Sometimes people ask me about fatalism. Most of these are polite and teachable individuals who would like to know what determinism and fatalism are, how they differ from each other, and how my position differs from fatalism. And then, there are some who outright accuse me of teaching fatalism. The following will suffice as my response to both groups of people.
By some definitions, the terms "determinism" and "fatalism" are similar. Some English dictionaries would define these terms in ways that fail to make a clear distinction between them. Merriam-Webster is too ambiguous for our purpose, and Webster's New World Thesaurus considers the two synonymous. Certainly, even those who affirm "soft" determinism and accuse me of teaching fatalism would not want to accept these ambiguous definitions, since then they would become "soft fatalists" at best. The definitions in theological and philosophical literature might be more precise.
By "fatalism," I refer to the teaching that all events are predetermined (1) by impersonal forces and (2) effected regardless of means, so that no matter what a person does, the same outcome will result.
By "determinism," I specially refer to theological or divine determinism. It is the teaching that the personal God of the Bible has intelligently and immutably predetermined all events, including all human thoughts, decisions, and actions, and that by predetermining both the ends and the means to those ends.
These are not my private definitions, but they are consistent with the common usage in theological and philosophical literature.
For example, Dr. Alan Cairns is a respected Presbyterian pastor and theologian, whose orthodoxy is generally unquestioned, and who is a "soft" determinist himself. He defines "fatalism" as follows: "The theory of inevitable necessity; the heathen oriental philosophy that all things are predetermined by blind, irrational forces and that therefore there is no point in human effort to change anything."
Now, before the sight of God, who dares accuse me of teaching that "all things are predetermined by blind, irrational forces"? To do so would be to commit the sin of slander, and some have indeed committed this sin against me by their false accusations. Rather, I affirm that it is the personal and rational God who has predetermined all things.
And who dares accuse me of teaching that all things occur as predetermined regardless of means? I affirm that God determines all things by immutably foreordaining and directly controlling both the ends and the means. Therefore, it is not that there is "no point in human effort," but that it is God who also controls human efforts as well as the effects of these efforts to produce the predetermined results.
It is dangerous to speak of things that you do not understand, and it appears that those who accuse me of teaching fatalism are ignorant of what fatalism really means.
Just as some Arminians falsely accuse the Calvinists of teaching fatalism, these Calvinists who affirm "soft" determinism turn around and accuse me of teaching fatalism, but neither the Arminians nor the Calvinists have any idea what fatalism means. These people do not have the courtesy to even look up the word in a theological dictionary to make sure that the accusation applies. And they certainly don't have the minimal theological background to understand what fatalism means without looking it up.
As for those of you who are attentive and teachable – unlike those who make ignorant and slanderous accusations, pretending to be scholars when they are not – I do not blame you for asking about this, since there is much false information being circulated.
Rest assured that what I teach, although it is a stronger version of determinism than the one that you are accustomed to hearing, it is very different from fatalism. In fact, it is as different from fatalism as theism is different from paganism and atheism, since I affirm that all things are determined by the personal and sovereign God, and not by "blind, irrational forces."
Therefore, do not let ignorant people confuse or deceive you.
Then, I will also point out something that is commonly misunderstood, namely, some people assume that one has more freedom under "determinism" and that things are more comprehensively determined in "fatalism." But this is false.
The fact is that things are more determined in divine determinism than in any other scheme. Under "fatalism" (as properly defined above), an event is predetermined in such a way that the same outcome will result "no matter what you do," that is, regardless of means. But under divine determinism, although it "matters" what you do, "what you do" is also immutably predetermined in the first place. And it "matters" because there is a definite relationship between "what you do" and the outcome, although even this relationship is determined and controlled by God.
Thus, I affirm divine determinism and not fatalism, but not for the reason that people sometimes shun fatalism. I affirm divine determinism not because things are less controlled in this scheme – they are more controlled – but I affirm it because it is the revealed and rational truth.
While I am at it, there are those who charge that my determinism and occasionalism amount to pantheism. But this is also stupid and ignorant. If pantheism affirms that "all is God," then it means that when God acts on any object, he is always acting only on himself. But this is far from what I affirm. Rather, I affirm that God has created spiritual and material entities that are other than himself, but that he nevertheless completely sustains and controls. To say that God completely controls X is very different from saying that God is X.
In fact, for my opponents to charge me with pantheism because I affirm God's direct and total control over all things implies that they believe, under theism, God cannot have direct and total control over anything that is not himself. But then, since the created universe is not God, by implication they must affirm that God has no direct and total control over anything in the created universe.
That is, by their accusation against me, they imply that God is identified with anything over which he has direct and total control. Then, since they deny my teaching that God has direct and total control over all things, and since they at the same time deny that God is identified with the universe, it follows that they believe God has no direct and total control over anything in the universe. And if this is what they believe, then they are not even Christians.
This is the implication of what they believe from their accusation against me. Of course, I am not actually accusing them of believing this, but it is the logical implication, and the charitable conclusion is that they are at least inconsistent.
In any case, as with the charge of fatalism, these people have no idea what pantheism means, and to accuse me of explicitly or implicitly teaching pantheism is nothing but slander.
In other words, the objection betrays the assumption that God is (identified with) whatever he completely controls. And because Vincent Cheung teaches that God completely controls everything, including all human thoughts and decisions, and including all corporeal and incorporeal objects and the relationships and interactions between them (so that one moving object has no inherent power to move another object when the former strikes the latter, but that it is God who actively and directly controls them both, and that a "secondary cause" can at best be a relative term that cannot attribute any inherent causative power to any created object, etc.), then Vincent Cheung must be teaching pantheism.
Now, after pointing out the unjustified assumption (that God is whatever he completely controls), and after pointing out that I reject this assumption, it remains that this is their assumption, on the basis of which they formed their accusation against me. It is at this point that the objection backfires. Because their assumption is that God is identified with whatever he completely controls, this means that if they believe that God completely controls anything at all, then God must be identified with that object, and this makes them at least modified or partial pantheists. Holding constant their assumption, the only logical alternative is for them to deny that God completely controls anything in his creation, but then they are not even theists anymore.
Therefore, logically speaking, those who use this objection affirm either partial pantheism or finite godism, neither of which allows them to consistently call themselves Christians. On the other hand, I affirm that God completely controls everything about everything that is anything, and that this does not imply that he is identified with those things that he controls; rather, his creation is something other than himself, but it is nevertheless something that he completely controls.