Determinism vs. Fatalism

Determinism holds that every thing and event is a natural and integral part of the interconnected universe. From the perspective of determinism, every event in nature is the result of (determined by) prior/coexisting events. Every event is a confluence of influences. While determinism regards humans as "one with" the unfolding matrix of the natural universe, supernaturalism and fatalism regard humans as existing outside of this system.

Most humans are supernaturalists; they believe that humans have "free will" which causes events in the natural world but is not caused by them. And most humans will defend their "free will" without second thought to the evidence for (or benefits of alternative explanations.

Fatalism too is a supernatural belief system which holds humans outside the natural matrix. In direct contrast to the most common form of supernaturalism (belief in free will), however, fatalism holds that the natural world causes events in human life but is not itself influenced by human will or behavior. No matter what you do, the same things will happen to you.

The fatalist position is that "if I do not have free will, then my life is totally determined by the outside world, therefore my beliefs and desires have no effect on the outside world, and therefore no matter what I do the same things will happen to me". Of course, it is empirically demonstrable that our behavior affects the environment and thus what happens to us (see How Determinists Cross the Street). While many otherwise rational people believe in the supernaturalism of free will, no rational person believes in fatalism. It is only used as a "straw man": by accepting the false premise that fatalism is the only alternative to free will, one can discard both fatalism and determinism without further thought, and comfortably assume that free will is proven.

Fortunately, fatalism is neither the logical extension of determinism nor the only alternative to free will. Determinism holds that human thoughts, beliefs and behaviors are just as much a part of the natural universe as thunderclouds. They can be seen as either results of previous conditions or causes of subsequent conditions, but the fact is that they are part of a larger process that began with the big bang and will continue for the life of the cosmos.

Bob Miller, June 2001