It never ceases to amaze me how many Mormons will, when push comes to shove, choose to believe in a fixed future and a fated existence instead of an open future and a robust version of free will. What gives?
If you are unfamiliar with the terms “compatibilism” and “incompatibilism”, here are some quick definitions taken from the wikipedia article on the subject:
Incompatibilism is the view that the notion of a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that people have a free will… Libertarianism suggests that we actually do have free will, and that therefore the future is not determined.
So libertarianism (or libertarian free will) is the doctrine that we are really free to choose and that the future really is not determined or fixed. Sounds very Mormon right? (Right?) Isn’t that just what Lehi taught?
Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory that suggests that free will and determinism are in fact compatible. According to Hume, free will should not be understood as an absolute ability to have chosen differently under exactly the same inner and outer circumstances. Rather, it is a hypothetical ability to have chosen differently if one had been differently psychologically disposed by some different beliefs or desires.
So in contrast we have compatibilism, or hypothetical free will. This is a doctrine that says our futures are fixed and fated but we at least hypothetically could choose differently than we are fated to choose.
So here is the rub – if God exhaustively knows the future then the future must necessarily already exist for him to know it. If the future already exists then it is fixed. If so then the compatibilists must be right. If the compatibilists are right we are not actually free to choose our own destinies in the libertarian sense (and as Lehi taught), we are in fact fated to a pre-set (or predestined in my opinion) future and only have the hypothetical ability — not the actual ability — to escape our fates.
The alternative choice is to assume Lehi was right and then we have real and robust free will in the libertarian sense and that God is smart enough and powerful enough to accomplish all of his purposes anyway. It is to assume God is smart enough and powerful enough to make it appear like he knows a set future even though there is no set future to know.
It seems like a no-brainer to me. We believe humans may eventually enter peer relationships with God and that we really are free to choose to do so, therefore it seems like when push comes to shove free will wins out in Mormonism and we should have faith in God to be able to accomplish his work even if the future doesn’t already exist in a fixed fashion.
But apparently it is not a no-brainer for some Mormons. There is clearly no short supply of Mormons who will happily give up the notion of real and robust free will and exchange it for the anemic compatibilist variety of free will. And what do they get in return for accepting the idea that their own futures are fated or predestined? — the notion that God is also fated and that he knows what the actual (already existing) future will be. The problem is that if God knows what the actual future will be he knows what HE will do then too so he is also fated and predestined.
I have recently discussed this idea in a couple of threads and have been shocked to discover that even knowing some of the implications of compatibilism there are Mormons who readily choose it over robust free will. (They always seem to do some bizarre mental gymnastics and come up with some incomprehensible gobbledy-gook about varying perspectives and whatnot in defense of their compatibilist positions in those conversations…)
I can’t exactly figure out why… Is actually having robust free will too horrifying? Is the notion of a God that is powerful and wise enough to accomplish his works even in the face of an open future and contingencies too hard to have faith in? Do we love the idea that we are fated so much that we don’t want to let it go? What is going on here?