The Future of NASA
Michael Griffin is gearin...
More Features
Looking to apply for a Discover Credit Card? Members/Subscribers Log In      
My Problem with Big Pharma
Has Newsweek Sold Out to Big Pharma?
Dark Side of Green, Continued
The Dark Side of Green
The Green Bandwagon
Green Book Award: Nominations Wanted
Wilson Wins “Green Book Award”
The End of Total War?
Does the Desire for Peace Cause War?
[ Full Blog Archives ]
[ Who is John Horgan? ]
[ What is Horganism? ]
Mind & Brain
Ancient Life
All Newsletters
Discover Magazine  Blog  Archives

« In Defense of Cowardice | Main | Christian Fatalism, Continued »

Are Christians (like Francis Collins) Fatalists?

In his pat-worthy 2006 book The Human Potential for Peace, the anthropologist Douglas P. Fry deplores, as I do, the widespread, fatalistic conviction that war, murder, mayhem, aggression are inevitable. He blames this fatalism in part on “the Christian doctrine of original sin. Few people may believe in it, but the view that evil is endemic has become embedded in our society.”

This is one of my chief objections to Christianity, that—even more than Darwinian theory--it propagates a fatalistic view of human nature. See, for example, my interview with Francis Collins in the February National Geographic (still not available online). Collins is the born-again Christian who oversees the Human Genome Project, and whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

Collins believes that God gave us free will and the capacity to be good. But then he offers this extraordinary comment:


Collins: In spite of the fact that we have achieved all of these wonderful medical advances and made it possible to live longer and eradicate diseases, we will probably still figure out ways to argue with each other and sometimes to kill each other, out of our self-righteousness and our determination that we have to be on top. So the death rate will continue to be one per person, whatever the means. We may understand a lot about biology, we may understand a lot about how to prevent illness, and we may understand the life span. But I don’t think we will figure out how to stop humans from doing bad things to each other. That will always be our greatest and most distressing experience here on this planet, and that will make us long the most for something more.

Christians castigate atheists such as Richard Dawkins for propagating a dark, nihilistic view of human existence. But Dawkins is Pollyanna compared to Christians like Collins, who has so little faith in human reason and decency that he thinks we’ll kill each other until the end of time.


Weapon of Mass Instruction

Its a world difference in saying that one has a fatalistical view of the human nature and a depraved view of the human nature. The latter is more accurate. If Christians had a fatalistic view of human nature, then the doctrine of eventual human perfection would not exist. Every Christian believes that one day, this world will be rid of all evil and we will live in paradise. That does not sound like fatalism.

Even if your analysis were an accurate portrayal of the Christian worldview, history has shown it to be true. For thus far, even in our advancement in technology and human understanding, the crime rate has not at all been effected by it. That is the problem with a worldview that has no moral standard.

Andrei Kirilyuk

Usual Christians are certainly fatalists but optimistic ones. Straightforward, pessimistic fatalism from the above post citation could hardly survive for two thousand years and give rise to the best art works and scientific advances of the past. It's a canonical logical “trick” of Christianity ensuring a “guaranteed victory” in every possible debate: if things go well, then it's, of course, the “glory of God”, and if things go badly, then it's the eve of yet much greater glory of God (Apocalyptic transition to the kingdom of heaven, etc.). It could be just a logical sophism, but in fact it correctly reflects a major, universal law of (complexity) development by qualitative steps, with a characteristic “crisis” at the end of each step and the following (if ever) quick “jump” to a much higher level ( ). At least one such “Apocalyptically big” transition has already occurred in the Christian world as transition from (and during) the Middle Ages (with their pronounced doomsday expectations) to Renaissance, and we seem to be close today to another “bifurcation point”. So finally, it may be not so naive or misleading, their canonical “fatalism”.

It's another matter that some (especially modern) Christians become probably so tired of waiting for (and so unable of) any renaissance that they turn from the canonical “joyful” doom version to a more secular “doom and gloom” kind of feeling. However, there is a part of truth in such today's attitude either: instead of busily dividing unmerited world's treasures in jerky oscillations between dark pessimism and equally empty optimism, the almighty priests of the “developed” world (both Christians and atheists) could start specifying more clearly a reliable and realistic way to sustainable progress, especially taking into account “unlimited possibilities” and equally great dangers of modern technologies...

junk science

Every Christian believes that one day, this world will be rid of all evil and we will live in paradise. That does not sound like fatalism.

I can't think of anything more fatalistic than thinking you need another world to relieve you of this one. Nor can I think of anything more nihilistic than the idea that this world is so terrible that we might as well die of despair if there isn't another, better one out there.


I don't see any fatalism in that quotation. I see pessimism. Nor does he explicitly link it to his religious views. Sure he _might_ have claimed that his pessimism is a consequence of a belief in Original Sin, but I think it would be putting words in his mouth to claim that that is what he actually said.

Look at what Collins actually does say - "I don’t think we will figure out how to stop humans from doing bad things to each other". Now actually a true christian-fatalism position would be that it is _impossible_ to figure out a way for human beings to stop being bad to each other because we are born corrupted by OS. However Collins seems to be saying that he thinks it is conceivably possible for humans to find a way out but that he personally is just extremely pessimistic about it happening.


Fatalism has been something that has been bothering me for some time now. If God is all knowing and all powerful, then he would know what decisions and actions we will take before we take them because he designed the universe in a specific way. So when Joe robs a bank and shoots a bystander it isn't his fault. To say that Joe made a choice would mean that God didn't know which choice he would make, which means he isn't all knowing after all.

So why is Joe "punished" for commiting a sin he was destined to break? It would be like if you took a hammer, smashed an egg with it, and then proceeded to blame the hammer for breaking the egg.

So, I guess it comes down to this: How can free will and an all powerful, all knowing God both exist?

The way I see it, there are a few possibilities with regards to God and free will.

1. God isn't all knowing/powerful.
2. When you die everyone is rewarded/punished equally.
3. When you die, you rot in the ground end of story. Because to God you are just a little bacteria floating around in a larger organism that is this Universe. (Does anyone ever worry about the souls of the single celled organisms?)
4. God created some or most of us to be damned to Hell for all eternity, but created others to be rewarded in heaven. (Sorry hammer, but im punishing you for what I made you do)
5. There is no God and when you die you rot in the ground.

David Mathews

Given that over the last six thousand years of recorded history and for much longer according to the archaeological evidence humans have killed each other I think it a very safe conclusion that humans will continue killing each other until the species finally goes extinct (in the not-to-distant future).

For those who insist (from either an atheistic or idealistic religious standpoint) that humans will eventually attain peace, there is a scripture which contradicts that hope:

"The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence.
"The prophet who prosphesies of peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known as one whom the Lord has sent."
(Jeremiah 28:8-9)

Simply stated: Prophecies of warfare and suffering are routinely fulfilled because such events are natural to the Universe and human nature. Prophets of peace routinely fail because Homo sapiens are not a peaceful animal.

Call it fatalism if you will, but there's a tremendous amount of evidence that humans are an intrinsically violent and destructive animal. Aren't we involved in a war right now? Wasn't the previous generation also involved in a war? And the generation previous, and the generation before that.

Yes. Humans have pretty much spent the last ten thousand years involved in perpetual warfare. Throughout this time the greatest human intellects (and scientists) have devoted their creative mind to devising ever more horrendous tools of killing and mass murder.

The nuclear bomb resulted from this effort. Christian America invented it, Christian America also used it to incinerate over 100,000 Japanese civilians. Yes, this is the same "Christian" America which painted all of the Muslims as violent because of the evil act of killing "only" 3,000 civilians. We've exceeded that number numerous times throughout our history, but once was enough to "prove" that Islam is a menace to civilization.

More evidence that warfare is expected to continue forever: America does spend $500 billion a year on the military. America possesses thousands of nuclear weapons. America's psychopathic scientists are busy inventing tools of killing using futuristic technologies.

So where is the fatalism?

As to the God question: Galileo proved that the Universe does not rotate around humankind. God is not obsessed with humankind, either. God could care less whether humankind succeeds or fails. God could care less whether humankind survives or goes extinct.

Humans are not the center of God's world. You have more in common with the bacteria in your gut than God has in common with humankind. God is disinterested and unmoved by the human tragedy.

The Earth existed for billions of years without Homo sapiens. Does anyone imagine that God was lonely without a primate to struggle with over all those billions of years? Come on. Get some persective. God doesn't live for the sake of a primate.

John Henry

Fatalists and the 'all powerful God'.

Imagine a group crossing a sturdy bridge, this bridge is very high on the edges so no-one can see what’s under it. The builder of this bridge knows that it is good and sturdy. He walks across with them to demonstrate its reliability.
After some time the builder goes home cause he trusts the group trust that the bridge will support them. The group then investigates what is under the bridge and finds out that there is a massive chasm under it. They are livid with fear. As they continue to cross in the future they lose faith in the bridge and who built it. They believe the valley is ready to swallow them whole for they have seen it.
It is the fear of the valley which paralyses the group so they stay on one side. They decide that it is too dangerous to cross. They have the choice, it is there fear which gives them doubts.
One year a man comes to them and cross the bridge on a daily basis, everyone is stunned by this feat of courage. Some also follow him and decide that the bridge is indeed reliable and trustworthy.
The ones who decided to stay on one side decided to keep him on that side because they were so fearful to cross. So they kept him there by force. He overcame any forces they could exert on him and the man became the gatekeeper for the stable bridge.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Wishful Seeing
Shiny Happy People
20 Things You Didn't Know About... Sleep
Can New Neurons Teach an Old Mouse?
The Woman Who Never Forgets
Why We Get Diseases Other Primates Don't
Vital Signs: Trouble in the Nursery
Natural Selections: The Potential Pandemic You've Never Heard Of
20 Things You Didn't Know About... Death
Natural Selections: The Potential Pandemic You've Never Heard Of
Recently Covered in Discover: The Man Who Finds Planets
Sky Lights: The Dark Side of the Universe
20 Things You Didn't Know About... Meteors
Sky Lights: The Dark Side of the Universe
Islam Hits International Space Station
Neighborhood Watch Goes High Tech
Going Atomic... Again
Jaron's World: The Murder of Mystery
How to Make Anything Look Like a Toy, Round II
Raw Data: The Rigorous Study of the Ancient Mariners
Will We Ever Clone a Caveman?
This Month's Ask Discover
How Life Got a Leg Up
Mammals Stake Their Place in Jurassic Park
You Say "Ook Ook," I Say "Aak Aak"
Guilt-Free Gossip for Greens
A Greener Faith
Whatever Happened To... the Exxon Valdez?
Life After Oil
The Next Katrina
  Full access to all site content requires registration as a magazine subscriber.
© 2005 Discover Media LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Privacy Policy / Your California Privacy Rights | Terms and Conditions | Educator's Guide | Subscribe Online Today | Online Media Kit
Customer Care | Contact Us