Fatalism – the belief that what is meant to be will be, that God will make happen what God intends to happen, and similar beliefs – seems wrong to me. When the story of Abraham bargaining with God over the fate of Sodom (Genesis 18:20-30) was read during the Sunday Eucharist the last Sunday of July, Abraham's audacity struck me. God's willingness to negotiate with Abraham made an even greater impression.
It is certainly not necessary to take the story of Abraham badgering God as literal history. If nothing else, the story reflects the attitude of the story's author(s) and subsequent editors about God. They clearly reject fatalism and the belief that history is already determined. Instead, they express confidence in an open future, one at least partially determined by human actions and partially by God's actions.
Obviously, individuals exercise little or no control over much of life. None of us can choose our genes or the people who raise us from infancy to childhood; only a few people have any voice even then in who will rear them (the exception of which I am thinking is a child of a divorcing couple who has the option of determining with which parent she or he will live). Even as adults, we have little influence over probably a majority of what happens to us, e.g., we cannot see the millions if not billions of viruses and bacteria that daily assault us, we attribute many other events to luck or chance, we call yet other things over which we have no control accidents, etc. Furthermore, prior choices shape not only our present options but also shape our attitudes toward those options.
Altogether, humans enjoy at best a limited autonomy.
Nevertheless, humans display amazing creativity in all fields. We examine data and perceive new patterns, or the possibility of new patterns, and then call those patterns theories. Science and the social science advance through the formulation of new theory. We arrange words and colors in new patterns to create art (literature, painting, sculpture, etc.). This continuing and incredible creativity in most aspects of our existence suggests the possibility of at least limited human autonomy, i.e., humans occasionally and in perhaps small ways acting in a non-predetermined manner.
Chaos theorists have identified what they call the butterfly effect, the ability of a small change to produce, over time, large-scale results. In other words, even if humans have severely limited opportunities to exercise autonomy, autonomy associated with relatively minuscule nudges or other moves could explain much of the diversity and development attributable to humans.
Theologically, Christians and others have hope for the future, aware of creation's dynamism and confident that creation did not exhaust the Creator's goodness and influence. God's continuing activity nudges or lures creation toward a future that God desires. Having initiated a creation that now functions independently, God is clearly no longer omnipotent. Without some degree of independence, limited autonomy would be impossible and fatalism (also known as kismet in Islam and samsara in some other religions) would prevail.
If fatalism truly prevailed, then Abraham negotiating with God would be a farce; God already and inflexibly would have decided what to do. Change, and therefore hope, would be unwarranted. Yet humans persistently and almost universally believe that we can make choices and therefore that we can make a difference. Perhaps our intuition is partially correct: we have limited autonomy, though not nearly as much as we often think.