Lecture Notes: Fate and Free Will

Fate: Predetermined outcome that cannot be controlled or changed.

Free Will: The ability to make choices which can change and/or determine an outcome.

The Robert Frost Argument

In “The Road Not Taken,” poet Robert Frost writes about a split in the road. The narrator in poem is forced to make a decision as to which road to travel; he chooses the road that appears to be less traveled and argues that it made an impact on his life. “I took the one less traveled by,” the poem ends, “And that has made all the difference.”

Frost argues through his symbolic poem that Free Will is what controls mankind’s existence. The choice of the road less traveled makes a difference as the choice influences the outcome.

The Argument for Free Will

The argument in favor of Free Will asserts that life is not a journey from point A to point B, but a journey from point A to any point we choose. The choices we make have a direct effect on path of our lives; each choice affects an ultimate outcome.

Free Will Illustration

This argument begets an important question: If each decision we make sends us to a different outcome, do those decisions affect the outcomes of others, and vice versa? If this is the case, then we are not solely in control of our fate, it also rests on the actions of others.

When examining this argument from a philosophy-of-religion point of view, God’s plan comes into question. If Free Will determines our outcomes, then either God already knows our outcome, or He has one in mind for us.

If God already knows a person will end at point C, then Free Will is an illusion as the outcome is never really in question.

However, God may have an outcome in mind for each person, but He allows each of us to choose our own. For example, God might have a plan for a person to become a teacher, but the person chooses a life of drug use and dies of an overdose. Since an all-loving God would likely desire happiness for His people, the teaching option would have made this person the happiest in life. In addition, it is unlikely God wants any of His creation to lead an immoral life and die of a drug overdose.

The Argument for Fate

This argument asserts that man has no control over the outcome, it is predetermined in spite of any action man might take. In the Argument for Fate life is a journey from point A to point B. Though there may be many paths and choices along the way, the outcome will always be point B. All roads lead to point B.

Fate Illustration

While three paths are illustrated above, an infinite number of paths leads from point A to point B if Fate is in control.

Examining the Argument for Fate from a religious standpoint, we must consider that fate is likely God’s will. So, if our lives are controlled by fate, then even immoral lives and tragic deaths are the will of God. This takes us back to our discussion about God and the Problem of Evil. See lecture notes on that topic.

Even if we separate the concept of Fate from religion, a belief in fate still presupposes the existence of a higher power. If Fate is a predetermined outcome, then someone or something must do the predetermining.

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