already knew what they were going to do. If he doesn't know what they are going to do, then a test is required. Some religions hold that the entire point of human existence is to determine your later divine status. In that case, god definitely cannot see into the future.

Since the tenets listed above seem to be espoused by Christianity at present, we can assume that they do not actually espouse total omniscience for God, but a limited omniscience, where he knows more than you do, but not everything. In this case, if you are Christian, you should go to Church, donate the proper amounts of money, and follow all other instructions. An eternity of pain and torment may be your only alternative.

A question presents itself upon contemplation of the gross breadth of our species' lifetime: whence come the woes and cruelties, the petty wars, the violent proclivities which suffuse the canvas of human history? This is a well-worn path of inquiry: from the great and the small, from Zoroaster to Nietzsche, thinkers have struggled whole lifetimes with this simple question. I certainly claim to have no special gnosis; with such men and women who have come before, my prospects for originality or insight are slim. Yet it is imperative that we as a species make the attempt.

It sometimes seems as if these myriad evils are programmed into our consciousness, deep within the core of our collective mind - but this begs the question, "programmed by whom, or what?" Are they vestigial psychic appendages embedded in our brainstems, artifacts of our cold, reptilian ancestry? Are they Darwinian adaptations for survival in a much-befanged world? Are they the work of some unseen spirit beings, ghosting in and through our world and minds and causing mischief? Perhaps they are intentional etches in our souls by beings we can only call Gods. But the most subversive concept in our catalogue of answers may be the simplest: We choose the darkness that blots our name.

And that is among the most frightening, sobering, and freeing concepts of the modern age.

Before I start, I should let it be known that I am not a very religious person, and do not claim to have a vast knowledge of religious ideas. This is simply an idea of how the world might work that does not advocate any existing religion.

First of all, everything that goes on in the world, down to you reading this node, is preordained, and predetermined, according to God's grand scheme. So, that means that you have no choice in your actions, to a degree. You can in fact do whatever you want, but if it is not in accordance with God's will, then you will be forced to repeat your actions until you get them right. For example, let's say that you were supposed to save someone's life, but for some reason or another every detail about the situation did not allow you to save that person's life, so you didn't. Because of that, you must now start that day over, and retry that day until you end up saving that person's life. Now, it just so happens that my idea provides an explanation for deja vu, for if one is forced to repeat a given scenario enough times, then one might very well recognize some aspect of that situation, and it may seem as if it had been done before. I realize that this does complicate things when it comes to heaven and hell, (because if you have no choice in your actions, then how can you be judged for them?). In fact, as it stands, this idea, more or less, says that there is no heaven or hell. That is, unless your residence for all of eternity is based on what you do in those days that things didn't work out, and you had to redo.

As I said before, this does not represent any ideas set forth by an established religion, nor am I trying to popularize this idea. Furthermore, I am not trying to debunk any existing religious view of predestination, heaven, hell, or God. This is only an idea. However, I can say that I have received some inspiration from ideas that can be seen in Donnie Darko, The X-Files, and to some degree, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray.

I know where I came from…but where did all you zombies come from?

Predestination is a film released in January 2015. It stars Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor. I'll give you the tl;dr right now, and it's not any more a spoiler than the first 5 minutes of the movie - it's a film adaptation of the famous Robert Heinlein short story All You Zombies.

If you have read that story, this review is simpler. Skip to the next section of this review, entitled 'So How'd It Go.'

The Short Course

Okay, I'll assume you haven't read the Heinlein story (why not? It's available online, google it). All You Zombies is one of the seminal time travel short stories. Works as diverse as Primer, Timewar, Looper, Timecrimes and even older stories such as The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World all owe their existence to it - Heinlein just got there first. Wells wrote about time travel, to be sure - but his time travel was a curiously linear construction and served, mostly, as an 'alienating voyage' - since the Traveler could only move forward, the question of causality was not addressed.

Here are some basic plot points for you, from Predestination - which, I will say, is a very very (for a Hollywood Movie) faithful adaptation of the story. Ethan Hawke is our protagonist, who is a Temporal Agent. A Timecop. Yep. He works for a mysterious organization that polices time, as far as we can tell - also a trope. As we meet him, he suffers a defeat on the job in his long-time pursuit of the most famous unicorn of the Temporal Agency - the Fizzle Bomber, a mysterious assassin/terrorist who has famously killed numerous people with curiously limited explosions. In 1975, however, there is - or was - or will be, depending - a much larger blast which will kill thousands in New York. Hawke's character has spent his career trying to stop it.

And then one day he's bartending in the early 1970s when a stranger walks in and bets him a bottle of Old Underpants booze (direct from the story) that he has a stranger story to tell than the bartender has ever heard.

So How'd It Go?

The film is well made. It has a very understated but definite style - one which fits Heinlein very well. One thing that is confusing because it's not explicitly mentioned is that like the Heinlein story, all time past the 1950s isn't our time. In the story's case it's because it hadn't happened when the story was written - but in our case, it's because it's the alternate history of the Heinlein story. But to us, all the years in question are 'the past' and they look different - different enough to be confusing if you aren't familiar with the tale.

Let's talk about the acting. Ethan Hawke is fine, but to be honest, he doesn't have much to do other than to look like Ethan Hawke. He's playing the same slightly complex, very closed person he seems to play in lots of places, and it fits. He's like a less smooth Keanu Reeves - you cast him because you need 'that guy' and he does it well. Noah Taylor - from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Life Aquatic - has a smaller but critical part, and he's sort of the same - you need that guy. In his case, 'that guy' is a more talented turn, and he delivers.

The movie is straight up owned, however, by Sarah Snook playing The Unmarried Mother (yes, that's her character's name in the credits). She tackles by far the widest range of acting challenges, and meets and beats them, in my opinion.

So did it work?

No, I don't think it did, sadly.

There are two problems. The first problem is that, like the story and like most time travel stories of this ilk, most of the power of the film is derived from the tension produced by an internal plot point. I won't say twist, but that's sort of what it is. In addition, the 'external plot' - in this case, the chase for the Fizzle Bomber - suffers greatly due to the need to set up and nurture the internal plot.

The internal plot point isn't that hard to see coming (it's not really hard at all). The external plot suffers not only because it is being given short shrift to 'the clever bit' but because it's one that was tacked on to the Heinlein story. That was a short story which means that its power is derived almost entirely from the idea. To stretch it out to a credible movie, there had to be more to it - and while what was put in was fitted in to the Heinlein framework almost heroically well, there just isn't enough left over for it to shine.

Worth seeing?

If you're a fan of the story, I think it is. It's a paean to that story, and it's done, technically, very well. It's interesting as heck to watch someone else show you their imagined version of a famous work. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes it doesn't. This one is one of the well done ones.

If you're not aware of or a fan of the story, this is worth seeing because it is a competent time travel thriller. It's just not a super tight or powerful one, so I'd recommend catching it on a cable run or as an airplane flick. It doesn't need a big screen.

Predestination (listed 2014, released Jan. 2015)

Ethan Hawke - The Barkeep
Sarah Snook - The Unmarried Mother
Noah Taylor - Mr. Robertson

Pre*des`ti*na"tion (?), n. [L. praedestinatio: cf. F. pr'edestination.]


The act of predestinating.

Predestination had overruled their will. Milton.

2. Theol.

The purpose of Good from eternity respecting all events; especially, the preordination of men to everlasting happiness or misery. See Calvinism.


© Webster 1913.

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