I figured freedom would be a good subject for Independence Day here in the U.S.
Here is the question of the day: Does the Plan of Salvation and restored gospel even make sense if humans do not have free will in the libertarian sense?
Here is the answer for the day: No.
For those of you unfamiliar with the old free will debates among philosophers here are a few highlights. Free will can mean lots of different things to different people — especially if those people are philosophers. (See here for a wiki overview of the subject and here for more detailed articles from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Most people intuitively assume that we have what philosophers call “libertarian free will”. The wiki on metaphysical libertarianism defines it as:
“The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances”.
“Libertarian free will requires that there is more than one possible outcome to a given situation”.
Now as I said, if you are wondering what else the term free will could possibly mean you are probably like most people. But there is another variety of free will among philosophers that is often called compatibilist free will or compatibilism (or sometimes “hypothetical free will”). The idea of compatibilist free will is that people are actually causally determined and as such all — as in 100% — of our choices are the result of a prior state of events that cause us to make such choices. So the notion is that even though people intuitively believe they could have chosen otherwise in any given situation, the causal forces at work would never have let them actually choose otherwise (thus the “hypothetical free will” title).
Now if after hearing about the hypothetical free will of compatibilism you are saying to yourself “What the??…” then we are on the same page. I think that this compatibilist version of free will is no free will at all, but rather a fancy way to talk about how we are all meat puppets and slaves to a cosmic causal chain (or to some fixed future). It means there is a fixed destiny for us all and we have no legitimate choices to change or affect it in any way. There are only hypothetical open choices with compatibilist notions of free will.
If there is no free will in the libertarian sense then Lehi was just wrong in 2 Nephi 2 when he taught:
14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.
16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself…
21 And the days of the children of amen were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation…
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
These teachings only work if we have libertarian free will. With compatibilist free will there is no probation here because we only have the hypothetical power to choose contrary to the fixed future — no real power to choose. Further, with compatibilist free will we are only really “things to be acted upon” by the great causal chain to carry out the already existing fixed future. We are not “things to act” at all in such a view.
Now I understand that lots of creedal Christians teach doctrines that are completely incompatible with libertarian free will. The Calvinistic predestination views are especially repugnant to me. But the restored gospel has done away with such pernicious doctrines among us.
Or has it? Anyone want to stand up for compatibilist free will (or anything that is not some variety of libertarian free will) in Mormonism? Is exhaustive foreknowledge and its required fixed future worth chucking real and robust free will over? Are there near-Calvinistic views of grace that are worth giving up a belief that we really are free to choose? What say you?