The law of attraction proponents like to say things like:
- there’s no such thing as a coincidence
- everything happens for a reason
- nothing in your life happens by accident
- everything happens in accordance with God’s plan
Perhaps those are comforting things, but is that really true? And if so, what does that mean?
Christianity has struggled with the debate between predestination and free will since its beginnings. The free will philosophy states that we are free to make decisions that will effect the outcomes of our lives independently of any particular cause or supernatural force.
Predestination, on the other hand, states that some mystical force such as fate or the gods are in complete control of our lives. They’ve planned out our lives from well before we came into this world and crafted a universe that unfolds according to their programming.
We know that as we live our lives, many things are caused by something. If we don’t pay our bills (cause), we’ll be kicked out of our home or apartment, our car will be taken away, and our credit score will be damaged (effects). We know that if we don’t eat or drink for several weeks (cause), we’ll die of dehydration or malnutrition (effect).
But can that philosophy be applied to everything, all the time, no exceptions? Was Einstein right when he proclaimed “[God] does not throw dice”?
If this were true, you would have to accept the premises that everything that happens is solely because the gods, fate, or destiny has programmed it into us and our environment. Our every decision or move is known in advance and fits squarely into their overarching “plan”. In this case, God or some other supernatural force would be said to be omniscience – all knowing – and not only does this deity or force know what the future holds, everything in the future unfolds based on what God wants.
Many people are uncomfortable with this notion because it implies that we are all puppets on a string. Our every decision and outcome has been determined in advance and we are simply actors and actresses playing out our assigned role on God’s stage.
However, if we are simply playing out the role which we were assigned, the question becomes “are we to blame for our actions?” Is it fair to punish people for acting in accordance with God’s intention?
In our society, we tend to hold people accountable for their actions. If someone steals, rapes or murders, we’ll give them a trial in court to determine their innocence or guilt, but except in extreme cases, we assume they knew what they were doing when they committed the act and chose to do it anyway. In other words, they were responsible for their actions, and therefore they deserve to be punished accordingly.
(There’s a huge body of philosophical literature that discusses whether we are truly responsible for our own actions – see Wikipedia’s philosophical treatise on free will for an overview.)
On the other hand, if we know that everything is happening because of God’s plan, should we help the poor and those in need? If God has dealt them their hand, shouldn’t they play their cards? Why should anyone step in and give them a hand, put food on the table or give them emotional support? After all, this is how God intended.
Perhaps you could argue that while it’s true that God deals some people a bad hand, he also puts others in their lives to help them with their ordeals and gives them the resources to overcome their situation. This is simply God teaching us a lesson like a father might teach his children. Christians often point to the Book of Job as an example. Still, it’s difficult to comprehend why God would such catastrophic things to happen – like 9/11, the Holocaust, or the myriad of natural disasters ranging from massive tsunamis to volcano eruptions to category 5 hurricanes. Are all of these merely the result of God teaching us a lesson?
With Einstein, we know that as quantum theory developed, most physicists came to disagree with Einstein. Specifically, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg’s theories directly conflicted with Einstein’s. Bohr and Einstein even had intense debates about how particles might pass through a slit in order to prove that there was uncertainty at the quantum level (Einstein disagreed with this, but Bohr’s arguments became the dominant belief).
That said, there are still many things we don’t know about quantum theory. Physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in his book, A Brief History of Time,
“These quantum theories are deterministic in the sense that they give laws for the evolution of the wave with time. Thus if one knows the wave at one time, one can calculate it at any other time. The unpredictable, random element comes in only when we try to interpret the wave in terms of the positions and velocities of particles. But maybe this is our mistake: maybe there are no positions and velocities, but only waves. It is just that we try to fit the waves to our preconceived ideas of positions and velocities. The resulting mismatch is the cause of the apparent unpredictability.”
Still, even if particles acted as waves in all cases, we’d still perceive uncertainty in our lives. If we flip a coin, we know with certainty that it will either land as heads or tails. But the correct answer is a mystery to us until the act has been completed. Much of how we analyze our life is hindsight. Perhaps we know that because we called heads and the coin landed as tails, the other team got the ball first, got early momentum and got an early lead that eventually led to them winning the game. Would we still have played if we knew in advance the other team was going to win?
Chances are, we wouldn’t (just as we like watching the highlights of the big plays after the fact, but few of us actually like sitting through a rerun of a game that has already been played and that we already know the outcome of). Our excitement and enthusiasm comes from our belief that how we play the game shapes the outcome – that our choices matter – that it’s the excitement of playing the game at that moment which is important.