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Predestination is a religious idea, under which the relationship between the beginning of things and the destiny of things is discussed. Its religious nature distinguishes it from other ideas concerning determinism and free will, and related concepts. In particular, predestination concerns God's decision to create and to govern the creation, and the extent to which God's decisions determine ahead of time what the destiny of groups and individuals will be.

Table of contents
1 Contrasted with other kinds of determinism
2 Distinguished from preordination
3 Predestination and omniscience
4 Predestination in Christianity
5 Jewish views
6 Islam and Christianity

Contrasted with other kinds of determinism

In Chinese Buddhism, predestination is a translation of yuanfen, which does not necessarily imply the existence or involvement of a deity. Predestination in this sense takes on a very literal meaning: pre- (before) and destiny, in a straightforward way indicating that some events seem bound to happen.

Predestination may sometimes be used to refer to other, materialistic, spiritualist, non-theistic or polytheistic ideas of determinism, destiny, fate, doom, or karma. Such beliefs or philosophical systems may hold that any outcome is finally determined by the complex interaction of multiple, possibly immanent, possibly impersonal, possibly equal forces: rather than the issue of the Creator's conscious choice.

For example, some may speak of predestination from a purely physical perspective, such as in a discussion of time travel. In this case, rather than referring to the afterlife, predestination refers to any events that will occur in the future. In a predestined universe the future is immutable and only one set of events can possibly occur; in a non-predestined universe, the future is mutable and multiple different events are possible. This may be considered as part of the issue of free will or separately from the context of consciousness. See also determinism and free will and determinism.

Finally, antithetical to determinism of any kind, are theories of the cosmos which assert that any outcome is ultimately unpredictable, luck, chance, or chaos.

All conceptions of an ordered or rational cosmos have determinist implications, as a logical consequence of the idea of predictability; but predestination usually refers to a specifically religious type of determinism, especially as found in the various monotheistic systems of Christianity and Islam.

Distinguished from preordination

Predestination, in the sense of preordination or foreordination, is concerned not only with the afterlife, but also with the roles and limitations that are assigned to things and people in life as well. In Christian theology, all issues of preordination correspond directly with the issues of divine providence, with emphasis on God's particular determination of events: especially those events which arise from the choices made by men and angels. Predestination includes all of the issues of preordination, and in addition is concerned with the ultimate outcome, the final destiny of men and of angels. So, in Christianity, the terms are roughly synonymous and may be used interchangeably. These or related issues may be discussed in monotheistic religions besides Christianity.

In Christianity, ideas of preordination are strong or weak in parallel with ideas of predestination; the two live or die together. This is not the case in some other religions, which make a strong difference between earthly and eternal destinies. However, in Christianity, although the two are formally distinguished, the principles are the same which explain the relationship of God's determining will and man's free choices, whether speaking of the earthly fortunes and roles to which God has preordained men, or the final status to which they are predestined.

On the other hand, in that ultimate reference there may be a complete reversal of the status of people or groups expected. Thus, for example the Christian sayings, "The meek shall inherit the earth" and "many who are first shall be last and the last, first", imply that there is no predictable continuity between present and final status. The final state (to which men are predestined) may be a reversal of the present injustices under which the righteous suffer (which are preordained), and yet God has as much to do with one as with the other (if the particular belief system allows that God has anything to do with either of them).

Furthermore, predestination typically refers to God's will for salvation and not His will for damnation. Predestination to damnation is, rather, called reprobation.

Predestination and omniscience

Discussion of predestination usually involves consideration of whether God is omniscient, or eternal or atemporal (out of the flow of time in our universe). In terms of these ideas, God may see the past, present and future, so that God effectively knows the future. If God in some sense knows ahead of time what will happen, then events in the universe are effectively predetermined from God's point of view. This is not predestination in itself (although it does involve determinism). Predestination implies that God has something to do with determining ahead of time, what the destiny of creatures will be.

Judaism may accept the possibility that God is atemporal; some forms of Jewish theology teach this virtually as a principle of faith, while other forms of Judaism do not. Jews may use the term omniscience, or preordination as a corollary of omniscience, but normally reject the idea of predestination outright, as a completely foreign idea that has no place in their religion.

Islam traditionally has strong views of predestination similar to some found in Christianity; however, just as in Christianity there is a spectrum of beliefs on this subject. In Islam, Allah both knows and ordains whatever comes to pass.

In philosophy, the relation between foreknowledge and predestination is a central part of Newcomb's paradox.

Predestination in Christianity

The "doctrine of predestination" usually refers to Christian teaching concerning the ultimate implications of the predestination idea: the final destiny of men and of angels. As such, discussion of predestination concerns the extent to which salvation and damnation are the issue of God's decisions ahead of time, and the extent to which these are matters decided by men and angels for themselves. The more immediate application of the doctrine of predestination, concerns the extent to which people and nations are confined by God to particular roles, compared to how much they are makers of their own destiny.

In terms of these ultimates, with creation as the ultimate beginning, and salvation as the ultimate end, a belief system has a doctrine of predestination if it teaches:

  1. God's decision, assignment or declaration concerning the lot of people is conceived as occurring in some sense prior to the outcome, and
  2. the decision is fully predictive of the outcome, and not merely probable.

There are numerous ways to describe the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, in Christian thinking. To some extent, this spectrum has analogies in other monotheistic religions; although, in other religions the term predestination may not be used. For example, teaching on predestination may vary in terms of three considerations.
  1. Is God's predestinating decision based on a knowledge of His own will, or does it arise from a foreknowledge of the future?
  2. How particular is God's prior decision: is it concerned with particular persons and events, or is it limited to broad categories of people and things?
  3. How free is God in effecting His part in the eventual outcome?

With each additional consideration relevant to predestination, the spectrum of beliefs can be expanded to display the religious presuppositions upon which the various systems are organized. For this reason, predestination is of particular interest in discerning the principle upon which a belief system explains differences of status or condition between people, in life and in death.

Weak predestination

With rare exception, Christian belief includes some idea of predestination. However, some versions severely limit their conception of God's prior role in determining the outcome, to the decision to create. Creation is predestinating, only if God is conceived to have some foreknowledge of what will inevitably come to pass because of this decision, and only if that decision is free (he can choose, either to create or not). If God foreknows what will happen to creatures - at a minimum, knows what will happen to them as categories of creatures, among which particular individuals will certainly exist - and decides to create, then the act of creation predestines every category of creature that is foreknown by God, to the end He foresaw.

As a rough illustration, if God foresaw that herbivores would be the food of carnivores, and regardless of whether he would prefer a different state of affairs, decides to create knowing what will be brought to pass subsequently: then, herbivores are predestined to be the only food of carnivores, by the prior decision of God; and without that food, carnivores are predestined to perish. This scenario illustrates predestination at the weakest end of the spectrum. Varieties of predestination based on foreknowledge are considered stronger, the more particularly God foreknows the future and the more continually He acts; but, no matter how complicated, the basic idea is the same. God makes a free choice between not acting, and acting knowing what will happen as a result. By acting, he predestinates, because he foreknows not only the possible but the actual future state of affairs that his acts make possible.

In views of weak predestination (predestination on the basis of foreknowledge), the freedom of creaturely will is the supreme issue; and, views of God's control are adjusted accordingly.

Strong predestination

The doctrine of predestination often has particular reference to Calvinism (sometimes referred to as Reformed theology, particularly when referring to theological development post-Calvin). Predestination is not identical to Calvinism; but it is perhaps the most controversial element of that family of theological thinking which descends from John Calvin. On the spectrum of beliefs concerning predestination, Calvinism is the strongest form among Christians. It teaches that God's predestinating decision is based on the knowledge of His own will rather than foreknowledge, concerning every particular person and event; and, in an unfathomable way, not accessible to scrutiny, God continually acts with entire freedom, in order to bring about His will in completeness.

Calvinism never divides predestination in a mathematical way. It is disinterested, in the abstract, in questions of "how much" either God or man are responsible for particular destinies. These questions of "how much" will become hopelessly entangled in paradox, Calvinists teach, regardless of the view of predestination adopted. Instead, Calvinism divides the issues of predestination according to two kinds of being, knowledge, and will, distinguishing that which is divine from that which is human. Therefore, it is not so much an issue of quantity, but of distinct roles. God is not a creature, and the creature is not God, in knowledge, will, freedom, ability, responsibility, or anything else. As the archetypical illustration of this idea, Christ humanly fulfilled all that God eternally determined from Himself would be done by Jesus, in his words and work, death on the cross, and resurrection, etc. What he did humanly is distinguishable, but not separate, from what he did divinely.

In views of strong predestination, the freedom of God is the supreme issue, and views of human freedom are adjusted accordingly.

Jewish views

Generally speaking Judaism has no strong doctrine of predestination. The idea that God is omnipotent and omniscient didn't formally exist in Judaism during the Biblical era, bur rather was a later development due to the influence of neo-Platonic and neo-Aristotelian philosophy. Many modern Jewish thinkers in the 20th century have resolved the dialectical tension by holding that God is simply not omnipotent, in the commonly used sense of that word. These thinkers are primarilly not Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jewish rabbis generally affirm that God must be viewed as omnipotent, but they have varying definitions of what the word omnipotent means. Thus one finds that some Modern Orthodox theologians have views that are essentially the same as non-Orthodox theologians, but they use different terminology. See the entry on omnipotence for a discussion of how people use this word in different ways.

One noted Jewish philosopher, Hasdai Crescas, resolved this dialectical tension by taking the position that free-will doesn't exist. Hence all of a person's actions are pre-determined by the moment of their birth, and thus their judgement in the eyes of God (so to speak) is effectively pre-ordained. However in this scheme this is not a result of God's predetermining one's fate, but rather from the view that the universe is deterministic. Crescas's views were on this topic were rejected by Judaism at large. In later centuries this idea independently developed among some in the Chabad (Lubavitch) sect of Hasidic Judaism. Many individuals within Chabad take this view seriously, and hence effectively deny the existence of free will.

However, many Chabad (Lubavitch) Jews attempt to hold both views. They affirm as infallible their rebbe's teachings that God knows and controls the fate of all, yet at the same time affirm the classical Jewish belief in free-will (i.e. no such thing as determinism). The inherent contradiction between the two results in their belief that such contraditions are only "apparent", due to man's inherent lack of ability to understand greater truths. To most people outside of these Hasidic groups, this position is held to be a logical contradiciton, and is only sustained due to cognative dissonance.

All other Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular) affirm that since free-will exists, then by definition one's fate is not preordained. It is held as a tenet of faith that whether God is omniscient or not, nothing interferes with mankind's free will. Some Jewish theologians, both during the medieval era and today, have attempted to formulate a philosophy in which free will is preserved, while also affirming that God has knowledge of what decisions people will make in the future. Whether or not these two ideas are mutually compatible, or whether there is a contradiction between the two, is still a matter of great study and interest in philosophy today.

Islam and Christianity

Although comparable in broad terms, the differences between Christian and Islamic ideas of predestination are complex. These differences are due to the distinctives of each faith's belief system. In broad terms, the doctrine of predestination refers to inevitability as a general principle, and usually more particularly refers to the exercise of God's will as it relates to the future of members of the human race, considered either as groups or as individuals, with special concern for issues of human responsibility as it relates to the sovereignty of God. Predestination always involves issues of the Creator's personality and will; and consequently, the different versions of the doctrine of predestination go hand in hand with appropriately different conceptions of the contribution any creature is able to make toward its own present condition, or future destiny.

See also Types of religious predestination