Libertarianism Part Deux

July 9, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 7:43 pm   Category: Determinism vs. free will,Theology

The discussion on my last post veered into a highly technical philosophy of mind debate so I wanted to pick up the core issue again here.

My take on the debate so far is that the Mormon compatibilists were left in an extremely tough spot. One of their main arguments was that we don’t understand how libertarian free will works so it must not exist. But Blake proposed a emergentist theory of how it might work and none of the compatibilists had any ammo to shoot that theory down. (And even if Blake’s theory does not prove to be the final reality behind LFW, not knowing how something works is hardly a powerful argument that it must not exist.)

But the Mormon compatibilists were left with a much bigger problem on their hands. They have not been able to show how anyone could be held morally responsible for any thoughts, words, or deeds in the fully deterministic universe they propose. Adam and JNS had proposed a universe where our spirits, complete with a “nub of character”, are beginningless. Now beginningless spirits are easy to defend in Mormonism but this idea of a beginningless “nub of character” is what causes their theory to crash. The problem is that they hold that this nub of character is “who we are” and we can never change it — not through the atonement or through repentance or anything. So while that might explain exhaustive foreknowledge via the fixed future it creates, it also make the ultimate fate of every human being pre-determined and predestined (in the broad sense of the term). Most importantly, it obliterates the common notions of repentance in Mormonism.

Mark D. also pointed out that in some ways this Mormon determinism is worse than creedal Christian variations of predestination. In Calvinistic versions of predestination at least there is some divine reasoning behind some people being predestined for hell and other predestined for heaven (as hideous as that notion is to me). In the Mormon determinist version the unchangeable and predetermined fate of each person seems to be left entire to chance. Yuck.

Anyway, here is the chance for Adam, JNS, Clark, Stapley, or any other opponents of libertarianism to show us Mormon libertarians the error of our ways and how there possibly could be such a thing as moral responsibility if LFW is not real. (In fact I’ll let you decide if you want to be the Jets or the Sharks.) Let’s… get ready to rummmble!

218 Comments »

  1. The problem is that they hold that this nub of character is “who we are” and we can never change it — not through the atonement or through repentance or anything.

    This is not an accurate portrayal of the position advanced by JNS or Adam on the previous thread. If I understood correctly, JNS was quite direct in saying that the “who we are” can and does change due to the influence of external forces. On this view, it is God’s job to bring about the right kind of change in each individual so that they can be saved. Of course, it seems that God’s actions are decided deterministically also, so this last idea might have problems. Nevertheless, the statement that our character could never change does not seem accurate to me.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 9, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  2. Hmmm… I don’t think that is right Jacob. The idea as I understood it was that this “nub of character” determined the eternal spiritual trajectory of a person and thus people destined to be exalted were eternally so (as were those fated to outer darkness). I do think you are right that JNS envisions a chasm-jumping grace event for those fated to exaltation. But the only people who get this are those who were sufficiently righteous at their core from all eternity and thus had the correct trajectory to get to that chasm-jumping point. So I don’t think that detail about a chasm jump deflects my core criticism about the position at all.

    We’ll see what those guys say though.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 9, 2007 @ 10:05 pm

  3. I don’t think your description of the view can be squared with comment #22 from the previous thread. Unless they show up to defend themselves, I will try to do it.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 9, 2007 @ 10:23 pm

  4. I should say that my restatement of the view in #2 is not fully accurate either. In the comment linked to above, JNS speaks of a “divine-human partnership” in changing a person’s character and says:

    For a compatibilist, a person’s innate character may lead her to listen to the Spirit and to come to desire a change in character.

    So, you have both external influences (“listen to the Spirit”) as well as internal influences (“a person’s innate character”) involved in this view of sanctification.

    In a later comment, JNS says that “a person’s character is the ultimate cause of her free actions.” If I understand correctly, the “ultimate” part comes from the fact that even though there are external forces, the fact of whether a person listens to those external forces remains a function of the person’s character.

    Now, I see significant problems with this view, but I simply don’t think it is fair to describe this position as claiming that character can never change.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 9, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

  5. Jacob,

    The claim JNS (and Adam) made was that a person can never change her own character. This was verified by JNS agreeing with these two points from my list of “Cons” of compatibilism:

    2. The doctrine of predestination is true. Anyone who will be saved/exalted was destined to that before their birth and anyone going to hell was predestined to that as well. We can try to escape our destiny but even that trying is what we were predestined to do.

    5. If you go to hell don’t worry — you are evil at the core anyway. It is your nature. Being evil and unworthy of a relationship with God is part of your beginningless character. (And God knew that about you before you even arrived here sucka!)

    So JNS offered up a system where God could change some people’s character through his grace, but that system has such grace only available to the lucky ones who were not eternally bad apples. Those bad apples could never choose to be good enough apples to be saved just as the good apples are fated for salvation and could not choose otherwise (though neither group wants to choose otherwise in his system).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 9, 2007 @ 10:50 pm

  6. Geoff,

    Argh. In the comment you link to, JNS said:

    Geoff, I don’t really think that compatibilism necessarily implies all — perhaps any — of the pros and cons you list. The ones I am most likely to agree with are Pro #1 and Cons #2 and #5. (emphasis mine)

    I know this is not the thread you hoped to start with this post, but I feel strongly about being as fair as possible about what another person said.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 9, 2007 @ 11:12 pm

  7. JNS is pretty good at hedging his bets in comments so the fact that he is “likely to agree” with #2 and #5 is enough to make my point about his stated position. I don’t know exactly what you are disagreeing with at this point. Are you saying he hasn’t claimed that we have a “nub of character” that determines our eternal destiny? Are you saying his offered compatibilist position does allow for a person to change her own character? If not then how am I still being unfair to his position?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 9, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

  8. Well, if you look at Fodor’s arguments for functionalism and Rey’s argument for eliminativism with regards to p-consciousness…

    Just kidding, Geoff.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 10, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  9. “One of their main arguments was that we don’t understand how libertarian free will works so it must not exist. But Blake proposed a emergentist theory of how it might work and none of the compatibilists had any ammo to shoot that theory down.”

    I don’t have any arguments because I have no clue what it is. I’ve never been able to understand Blake’s theory as being anything less than a constrained sort of dualism only by a different name. If this is the case, then there are plenty of arguments against it.

    It simply seems that Blake’s theory is not a theory at all, but rather a non-theory. He doesn’t explain our choices, because they can’t be explained and to assume that they can is to beg the question against him. That’s fine to believe this, but let us not think that this is a theory of any kind at all.

    As for the rest of the post, I’m reminded to Dennett’s slogan “If you make yourself really small, you can externalize everything.” This really is the issue in the case of personal responsibility. The fear is that is one accept determinism then everything that everybody does is caused by their nature/nurture rather than by them.

    The problem is that that we have no reason to believe that nature/nurture is any more responsible than any person is because they too were only caused by what came before them. If we follow this reasoning in a beginning-less context (as the Mormon context is) then there is no responsibility at all. It isn’t X killed Y, and who is responsible? Not X, not his parents, or their parents or anybody at all.

    This, however, is not how responsibility works. We hold people responsible for their actions if they meant to do them and that’s all there is to it. We don’t really care what caused them to mean to do it, rather we only care that they did it and that they meant to do it. The only way that a person could avoid all responsibility is by our making them really, really small so as to externalize all responsibility and we simply have no good reason to do such things.

    Indeed, it is not at all difficult to imagine an argument being put forth from evolutionary game theory for the importance of holding individuals responsible for their actions rather than anybody else.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 10, 2007 @ 12:40 am

  10. Jeff,

    Sorry if you can’t understand the “radical emergence” that Blake’s theory relies on. It makes sense to me. As I said in the post, not fully understanding something is no argument that it is not real. Who understands exactly how Jesus was resurrected? Nobody I know of. Yet we Mormons accept it as real and look forward to the day when we will understand such things.

    If we follow this reasoning in a beginning-less context (as the Mormon context is) then there is no responsibility at all.

    I am aware of this stance of yours. As I said in the last thread, I think you are dead wrong on this idea because if there were no moral responsibility in the universe then the gospel would be a sham. I also think you are dead wrong in no longer believing there is a God but I have conceded that your position is at least internally consistent.

    So as much as I like you — this post isn’t aimed at you but rather to the believing Mormons who want to defend compatibilism.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 9:20 am

  11. Jeff: What is difficult to understand about basic powers? In the last post I stated that what emerges is a basic power to unify the diverse data of experience into a whole. It is a power that we know we have because our experience is not of a zillion experiences of our cells, but a unity of experience. Further, it is clear that we cannot refer to something more basic than these basic powers that we have. However, no one balks at such basic powers when we refer to the electro-magentic properties of basic particles/waves. Unless our entire mode of explanation in physics is simply non-explanatory, then the mode of explanation I have adopted is the way we must proceed with basic powers. Further, if we had to refer to somethng external the agent to explain the acts of the agent, as JNS ends up doing, then the agent is not free and not responsible because the explanation for the action lies outside the agent. I would add that Fodor gives a similar argument about basic powers in support of emergence in the link I posted on the last thread on LFW.

    I also think that you are mistaken about how we attribute resonsibility. It is uniformly shown by studies that folks will not attribute blame or responsibility where it can be shown that factors outside of the person’s control cause or result in the act being done.

    Comment by Blake — July 10, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  12. Note I’m not an opponent of libertarianism. I’m skeptical of arguments that suggest we must have libertarianism. And I’m very skeptical of false dichotomies over the choices here. But as to my personal views on the free will issue I’m pretty agnostic. I argue against determinists as much as libertarians.

    Comment by Clark — July 10, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  13. Well I have been arguing that we must have libertarianism, Clark. As was noted in that last thread, I would love to hear about any alternatives to libertarianism you might suggest. The last version I heard from you (something about our making all of our free choices at the instant of the big bang and living out the fixed fate of those choices ever since if I remember correctly) did not jibe well with the notion of repentance in this life at all. That may not actually be the position you lean toward though so if you know of any viable alternatives to libertarianism (that work within the context of the restored gospel) I’d love to hear them.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 10:45 am

  14. Also Clark — Blake was right in the last thread when he said: “Either things are fully determined or they are not.” There is a real dichotomy at work here — not a false one. Now I have tried to allow for the closest thing to determinism without crossing the line to full determinism in the past with this veto free will idea within libertarianism. But even that is a variation on libertarianism and I contend that the gospel only works in a universe where some variation of libertarianism is true.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  15. Geoff, for the record I think causal determinism is false. I don’t think that entails libertarianism.

    The position I’m favorable to although hardly committed to is the existence of a block universe but one underdetermined and that there are many block universes.

    Comment by clark — July 10, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  16. I came into this discussion way too late last time (after 200 comments), so hopefully I can get something in that is meaningful to the discussion this time around.

    I find it interesting that this debate has centered on philosophical understandings of free will and has overlooked the sociological discussions of this topic. I am generally persuaded by Pierre Bourdieu’s discussion of the habitus which explains both the regularity of human behavior in specific cultural contexts as well as the creativity and spontaneity. In his most famous example, he describes human behavior as a game soccer. The rules are stable and the boundaries are fixed, yet at any one time the players may be located in different parts of the field performing different functions. Success occurs when different players perform their functions the best, which encourages regular behavior. This gets you out of causal determinism as well by allowing for individual agency that still exists within the external constraints to agency.

    I think that this example is important to consider because libertarian free will isn’t simply a logical problem, but an empirical one.

    Comment by TT — July 10, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  17. Geoff, I think that Bourdieu’s solution also solves the problem of accountability that you are worried about. You don’t have to have LFW to have accountability because even in a system in which there are constraints, there is still agency.

    Comment by TT — July 10, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

  18. TT: You don’t have to have LFW to have accountability because even in a system in which there are constraints, there is still agency.

    I don’t think so TT. Without LFW there can be no moral responsibility. That is because in the absence of LFW every present choice is caused by some prior state of affairs. Only with LFW does an agent have the legitimate ability to “choose otherwise” and only with LFW is the future not fixed.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 2:30 pm

  19. Once again Geoff, if LFW is false, it doesn’t follow that causal determinism is true.

    Comment by clark — July 10, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

  20. I’m not sure I said otherwise in #18 Clark so I don’t know what prompted your comment.

    Please explain further what you mean though. (Mostly because I suspect that any alternative to LFW you have in mind would also entail a fixed future and thus would be at odds with the restored gospel…)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 4:14 pm

  21. TT,

    LFW doesn’t imply a lack of constraints (social or otherwise). The kind of social influences you are describing from Bourdieu are definitely real. So, I think you are solving the problem of accountability the same way that Geoff and I are, which is by accepting the existence of individual agency as you mentioned.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 10, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  22. I just want to echo this important point from Blake:

    I also think that you are mistaken about how we attribute resonsibility. It is uniformly shown by studies that folks will not attribute blame or responsibility where it can be shown that factors outside of the person’s control cause or result in the act being done. (#11)

    Words obtain their meaning from their usage. In the previous thread JNS wanted to mediate our disagreement about what the word “responsibility” means by appealing to the OED. In general, I think that is a fine approach, but as I mentioned, this sort of thing only gets you so far. When we went to the OED we found that someone was responsible if they were “answerable” and “accountable.” Of course, these words need as much explanation as “responsibility” does in a philosphical discussion such as the one we are trying to have.

    If you really want to know what the word means, you need something like the studies Blake is referring to, so that you can find out what people really mean when they assign responsibility to someone. What we find is that compatibilism does not adequately capture the meaning of the word responsibility as it is actually used.

    This doesn’t mean that people are correct about the universe (I am not suggesting we settle the debate by a vote of what most people have assumed). However, it does mean that compatibilists are redefining the word to suit their worldview. At the very least, they need to acknowledge that what they mean by “responsibility” is not what the average person has assumed when they used the word.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 10, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  23. Geoff, you said, “in the absence of LFW every present choice is caused by some prior state of affairs.” That appears a claim of causal determinism, unless you mean caused in a looser sense such as indeterminists accept. But in that case LFW entails such causality as well.

    As for an alternative, consider randomness. It isn’t, for obvious reasons, LFW, but it clearly isn’t causal determinism.

    Comment by clark — July 10, 2007 @ 9:16 pm

  24. Alright Clark. I will grant you that randomness is another alternative to LFW. Of course attributing our present choices to randomness is also totally incompatible with the gospel and with the concept of moral responsibility.

    You chimed in earlier by saying:

    I’m skeptical of arguments that suggest we must have libertarianism. And I’m very skeptical of false dichotomies over the choices here.

    But you have suggested no alternatives to LFW that are compatible with the gospel. Further, you have not remotely backed up your charge that about the “false dichotomies” here. The dichotomy I offer is a real one: Either some variation on LFW is true or the restored gospel and many of its crucial parts fail. If you really think that is a false dichotomy please show me the error of my ways.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 10, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  25. Let us undertake the following thought experiment:

    We create a multitude of identical people and place them in a situation where all circumstances – external as well as the ones that are internal knowledge, desires etc.

    There are two possibilities either the person makes the same choices in all these universes or he does not.

    If he does not, why? What causes the same person with the same desires and same knowledge to choose differently? He wanted the same things, he had belief in the same things – and thus the same expectation of action -> consequences

    The answer that comes to mind is that there is something that is forcing him to choose and that randomly.

    You talk of predestination and that if a persons choices can be predicted they are predestined. I think this is false. You are assuming that their “destiny” is external, forced upon them. I see it as something that they created bubbling up out of them as it were.

    Your argument is that if my choices can be predicted then there is no free will. I after thinking about it have come to the opposite conclusion. If my choices cannot be predicted, even by myself, then there is no free will and certianly no reason for me to put any weight on any of my decisions as tomorrow I may unpredictably and uninfluences by what I thought today reject all of todays choices. Thus any particular choice does not matter. Hence even though I attain salvation/exaltation I may unpredictably choose to reject that salvation/exaltation. Given that is a real possibility why should I strive for salvation. There would be no point to it as I may easily choose to fall after having obtained. As we are eternal beings any possibility that we fall, taken over eternity turns into certianty. That is why black holes evaporate.

    Which brings me to my next topic. Electrons are inherently unpredictable as far as we know. Yet those who think that there is know greater truth than newtonian, einsteinian and quantum do not think that the unpredicatability of an electron’s behavior hints that it has free will.

    If I can predict someones action that does not mean that person does not have free will any more than if their actions are completely unpredictable. Your argument that if it is predictable then they were forced to it either by external circumstances or internal such as desires or character points to an obvious parallel argument against unpredictable free will. Namely we analyze their motives their actions etc., all the things you identify as “influences” when we finally after breaking down the whole process identify the unpredictable element we say that that made them do it. We can call this element destiny if we like (it certianly fits the bill!) and then say that in our thought universe that destiny made people in some universes choose X but in others choose Y and in still others choose Z.

    Thus your arguments that predicatable free will destroys the gospel are equally suited to the task of proving that unpredictable free will destroys the gospel. The conclusion then is that the gospel is not valid or your arguments are not valid. The predicatable or unpredicatable nature of free will is not relevant.

    Comment by madera verde — July 11, 2007 @ 7:09 am

  26. I should say – that is the logic behind the theory, generally excepted, that black holes evaporate.

    It should be -no greater truth, not know greater truth.

    Excuse my grammar and errors I am in haste. For that reason I probably won’t get involved in the debate.

    Comment by madera verde — July 11, 2007 @ 7:13 am

  27. madera verde,

    I am fully aware of the arguments in favor of causal determinism that you presented. We have discussed those at great length here in the past. The problem is that there can be no meaningful moral responsibility in a fully causally determined universe. The same is true in any universe where the future is fixed. So while others might find those arguments conclusive, as a Mormon with a God-provided testimony of the restored gospel I reject them based on the additional evidence that testimony provides me. In other words, a fixed future of any kind eviscerates the restored gospel so as far as I am concerned it must be rejected in favor of the open future that only LFW provides.

    Your argument is that if my choices can be predicted then there is no free will.

    This is inaccurate. I am not arguing against predictions at all. In fact I have argued in the past that God is the ultimate predictor. But predictions can happen in a universe with an open future too. It is the notion of a fixed future (as full determinism requires) that I am arguing against.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 11, 2007 @ 9:52 am

  28. Madera Verde,

    I don’t think it is well established that electrons are inherently unpredictable. It is a measurement problem. Schroedinger’s equation is deterministic and there are alternate formulations (notably Bohmian QM) with equivalent statistics that do not require an arbitrary waveform reduction step.

    I think your thought experiment is worth discussion. Your questions imply that each person’s decisions can only be derived from prior causes. In LFW that is not the case – decisions are a creative synthesis of prior causes. The extra ‘element’ is most definitely not destiny it is the agent itself.

    Your thought experiment requires that persons be duplicated. However, if each person has a distinct eternal intelligence that is a metaphysical impossibility.

    Supposing, however, that it were metaphysically possible to do such duplication, it is highly likely that in the short run the causative physiological factors (habits, memories, etc.) would dominate the post-duplicative agent causal creative influence.

    But supposing that you placed a large ensemble of duplicates in identical universes where each is immediately faced with a borderline moral or creative challenge, LFW would indeed predict that their behavior would diverge.

    That is hardly a logical crisis. It would simply mean that the agents are now independent, each able to creatively synthesize in new and independent ways – making decisions that are not completely determined by prior factors. We should be very disturbed if this were not the case, because it would imply that we were nothing more than automatons, and replicable ones at that.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 11, 2007 @ 6:21 pm

  29. Geoff, your and Blake’s arguments end up reducing to the words having the meaning they appear to mean. And I’ll grant you that has prima facie strength. Why not assume the scriptures mean what they literally say and our intuitions regarding the communications. At best I can say that God speaks to us in our language and that language is “good enough.” If, however, it turned out that our meaning of responsibility, freedom, etc. needed some revision I don’t see that really be problematic for the scriptures nor would I be at all surprised to find that it was the case.

    Comment by clark — July 11, 2007 @ 8:56 pm

  30. Mark, the restrictions on the electron are deterministic, the idea that this is purely a measurement issue (i.e. that there is “hidden” variables) is less likely given recent experiments. It’s still not ruled out, but I think randomness has the strength now.

    Comment by clark — July 11, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  31. Clark,

    You seem to be committed to the idea that there are acceptable alternatives to LFW, but I haven’t seen you articulate one yet. Saying that you don’t think it would really be problematic to redefine responsibility doesn’t give me a lot of comfort unless you can offer me some non-problematic redefinition. All of the ones I can think of are very problematic. I appreciate your assurance that there are perfectly acceptable alternatives to choice and accountability (as we have naively conceived of them), but can you back up these assurances with something concrete?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 11, 2007 @ 9:20 pm

  32. Clark,

    I am familiar with the recent experiment on the subject, but I think it is too early to make any hard conclusions. The recent experiment did not invalidate all “hidden variable” theories, only a certain class of them.

    However, I must say that I find the prospect of intrinsic randomness rather more disturbing than ordinary determinism. It brings the very concept of scientific realism into question, and solutions like the many worlds interpretation are first class lunacy.

    I majored in physics, and never did I lose so much confidence in physicists as during senior year quantum mechanics. No self respecting physicist could claim that a wave function collapse is real. I find it amazing to consider the number who believe that reality is governed by non-reality.

    Standard Quantum mechanics states that if one sets up a system and then goes away for a few billion years, that results when he returns will be a statistical sample of a wave function that has been evolving deterministically like clockwork in the meantime. Are we supposed to believe that the universe is only random when God is looking? LFW is a model of comprehension by comparison.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 11, 2007 @ 10:12 pm

  33. To say that there may be alternatives is not to state that one necessarily knows them. My view is simply that to argue that nothing but LFW works seems to require more argument than has been presented. That it might be the only one that works that you know isn’t sufficient (IMO). I recognize that not everyone will find that terribly persuasive. However, to give an example, neither QM nor GR seem like a satisfactory solution for a theory of everything, but the fact that I can’t give a better solution doesn’t entail the right solution being one of the existing proposed solutions. It may well simply be we don’t know the answer.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    My doubts towards LFW I’ll fully admit come out of physics. I just haven’t seen (to me) satisfactory answers to to problem of background independence and substantial space-time.

    Comment by clark — July 11, 2007 @ 10:47 pm

  34. Mark, I think I said it didn’t invalidate all hidden variable theories. (Indeed I think I clearly indicated the opposite) It sure invalidated most of them though.

    I don’t see how randomness as an ontological feature of the universe has any bearing on scientific realism. They seem quite orthagonal issues as I see them. (Not to derail things into a tangent)

    Comment by clark — July 11, 2007 @ 10:49 pm

  35. Clark,

    If there were a strictly realistic theory for quantum randomness I could agree, but for now the randomness comes only from the subjective interaction of a mysterious ‘observer’ and the system. Nothing realistic about it.

    More on point though, adding quantum randomness certainly doesn’t remediate the purposelessness and meaninglessness of ordinary determinism – if anything it makes it worse.

    The basic question is finding an explanation or meaning for anything beyond random chance. With LFW we can trace the ultimate cause of significant events to responsible agents. With the alternatives the ultimate cause lies in nothing but one of the three possibilities:

    (1) Natural laws
    (2) Random initial conditions
    (3) Process derived randomness

    So if I ask the question, “why do we have a Sabbath day and keep it holy?”, a non-LFWist can only ultimately answer one of two things – it is a law of nature, or it is a physical coincidence. Same for every other question I could possibly ask.

    Why is there a God? It is a law of nature or a physical coincidence.

    Why do we have ten fingers? It is a law of nature or a physical coincidence.

    Why was Jesus Christ resurrected? It is a law of nature or a physical coincidence.

    And so on, ad nauseam…

    Comment by Mark D. — July 11, 2007 @ 11:26 pm

  36. Clark,

    What I hear you saying is basically: “Just because a plain reading of the scriptures indicates there is libertarian free will; and just because no one in the history of the earth has ever come up with an alternative to LFW that allows for the gospel to work or for people to have any moral responsibility; there still may be an alternative to LFW that could possibly arise someday.” It reminds me of the old line: “Yeah and monkeys may fly out of my…” well, never mind about the old saying.

    LFW can have a lot of variation and I believe that whatever the final truth of the matter is, it will and must be properly be classified as some variation of LFW.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 12, 2007 @ 12:36 am

  37. Clark,

    My view is simply that to argue that nothing but LFW works seems to require more argument than has been presented.

    Okay, I accept this statement. Let me ask some follow up questions, though.

    1. Do you agree that determinism is incompatible with the type of responsibility required by the gospel? (#15 seems to say so)

    2. Do you agree that the addition of randomness is not sufficient to salvage responsibility from causal determinism?

    3. Do you agree that under-determinism, per se, does not imply a robust form of responsibility?

    4. Do you agree that any solution which genuinely supports responsibility will require that people have some degree of control over what they do?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 12, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  38. Geoff, I take it as a principle that the scriptures aren’t there to teach metaphysics, physics or other very obscure issues. So when one draws such inferences out from the scriptures I always find it interesting but always approach it with a very skeptical eye. (It’s obvious I enjoy it since I do it myself) Put an other way, I think the scriptures are too “fuzzy” to trust inferences along these lines.

    Put it an other way, the folks who read Genesis as rejecting most science and history would say nearly the same thing you do.

    So I just tend to be skeptical of such matters unless a very clear revelation is made on the matter.

    Comment by Clark — July 12, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  39. Jacob – note the example of randomness was just to illustrate the unfortunate false dichotomy raised of determinism vs. LFW. I don’t in the least think randomness resolves the issues LFW proponents raise. Indeed there’s considerable literature on the issue of “luck” and freedom. (And yes, I’ve read it – while I’m skeptical on these matters I’m hardly unread on them)

    Regarding underdeterminism and responsibility. Clearly undeterdetermination alone is insufficient for responsibility. That goes without saying. I merely point out that by framing the issue purely in terms of determinism one often ends up attacking strawmen. Very few people are determinists anymore.

    Comment by Clark — July 12, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  40. Put it an other way, the folks who read Genesis as rejecting most science and history would say nearly the same thing you do.

    You are certainly free to be skeptical of whatever you want Clark.

    I think that this analogy you gave is a good one though. Some people think that God was involved in directing the formation of the earth in one way or another. If God was involved in one way or another then some variety of creationism is true. If God was not involved at all then no form of creationism is true. So that too is a binary issue at that high level — there is no middle ground on that question at that level.

    Likewise, it is a binary question about LFW. Either people can freely choose some things as defined by LFW and thus have moral responsibility or they can’t. As I see it, there is no middle ground on that question either. I know you have disagreed but I am not sure why. Maybe you think that something besides a variation LFW will allow for our moral responsibility some day. I suspect that whatever that “something” might be, I’d probably consider it to be under the LFW tent to begin with.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 12, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  41. But of course there is a middle ground – to what degree God was involved. It’s that issue of degree that I see as important.

    Certainly one can cast any debate in an absolute binary way. (Either this theory is true or it isn’t) I’m not sure that’s a good way to go about understanding myself.

    Comment by Clark — July 12, 2007 @ 10:05 am

  42. Clark: I’m not sure that’s a good way to go about understanding myself.

    Well excluding some theories up front sure narrows down the scope of possibilities. That is the value of excluding full determinism/randomness up front. With those off the table we can then narrow things down to some theory that fits broadly under the LFW tent. Stubbornly refusing to do even that just ends up leading to less mutual understanding in these conversations than more in my opinion.

    I’ve seen you do that with intelligent design over and over at blogs too and it baffles me. You go around claiming to reject intelligent design even though the term intelligent design is a very big tent that surely allows for your position after all. But if I remember correctly, when pressed you are really only rejecting the narrowly defined idea that you think of as “intelligent design proper”. That, of course, leads to more confusion than understanding in those conversations as well. Some form of what could be broadly called intelligent design must be right or a) God was not involved in creation at all, or b) the vast majority of our science is dead wrong. Neither of those alternatives are remotely appealing to me.

    The same goes for these LFW conversations. You openly reject full determinism and you reject randomness as explanations for our choices. That leaves you with some form of LFW. But every time this conversation comes up you chime in about how “skeptical” you are about LFW. I think that is simply misleading and I don’t know what you are hoping to gain from this odd tactic you keep using. Repeatedly using that line leads to less mutual understanding and not more in my opinion. Why not just say that some version of LFW must be true but you are not sure how that works at all and are skeptical of the more aggressive theories of LFW out there or something?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 12, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  43. Well I don’t want to get into the intelligent design debate. I think the broadness of the use of that term is precisely what makes it so problematic. (i.e. it ends up being misleading and, I’m convinced, often intentionally so)

    Once again to say that if I reject determinism and randomness that this leaves only LFW just seems false. Just because I don’t know of other choices need not mean there are no other choices. That’s the only point I’m making. (Although as you’d earlier noted I’d thrown out other alternatives on my own blog in the past)

    It’s this focus on saying that if something isn’t one choice it must be the other that seems logically suspect. (Actually it’s a logical fallacy)

    Comment by clark — July 12, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  44. Alright Clark. It appears that I am just defining LFW more broadly than you are. As far as I am concerned, if the future is not fixed then some variation of LFW exists and if the future is fixed then there is no LFW. So at least I have some vague idea of what you mean when you say you are skeptical of LFW.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 12, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  45. Note I was talking about ID being too broad, not LFW.

    Comment by clark — July 12, 2007 @ 6:31 pm

  46. Although if you call anything where the future isn’t fixed (whatever that means) LFW then, yeah, that’s pretty broadly defined. Much more broadly that I encounter in the literature.

    Afterall, what if blocks of time arise. To adopt a hypothetical situation, let’s say the next week is fixed but nothing beyond that. Is there still LFW?

    Comment by clark — July 12, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

  47. Clark,

    Not during that interval. And no one would argue that indeterminism is a sufficient condition for LFW. Necessary, yes – sufficient no.

    The concept of a fixed future has a perfectly adequate definition. It means the future states are a fixed function of prior states – the defining characteristic of determinism – the future is determined or fixed by the past. Probably the most well defined philosophical concept ever devised.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 12, 2007 @ 8:21 pm

  48. Yep, I have the same answer. There would be no LFW during that hypothetical interval.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 12, 2007 @ 8:23 pm

  49. Isn’t it enough to assert that of the options we are aware of, LFW seems to be the best and only candidate for what can deliver the requirements of a moral life and a life in which rationality is possible?

    Comment by Blake — July 12, 2007 @ 10:57 pm

  50. I thought some of you might like a slightly different take on the issues. I favor determinism from the perspective that the prophets have consistently taught that God knows future states for actions which He holds such people accountable for. I do so because I know that starting from a purely philosophical background, I simply won’t have all of the correct premises and facts to come to the correct conclusion (as opposed to the “best and only candidate” of Blake’s previous post).

    However, since we are discussing the philosophical implications of our beliefs, I’ll try to answer the questions in post #37 (just to get things rolling–I recognize they weren’t directed at me).

    1. Do you agree that determinism is incompatible with the type of responsibility required by the gospel?

    No. The incompatibility is usually expressed in some form of “doing other than you did/will do” but I don’t think responsibility comes from some power to do otherwise.

    2. Do you agree that the addition of randomness is not sufficient to salvage responsibility from causal determinism?

    I am actually unsure whether philosophical “randomness” is well-defined or simply incoherent.

    4. Do you agree that any solution which genuinely supports responsibility will require that people have some degree of control over what they do?

    Yes. But isn’t that definitional? For something to exist, doesn’t it have to have some degree of control over what *it* does?

    Best,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 15, 2007 @ 1:56 pm

  51. P. Nielsen,

    In the literature, there are two types of control described, “regulative control” and “guidance control”. Guidance control is the weak sense – control evidenced by an effective causal connection between intent and action. Regulative control is the strong sense – control evidenced by the ability to take different actions given the same set of prior conditions.

    A compatibilist would say that “guidance control” (such as that apparently exhibited by an aircraft auto-pilot) is all that is necessary to attach moral responsibility. A libertarian incompatibilist would say rather that “regulative control” is required – that guidance control alone is too weak to establish that the responsible party could have done otherwise given the same circumstances, and that such an ability is necessary to make an ascription of moral responsibility to an untoward action meaningful.

    You have stated that you disagree with this assertion. So what do you think are the conditions required for moral responsibility instead?

    For example, suppose a drunk driver seriously injures an innocent party one day. How are we to hold him responsible if it has never been possible for him to avoid drinking, not from the day of his birth, nor before?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 15, 2007 @ 5:09 pm

  52. P. Neilsen: For something to exist, doesn’t it have to have some degree of control over what *it* does?

    I don’t think so. Rocks exist. Do you assert that a rock has “some degree of control” over what it does? (See the discussion of the moral responsibility and rocks in the last thread.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 15, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

  53. Geoff J,

    If you were to say, “The rock did action A” then yes, I would say the rock has “some degree of control” over action A (otherwise the rock didn’t *do* action A). But it appears I misunderstood “control” as used by Mark so I will address that now.

    —-

    Mark D,

    While I would classify myself as a compatibilist in some regards, I don’t accept the idea that “guidance control” is *all* that is necessary to attach moral responsibility. Even little children and animals have guidance control, but we don’t hold them accountable. I believe that one must also (at least) have a certain degree of intelligence, and know God’s laws (i.e. have the light of Christ, or a conscience).

    Also, I have never understood it when someone has said something to the effect that a “responsible party could have done otherwise given the same circumstances”. Are you saying that if I am pondering whether or not to steal a donut and I choose not to, and you had some way of reversing time, and erasing the future I just created, then it is not only possible but likely that I would choose to steal the donut after all (if you repeated the process enough times)? (If not, tell me what you mean.) Not only does that seem like a strange thing to posit, but it would bother me *more* than all of the issues with determinism. And it would seem to lead into randomness, wouldn’t it? Anyway, I’d appreciate you laying down exactly what you mean, so I can grasp what sort of LFW you subscribe to.

    Anyway, in my understanding there is a lot that is required for moral responsibility. And in fact, I lean towards the idea that it is simply a mystery. But, for the sake of moving the discussion forward, I will attempt to answer your implicit question: The conditions needed are 1) a God, 2) a knowledge of His rules, and 3) an understanding of the difference between good and evil. I personally believe that “guidance control” is just an aspect of existence, so it goes without saying.

    Maybe you could present a scenario where you believe guidance control (and the above) are insufficient for moral responsibility.

    Best,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 15, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  54. Geoff J,

    In thinking about it a little more, I realize I may have been a little flippant in stating what I did state. I might rephrase it by saying that “control” is relative to your point of view.

    Do you control your hand movements? You would answer “Yes” (unless you aren’t able–in which case I apologize!), but in reality you control only the neurons which send signals to your hand, do you not? And yet, your hand is part of *you*, so you do control it. Besides, do you really control those neurons, or does the process recede back further? Where do *you* reside? It is this issue of “what am I composed of” that is at the heart of the issue in my opinion (and also goes to answer those scenarios you might have seen about evil scientists implanting brain control chips).

    The answer, I think, is that our identities are more fluid than we are prone to believe at first. We humans have fairly distinct borders between each other (from our point of view–without implanted brain-control devices) but look at the life-cycles of some marine animals. It is pretty neat how they can merge together, break apart, and merge again.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 15, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  55. P. Nielsen,

    Libertarian free will (LFW) is indeterminist by definition. It requires a sui generis kind of causation generally called agent causation where a sentient being creatively influences the future in a manner not fully determined by prior conditions, nor which is random.

    That means that yes, given a sufficiently borderline case, a different decision could issue in the time reversal scenario, one that would be traceable to the free will of the agent itself in each instance. Otherwise free will wouldn’t be free.

    On some views this agent causation is a property of a spirit or an eternal intelligence, on other view it is an emergent property of a living organisms. It is not something that physics can currently explain, but there are reasonably persuasive arguments that moral responsibility is meaningless without something of the kind.

    I repeat the scenario I raised before. A drunk driver critically injures an innocent person. How are we to hold him responsible if there never was any possibility that his drinking could have been avoided, not on the day of his birth, nor before?

    That is what determinism entails, and that is a prima facie argument that moral responsibility in a deterministic world is nonsense and furthermore that divine judgment for actions a person never had regulative control over (i.e. could have avoided) is absurd.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 15, 2007 @ 8:49 pm

  56. P Nielsen,

    You may be interested to check out the Free will vs. determinism category of posts here at the Thang. (See this category for the related discussion of foreknowledge as well.) As you might surmise, all of the standard arguments against LFW and for determinism/compatibilism have been hashed over at some length. Mark did a nice job in #55 of summarizing some of the reasons why after all that debate I am more firmly convinced that the restored gospel fails in the absence of some form of LFW than I was going into these debates.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 15, 2007 @ 9:17 pm

  57. Dear Geoff J,

    I recognize that I’m jumping in at the middle, so to speak. Thanks for the links. I had already looked at the “Does God know the biggest number” thread. Being a mathematician by trade, I could have shed some light on the arguments, but it appears it was settled well.

    I’m here both to give another perspective that might differ from what you’ve seen before, and learn in the process.

    —————–

    Mark D.,

    I understand that LFW is indeterministic by definition. But, there are all kinds of determinism, as I understand it. For the moment, I’ll assume you are using something like “all future moments are a function of previous moments”. I personally accept a slightly weaker form–i.e. future moments can be determined by God (but this doesn’t, for example, necessarily imply that time and causality are linear).

    I also understand the claim that libertarian free will involves its own kind of causation, which is further claimed to neither be determined by prior conditions, nor be random. I have yet to see any good argument that such a thing could even exist. What do you see as the difference between such a “creative influence” on the future as opposed to a “random influence”? In other words, is there any thought experiment we could run to differentiate between the two?

    Along these lines, I am further interested in your answer to the following question: Is there a way to define LFW without resorting to scenarios which are entirely (logically!) impossible (such as “if we could reverse time and erase the future, but not change any starting states [and yet remember what you chose in that future], you *could* do differently”)? My lack of training on these subjects may be showing now, but I have never seen a definition of LFW which doesn’t resort to such.

    I’m also interested in what you mean by “borderline case”? Are not all freely chosen acts, according to LFW, such? If not, how can we hold anyone morally responsible (under your view) when we don’t know which cases are borderline or not?

    I repeat the scenario I raised before. A drunk driver critically injures an innocent person. How are we to hold him responsible if there never was any possibility that his drinking could have been avoided, not on the day of his birth, nor before?

    That is what determinism entails, and that is a prima facie argument that moral responsibility in a deterministic world is nonsense and furthermore that divine judgment for actions a person never had regulative control over (i.e. could have avoided) is absurd.

    You are asking, implicitly, how justice and morality relate to “possible worlds.” Determinism (at least the form I subscribe to) does not rule out a “possible world” where the guy decided not to drink after all. That seems to be a mischaracterization of compatibilism.

    Best,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 16, 2007 @ 9:51 am

  58. P. Nielsen,

    You are asking, implicitly, how justice and morality relate to “possible worlds.”

    I don’t think it is really a question about possible worlds. The question is: How can you hold someone morally responsible for an action which it was never in their power to avoid? Of course, this causes us to examine the meaning of “in their power.” In a deterministic paradigm, “in their power” turns out to mean “is what they did because of how their atoms are arranged.” Thus, the best you can do is to hold them responsible for being what they happen to be, which again, was never in their power to control (they turned out this way because of how their atoms used to be arranged).

    It is like holding a rock morally responsible because it does not float. The fact that you behave in a certain way does not mean you are responsible. Responsibility requires that it was in your power to do something else and you chose not to do so. This is why other possible worlds allowed by determinism do not help. Saying that I would have done something different if the big bang had been slightly different does not make me morally responsible for an action which was destined to happen from 15 billion years before I was born.

    Do we hold the drunk driver accountable because there is a possible world in which he is not a drunk, or because he could have (and should have) brought a designated driver in this world?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 16, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  59. P. Nielsen: I have yet to see any good argument that such a thing could even exist.

    Blake has a pretty good theory of how agent causation might work. See here for a short version of his theory.

    As for arguments that LFW in general could exist– The point of these last few posts is to emphasize the argument that the restored gospel implodes if there is no such thing as LFW in one form or another. From a Mormon perspective, arguing for a fully deterministic (or random) universe is a non-starter since there can be no moral responsibility as required by the Plan of Salvation in such realities.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 16, 2007 @ 11:12 am

  60. Geoff J,

    I’ll take a look. Thanks.

    ——-

    Jacob J,

    I think before one explores what “in their power” means, one should explain what “hold someone morally accountable” means? For example, if I answered your question by saying “I hold them morally accountable because they knew the law, and were not coerced into their actions by outside forces, and recognized good and evil” what is your response? I think this will help me understand where you are coming from.

    I don’t think it is really a question about possible worlds. The question is: How can you hold someone morally responsible for an action which it was never in their power to avoid? Of course, this causes us to examine the meaning of “in their power.” In a deterministic paradigm, “in their power” turns out to mean “is what they did because of how their atoms are arranged.” Thus, the best you can do is to hold them responsible for being what they happen to be, which again, was never in their power to control (they turned out this way because of how their atoms used to be arranged).

    The “possible worlds” come in when defining power. Do you not define power in terms of “possibilities” (i.e. possible worlds)?

    It is like holding a rock morally responsible because it does not float.

    Is there a possible world where the rock does float?

    Responsibility requires that it was in your power to do something else and you chose not to do so.

    I would say that responsibility requires that is was *possible* for you to do something else, and you chose not to do so.

    Saying that I would have done something different if the big bang had been slightly different does not make me morally responsible for an action which was destined to happen from 15 billion years before I was born.

    True. That’s why I don’t buy into that sort of determinism.

    Do we hold the drunk driver accountable because there is a possible world in which he is not a drunk, or because he could have (and should have) brought a designated driver in this world?

    What does it mean when you say “he could have…in this world”? It means, if I am not mistaken, exactly that there was a possible world where it did happen.

    Best,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 16, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  61. if I answered your question by saying “I hold them morally accountable because they knew the law, and were not coerced into their actions by outside forces, and recognized good and evil” what is your response?

    To respond, I would need to know many more details about your view. Your careful use of the phrase “outside forces” leads me to guess that you are doing the standard compatibilist thing of saying we can hold people morally accountable for behaving they way they do so long as their internal makeup was part of determining what they did. If that is what you are saying, I would respond as I did in #58.

    The “possible worlds” come in when defining power. Do you not define power in terms of “possibilities” (i.e. possible worlds)?

    From several of your comments, it seems clear that we have been talking past one another on the topic of “possible worlds.” I do define power in terms of possibilities. I think we need to be more precise about where possibilities arise. In the usual deterministic universe, everything that happens is a consequence of the prior state of of the universe. (In #57 you said you accept a weaker form of determinism, but I couldn’t tell what you meant by your description of the kind of determinism you accept.) If the usual deterministic universe is the real one, then possibilities do not exist at the time an agent makes a choice. The last time there were real possibilities (not merely logical ones) was at the big bang (since we don’t know how to trace physical causality into the darkness of Planck time, but everything after that has been causally determined by prior states). That is why I mentioned the big bang. In your view, where do actual possibilities exist?

    Is there a possible world where the rock does float?

    Of course. The universe could have unfolded such that this rock would have formed to be pumice instead of granite.

    I would say that responsibility requires that is was *possible* for you to do something else, and you chose not to do so.

    Again, where do you situate the possibility? Are you talking logical possibility, possibility on the time-scale of the universe, or possibility at the time that the choice was made.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 16, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

  62. P. Neilsen,

    The problem with responsibility can be seen as boiling down to whether there is a fixed future or an open future. In a universe where the future is fixed, there can never be the power for anyone to opt-out of their predestined fate. If no one can opt out of their fate then how could they be held “responsible” for any of their actions when they are literally not able to respond any differently than their predestined fate dictates? Yet that is what full determinism gives us.

    Also, you said something about “I don’t buy into that sort of determinism”. I don’t know what you mean buy this. What kind of determinism do you have in mind exactly?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 16, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  63. P. Nielsen,

    All statements implicitly refer to this world unless otherwise specified. Of course things might be different in some alternate reality, but in this world (if determinism is correct) the drunk driver never had regulative control over whether he drank or not.

    In an alternate reality, anything goes – the driver might not even exist. How anything in an alternate reality relevant to his moral responsibility in this world? It is the ultimate cop-out.

    By borderline condition, I refer to the fact that any sensible theory of LFW has joint causation. The driver has a genetic inheritance, and his nature and instincts are the result of lifelong conditioning. Self-conditioning in particular which in LFW he is personally responsible for due to his history of free choices.

    So in a time reversal scenario, the probability with which an agent repeats the same action surely depends on the balance between his physiological instincts and agent causal regulative control in that situation. A borderline situation would be the sort of decision where red flags are raised internally causing the agent to consider carefully the action he is about to take, which would certainly increase the dominance of immediate agent causal influence over developed instinct.

    Finally the difference between agent causation and randomness is that the agent purposely chooses which action to take in the former case. There is no purpose inherent in random influences, by definition.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 16, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  64. Dear Mark, Geoff, and Jacob,

    I am enjoying your comments. However, there are three different fronts I seemingly have to address. I think I’m going to have to limit my responses quite a bit, and focus on just one little thing at a time, just to keep up.

    I can answer one thing now (and I’ll try to get to something else later tonight). The sort of determinism I believe in is that the future exists in such a way that God can view all time. I don’t necessarily believe that the future is simply a function of past states however.

    Best,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 16, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

  65. P. Nielsen,

    The type of “simple foreknowledge” that you describe does not necessarily require determinism, but it has several of the same weaknesses.

    Notably, it appears to be a useless ability. What good would it do for God to see the future if he couldn’t change it?

    More on this topic here.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 16, 2007 @ 7:29 pm

  66. Dear Mark D,

    I agree that it doesn’t necessarily require determinism (in a strong sense). But I do not believe it to be a useless ability. In fact, I believe it was Brigham Young who said that we couldn’t be just judges until we, like God, knew the future.

    Besides, even the Book of Mormon points out another use of knowing the future; you can make back-up plans (a.k.a. the plates of Nephi).

    Cheers,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 16, 2007 @ 8:22 pm

  67. P. Nielsen,

    The idea of making a backup plan for a known future is logically incoherent. Indeed, if one can see the future, making any kind of plan is incoherent.

    Or do you mean to say that God sees a probable future rather than the actual future, and he is making contingency preparations for events that may or may not come to pass.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 16, 2007 @ 8:37 pm

  68. Dear Mark,

    You are creating a straw-man. I never said God makes “back-up plans.” Further, I do not believe the statement “if one can see the future, making any kind of plan is incoherent”. It depends on the manner of seeing the future. For all I know, when God sees the future it is a mystical creative synthesis, just as LFW posits. [In fact, I'm even tempted to argue that if indeed LFW is coherent, so would a simple foreknowledge of God in which the future is creatively synthesized. More on this below.]

    I do not see it as likely that God’s dealing with the Nephites, regarding the plates of Nephi, was a contingency plan in the (improbable) case that Martin Harris chose to do good, and happened to join Joseph, and Joseph happened to ask three times, and God gave the go-ahead, and then Martin happened to fail to live up to his promise. And what about the prophecies that it would be Joseph who translated the plates? etc..

    But I’d like to get back to the comment:

    Finally the difference between agent causation and randomness is that the agent purposely chooses which action to take in the former case. There is no purpose inherent in random influences, by definition.

    I’m not sure I follow. What definition of “random” are you using? I thought it would be logicaly possible (if randomness is coherent) for someone to randomly but purposefully choose to do either A or not A. In fact, don’t a few studies say that many people give purpose to their actions after the actions have been decided (and even acted) upon?

    Also, one more question for all three of you. But first a little background. In geometry, Euclid came up with five postulates (or axioms) thousands of years ago. And the rest of geometry was derived from these basis rules. For a long time, it was an open question whether the fifth axiom followed from the other four. Finally, it was shown that it didn’t. The fifth axiom was: “given an line L and any point P, there is a unique line through P parallel to L.” The proof that there was no proof of postulate 5 from the others was that one can model *in Euclidean geometry* spaces which do not satisfy axiom 5, but do satisfy axiom 4 (and vice versa). From these ideals, what is now called “model theory” was born. It was discovered that many familiar systems can be modelled in different (and seemingly contradictory ways).

    So, here is my question. From everything I’ve seen, nobody has been able to come up with any way of testing whether or not our universe is deterministic or not. But I am further wondering whether there are actually two compatible models of the universe, one of which is deterministic, and the other has LFW and indeterminism. In other words, can one prove that if the universe can be described via LFW and indeterminism, can it equally be described via determinism (and vice versa)?

    Cheers,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  69. Dear Mark,

    To my chagrin, I looked back at my post, and I did indeed say “back-up plans.” I apologize!!! That isn’t quite the concept I was trying to portray. Sorry for the confusion!

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 7:42 am

  70. P Nielsen,

    But I am further wondering whether there are actually two compatible models of the universe, one of which is deterministic, and the other has LFW and indeterminism.

    If we were really going to pursue this question seriously, it would lead to a discussion of subjectivism (or perspectivism if you prefer). If you believe there is a objective reality (despite whatever limitations we have in ascertaining the nature of that reality) then “determinism” and “indeterminism” are not just ways of interpreting our experience, but statements about the way things really are. If this is the case, then it is logically impossible to be both deterministic and indeterministic simultaneously (via the law of noncontradiction).

    Describing the same system in various geometries is not like describing them in terms of determinism and indeterminism because in the former case, there is a mapping from one description to the other. In the latter case, the two descriptions would flatly contradict one another about the facts of the system. So I don’t see how the two descriptions could be compatible.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 17, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  71. Dear Jacob J,

    You are right to a point. I agree that it is impossible to be both deterministic and indeterministic simultaneously (unless logic is wrong, and in that case, what can we say?). However, I am not entirely sure you grasp the contradictions that do arise when mapping from Euclidean geometry to non-Euclidean geometry. The descriptions can contradict one another *from inside the system* but not from without.

    Let me give a concrete example to wrap your brain around. Suppose we are in the usual 3-dimensional Euclidean geometry. Lines are lines, points are points, and we can use our everyday intuition here. Now, picture a sphere. If we wrap a line around a sphere, we get a circle on the sphere. Sometimes these circles don’t intersect one another, but if they do intersect then they can do so in one or two places (as opposed to lines which only intersect in at most one place). We call these circles A-lines (A is for Alternate). One can define geometry using A-lines rather than real lines. However, to someone in Euclidean geometry, it would be contradictory to speak of lines when one means A-lines. And yet, the point is that there is a geometry with *lines* (if you will) intersecting in two places.

    But, anyway, that is slightly getting off the point. The real point is what happened later, when mathematicians found out that they can come up with *different* models of the *same* structure. So, if you like thinking of the “natural numbers” as existing in objective reality; model theory is not for you. My question is this: Is there a *nice* deterministic model for an indeterministic world (and vice versa)? [I will try to define *nice* below.]

    One reason I bring this up is because oftentimes I’ve heard it said that the problem with determinism is that we don’t have “real” choice (whatever that is). I think this is speaking to the issue of models, at some level. These people simply do not like the deterministic model of the universe; but are not dissatisfied by how the universe really is (per se).

    Further, I *do* think you are right that the mapping plays into part of the problem. As I understand it, compatibilists do not take “agency” to mean “the image of agency from an indeterministic world, mapped to a deterministic one.” [I suppose this would look like a computer given a program to think it has free-choice.] On the other hand, I am wondering if there is a *nice* mapping (not the straightforward one) which does allow compatibilism to correspond to LFW.

    Cheers,
    P. Nielsen

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 10:59 am

  72. Dear Mark,

    You said:

    How anything in an alternate reality relevant to his moral responsibility in this world? It is the ultimate cop-out.

    As I understand it, the idea of “possible worlds” is a technical way of talking about possibilities for the universe which are not logically necessary. If it were *logically* necessary for him to drive drunk, then (I think you’d agree) we couldn’t hold such a person accountable. So, having the possibility of doing something else if extremely important.

    Did that answer you question about how I see moral responsibility is (at its basic level) intertwined with possible worlds?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  73. P Nielsen (#71),

    I don’t think your concrete example about geometries requires any amendments to my previous comments. I suppose if you come up with a “nice” mapping like the one you are after it would get a lot of attention. At the moment, I am convinced such a mapping does not exist, but I would be willing to consider one if it was proposed. Simply musing that perhaps there is a solution no one has thought of doesn’t seem to get us very far. Earlier in this thread, Clark was championing the idea that there might be something which is not LFW, not determinism, not randomness, which would explain choice adequately and support responsibility. I view your suggestion (that there is nice mapping which would allow compatibilism to correspond to LFW) in much the same way as his. Geoff said it more colorfully in #36.

    In general, I am suspicious of analogies because they tend to obscure and obfuscate more often than the illuminate and elucidate. Your comparison to geometry only further cements this for me. I don’t see any likelihood that we will finally reconcile determinism with indeterminism by leveraging analogies to Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry. Almost always, the desire to think about things by way of analogy indicates that we don’t understand the thing well enough to think about it directly. And if that’s the case, how will we be able to know where the analogy works and where it breaks down?

    Finally, I don’t think my objection to determinism is a issue of models as you suggest. Several times already in the comments here, various people have explained in very direct and coherent ways why determinism, per se, is incompatible with moral responsibility. They haven’t just appealed to a term like “real choice” without defining that term. I am committed to the existence of robust moral responsibility, so I reject determinism. If it turns out that I am wrong, then there was no chance that I could have been committed otherwise, so it’s not like I could have done anything about it. (g)

    Comment by Jacob J — July 17, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  74. P Nielsen,

    By the way, in #61 I asked you about when and where you think possibilities arise/exist, but I never got an answer. Your #72 still fails to answer this central question, so I remain confused about what you are thinking of when you talk about possible worlds.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 17, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  75. Dear Jacob,

    Fair enough. I personally think such a nice mapping does *not* exist also. In fact, I think some of you probably know (intuitively) why, and may be able to explain it to me.

    You asked earlier:

    In your view, where do actual possibilities exist?

    In my view, there are many places possibility can exist. Usually, I use it in reference to logical possibility (that which is not necessitated by logic). I think we can agree that it is logically possible for me to (eventually) steal a penny.

    Where do you situate possibility?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 11:40 am

  76. P Nielsen,

    Usually, I use it in reference to logical possibility

    In #60 you said that “‘possible worlds’ come in when defining power.” If you are referring to logical possibilities, how does this help define power (and thereby help support moral responsibility)? The fact that something is logically possible doesn’t imply that it is in my power to bring it about. Frankly, I don’t see how logical possibilities help with the problem of responsibility at all.

    Where do you situate possibility?

    The only three places I can think of to place possibilities are (1) at the big bang, which we agreed is not sufficient (#60 again), (2) random events such as those in some formulations of QM, which I think we will easily agree are not sufficient, and (3) choices, which is where LFW says possibilities exist, but compatibilists disagree.

    So, if you agree that responsibility is tied to power (as we seemed to agree on earlier) and power is defined in terms of possibilities (which you suggested yourself), then the only option I see which supports moral responsibility is (3). Is there an option I have neglected?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 17, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  77. Dear Jacob,

    In #60 you said that “‘possible worlds’ come in when defining power.” If you are referring to logical possibilities, how does this help define power (and thereby help support moral responsibility)? The fact that something is logically possible doesn’t imply that it is in my power to bring it about. Frankly, I don’t see how logical possibilities help with the problem of responsibility at all.

    Here is how I might begin to define power.

    Power is the ability to bring about, in a possible world, a certain outcome (where the outcome doesn’t depend on the free actions of others). I’ll give a few examples outlining my idea.

    1) Suppose Tom is in a room. He wants to get out. He goes over to the door, and exits.

    Clearly, in this example, Tom has the power to exit the room. In a possible world (in fact, the real world) he brought about the desired outcome.

    2) Suppose Tom is in a locked room. He wants to get out. He tries the door, but it is locked. He tries kicking the door, but it is too sturdy.

    Clearly, in this example, Tom does not have the power to exit the room. Further, there are no possible worlds (with exactly the same starting conditions–Tom locked in the room, as he exists at time t) in which he is able to open the door.

    3) Tom is in a room, which isn’t locked. He doesn’t desire to open the door, and dies of starvation in the room.

    In this example, under my definition of power, Tom had the power to leave the room, because in a possible world (with the same starting conditions) he could have left (as in example 1). He just chose not to, in the real world.

    4) Tom is locked in a room. The lock is controlled by a mad scientist who has programmed it to unlock for .2 seconds and then lock again, every 35 minutes. Tom tries the door, and it won’t open. He desires to get out. But he just doesn’t happen to try the door when it is unlocked.

    Again, under my definition, Tom does have the power to leave the room (even if he thinks otherwise).

    5) An evil scientist has implanted Tom’s brain with a device to make him never desire to open the door.

    Under my definition, Tom does not have the power to leave the room.

    6) An evil scientist has implanted Tom’s brain with a device, which the scientist controls. The scientist is currently undecided what to do, but later lets Tom leave.

    Under my definition, Tom did not have the power to leave the room [even though he did leave] untill the scientist made his decision.

    Anyway, you get the idea. Feel free to poke holes in it.

    The only three places I can think of to place possibilities are (1) at the big bang, which we agreed is not sufficient (#60 again), (2) random events such as those in some formulations of QM, which I think we will easily agree are not sufficient, and (3) choices, which is where LFW says possibilities exist, but compatibilists disagree.

    So, if you agree that responsibility is tied to power (as we seemed to agree on earlier) and power is defined in terms of possibilities (which you suggested yourself), then the only option I see which supports moral responsibility is (3). Is there an option I have neglected?

    First, yes you have neglected the possibility that ‘possibilities’ refers to ‘possible worlds’.

    Second, I’m not sure I understand what you mean by your option 3. Could you clarify?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  78. P. Nielsen,

    Do you believe any of your 1-6 help you defend your claim that there can be real moral responsibility even if the future is fixed? If so I don’t see how.

    Also, Jacob’s option (3) simply asserts that LFW exists and that agents really are free to choose between open options. What part of that needs clarification?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 17, 2007 @ 6:11 pm

  79. P. Nielsen: Power is the ability to bring about, in a possible world, a certain outcome (where the outcome doesn’t depend on the free actions of others)..

    This won’t work for the kind of freedom at issue. For one thing, even rocks have such power. A rock could roll down a hill and bring about a land slide. That isn’t freedom in the relevant sense.

    Further, I believe that Jacob is right. In some possible world I can move my foot even though a 300 pound rock is on it. However, that kind of possibility doesn’t entail that I have power to move my foot with a 300 pound rock on it in the actual world. So it seems that what powers are relevant to free will are local world powers — those that we have under the same circumstances as the actual world where given the history of the world up to t and can still either a or not-a at t.

    Comment by Blake — July 17, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

  80. Dear Geoff,

    Do you believe any of your 1-6 help you defend your claim that there can be real moral responsibility even if the future is fixed?

    No. I was just giving some scenarios. If you find specific flaws/weaknesses in my definition, feel free to point them out.

    Also, Jacob’s option (3) simply asserts that LFW exists and that agents really are free to choose between open options.

    But what *are* these mysterious options that play a central role in the definition of LFW? Are they not two different *possibilities* for the future? One cannot define possibilities in terms of LFW, and then define LFW in terms of possibilities.

    So, the part that needs clarifying, in my mind, is the resolution of this apparent circularity. Where does possibility really lie?

    Cheers

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 7:40 pm

  81. Dear Blake,

    This won’t work for the kind of freedom at issue. For one thing, even rocks have such power. A rock could roll down a hill and bring about a land slide. That isn’t freedom in the relevant sense.

    I was defining power, not freedom. One is necessary (but not sufficient) for the other. At least that is how I understand it.

    For example, electrons have the power to power my home, but I do not (necessarily) suppose they have significant freedom.

    Further, I believe that Jacob is right. In some possible world I can move my foot even though a 300 pound rock is on it.

    Explain how you believe that is possible (given the same state of affairs, that obtain at time t). Are you saying that there is a possible world where, even with all of the observations we have made, it is not contradictory for a man of your stature and muscle make-up to life a 300 pound rock with his foot? Some sort of ‘change of physics’? If so, that would be covered by my “doesn’t depend…on others” with the appropriate modifications, would it not? Or maybe there are no appropriate modifications, and I am implicitly assuming the universe obeys certain laws. I’ll have to give it some thought.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 17, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

  82. P. Nielsen: Since possible worlds track merely logical possibility, there is no contradiction in a person of my height and strength lifting a 300 pound rock in some possible world (this follows simply from the logical nature of possible worlds). Now it is clearly nomically impossible for a person under the same circumstances that I exist to lift a 300 pound rock — but that is just my point. If the laws change (so that gravity on earth is like on the moon of Mars Phobos), then I could lift a 300 pound rock.

    It is not enough to give some necessary conditions for freedom (like being alive, being conscious and so forth), you must provide necessary and sufficient condition for free will and show that they don’t require LFW. Giving non-sufficient conditions (of which there are an infinite number) is just avoiding the issue at issue.

    Possibility lies in the power to choose A or not-A, or to choose X or Y, or to choose A, B C, … among a range of options.

    Comment by Blake — July 17, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

  83. P. Nielsen: But what *are* these mysterious options that play a central role in the definition of LFW?

    There are no mysterious options. There are only intuitive and obvious options. Like your choice to respond to me at all. You did not have to but you freely chose to do so. Or your free choice to bold only the word options.

    However, if the future is fixed you had no choice in any of those matters. You were predestined to respond to me with those exact words and at that exact moment before you were even born. And you had no choice but to bold the word options even though you were under the illusion that you could choose otherwise. (Just as I would be predestined to respond to you just this way in just this moment.) That is the type of universe a fixed future gives us and that is totally incompatible with the restored gospel.

    In other words, if the future is fixed (as required by your preferred simple foreknowledge) there are no legitimate “possibilities” at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 17, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

  84. Is the future fixed? It is to God. He knows what’s going to happen. That’s why he never does anything out of anger. God is not going to drown the earth in a flood without knowing that he’s going to do it way in advance. So, no reason for Him to be angry while flooding the earth. He know’s how it’s gonna turn out. If you were God and you knew the eternal progression of every person that you drowned in the flood.. it might be a happy moment. Or just a moment.

    Noah is gonna tell the world that God is angry with them because the prophet Noah is a person and that’s how people think. Prophets talk to us in the language we understand. Fear is a great factor to consider. But I can’t see how God could ever be angry with anything if He knows past, present and future of everything. What’s there to be mad about. I find hope and possibility in the that fact that God knows where I’m going to end up. That he loves me and I can never make him angry. I don’t feel as though my future is fixed, but there is no doubt that God has known since the beginning where I’m going to end up…. if there is an end to enertity.

    Comment by JoeyG — July 17, 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  85. P. Nielsen,

    The difference is that in LFW there are real alternative possibilities and in determinism there are not.

    A real possibility is one that might actually come to pass. An alternative possibility is one that is genuinely uncertain (i.e. does not have a truth value yet).

    Logical possibilities are irrelevant. It is logically possible the moon is made of green cheese, but that gives no guidance as to what the moon is really made of.

    In a deterministic world, every contingency is either certain or impossible. The man may have apparent ability to leave the room at 4:00. He may have apparent ability to stay. However, if he actually leaves the room at 4:00 we know for certain that he lacked the power to stay, and if he stays we know for certain that he lacked the power to leave. There are no alternative possibilities in determinism, no power to do otherwise.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 17, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  86. JoeyG,

    I think you are wrong. Further, I think that if you were right the entire gospel and Plan of Salvation as we understand it would be a sham. Further, if you were right God would be as predestined as all of us are and no one would be free to choose anything.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 17, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  87. The same constraints apply to any world governed by simple foreknowledge, by the way, just for a different reason. Either way the future is settled, and thus no alternative possibilities, and no power to do other than what might as well be already captured on film and shipped to the distributors.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 17, 2007 @ 10:36 pm

  88. Blake,

    Since possible worlds track merely logical possibility, there is no contradiction in a person of my height and strength lifting a 300 pound rock in some possible world (this follows simply from the logical nature of possible worlds). Now it is clearly nomically impossible for a person under the same circumstances that I exist to lift a 300 pound rock — but that is just my point. If the laws change (so that gravity on earth is like on the moon of Mars Phobos), then I could lift a 300 pound rock.

    There are two easy ways then to salvage my definition.

    Option 1: Restrict “possible worlds” to “nomically similar, possible worlds”.

    Option 2: Define power relative to classes of possible worlds. So, for example, you wouldn’t have power to move your foot in possible worlds which are nomically similar to our own.

    It is not enough to give some necessary conditions for freedom (like being alive, being conscious and so forth), you must provide necessary and sufficient condition for free will and show that they don’t require LFW. Giving non-sufficient conditions (of which there are an infinite number) is just avoiding the issue at issue.

    I am not trying to avoid the issue. I am, however, participating in a 4-1 conversation, with people who are more knowledgable (and have conversed more often) on this subject. Therefore, I only biting what I can chew. I may get around to formulating my definition of freedom, but for the present I think I will restrict my attention to the issue of “possibilities” (and related issues) until I understand where everyone is coming from.

    Possibility lies in the power to choose A or not-A, or to choose X or Y, or to choose A, B C, … among a range of options.

    I don’t find this is a good definition. Firstly, because we speak of possiblities which we do not have the power to bring about. Secondly, because I am not sure how you are quantifying your statement. Are you saying the power to choose “A or not-A”, or the power to (“choose A” or “choose not-A”) or the power to choose A, or the power to choose not-A. (Do you see these as significantly different options?)

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  89. A very interesting debate. I need to give it more thought and ask myself some tough questions. The concept of free will and choice taught to me was always in relationship to this world. My life here. Not before or after. I was always told that we don’t know how it works on the other side.. so don’t worry about it. It’s almost like we stop choosing after this life is over, Which can’t be true.

    It seems like conformity is the ultimate goal for the righteous and i find that troubling.

    Comment by JoeyG — July 18, 2007 @ 7:31 am

  90. Mark and Geoff,

    I see your posts as being similar enough that I’d like to respond to them together.

    Geoff said: There are no mysterious options. There are only intuitive and obvious options. Like your choice to respond to me at all. You did not have to but you freely chose to do so. Or your free choice to bold only the word options.

    The reason I used the word mysterious is two-fold. Firstly, because when I think of options/possibilities/choices, I think in terms of possible worlds and logical possiblities (suitably modified by words like “nomically similar”). This is the “intuitive and obvious” definition, from my point of view. However, none of you seem to be using this definition. So, it isn’t clear to me what definition you are using.

    Secondly, there is this (seemingly) circular method of defining possiblities, as mentioned in my previous post to you.

    However, if the future is fixed you had no choice in any of those matters. You were predestined to respond to me with those exact words and at that exact moment before you were even born. And you had no choice but to bold the word options even though you were under the illusion that you could choose otherwise. (Just as I would be predestined to respond to you just this way in just this moment.) That is the type of universe a fixed future gives us and that is totally incompatible with the restored gospel.

    I think you are making the modal fallacy. Check out: http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/swartz/modal_fallacy.htm Just because you will do what you do, does not mean you must do so necessarily. A fixed future doesn’t imply you don’t have choice (at least, it isn’t *obviously* the case). I think you need to throw some sort of determinism into the mix as well.

    Now, to the real *meat*. Geoff you said: In other words, if the future is fixed (as required by your preferred simple foreknowledge) there are no legitimate “possibilities” at all. Mark, you said: A real possibility is one that might actually come to pass. Notice what both of you have done. You have added qualifying words to the term possibilities, namely ‘legitimate’ and ‘real’. What do you mean by the word without the qualifiers? (Then we can discuss what you mean by the qualifiers.)

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  91. P. N. With respect to possible worlds, if we limit the worlds in question to those nomically similar then it defeats your view of compatibilism since we don’t have power to change the past or the nomically similar laws that obtain. Now the entire concept of possible worlds becomes problematic because what we mean is not logically possible, but what is possible given the kinds of natural laws that obtain in the actual world. So determinism follows and we don’t have any power to do other that what is entailed by the conjunction of past facts and nomic laws.

    Second, I was not quantifying anything since I didn’t make any statements or propositions. I am merely stating the types of choices over which our possible choices range since that is what you asked for. The choices range over contraries (a or or not-a), over alternatives (x or y) or over a larger range of choices than a binary alternative (a, b, c, ….). That is an exhaustive list. Whether we actually have power to bring about such choices is a different question. But the range of possibilities is different than the range of possibilities that are up to us to bring about by our choices.

    Comment by Blake — July 18, 2007 @ 7:43 am

  92. P. Nielsen: If you limit necessity to merely nomic and logical necessity, then your position is well-taken. However, these are not the only types of necessity. The argument from foreknowledge turns on “past necessity,” or the notion that none of us, not even God, has power to change the past. If a past state of affairs entails a future states of affairs, then the future state of affairs is just as fixed and beyond our power to change as the past state of affairs. This is what is called “power entailment” in the philosophical literature.

    So if God infallibly foreknows in 2,000 B.C. that I will rob a 7-Eleven on 18 July 2007 at 10:01 a.m., then this past fact is not something that I can change because it entails that I will rob when God knows that I will. If God knows this fact because the future is already before him to see in some sense, then everything in the future is just as fixed and beyond our power to alter or change as the fact that God knew these things.

    Comment by Blake — July 18, 2007 @ 7:53 am

  93. Blake,

    With respect to possible worlds, if we limit the worlds in question to those nomically similar then it defeats your view of compatibilism since we don’t have power to change the past or the nomically similar laws that obtain. Now the entire concept of possible worlds becomes problematic because what we mean is not logically possible, but what is possible given the kinds of natural laws that obtain in the actual world. So determinism follows and we don’t have any power to do other that what is entailed by the conjunction of past facts and nomic laws.

    First, I think I may have slightly abused the term “compatibilism” earlier, to give you the mistaken impression that that I believe in full determinism. Second, I am undecided about whether nomical laws cannot be changed (or affected) by us (at least some of them).

    Second, I was not quantifying anything since I didn’t make any statements or propositions. I am merely stating the types of choices over which our possible choices range since that is what you asked for. The choices range over contraries (a or or not-a), over alternatives (x or y) or over a larger range of choices than a binary alternative (a, b, c, ….). That is an exhaustive list. Whether we actually have power to bring about such choices is a different question. But the range of possibilities is different than the range of possibilities that are up to us to bring about by our choices.

    Thanks for the clarification. [I was thinking you were using "power" and "choose" as quantifiers.]

    If you limit necessity to merely nomic and logical necessity, then your position is well-taken. However, these are not the only types of necessity. The argument from foreknowledge turns on “past necessity,” or the notion that none of us, not even God, has power to change the past. If a past state of affairs entails a future states of affairs, then the future state of affairs is just as fixed and beyond our power to change as the past state of affairs. This is what is called “power entailment” in the philosophical literature.

    I am undecided about whether time is linear. However, I’m not sure that saves me from this issue, because I also favor the idea that we can’t change anything (in the strong sense of the word “change”). I’ll give this some thought and reply later.

    So if God infallibly foreknows in 2,000 B.C. that I will rob a 7-Eleven on 18 July 2007 at 10:01 a.m., then this past fact is not something that I can change because it entails that I will rob when God knows that I will. If God knows this fact because the future is already before him to see in some sense, then everything in the future is just as fixed and beyond our power to alter or change as the fact that God knew these things.

    I agree. We don’t have the power to alter or change things that will happen, under this scenario. One of the reasons, I suppose, that I’m not (yet) an LFWist is that I haven’t seen a convincing argument that power to *change* things (as opposed to the power to do them) is important for true freedom. Could you give me your argument why such a power is important?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 8:27 am

  94. P Nielsen: Just because you will do what you do, does not mean you must do so necessarily.

    As Blake just pointed out, this is incorrect. If God knows I will rob a 7-11 tomorrow then it is a fact and I have no power to change it. Even if I knew that was my fate I would have no power to change it. If I had power to change it then God wouldn’t know it would happen after all. (BTW – This very problem was played out interestingly in the movie 12 Monkeys.)

    What do you mean by the word [possibilities] without the qualifiers?

    I mean “no possibilities”.

    Could you give me your argument why such a power is important?

    I’ll quickly give you mine. As noted earlier if God knew I were fated to rob a 7-11 tomorrow I would have no power to choose or think or do otherwise. I would have been predestined and fated to rob that 7-11 on that date and time from before the foundation of the world. Therefore how could it is possibly be just for God to judge me for that robbery if I could not opt out of it? If I have no power to do anything else how would I be morally responsible for that action in any way?

    So in answer to your question; our having the power to choose between open options is an absolute requirement in the gospel. Without it there is no responsibility, this life is no probation, we are not really free to choose anything, and the notion of a judgment is a sham. That is why the power to choose is so important and why the idea of a fixed future must be theologically jettisoned in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2007 @ 9:09 am

  95. JoeyG,

    It seems like conformity is the ultimate goal for the righteous and i find that troubling.

    I agree, it is troubling to me too. I recently started posting on that topic here and here. You may find the discussion there interesting as you ask yourself those tough questions.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 9:11 am

  96. Geoff,

    As Blake just pointed out, this is incorrect. If God knows I will rob a 7-11 tomorrow then it is a fact and I have no power to change it. Even if I knew that was my fate I would have no power to change it. If I had power to change it then God wouldn’t know it would happen after all. (BTW – This very problem was played out interestingly in the movie 12 Monkeys.)

    Blake’s argument utilizes “past necessity” arising from foreknowledege. I am not familiar enough with the concept to know whether it also applies to just a “fixed future” (but which God does not know), but I thought it didn’t. Blake, can you clarify?

    Next, I asked: What do you mean by the word ‘possibilities’ without the qualifiers?

    Your response was: I mean “no possibilities”.

    This literally does not make any sense. When you say “real possiblities” you mean “real no possibilities”? No only is this circular, it is self-contradictory.

    “Real yibbles are important.”
    “What are yibbles?”
    “They are no yibbles.”

    Cheers.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 10:09 am

  97. My mistake. I intended to say it means “the opposite of no possibilities”. In other words, the qualifiers used do not change the intended meaning of the word “possibilities”.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2007 @ 10:14 am

  98. Geoff,

    Let me check that I am understanding you. It seems that your use of the word “real” is not meant to qualify “possibilities” but rather to point to your dislike of a deterministic world, where you don’t feel possibilities can even exist (possibilities are *unreal* in a deterministic world). Is this correct?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  99. P. Nielsen: Blake’s argument utilizes “past necessity” arising from foreknowledege. I am not familiar enough with the concept to know whether it also applies to just a “fixed future” (but which God does not know), but I thought it didn’t. Blake, can you clarify?

    I’m not sure what you’re asking me to clarify. For the libertarian the future is not fixed but a realm of open possibilities. The past, however, is over and done with and cannot be changed.

    Comment by Blake — July 18, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  100. P. Nielsen (#98),

    Yeah that’s pretty much it. In any world with a fixed future (including a fully deterministic world) there are no “possibilities” at all. The past and the future are equally fixed in such a world. There may be perceived possibilities but no real possibilities. Compatibilists are often satisfied with such “hypothetical free will” but the gospel requires actual free choices and not just hypothetical free choices to work. So I often throw in the word “real” in these discussions to make sure the compatibilists are clear on what I mean.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  101. Blake,

    My question was whether “past necessity” only arises when one assumes simple foreknowledge and a fixed future, or whether one can drop the hypothesis of foreknowledge, and just work with a fixed future.

    ——-

    Geoff,

    Yeah that’s pretty much it. In any world with a fixed future (including a fully deterministic world) there are no “possibilities” at all. The past and the future are equally fixed in such a world. There may be perceived possibilities but no real possibilities. Compatibilists are often satisfied with such “hypothetical free will” but the gospel requires actual free choices and not just hypothetical free choices to work. So I often throw in the word “real” in these discussions to make sure the compatibilists are clear on what I mean.

    Thanks for the clarification. I think you are defining ‘possibilities’ to mean something like: “That which actuality might in fact turn out to be.” And I sort of know where you are coming from–but to me this still smacks of possible worlds.

    Let me give you a challenge. If you can, try to define ‘possibilities’ without reference to words such as ‘can’, ‘could’, or ‘might’. [Basically, avoid all words which mean the same thing as 'possiblities' or make reference to 'possible worlds'.] If you are able to do so, it might help me understand what you mean by the word.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

  102. P.Nielsen: And I sort of know where you are coming from–but to me this still smacks of possible worlds.

    I am totally baffled by the way you keep using the term “possible worlds”. I have seen it used to show that some things are *logically possible* but that is apparently not how you keep using it here. What on earth do you mean by that phrase?

    Let me give you a challenge. If you can, try to define ‘possibilities’ without reference to words such as ‘can’, ‘could’, or ‘might’. [Basically, avoid all words which mean the same thing as ‘possiblities’ or make reference to ‘possible worlds’.]

    What the…? Define the word possibility but don’t use any words that are synonymous with it? This is getting absurd mate. Are you just yanking our chains here?

    I am just using the run of the mill and common definition of the word possible in this discussion. Nothing worthy of getting hung up about. Here are some definitions of “possible” from a dictionary:

    1 a : being within the limits of ability, capacity, or realization < a possible but difficult task> b : being what may be conceived, be done, or occur according to nature, custom, or manners

    2 a : being something that may or may not occur < a possible surprise visit> b : being something that may or may not be true or actual

    3 : having an indicated potential < a possible housing site>

    synonyms POSSIBLE, PRACTICABLE, FEASIBLE mean capable of being realized. POSSIBLE implies that a thing may certainly exist or occur given the proper conditions < a possible route up the west face of the mountain>. PRACTICABLE implies that something may be effected by available means or under current conditions < a solution that is not practicable in the time available>. FEASIBLE applies to what is likely to work or be useful in attaining the end desired .

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  103. P Nielsen,

    You seem to be getting very hung up on the “possible worlds” thing, but we have already clarified this a number of times. We all agreed that possible worlds refer to logical possibilities. Can you see the difference between a logical possibility (something which is not prohibited by rules of logic) and an actual possibility (a future state which is not ruled out by the current state of the universe in combination with the laws of the universe)? Does that definition help?

    Back in #77 you said “First, yes you have neglected the possibility that ‘possibilities’ refers to ‘possible worlds’.” Can you see now that I didn’t neglect this? I specifically covered the implications of logical possibilities in the comment you were referring to (#76).

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  104. P. Nielsen: My question was whether “past necessity” only arises when one assumes simple foreknowledge and a fixed future, or whether one can drop the hypothesis of foreknowledge, and just work with a fixed future.

    Only a fatalist maintains that the mere truth of propositions about the future entails that the future is fixed. Aristotle developed a fatalist argument. However, my view is that propositions about the future that are not deterministically fixed by past circumstances have no definite truth value.

    Comment by Blake — July 18, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  105. Geoff: I am totally baffled by the way you keep using the term “possible worlds”. I have seen it used to show that some things are *logically possible* but that is apparently not how you keep using it here. What on earth do you mean by that phrase?

    From: Possible worlds

    In philosophy and logic, the concept of possible worlds is used to express modal claims. In philosophy, the term “modality” covers such notions as “possibility”, “necessity”, and “contingency”. Talk of possible worlds is very widespread in contemporary philosophical discourse (especially in the English-speaking world), though much about them is disputed.

    Anyway, it looks like I am not conveying clearly the root issue in my mind. So let me try to spill it out as fully and deeply as I can. Please realize I will not be able to make everything I say completely precise.

    The way I view ‘possibility’ is in terms of modal operators in logic. See: Modal logic Something is ‘possible’ if it is not necessarily logically false. [Notice that this definition is not circular, and so may lessen your dislike of my challenge. I honestly wasn't trying to be absurd, or yank your chain.] One can modify the operator, so as to speak about things which are not necessarily nomically false, or not necessarily metaphysically false. I initially thought one of these modified versions was what you guys were meaning by `real’ possibility.

    The interpretive framework I give to this view is the notion of ‘possible worlds’. Some worlds are logically possible, some are nomically or physically possible. Some are simply impossible.

    Now, it is clear you guys have a problem defining ‘possibility’ as ‘not logically necessary’. Do you still have a problem defining it as ‘not nomically (or physically) necessary’?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 2:19 pm

  106. P (#105),

    In this one comment you have used two very different definitions:

    (1) Something is ‘possible’ if it is not necessarily logically false.

    (2) Now, it is clear you guys have a problem defining ‘possibility’ as ‘not logically necessary’.

    “Not necessarily logically false” is not the same as “not logically necessary.” If you are talking about logical possibilities only, then I am fine with using (1), but (2) is not correct. Definition (1) is equivalent to what I offered in #103 for a definition of logical possibilities. Definition (2) implies that things which ARE logically necessary are not possible, which is clearly absurd.

    I am increasingly becoming convinced that none of this is getting us anywhere. Do we have any reason to suppose that logical possibilities have any bearing whatsoever on the problem of free-will that we are discussing?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 2:50 pm

  107. Jacob,

    You are correct that I ordered words incorrectly in the second quotation you gave. Thank you for bringing that to my attention, and I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

    You also said: If you are talking about logical possibilities only, then I am fine with using (1)…

    I am not talking about logical possibilities only. I thought I made this clear. I’ve said this a few times, but I’ll say it again: One can quantify what sorts of possibilities one is talking about (with words like “nomic” or “physical”). However, as Geoff said previously, to him there are only “real possibilities”, where “real” is not a quantifier, and possibilities does not refer to logical necessity.

    If you feel frustrated, think how I feel. I am the one using the standard definition of ‘possibility’ which three of you seemed not to use nor accept. I am the one who has four other posters questioning different aspects of my posts, so I am having to constantly clarify my position. Of course it will look like we aren’t getting anywhere, because we aren’t getting anywhere!

    So, to fix this problem, I’ll leave you all with one question, and not respond to anything tangential.

    Can you use quantifiers and modal logic to explain what you mean by ‘real possibilities’? If not, feel free to clarify.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 3:47 pm

  108. Blake: However, my view is that propositions about the future that are not deterministically fixed by past circumstances have no definite truth value.

    Are you saying that you believe it is logically incoherent for future events to have definite truth values, or that you favor a logic system in which future events have no truth values, or something else entirely (e.g. that truth values have a strong meaning in the actual world, apart from a system of logic, and the future doesn’t possess this property)?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  109. P,

    I know it is hard to respond to so many people at once. In #103 I explained what I meant by real possibilities within the bounds you prescribed in #101.

    Real possibility: A future state which is not ruled out by the current state of the universe in combination with the laws of the universe.

    If that doesn’t work for you, tell me where it goes wrong. This is the kind of possibility I am arguing must exist at the time of choosing for their to be moral responsibility. There must be more than one possible future state when I make a choice or it is no choice at all. Does that help at all?

    (BTW, I wasn’t trying to take advantage of a miswording. I thought you really meant “not logically necessary” because you used the same wording back in #72.)

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  110. However, as Geoff said previously, to him there are only “real possibilities”, where “real” is not a quantifier, and possibilities does not refer to logical necessity.

    Dude. I didn’t say that. I said I didn’t mean anything particularly special by adding “real” in front of the word possibility. I agree that definition (1) works just fine.

    Do you even have a point bro? (Particularly one that remotely relates to defending a fixed future in Mormonism?)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 18, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  111. Jacob,

    I was programmed from the big bang to ignore parenthetical remarks. (g) That is a good definition, sorry I passed over it earlier. And thanks for the sympathy, I was feeling a bit frustrated.

    Okay, the specific type of determinism I subscribe to (call it ‘soft determinism’ if you like) is just that future states can be determined, not necessarily from physical laws, nor from the entirety of the past. I believe there is some method in which one could potentialy view any time.

    My type of universe does not suffer from a lack of real possibilities-under your definition. The future is not caused by the past physical state of the universe. (In fact, many Mormon compatibilists I know do not subscribe to a determinism where everything is fully determined by physical laws.) However, it is possible that my universe does suffer from a lack of possibilities in another sense, as suggested by Blake, via “past necessity”.

    You believe that physical possibilities are necessary for moral responsibility. What other sorts of possibilities do you think are necessary?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 4:50 pm

  112. P,

    I will restate your position to make sure I understand. You believe that all future states can be determined. I assume that by “determined” in the previous sentence you mean that it is possible for God to figure out what the future states of the universe will be.

    So, here is where I need clarification on your view. What is there for God to use in determining what the the future will be besides (1) the entirety of the past, (2) the current state of the universe, and (3) the laws of the universe? You said it is not just from physical laws and the entirety of the past. What else is there?

    What other sorts of possibilities do you think are necessary?

    Well, really I think it must be possible in every sense (I don’t have a good list of all types of possibility). If I am going to be held morally responsible for choosing A rather than B, it must be possible (in every sense) for me to bring about either A or B at the time of my choice.

    So, if A is a logical possibility, but not a physical possibility because everything is causally determined and it is already in the cards that B will obtain, then I am not morally responsible for bringing about B.

    If God had infallible knowledge back in 1950 that I would choose B here in 2007, then my choosing A would make God incorrect. But according to my premise, God cannot be incorrect because he knows infallibly. Thus, I cannot genuinely choose A if God foreknew that I would choose B. (Either he didn’t really have infallible knowledge, or I didn’t really have the power to do either A or B.) Notice that this last argument is an important one relative to your view because it does not depend on the mechanism by which God knows the future. Regardless of how he does it, if he knows the future infallibly then all choices in the future have only one possible outcome (the one God foresaw) and they are no longer choices between genuine alternatives.

    By the way, in case you don’t know, Blake wrote a fantastic book on this subject which goes through all the ins-and-outs in great detail. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend it: Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

  113. P. Nielsen,

    I defined a real possibility in #85 as “one that might actually come to pass“. That is equivalent to the unqualified dictionary sense of possibility. It is also equivalent to the definition Jacob gave in #109.

    I also defined alternative possibility as “one that is genuinely uncertain”, i.e. a possibility that is genuinely impossible to determine whether or not it will come to pass.

    Those are perfectly adequate definitions that match the common usage of the language. Strictly speaking “logical possibility” is a misnomer because the vast majority of logical possibilities are not possible, they are only “logically possible”. Completely different concept.

    I shouldn’t have to repeat myself. Logical “possibility” per se is irrelevant to the real world. It is logically “possible” that money grows on trees. So what?

    If you ask any normal person, “Is it possible that money grows on trees?”, they will say no, it is not. That is because the common sense of the word refers to real, extant possibilities, not imaginary, non-existent ones.

    Needless to be said, there are no real alternative possibilities in deterministic worlds and in worlds governed by simple foreknowledge. “Real” as in applying to the real world. “Alternative” as in genuinely uncertain. “Possibility” as in might actually come to pass.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 18, 2007 @ 7:09 pm

  114. Jacob: I will restate your position to make sure I understand. You believe that all future states can be determined. I assume that by “determined” in the previous sentence you mean that it is possible for God to figure out what the future states of the universe will be.

    That is exactly right.

    So, here is where I need clarification on your view. What is there for God to use in determining what the the future will be besides (1) the entirety of the past, (2) the current state of the universe, and (3) the laws of the universe? You said it is not just from physical laws and the entirety of the past. What else is there?

    Good question. I simply do not know. You mentioned Blake’s excellent book. I have a copy on my shelf, and in it he discusses some methods philosophers have thought up for God to have access to future states. But I am no fan of any particular method (if indeed it is a ‘method’ in any sense we can understand). There is one thing that I could add to the list you made however. Namely, (4) the future (if it really exists ‘now’, so to speak).

    Well, really I think it must be possible in every sense (I don’t have a good list of all types of possibility). If I am going to be held morally responsible for choosing A rather than B, it must be possible (in every sense) for me to bring about either A or B at the time of my choice.I can appreciate this sentiment. However, I think at least some limitations should be made. For example, one should probably preclude types of possibilities which require randomness. Such as the possibility to choose other than you would ever want to do. At least, that is my impression, maybe I’m wrong.

    If God had infallible knowledge back in 1950 that I would choose B here in 2007, then my choosing A would make God incorrect. But according to my premise, God cannot be incorrect because he knows infallibly. Thus, I cannot genuinely choose A if God foreknew that I would choose B. (Either he didn’t really have infallible knowledge, or I didn’t really have the power to do either A or B.) Notice that this last argument is an important one relative to your view because it does not depend on the mechanism by which God knows the future. Regardless of how he does it, if he knows the future infallibly then all choices in the future have only one possible outcome (the one God foresaw) and they are no longer choices between genuine alternatives.

    By the way, in case you don’t know, Blake wrote a fantastic book on this subject which goes through all the ins-and-outs in great detail. If you haven’t already read it, I highly recommend it: Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God.

    I enjoyed the book, although I thought there were a few things that were odd. Nevertheless, it was very informative, and convinced me that assuming infallible foreknowledge (and a few other things) then one cannot have freedom in the broadest sense. I am unsure whether one could modify ‘infallilibity’, or one of the other hypotheses, to salvage free-will.

    If you like, I’ll go through his basic argument tomorrow, and hash out what I believe and do not.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 18, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

  115. P Nielsen,

    If you like, I’ll go through his basic argument tomorrow, and hash out what I believe and do not.

    Since I just laid out an argument (in the second to last paragraph of 112) for why your “soft determinism” doesn’t allow for genuine choices and moral responsibility, why not just tell me why that argument is not conclusive?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 18, 2007 @ 10:11 pm

  116. Jacob,

    I thought I’d use Blake’s argument, because he lays out all of the hypotheses, fairly explicitly. But I can cerrtainly do as you wish!

    I do not necessarily believe that God’s foreknowledge is ‘infallible’, using certain meanings of the word. I think this ties into how God views the future. As strange as it may seem (and I do admit it is strange) I believe God works by faith, and perhaps even with regards to His knowledge of the future.

    I cannot see any other issues I have with your argument.

    Cheers.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 19, 2007 @ 7:46 am

  117. P Nielsen,

    You are sounding more like an LFWer and less like a compatibilist all the time.

    Your very first position statement here was that:

    I favor determinism from the perspective that the prophets have consistently taught that God knows future states for actions which He holds such people accountable for. (#50)

    Your recent position statement in was:

    Okay, the specific type of determinism I subscribe to (call it ’soft determinism’ if you like) is just that future states can be determined, not necessarily from physical laws, nor from the entirety of the past. I believe there is some method in which one could potentialy view any time. (#111)

    However, your statement in #116 that you do not believe God’s knowledge of the future is infallible directly contradicts the two previous statements. If God’s knowledge of the future is not infallible then he does not know future states, he merely predicts them. If he is working by faith rather than knowledge, he is not “viewing” the future, or “determining” the future, he is predicting it. So, it seems you do not believe in determinism nor in infallible foreknowledge, so I don’t know where we disagree anymore.

    Have you changed your mind, or am I misreading your previous positions?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 19, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  118. Jacob: If God’s knowledge of the future is not infallible then he does not know future states, he merely predicts them.

    Changing the words, I see you as saying: If cats are not brown, then it isn’t a cat. Someone can know something, without it being infallible knowledge, in my opinion.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 19, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  119. If cats are not brown, then it isn’t a cat.

    Ummm, I think you’ll agree that when talking about God’s knowledge it is traditionally understood to be exhaustive and infallible. Thus, a different view of God’s knowledge should probably have a qualifier to effectively communicate. If we are talking about people, then I certainly agree with your usage of the word “know” unqualified.

    Either way, I am still wondering where you disagree with the LFW position. Every time we have gotten down to brass tacks on a specific point here, it seems your view is in accord with the LFW position. Do we disagree on anything? I really can’t tell anymore.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 19, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  120. Jacob,

    Do you believe God’s knowledge is exhaustive and infallible? Sorry I didn’t make it clear I don’t assume those things. I only claim to believe that “God knows all things, and there is not anything save He knows it.”

    Whether we disagree on anything with regards to free will, I don’t know. It seemed like a few posters had a problem with the future even ‘existing’, and with God able to know it.

    I think we might disagree about exactly what sorts of possiblilities are required for moral responsibility. I don’t believe all types of possiblity are required. Further, I’m not entirely (but am partially) convinced, for example, that in a world where physics conspired against a drunk driver that we cannot hold him guilty. And is not moral responsibility just like legal responsibility, i.e. being held to laws (whether one could obey them or not)? Or do you see morality as something more, whereby the laws themselves must be ‘just’ in some sense which allows people not to be held guilty?

    Let me try to give a concrete example. As far as I understand it, all mankinid was condemned, before Christ’s atonement, without the power to change this condemnation. It simply isn’t possible to be redeemed on one’s own. How can we be held to that moral standard?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 19, 2007 @ 11:16 am

  121. P. Nielsen,

    Someone can know something, without it being infallible knowledge, in my opinion.

    This sentence is self-contradictory. The word fallible means “liable to be erroneous”. The word knowledge (as applied to God) means “to be aware of the truth or factuality of”. Therefore if God knows something will happen it will in truth and factuality happen. That is what foreknowledge means. If it may not happen God doesn’t know it will happen at all. He may predict it but that is another issue entirely.

    Further, I’m not entirely (but am partially) convinced, for example, that in a world where physics conspired against a drunk driver that we cannot hold him guilty.

    That’s real nice and all but defending that position might be more useful than just asserting it.

    BTW — My Thang-troll-sense has been tingling every time you comment. Are you a troll in disguise here? Are you even a Mormon? This comment sounds decidedly creedal (and thus not Mormon) to me:

    Let me try to give a concrete example. As far as I understand it, all mankinid was condemned, before Christ’s atonement, without the power to change this condemnation.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2007 @ 11:44 am

  122. Geoff,

    My Thang-troll-sense has been tingling every time you comment.

    I imagine it is possible I am a troll, in some possible world. (g)

    If you’d like to know more about me, go ahead and google my name along with the word “mathematics.” If you follow the maze of links, you can find my personal website at the University of Iowa. Or, alternatively, you can click on My website. (I just noticed that the link to my daughter’s webpage is broken, so I’ll have to fix that later.) If you further doubt whether I am a Mormon, you can click on A webpage at BYU, and if that further doesn’t satisfy your doubts I suppose you could email some of my coauthors and ask them. Or, you could call up the Bishop of the Iowa City 2nd ward.

    I served in the Alabama, Birmingham mission, ’97-’99. I am turning 30 soon, and I have two children (although their pictures on my website are sadly outdated).

    Geoff, I feel like I got off on the wrong foot with you, and I feel like I am partly to blame. I tried tackling three (and a half) conversations at once, and that simply wasn’t working. So I’m gonna focus my energies on responding to Jacob. I appreciate your comments, and both you and Jacob were correct that I should have pointed out the fact that I don’t believe God’s foreknowledge is infallible (at least, not necessarily so).

    I base this opinion on a few scriptures. Such as the one in Alma (I think) about God learning how to succor His people, even though He knows all things. Feel free to respond to anything I say, but don’t get too upset if I don’t respond. I am going to focus my efforts so as not to step on so many toes, and in an attempt to keep my thoughts a little more coherent.

    Cheers.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 19, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  123. Geoff, you’re focusing in on the wrong element. For knowledge to be knowledge it must be true. It’s true that we’ll say someone knows without knowing that they know. So knowledge need not have indubitable justification. But to be knowledge it must be true and the argument about foreknowledge depends purely on the truth conditions.

    God can predict and know, of course. The issue then is when it becomes true. This applies to us as well, of course. Nearly everyone will say they know the sun will rise tomorrow. But when does it become true? Is it true now or is it true tomorrow?

    Comment by clark — July 19, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  124. Note P. Nielsen that I think most assume foreknowledge doesn’t rob responsibility. Now many, once they become better educated do see a problem. However, as I said, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to simply learn that our intuitions of responsibility don’t match what God does.

    Comment by clark — July 19, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  125. P. Nielsen: Beautiful family. After seeing a picture of your wife I can see why you believe in determinism. There really is no other rational explanation for how someone that pretty could end up with someone like you (grin). I suppose I should have caught onto that when my wife married me. However, I chalk it up to momentary madness on her part. That just sounds more reasonable than determinism to me — I like to think she chose me for me and not for the biological factors that determined her to like a schmuck like me.

    Comment by Blake — July 19, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  126. P.Nielsen: Or, you could call up the Bishop of the Iowa City 2nd ward.

    Hehe. No thanks. No need to show all your Morm credentials. I would have just taken your word for it.

    Clark: Geoff, you’re focusing in on the wrong element.

    I must be missing your point Clark. I simply noted that fallible knowledge is a self-contradictory term (especially since we are talking about God’s knowledge). How was I focusing on the wrong element again? Are you saying the proper focus is on “when it becomes true”? I guess I can see that. That gets back to the key question of whether the future exists to be known now or not. I again contend that the restored gospel as taught by modern prophets implodes if the future already exists to be known.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 19, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  127. P. Nielsen,

    By the way, the standard response to the question of how God not having perfect foreknowledge squares with his knowledge of all things is to point out that the future is not (yet) a thing. It doesn’t exist. It isn’t part of reality.

    God can know all things, all of reality, without having perfect knowledge of that which is as yet not part of it.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 19, 2007 @ 1:32 pm

  128. Yeah Geoff. Relative to theology, I see the main topic the question of truth and whether there are truths about the future.

    The old problem is the exegesical one. While there’s plenty of text talking about responsibility that LFW people will point to there are also plenty of texts talking about the future existing in some sense.

    Comment by clark — July 19, 2007 @ 4:58 pm

  129. Clark,

    I don’t think common language ever treats the future as an extant thing with settled properties.

    Though great emphasis may be placed on the certainty of future events, no rational speaker ever fails to distinguish the certainty of that which is past from that which is future.

    If I say, “Monday’s meeting will definitely finish before 2:00 p.m.” no one in their right mind treats that assertion with the same certainty as “Last Monday’s meeting finished before 2:00 p.m.”

    Any text that refers to the future as an extant thing is certain to be speculative, mystical, or philosophical. If the future were certain like the past we could all say things like “I took a bad spill on my bike tommorrow and now my knee hurts.”

    Can there be any better reason for the “arrow of time” than the obvious fact that the future does not exist yet? And if the future does exist, why don’t (macroscopic) future events ever cause effects in the past?

    After all, if determinism were true, the past is just as liable to be a function of the future as the future the past. Is Christ’s crucifixion a consequence of his resurrection? Mozart’s talent a consequence of his future audiences? Our present infirmities a consequence of sins we commit in the future?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 19, 2007 @ 10:31 pm

  130. Blake,

    I read your post to my wife, and she said, “Is that the guy whose book you have on our shelf?” I thought that was funny. Thanks for your compliments.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 20, 2007 @ 8:32 am

  131. Mark, I’d disagree. I think language frequently does this. But I wasn’t talking about normal speech but about scriptural speech which definitely does this.

    I’d also say that it doesn’t follow in the least that if determinism is true that the past is a function of the future rather than vice versa. But of course most don’t buy determinism. (The fixity of the future isn’t determinism, of course)

    As for the future affecting the past, I don’t really see that as an argument against the existence of the future. After all GR has pretty good reasons for this. And it may well be that QM demands that the future affects the past. (Cramer, of the transactional interpretation of QM, actually is conducting some interesting experiments along that line)

    Comment by Clark — July 20, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  132. Clark,

    The “arrow of time” is a complete mystery to science. All the basic laws are time symmetric to the degree that science cannot even explain the most basic facts.

    Causality is the obvious one – give me one solid reason why we do not have memories of future events. The second law of thermodynamics will not do – besides its mysterious temporal asymmetry, if the second law governed memory we should have a better memory of the future than of the past. Entropy goes up in the +t direction, down in the -t direction right?

    So what else is out there that explains the absence of memories of the future? Presentism, the idea that only the present exists at any given time, coupled with the idea that time asymmetry is fundamental to causality (and free will) is a far superior explanation of the realities of every day life than a theory which has no basis for distinguishing the future from the past. The evidence is so strong that any denial borders on solipsism.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 20, 2007 @ 5:22 pm

  133. Mark, I think that’s overstating things quite a bit. Although I suppose in part it depends upon what one demands as “an explanation.” Have you read Dieter Zeh’s book on the subject? It considers all six different arrows of time. It does a very thorough job. (The fifth edition just came out, although I’ve not checked it out to see what differences there are from the version I have)

    Now in a sense as there is no GUT in physics yet and arguable the nature of time is a big issue in both string theory and loop quantum gravity (the two leading candidates) one can argue we don’t have a clue. But as I said I think that is vastly overstating things. We can talk about the nature of time in the physics we know as well as the nature of time in string theory and LQT as well as in less accepted approaches.

    Comment by clark — July 22, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

  134. Clark,

    That looks like an excellent book. I would like to see more books that treat the philosophical issues of time with the same seriousness as the physical issues. The reviews say that Zeh convincingly establishes the observer-relatedness of entropy.

    Supposing that is exclusively the case, what then makes it such that all known observers (including machines) sense that they are moving in the same temporal direction – all forward, none back?

    If time is symmetric, or even mostly symmetric, why don’t we see foreshadowings of all energetically intense events? Shouldn’t evidence of the engravings on a stone appear before the engraver makes them, for example?

    Finally, what is it about physics that makes it impossible for an asteroid to materialize from a crater and go hurling off into space?

    It is the unheard-of-ness of all of these theoretically possible events that leads me to conclude that science is far from providing a plausibly complete explanation of causality, while LFW is one of those things that gives definite meaning to the word – in a way fully consistent with the evidence.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 22, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  135. Mark, I don’t have time to address all that. I’d suggest picking up the book. It’s the seminal treatment of the issue. I should warn folks that it is very technical. So a background in physics is pretty necessary. For a less technical book on the topic Huw Price’s Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point is the best book. (Although it’s a bit dated now – Zeh’s book engages Price’s views)

    Comment by clark — July 23, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  136. after reading both part I and II of these debates I have 2 questions that I am unable to answer.

    1) If compatibilist ideas are true, can I change? Meaning is there any possible way to overcome my predetermined self. I agree God could change me, but that choice is his, ergo I have no responsibility and no ability to do anything other than what I am.

    2) If LFW is true, what makes that choice? what is that thing? I think my previous choices, innate personhood or whatever we call it affects the choice, but what is it in me that makes my choice not determinism,what at that exact moment is choosing? Blake’s idea says I choose and create but what chooses? what is that part of me that chooses and why do I choose what I choose?

    I dont like compatibilism because Id like to think I can, to be cheesy, change my stars, but with LFW I have no idea why I change them.

    And lastly, one ?. how does all this relate to agency. IE can someone really take away my agency in either model?

    Comment by Joshua Madson — July 27, 2007 @ 4:09 am

  137. Joshua: what is that part of me that chooses and why do I choose what I choose?

    You choose. Nothing external to you. The core of you is what chooses. That is the point. If you have no idea why you do things that is a personal problem — you can’t blame that on anything or anyone else. And that is what agency is all about. That is why you are indeed morally responsible. And that is why the plan of salvation and our probationary state here make sense.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 27, 2007 @ 8:57 am

  138. Geoff,

    What I’m asking is what is the core? Compatibilist have been saying in these threads it is my character or some nugget and essentially we are pre-determined to make certain choices and we are unable to change those.

    What is the core in your model? me? but what is me?

    Comment by Joshua Madson — July 27, 2007 @ 10:20 am

  139. I saw a question above about why we don’t remember future events. I wonder if that’s part of the veil of forgetfulness?

    It’s hard for me to imagine a state where time doesn’t exist, and I think that many of the theories I’ve seen dealing with free will and the omniscience of God tend to fall down because there always seems to be some element of “time” hidden in them. If God is sometimes compared to “light” then could he be operating in that strange place where Einstein says time stops, etc.? Can we even comprehend this? Can these things be reasoned out by fallen man or is this one of those things that can only be received through revelation? I don’t know.

    I posted the following in the wrong area. I will re-post it here since maybe this is a better area to post such a comment in:

    “If I observe what you ate for breakfast yesterday and saw that you ate eggs, that doesn’t mean there was only one choice before you or that you didn’t actually make a choice but were compelled to eat eggs, you could have chosen Cheerios(TM) and I would have just seen that instead. I think “me seeing” and “you choosing” are not connected in any way.”

    If the events of our future are unfolding to us, perhaps covered by a veil or something similar, and if God can see this future, could it be that He is just observing what we will choose? Not that He’s predicting or knowing enough to determine what we’ll choose, but just looking at what we will/did choose? If time doesn’t exist to Him, isn’t Him looking in the future the same as me looking at what you ate for breakfast yesterday?

    I am really trying to figure this out and I am not saying anyone is right or wrong, I’m just throwing some ideas out there. I apologize if these ideas have already been beaten to death. Let me know.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  140. I’m interested in rcronk’s question also. I’ve only quickly skimmed Blake’s chapters on this (though I plan to read them carefully eventually), as well as the myriads of pages of discussion on the topic here, but it seems that all the arguments rely on God being not only “in time,” but limited to being in time. Although I think trying to talk about God outside of time is doomed to failure (since we are limited to being in time), I don’t see any compelling reason to think that God couldn’t be outside of time in some sense that we, in time, simply can’t grasp….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  141. Also, despite my claim in #140 that it’s probably pointless to try and grasp how God could be outside of time, I have wondered about this trite little analogy about rereading a novel. There’s a sense in which I think we can be “in the time” of the novel in commiserating with the characters as they go through heart-wrenching experiences, “exercising their will” in a sense, feeling like the characters have many options open to them even though we know what will happen. Obviously this analogy has my weaknesses, but somehow thinking about this kind of analogy makes me hesitant to say that God can’t know the future, being both inside and outside of our time like we seem to be both inside and outside of a novel’s time….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  142. (By the way, I have a more elaborate version of this novel analogy/thought-experiment where I as the reader am allowed to intervene in the lives’ of the characters and the novel changes, and this process continues until I agree to quit intervening and the plot reaches some sort of equilibrium, and the reality that we experience is only this equilibrium reality. But I’ll spare you the other in’s and out’s I’ve thought about in this little analogy…)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  143. Cronk and Robert,

    I agree with both of you that if we hold out for a solution which is simply incomprehensible to us, then there is no way to refute such a possibility After all, showing it to be incoherent doesn’t gain any ground on it. (On a side note, if your position is that it is incomprehensible to us as humans, I’m not sure why you need to add in the explanation about God being outside of time, which ends up meaning nothing more than that it is incomprehensible to us.) So, if this is the position, I don’t think it is possible for discussion/debate/reason to add anything, simply because the position rests on the idea that human logic will show it to be problematic and that human logic is incapable of solving the problems. Is there any point in trying to lift a rock which is, by definition, to heavy to be lifted?

    However, if you are suggesting that it is comprehensible, then maybe I can help. Even if you believe that God is timeless (which he isn’t, wink), there still must be some intersection between time and timelessness, because God intervenes in history. He does this when he makes prophesies, or when he is born on the Earth, et cetera. As a consequence, it must be coherent to talk about God knowing something before it happens. For example, it must be coherent to say that God knows today that I will eat eggs tomorrow.

    So, let me break this down with the appearance of a formal argument, but none of the rigor. Blake goes through the formal arguments in his book.

    (1) Today, God knows that I will eat eggs tomorrow.
    (2) At the time I choose whether to eat eggs or Cheerios, God already knows that I will choose eggs.
    (3) If I choose Cheerios, I will either
    ………….(a) make God incorrect, or
    ………….(b) my choice will be a cause with an effect in the past.
    (4) Making God incorrect (3a) violates premise (1) so it is not possible.

    So, we are left with (3b) the option of backward causation, which is that my choices cause God’s knowledge to change in the past. This is problematic on a multitude of fronts. Without going into all of them, notice that it is not very useful foreknowledge if that knowledge gets changed at the time of the actual decision. In fact, that sounds a lot like concurrent knowledge rather than foreknowledge. Also, do we really think that every decision we make goes back and changes what was in the mind of God before the world was created?

    Now, I’ll let you tell me which part of that you want to explore further.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 12:11 pm

  144. I agree with both of you that if we hold out for a solution which is simply incomprehensible to us, then there is no way to refute such a possibility. After all, showing it to be incoherent doesn’t gain any ground on it.

    I used to think that LFW could not be true, because it seemed impossible to me. Then I realized that I can’t think of any explanation for divine timelessness but still have some thought that it might be true anyway. Shrugs.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 30, 2007 @ 12:24 pm

  145. Jacob J,

    I was thinking about this very issue the last couple of days and I think I have come to a revolutionary conclusion (for myself).

    I believe that *any* sort of useful foreknowledge requires backwards causation. For instance, take the case of Alma 5:48.

    I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.

    If God knows the future, and He reveals the future to people in the past, then the future has had an effect upon the past, and caused something to happen.

    If we suppose God has a foreknowledge of the future which is useful at all, it must affect what He does in the past, including what He reveals to others.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 12:43 pm

  146. Yeah – those are the types of paradoxes that exist in all time travel movies. If I go back in time and affect it, it will affect the future, which then might affect the past again, etc. forever.

    If God can see the future (in whatever means he does this) then He’s just seeing what I have already chosen – “speaking of things in the future as if they had already come to pass.” That’s a phrase from the BofM and I wonder if the prophets spoke that way at times because they had already seen the future. Apparently, Mormon and Moroni had “seen [our] day” and in order to do this, there must have been complete knowledge about what was going to happen. But apparently, we have free will. Our goal is to reconcile His foreknowledge with our free will, right?

    Ok – I’d like to take the formal argument and apply it to the past to start off with just to see if it gets us anywhere – it may not:

    (1) Today, God (and everyone else) knows that I ate eggs yesterday.
    (2) God knows now whether I chose to eat eggs or Cheerios.
    (3) If I choose Cheerios, oh, I didn’t, it already happened
    (a) N/A
    (b) N/A
    (4) N/A

    So if we can comprehend how God might be able to see the future as He does the past, then the paradox disappears without erasing free will? What think ye?

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  147. rcronk,

    In your scenario, you lack the *power* to change God’s mind. Some argue that this negates true freedom and moral accountability.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 30, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  148. Rcronk, you might wish to read up on what is called Middle Knowledge. A lot of non-Calvinistic Evangelicals like it and a lot has been written on the subject. Since most (in my experience) non-Calvinistic Evangelicals tend to embrace a thoroughgoing attachment to LFW the issue of resolving foreknowledge is pretty important to them. (The alternative is Open Theology which has a rather bad name among most Evangelical circles)

    I think the consensus is that Middle Knowledge (also called Molinianism) has a lot of problems.

    Comment by Clark — July 30, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  149. Hmm – I don’t think I’m changing God’s mind as much as we’re both just looking at the reality of what happened yesterday. Knowing what happened yesterday doesn’t take away my free will. Could He not just be looking at the reality of what “happened” tomorrow? And as He looked at it, does that take away my free will? Is there a difference between past and future to Him? If so, what is it? Obviously to us, we can “see” yesterday, but we cannot “see” tomorrow. I don’t know. I’m just throwing this idea out there to see what holes may be in it. I appreciate all feedback.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  150. Clark – thanks – I’ll go look into that.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  151. [This comment moved here from another thread-- Editor]

    The difficulties with with determinism seem to me to imply that in a deterministic world there can be no “should,” no possibility for doing right or wrong. That’s part of what the article I linked to said, and I think the argument is correct. The difficulties with libertarianism seem to be of a different type: a failure of our imaginations. I can only think of things that have reasons or things that are random. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a third category of things which is neither. I admit that I’m not able to picture such a thing, but I have hope that in the future I will be able to.
    There is an analogy in mathematics that seems useful here. It has recently been discovered that in any (sufficiently powerful) axiomatic mathematical system, there are true statements that are unprovable. There is no chain of reasoning leading to them, no road to reach them from the axioms, but they are still true within the system.
    Perhaps there could similarly be effects with no chain of causes leading to them, free from causes, yet not random (the mathematics themselves don’t have any random inputs.) This doesn’t solve the problem, but it seems like persuing this kind of thinking may someday lead to a solution.
    Until I read the proof, I wouldn’t have thought that non-provable truths were possible in mathematics. So something similar could happen with regards to this debate.
    Well, maybe I’m still breaking the rules. I hope not, since I’d like to hear what the very thoughtful people here have to say on the matter.

    Comment by Doug S — July 30, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  152. argh – I wish I hadn’t looked into that. :) that was confusing but interesting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_knowledge

    I was looking into these topics in my 2005 LDS Collector’s Edition and found some writings that dealt with agency and omniscience. I don’t think they were doctrinal statements from the First Presidency or anything though so they may fall into the “I’m just trying to figure this out like you are” category.

    Has my proposition of past and future being similar in the eyes of God been hashed out before? If so, where can I read it so we don’t have to rehash it. Like I said, I’m new to this so forgive my digging up dead horses to beat.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  153. Jacob #143, thanks for this very articulate response.

    (I esp. like the choose-your-own-adventure flavor to your response. Often when I’ve missed the discussion of long discussions like on this page I often tell myself my time is better spent reading a published, carefully edited manuscript rather than reading an old, unedited conversation that I can’t participate in. But of course published writing is non-interactive, so I rank it second to live discussion such as occurs on blogs. The accommodating way you phrased your comment made appreciate this all over again….)

    The “equilibrium” idea I had above (in #142) was, I think, essentially trying to say the same thing that you said:

    [E]very decision we make goes back and changes what was in the mind of God before the world was created[.]

    The way you phrase this in terms of God changing his mind is helpful to me. Although I can sort of loosely try to imagine God living outside of the time of this world we live in, but not outside of time more generally (to address the problems you mentioned in the other thread), then we run into this problem of free will again. That is, if God prophecies something in time based on something in time’s future, then it seems there’s a disruption of my ability to change the future. Yes, good point. I’d be rather inclined to believe that if God has foreknowledge, he is constrained not to use that knowledge in his intervening-in-the-world.

    I have a follow-on thought to this, but I’ll put it in another comment.

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 1:23 pm

  154. Hi, this is the article I referred to in comment 151:
    http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/fwill.htm
    I think it provides a carefully reasoned proof that if you accept the idea that we “should” believe what is true you’ve already given the game up to the Libertarians.
    (That was blatantly against the rules of the other thread, which is why I’ve been moved over here.)

    Comment by Doug S. — July 30, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  155. Doug S #151: Do you know if the proof requires the Axiom of Choice or one of its equivalents? I’m guessing it does because this sounds very similar to what the Axiom of Choice says (or at least implies). I strongly recommend reading Badiou (or Hallward’s book on Badiou) if you’re interested in relating math to ontology—Badiou basically says that math is the best way to talk about ontology. He takes a strong stance against Intuitionism, which I think is basically an argument against the kind of proof you are talking about being valid….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  156. Cronk (#146),

    Do I have the freedom to choose what I ate yesterday? If not, then your response fails to explain my freedom to choose in the present. Using the past as an example is going to be problematic for you because people don’t usually feel free to change the past. If the present or the future is like the past, that implies that we cannot change them any more than we can change the past.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  157. Doug S. – Thanks for the link. I will read it carefully – it looks interesting so far.

    One thing I thought of as I started reading it was that I have done things against my own will before and I could detect that part of me (the flesh perhaps) wanted to do A and part of me (the spirit perhaps) wanted to do B. I ended up doing A and feeling that I had been pushed against my own will. Later in life, I have been able to choose B and have felt good about it (perhaps the spirit got stronger).

    It would seem that not only choosing what I want to do but being able to detect this duality of nature and agreeing or disagreeing with parts of my own will would indicate that free will exists. Maybe – I haven’t thought it through yet, but it seems relevant. It’s just a thought I haven’t seen expressed here yet, but I’ve not read a lot here yet so again I might be exhuming the horse again.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  158. Jacob #156 -

    At the moment I chose to eat yesterday or tomorrow, I have free will. It seems that free will only exists at the moment we call “the present”. So it would seem that past and future are in the same boat in this regard.

    However, I could cut off my right hand and change the possibilities of writing with my right hand in the future whereas I could not affect the past in the same way. So in that way, the future and the past are different. Good question. Unless our “memories” of the past are changing without us knowing (which I guess could be possible – I’ve seen it happen in movies :), then it would seem the past is written in stone and the future is not.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  159. The proof I was thinking of was Chaitin’s work in Algorithmic Information Theory, but I guess Godel proved the main point (in any system of axioms sufficiently powerful to express arithmetic, there are true statements that cannot be proved) in his famous incompleteness theorem.

    Comment by Doug S. — July 30, 2007 @ 1:47 pm

  160. OK, following up on #153, I’m pretty inclined to believe that if God has foreknowledge, he doesn’t really use it in his intervening in this world.

    Does this mean that God’s prophecies can be wrong? Scripturally, it seems in Jonah and in 1 Corinthians 13 there is room to believe that God’s prophecies might fail. So I’m inclined toward Open Theism (which is Blake’s position and most of y’all’s isn’t it?). However, before giving in too easily, how about the following argument for the more modest claim that God has incomplete infallible foreknowledge—that is, foreknowledge of a limited number of things:

    God, as God, must make good on any promise he makes. Also, he only makes promises he knows he can fulfill one way or another. So, even if God does not have infallible foreknowledge, he keeps his word infallibly.

    If this way of thinking can hold up, then it seems a similar argument could be made that God is able to cause things to happen within certain periods of time. Like I can’t force my son to go to sleep at a certain time, but I can force him to be in bed at a certain time. In this sense, if I commit myself to putting my son to bed at a certain time, and I’m “infallibly” committed to putting him in bed by that time, then you can be “infallibly” sure that he’ll be in bed by that time.

    In this sense, God can infallibly know those things in the future that he promises or is totally committed to.

    (I’m shooting my mouth off before reading up, Jacob—hope you’re happy!)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 1:54 pm

  161. Doug S. #159, you got me curious about this relationship between Paul Cohen’s work on the Axiom of Choice and algorithmic theory. I dug up the following interesting quote about the relationship—it’s from a review of one of Chaitin’s recent books (here is where I found it):

    The axiom of choice and the continuum hypothesis are independent of the other axioms of set theory for their own set-theoretical reasons, which have nothing to do with the information-theoretic incompleteness discussed in Conversations. Algorithmic randomness is not the universal source of incompleteness, it is only one among many possible sources for incompleteness.

    Comment by Robert C. — July 30, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  162. According to the Lectures on Faith, omniscience is required for us to trust God that He can pull all this off. Otherwise we might doubt that Satan may draw us away enough to spoil the plan of salvation. Destroying man’s belief in God’s omniscience would seem to be a goal of Satan to get us to fall away in the face of difficult times.

    The reason I’m pointing this out is that doctrinally, it would seem that free will and God’s omniscience both seem to be extremely important in the plan of salvation and so rather than being quick to throw God’s omniscience under the bus because we can’t figure out how it can coexist with free will, we should continue trying to get them to coexist. Or is that me just using the “appeal to fear” logical fallacy? Thoughts?

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  163. Thanks for the information about intuitionism and Paul Cohen. It will take me a while to read about it.

    Comment by Doug S. — July 30, 2007 @ 3:06 pm

  164. Robert C. (#160),

    Now you are getting somewhere. You are arriving at the same conclusion I and Blake and Jacob and others arrived at. God certainly can control his own actions but in order for free will to be intact he does not control nor exhaustively know the future acts of other free individuals.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  165. rcronk: At the moment I chose to eat yesterday or tomorrow, I have free will.

    The problems with simple foreknoweldge are really quite simple. If God knows you will murder a loved one tomorrow because that is part of your fixed future, then there is nothing you can do to choose otherwise. Further, there would be nothing God could do to make it otherwise else he would not know it will happen to begin with. So simple foreknowledge makes you powerless to change your predestined fate and makes God powerless to do so as well. For that reason, it is a no-brainer to reject such a doctrine as false and pernicious in my opinion.

    Omniscience need not mean God knows thing that do no exist to be known (like the future). It can mean that God knows what exists to be known and work just fine.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 3:40 pm

  166. Geoff, if that’s true, how does God show prophets the future with enough detail to be meaningful? I’m not being argumentative, I’m just trying to understand “y’all’s” thinking.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  167. rcronk,

    I posted a theory about that question here. See here for all the posts so far relating to foreknowledge and here for the free will/determinism posts (some of which overplap)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  168. P.S. I keep thinking that this is the tail wagging the dog. His foreknowledge doesn’t force anything. It exists independently of my choice. I’m not sure what’s wrong in my head that’s keeping me from getting this. Combine that with my previous post’s question and I’m still churning on all of this. Help me out.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  169. Geoff – yes, I need to go read and catch up to prevent the exhumation of that dead horse again. Thanks.

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  170. No worries rcronk. Feel free to pick up the discussion here or in any of those threads after you check some of that out.

    As for God just as observer of the fixed future — that still makes him totally impotent to do anything about the future so it doesn’t really work.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 3:49 pm

  171. I will try to do better responding to several of the comments when I get time later today.

    Cronk (#166),

    Another link to something on this site which Geoff didn’t include is Blake’s post dealing with prophecy in the scriptures here.

    The short/simplified answer is that I believe God’s prophecies are not usually infallible. Usually, they are implicitely conditional. We have examples in the scriptures of this sort of thing (prophecies not being fulfilled), which is what Blake’s post above talks about, although he doesn’t mention all the examples in that post.

    There end up being very few examples of prophecies that are problematic to explain in terms of a God without absolute foreknowledge. Peter denying Christ before the cock crows, Nephites falling away after the forth generation, Martin Harris meeting with Professor Anthon are three that come to mind. I think all of those have been discussed in some detail here, I’ll have to dig up the specific comments so I can point you to the more detailed discussions.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  172. Good catch Jacob. I just added that one to the foreknowledge category. (I somehow forgot about it.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 30, 2007 @ 4:07 pm

  173. I’m thinking of the “I’ve seen your day” type prophesies by prophets where God has shown us to them. How could He shown them _anything_ at all that is meaningful about us in our day if it’s just an approximation? I assume the prophets are seeing the pollutions on the earth, the people, the carnage, the two prophets in the streets, the people killing them, the mountain splitting, the pride in the people who profess to belong to the church in the last days, etc. Without an exact foreknowledge, I don’t see how he could show them anything meaningful.

    I’ll go check out that link and see if my head explodes. :)

    Comment by rcronk — July 30, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

  174. Okay, let me take a stab at catching up.

    Robert (#153),

    I agree with you about the virutes of edited and carefully thought out papers as opposed to comment threads. Yet, as you say, the one-on-one interaction has its own benefits sometimes.

    I’d be rather inclined to believe that if God has foreknowledge, he is constrained not to use that knowledge in his intervening-in-the-world.

    Even this backed off version might have problems, depending on how you envision timelessness intersecting with time. For example, if God does not tell anyone he knows what you are going to eat, does it still count as foreknowledge? If so, then all the same problems exist. If he waits to know what we’ve done before foreknowing it (as rcronk suggests) then its not really foreknowledge anymore. So, just the bare fact of God infallibly knowing something has logical implications.

    (#160) See, shooting from the hip is fun, isn’t it? I think you are absolutely correct here. God can be sure of something in the future if he is committed to doing it and nothing can stop him from accomplishing it. Lots of prophecies can be explained by this, actually, so this is a good thing to keep in mind.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  175. Cronk,

    If God can see the future (in whatever means he does this) then He’s just seeing what I have already chosen (#146)

    Okay, which is it, the past or the future? If God is just seeing what you have already chosen that is what we refer to as the past. The things that have already happened are what make up the past. This is why the solution you are proposing ultimately fails. It is like a sleight of hand magic trick where we keep moving the past and the future back and forth and see if we can do it so fast that no one notices. This problem fo making the future into the past is what I was trying to point out in #156.

    At the moment I chose to eat yesterday or tomorrow, I have free will. It seems that free will only exists at the moment we call “the present” (#158)

    Correct. So, you must focus on the moment of choosing. Notice that this is what my argument in #143 does. Read over that until you find the flaw and tell me where it is.

    (#162), First, I have to say that the Lectures on Faith don’t hold a lot of sway with me. I don’t feel the least bit bound by their doctrine or reasoning and I disagree with the idea that God must have absolute foreknowledge for us to trust in him for life and salvation. That said, I agree with your point in #166 and #173 that prophecy is a real issue that must be considered and pondered. It is a big issue with lots of individual scriptures to consider, and lots of different ways to explain various things. After deciding that God does not know the future, it took me awhile before I felt comfortable with the issue of prophecy, and I still don’t think I have all the answers.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:37 pm

  176. P. Nielsen (#145).

    If God knows the future, and He reveals the future to people in the past, then the future has had an effect upon the past, and caused something to happen.

    This creates paradoxes and circularities that are really fun for sci-fi movies, but terrible to accept into reality. I much prefer that God’s words in the present are what have and affect on the future. When he tells people they must repent or they will be destroyed (which is what he is usually telling people), that seems to be the point. Not that the future is affecting the past, but that promises of future consequences convince us to change our behavior.

    If we suppose God has a foreknowledge of the future which is useful at all, it must affect what He does in the past, including what He reveals to others.

    Let’s consider, for a moment, what it means for God’s knowledge of the future to be useful. If God knows that in the future John Booth will kill Abraham Lincoln and he wants to prevent it, can he do so? Of course not, because he already knows what happens in the future and it is that Lincoln is shot by Booth. If I pray to God to ask him if I should marry Anne, how can he use his foreknowledge that I do, in fact, marry Anne and turn out to be miserable. Can he tell me not to marry Anne? Well, I guess so, but it is pretty useless telling me not to do it since he ALREADY KNOWS that I will marry her and be miserable. So, what is the point of telling me not to when it is a done deal from his perspective? Infallible foreknowledge is utterly useless.

    The only kind of foreknowledge that is useful is foreknowledge of possible futures. If God knows that it is likely that I will marry Anne and be miserable, he can tell me not to and I can decide to trust God and be happier. If you think God’s foreknowledge allows him to avoid things or change the future in some way, then his knowledge is of a possible future, not an already-actual one.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 30, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  177. Jacob #176, very nicely put, esp. the last paragraph and the “possible futures” thought.

    In thinking about all of this more carefully, there’s something really . . . well, exciting, I guess, about thinking about this openness of the universe. Of course this isn’t an unfamiliar thought for Mormons since we don’t (typically) believe in predestination, but somehow thinking about this foreknowledge problem deepens my sense of excitement for life. Like the phrase in Alma 42:13, “God would cease to be God”—perhaps this is only for rhetorical effect, but I’m inclined to read it as saying that this is a real possibility, even if impossibly remote. God’s existence as God is itself conditional, so the good vs. evil battle is perhaps not a 100% foregone conclusion—perhaps a probability limit of 100%, but the actuality and timing of the convergence is open and significantly depends on us. It’s this dependence and conditionality, which accompanies the a relaxed belief in God’s infallible foreknowledge, that makes me and my choices that much more meaningful and significant….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  178. Right on Robert C.

    Now you’re really catching the exciting reality of it all!

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 9:21 am

  179. Yea, I know just the excitement you mean. I have had a hard time putting it into words (I tried to in this post). I end up writing things like “what you do really matters,” as if italics will get the message across. Of course, things “matter” in some senses in a determinism world, so the words don’t necessarily communicate the feeling or the thought. But just as there is an excitement and sense of additional meaning in LFW, I think there is an accompanying dullness and loss of meaning in determinism. Just as Adam said he’s been a bit depressed since adopting determinism. I think that is just unavoidable if you let this stuff sink in deeply enough.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  180. My concern here is that some of these theories don’t seem to match scripture and testimonies of latter-day prophets. As for the future, apparently, God sees the future, past, and present all as present and so there is no difference between past and future to Him. He can see them both and He’s just an observer – it has no effect on our agency.

    If He sees that I’ll eat Cracklin’ Oat Bran(TM) tomorrow morning, to Him, I have already made that choice and He can see it as something that is present to Him. I will choose to eat that tomorrow of my own free will and He sits back and just sees me do it (I won’t see it until I chose it though) – be it future or past, His knowledge sees it all right now and His knowledge has no effect upon my choices.

    To say that I then can’t surprise Him by choosing to eat eggs over easy tomorrow is like saying I could surprise you by choosing to eat Eggs yesterday – I already chose it. To God, I already chose what I’ll eat tomorrow and He just observes it. I don’t see what I’ll choose tomorrow and so I have free will to decide what to do. His knowledge is independent of my choice completely. I wish I could convey this better in English better than just repeating myself.

    I do think the key here is an issue of “time.” If all things are present to Him, as it says in the scriptures, then I can’t comprehend how that would be. I can’t fathom how He can see the future. I can’t understand how looking at the future to Him is just like looking at the past to me. But Him seeing the future most certainly doesn’t impact or affect my own choices just as me seeing my past affects my agency in the past.

    Could it be that the gift of agency is really just a gift of having the future hidden from you? That one makes my head ache. The fact still remains that if God can see past and future as the same, He can watch both and see both and not affect my agency at all any more than me remembering what I did yesterday predetermines what I did yesterday.

    Ok, are there holes in this?

    Scripture dump follows:

    Marion G. Romney in the September 1974 Ensign stated:

    “Not only was Jesus all wise, he was also omniscient and omnipotent.

    The following report illustrates his omniscience:

    “…when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.” (Matt. 17:24–27.)

    Mark reports this illustration:

    “And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.” (Mark 11:1–6.)

    Elder Maxwell stated in the December 1978 Ensign:
    “The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.” (D&C 38:2) Not only is Jesus’ omniscience asserted, but the reason for his foreknowledge is given: he is not bound by time, and thus “all things are present” before him each moment!”

    Gen. 6:5 “God saw . . . every imagination of the thoughts of his heart.”

    1 Chr. 28:9 “Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all.”

    Job 23:10 “he knoweth the way that I take.”

    Ps. 147:5 “Great is our Lord . . . his understanding is infinite.”

    1 Ne. 9:6 “Lord knoweth all things from the beginning.”

    2 Ne. 9:20 (Morm. 8: 17; D&C 127: 2) “God . . . knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows.”

    W of M 1:7 “Lord knoweth all things which are to come.”

    Alma 40:10 “God knoweth all the times which are appointed unto man.”

    Moses 1:6 “all things are present with me, for I know them all.”

    Moses 7:41 “Lord . . . told Enoch all the doings of the children of men.”

    Moses 7:67 “Lord showed Enoch all things.”

    Abr. 2:8 “I know the end from the beginning.”

    Hel. 8:8 “he knoweth as well all things which shall befall us.”

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 9:44 am

  181. Cronk: He can see them both and He’s just an observer – it has no effect on our agency.

    If he is just an observer then he is of no use to us is he? Why pray to someone who only observes? He only would be useful if he were a participant and an actor along with us right now. But how could he be a useful actor if he knows what he will do next and has no power to do otherwise?

    Robert C’s earlier analogy about reading a book was right. If all of this already happened then we are all predestined. That would mean that the restored gospel and all this talk about trials and tests and probations and judgments is a farce. None of that is acceptable to me.

    So yes, there is a massive hole and a fatal flaw in your “he only observes” theory.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  182. Cronk,

    I’m confused by most of those quotes you used. Nothing in most them requires exhaustive foreknowledge.

    The only exception is the Maxwell quote. Yes, Elder Maxwell was of the personal opinion that God has exhaustive foreknowledge at one point. But Blake later talked with him and he backed off on that opinion. See this comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  183. Cronk,

    In the forth paragraph of #180 you appeal to the incomprehensibility of your position. As I said in the first paragraph of #143, if you think it is incomprehensible then reasoned discussion has nothing to add.

    As to your concern, there are various ways to understand the words of scripture and modern prophets that do not require God to have exhaustive foreknowledge. The scriptures are not univocal; in addition to saying God knows the future, they also portray God as not knowing the future in other places. No matter what your position, you will have to reconcile scriptures that do not on their face agree with you. Just pointing to scriptures on one side of the issue doesn’t make an airtight case.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 10:27 am

  184. Jacob,

    My point was that if God has foreknowledge of the actual future, and He exists in time (or imparts this knowledge to those who exist in time), then it must logically follow that there is backwards causation. Yes, it is seems paradoxical. But what made this discovery important to me is that if one wants to argue against foreknowledge, one should deal with this issue before looking at other ones.

    My impression is that the scriptures speak of reaching Godhood in terms of the perfect day bursting upon us. My impression is that when this happens, all time becomes as one to the person, and they choose at that moment how to interact with all of the future.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:28 am

  185. rcronk,

    I understand your position, and think there are a ton more quotes you might add to your list. However, consider the other side. They believe that the scriptures are not final (as do we), and that they are not speaking philosophically (as do we). Thus, there is wiggle room for interpretation.

    You and I are a little more literal in our understanding of the phrase “God knows what will be.” Further, we don’t have to work nearly as hard to make the scriptures fit our notions. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be done (although I think it is very hard, especially given what Joseph Smith and the prophets after him have said).

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:33 am

  186. P.Nielsen,

    Backwards causation as I understand it usually means that God can change the past. For instance, it might mean that God can make Booth’s gun misfire and miss Lincoln. The problems with backwards causation don’t just seem paradoxical, they are paradoxical.

    Also, I obviously disagree with you assessment of the message of the scriptures on the LFW issue. I believe that 99% of all scriptures assume LFW and maybe 1% could be seen as possible support for a fixed future (whether that be from determinism or simple foreknowledge).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  187. Cronk,

    Let me give you an example and have you explain it to me; this may help us understand each other more fully. What do you think it means when it says that God stood in the pre-existence and said:

    And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abr 3:25)

    Doesn’t God already know if they will do all things they are commanded? Why then does he say he needs to prove them, to see if they will do as they are commanded?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  188. Geoff,

    I didn’t say anything about the message of the scriptures on LFW. I was talking about the clear message they and the prophets have given that God knows all things which are to come. And, as I said, one can interpret this in different ways. One way is straightforward, one is harder. Until God says otherwise, we don’t know which is correct without personal revelation.

    Regarding backwards causation I think you have misunderstood the term. Try This website (found by googling the term, and taking the first page to pop up). A deterministic universe can exist with backwards causation.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  189. Jacob,

    One last comment, and then I need to get to work.

    I think the answer to your question is found in the answer to this one. Why did Christ have to learn according to the flesh how to succor His people if the Spirit “knoweth all things”?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 10:56 am

  190. Geoff – I was saying that he’s “just an observer” meaning that He’s not influencing or predetermining our choices or affecting them. He can interact with us as He did with Joseph Smith and as He has done in my own life, but He doesn’t take away my agency just because He sees all things presently. Also, just picking one quote: Hel. 8:8 “he knoweth as well all things which shall befall us.” I would say that requires complete foreknowledge. I’m sorry, I have followed the link you just posted (and the “trail” behind it) before and have not found a transcript of a discussion with Elder Maxwell discussing how he has backed off of the opinion that God “has exhaustive foreknowledge”. Could you provide a direct link to that transcript or just quote it?

    Jacob – It is given that God sees past, present, and future all right now. I don’t understand how he does that. I don’t think not understanding that one thing dismisses reasoned discussion. Refer to Hel. 8:8 for foreknowledge. Also, what about prophecies of Joseph Smith Jr’s and Sr’s names? Which scriptures say God doesn’t have foreknowledge? I didn’t exclude them, I’m just not aware of them.

    P. Nielsen – Yes, the scriptures are not final and could have flaws, but with so many of them stating that God knows all things from beginning to end and that all things are present to Him, it’s compelling to me so far. Again, I’d like to see the scriptures that say God does not know all things. Also, which things are you speaking of that Joseph Smith said?

    I have a firm testimony of the limitations and foolishness of men and so I’m a skeptic of men’s ideas by default.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  191. Jacob (187) – I think the exercise is for us, not Him. I’ve told my kids before that I know that they’re not going to clean up their mess, for example, and they get furious – they want to prove themselves – it violates their sense of agency for me to just tell them what they’ll do (even though my foreknowledge is more of an “educated foreguess”). It’s true that we will all see what we will do as we go through this experiment. He already sees it and we don’t.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 11:02 am

  192. rcronk, you needed to look a couple comments after one of the links to find the right link. This is from Ostler’s Dialogue article (v. 17, no. 2):

    In fairness to Elder Maxwell, we must recognize that his observations are meant as rehetorical expressions to inspire worship rather than as an exacting philosophical analysis of the idea of timelessness. Furthermore, in a private conversation in January 1984, Elder Maxwell told me that he is unfamiliar with the classical idea of timelessness and the problem it entails. His intent was not to convey the idea that God transcends temporal succession, but “to help us trust in God’s perspectives, and not to be too constrained by our own provincial perceptions while we are in this mortal cocoon.”

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  193. rcronk, also, in footnote 30 to that same article (both on pp. 75-76):

    I refer to this private conversation and to excerpts from Elder Maxwell’s letter with his permission. He writes, “I would never desire to do, say, or write anything which would cause others unnecessary problems. . . . I would not have understood certain philosophical implications arising (for some) because I quoted from Purtill who, in trn, quoted from Boethius. Nor would I presume to know of God’s past, including His former relationship to time and space.”

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  194. P. Nielsen (#189),

    Answering my question with a question, very helpful.

    Cronk,

    So, your answer in #191 is to reinterpret what the scriptures says in terms of your pre-existing belief that God already knows the future. That verse says specifically that he is sending us here to see what we will do, but you discount that plain reading because it disagrees with the view you bring to the text. That same approach is open to people with different views than you hold. Make sense?

    Robert, thanks for retrieving the quotes.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 31, 2007 @ 11:34 am

  195. rcronk, I’m sympathetic to your view largely because I’m hesitant to put too much stock in our ability to logically understand God’s nature (cf. Jacob’s #143). So I’m inclined to say that “it seems logically impossible for God to have both infallible foreknowledge and for us to have LFW.”

    The implications for our systematic, theological thinking about this is that it seems we have to relax one of the assumptions, and as I said above, I think LFW trumps God’s infallible foreknowledge. Again, I think God can have a type knowledge of the future, just that it’s not infallible. Also, I think scriptures mean knowledge more in the sense of a Hebrew yada/acquianted-with type of knowledge rather than a propositional-representational type of knowledge. For example, if I have a car-mechanic check out a used car before I buy it, he might say “I know it’s a good car—it hasn’t been in a wreck, and it’ll serve you well in the future.” He can’t say for sure that the car won’t break down, but his expertise and inspection of the car allow him to say he “knows” the car inside and out, which gives him a pretty good sense of the cars past and future. I should’ve come up with a better example, but this is how I’m inclined to theologically reconcile many of the scriptures you quoted.

    However, the implications of this for my personal faith are far from obvious to me. Can God be understood in a systematic, theological way? Should we approach God this way? I’m not sure. In fact, there’s a really good article in the most recent FARMS Review (v 19/1) about this very topic by James Faulconer entitled “Rethinking Theology: The Shadow of the Apocalypse” (it’s not available on-line yet, and I don’t have my print copy yet, I heard a draft version of the article at a BYU lecture and got the Table of Contents for the Review here). I’m hoping someone here will respond to the article after it’s available on-line (or at least in print)—I have a draft copy I can email anyone who is really impatient, email rcouchZZZ@byu.edu, without the ZZZ’s.

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  196. Robert C. – Thanks – I guess I did actually get to that quote and read it, but I didn’t see where he said that God doesn’t have exhaustive foreknowledge. Perhaps that’s my fault for not having enough knowledge of the context.

    Jacob – Actually I’m just trying to look at all scripture together and get them to make sense. There are scriptures that say He knows all things. The explanation I gave was an attempt to reconcile the two scriptures. The omniscience of God seems to be more plainly laid out in so many other scriptures that I would think that His omniscience would be the fact that should remain certain while interpreting the scripture currently in question in that light. He apparently has no need to figure out what we’ll do, so it seems that it really must be for us, not Him. I can’t reconcile it the other way, where He says he knows all things including all things that will happen to each one of us, but that He needs to find out if we’ll do what He commands. To me, it makes more sense that it’s for us to find out.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  197. P. Nielsen: I didn’t say anything about the message of the scriptures on LFW.

    Ah, but you did. When you say the future is fixed you imply we do not have LFW. I think you already know this though.

    Regarding retro-causality: You sure seem to know how to pull out a lot of good links for someone who implies they are new to this stuff.

    So I commend you for not having a naive view of an unfixed past. Still, even nuanced views of backward causation suffer from problems of paradoxes.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 12:03 pm

  198. Robert C. – Thanks for your comments. I still have a hard time reconciling that God knows all things that will happen to us with Him not having perfect foreknowledge. The whole butterfly flapping its wings in China causes a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico chaos theory seems to imply that. In order for God to know that I will pick up the cup I just picked up, He’d have to see me pick it up – otherwise, He’d have to know pretty well the person who designed it, what he’d be interested in, that his parents would get married, that they’d not be killed by a truck, etc. If Joseph had died from the infection at 7 years old, there would have to be yet another Joseph with a son named Joseph who was also forordained. Without perfect foreknowledge – maybe foresight is a better word, almost nothing can be predicted. And if this knowledge is based on observing, then it is by definition perfect rather than Him just being so smart that he can look inside our free will and determine what we’ll do – He’s just seeing it the same was we see the past – but He sees the past and the future. Again, I assert that Him seeing the future has no impact on our free will any more than us remembering our past has no effect on our free will in the past. Me remembering that I just ate a McDonald’s(TM) Double Cheeseburger(TM) has absolutely no effect on the decision I just made to buy and eat it. Awareness of what I did doesn’t affect agency. It is a given that God can see all things, past and future, and so His seeing what we choose, past or future, also has no bearing on free will. Is my brain stuck?

    The implications on personal salvation for me are strong – otherwise I would not be here discussing it. I try not to have gospel hobbies that are unrelated to my salvation. I have to be able to trust in Him completely and His omniscience is a big part of that trust for me, and apparently for many prophets as they keep repeating it in the scriptures, and for Joseph Smith in the Lectures on Faith, which used to be shipped with the D&C until it was determined that it’s audience wasn’t general but directed to the apostles. I have spiritual confirmation that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Bible and Book of Mormon are the word of God and so I can trust them. I can’t trust others (no offense), but I can benefit from their own thoughts on these matters. I’m new to this and haven’t mulled it around in my head as much as many of you have. But I take it with a grain of salt as I have no spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of what y’all are saying yet. I have to use my head first and then get a confirmation later. So I’m involved with the head part now – taking what has already been confirmed to me and adding a few more puzzle pieces as I go.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  199. Cronk (#190): I was saying that he’s “just an observer” meaning that

    Right, you meant that God is not just an observer but an active participant in time as as well. That is the problem with this line of thought you and others lean on. You want God to be both outside of time just watching and within time participating. So is the God outside of time watching the God inside of time participating? The whole idea is logically incoherent — especially in Mormonism where God has a physical body.

    Also, scriptures like Helaman 8:8 need not imply predestination and fatalism. It could mean that God knows all the the types/kinds of things that exist so he knows the things that will befall us. Plus as an actor in time and not just an observer he has plenty of power to influence the things that will befall us or not. If that were not true why would we even bother to ask for divine intervention on our behalf. I believe God is powerful enough to bring about his purposes on earth and he is smart enough to do so even with and open future for all of us human free agents.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 12:18 pm

  200. Cronk: Me remembering that I just ate a McDonald’s(TM) Double Cheeseburger(TM) has absolutely no effect on the decision I just made to buy and eat it.

    You keep using this argument but I cannot see what you think it is buying you in this debate. Of course the past is fixed. We all agree on that. The question is whether your future is also fixed.

    If your double cheeseburger made you horribly ill it would have a massive effect on your decision to eat another one tomorrow. The question is about present and future decisions which are open, not about past decisions which are closed.

    BTW — JS probably didn’t write the lectures on faith.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  201. Geoff – I’m not trying to lean on anything, I’m just trying to reconcile truths. I’m not saying I’m right or wrong nor am I saying anyone else here is right or wrong – I really don’t know. I’m trying to get to a point of peace. Of course there are many scriptures that talk about how man doth not comprehend all the things the Lord comprehends – and I believe that. Given two truths that seem to collide – omniscience and free will, for example – I accept that my understanding currently is just not good enough to allow me to reconcile them – that’s all. I’ll grasp at straws and perhaps I’ll figure it out, but God has told me that there are some things I’m just not going to figure out here and so I’m not going to default to dismissing or bending one of the truths in the name of having to comprehend all things right now. I will instead accept that I don’t know and rely on faith that it will be revealed to me or I’ll learn it after this life. It could be that the free will vs. omniscience argument is a false dichotomy and that there’s another option. I can’t throw away omniscience or free will without proof and spiritual confirmation. Has anyone here had spiritual confirmation on any part of these things?

    The Double Cheeseburger(TM) was good, by the way. I don’t see this as a debate but as a search for the truth. I get what you’re saying about past being fixed and future not being fixed, etc. I get all that. I just am unwilling to throw either free will or God’s omniscience under the bus so quickly just because I, a fallen man, can’t reconcile them currently. I have strong faith about both of these truths. I cannot reconcile them other than to give the examples I’ve given and that’s OK. I don’t expect to know all things. Can you guys please give me the scriptures you’ve found that go against free will and the ones that go against God’s omniscience? Not human logic, but scripture. I really would like to know what scriptural basis there is for these two things. Thanks in advance. Oh, throw in the proof of the Lectures on Faith authorship too. Thanks.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  202. rcronk #198: My faith is that God has knowledge and control over things in the future that matter. If God doesn’t technically know what I’m going to have for lunch tomorrow, that doesn’t destroy my faith in him.

    And, since all these trade-marked food references are making me hungry, I would add to this scenario that my faith includes the idea that if I begin to eat something poisonous, God could intervene (though he might not intervene). Anyway, this is partly why I made a distinction in a previous comment between complete and incomplete infallible foreknowledge. That is, I think there’s still room to coherently believe that God has infallible foreknowledge about certain things that he is committed to bringing about—but this has more to do with God’s omnipotence than omniscience which I think are disentangleable.

    But again, I don’t want to be responsible for you choosing to lose faith in something that turns out to be true and simply incoherent to us in the here and now—so please don’t take anything I say too seriously!

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  203. I wonder what implication that has though. How does something “matter” or not? If you decide to eat at Taco Bell(R) and get a bad Bean Burrito(TM), and end up dead, that would be a choice that mattered, right? But if you didn’t die, then it would be a choice that didn’t matter. Chaos theory seems to suggest that even the smallest decisions can have huge consequences – like me taking one second to blow my nose before I leave work may give me that one extra second to not hit a car on my way home, etc. It would therefore seem that God would even have to know about the things that don’t “matter” wouldn’t it? Am I missing the point?

    I’ve also thought about how when God says something, He might just have the power to make it happen instead of foreseeing it and saying what He’s seeing. That’s an interesting thing – in fact, I think He can do that. For example, prophets command the rain to stop – “prophesying” that if the people don’t repent, famine will come, etc. Also, on my mission, we were planning on baptizing the local preacher’s son and when we went to get the preacher’s signature, he came out, almost in a daze and signed the paper and went away instead of giving us the fight we expected. That was unexplainable and perhaps even violated his free will – I really have no idea – maybe he just had too much cold medicine in his system? So there are a lot of unknowns here and I cannot let my pride get in the way of my faith, but if there be other scriptures that go counter to the views I’ve expressed thus far, please someone quote them – help a guy out. Thanks. I’ve enjoyed the conversation so far.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  204. Geoff: Regarding retro-causality: You sure seem to know how to pull out a lot of good links for someone who implies they are new to this stuff.

    LOL! After I read what you wrote before, I thought “Maybe he’s right, and I’m using the term incorrectly.” So I googled the phrase “backward causation” and I read the first link that came up. So, if it was a good link, it was pure happenstance in this case!

    ———

    Jacob,

    Isn’t that how Jesus answered people once in a while? With questions. ;) Okay, back to work.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — July 31, 2007 @ 1:01 pm

  205. rcronk #201, I would add that i think many of these issues hinge on hermeneutics—that is, how you read scripture. The reason I’m so wussy in all of this (not taking a strong stand either way) is that I’m not sure we should read the scriptures as making technical/systematic theological claims, or even that the scriptures are theologically univocal. So, for example, when scriptures say “eternal” or “endless,” the message of D&C 19 seems to be that we need to be really careful how literally (read “logically”) we interpret such phrases or claims. I think this is largely why many of us are hesitant to put too much faith in the notion that God is infallibly fore-knowledgeable even when some scriptures seem to point to such an idea. What’s important for us is to know is that God has enough knowledge about the future for us to have faith in Him. Beyond that, what really matters?

    I’m reminded here of God saying to Moses, “but enough about all these other worlds, what concerns you is this world” (sorry I’m too lazy to look up the reference and exact wording…). In other words, I think there’s a danger in looking beyond the mark as regarding theology and faith. We should apply our whole hearts and minds to understanding scripture and the Gospel, but we also can’t expect to understand everything immediately.

    I think Hegel had a good point with his notion of dialectical reason vs. understanding. For him, understanding is a sort of static analysis in contrast to the process of dialectical reasoning which allows for a more “dynamic,” 3-dimensional grasp of things.

    For example, when I teach my students a new and difficult concept, I teach them a simplified model first which is not 100% accurate. But if my students don’t learn the simplified model first, then they won’t understand the more complicated models. So, I wonder if God doesn’t give us “practical truths” which are “universal truths” for similar reasons (like the way terms like eternal and endless are used!).

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 1:02 pm

  206. rcronk #203, “He might just have the power to make it happen instead of foreseeing it and saying what He’s seeing. That’s an interesting thing – in fact, I think He can do that.

    Right, this is what I was trying to get at in #160 (and I think Jacob said something similar a bit later).

    Also, chaos theory vs. God? I choose God. That is, I do think chaos theory poses a lot of interesting questions to conisder and think about, but I think it’s pretty presumptuous to think that God can’t kee pace with the complexity created via chaos theory. Free will and foreknowledge is more of a philosphical/logical question than a “mere” scientific theory, so I take it a bit more seriously, though still not too seriously. Heidegger, for example, does a really good job of pointing to hidden and arguably unwarranted presuppositions we make in the way we typically frame things in our philosophical thinking. This is one reason Heidegger and his Continental followers are very difficult to understand, because they’re trying to get at the ways in which our language frames things—in order to analyze normal language “objectively,” you have to essentially step outside of normal language to do so….

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 1:11 pm

  207. Cronk: Can you guys please give me the scriptures you’ve found that go against free will and the ones that go against God’s omniscience?

    I don’t think there are any scriptures that are against LFW or God’s omniscience. You seem to think that omniscience must entail exhaustive foreknowledge but that is just not the case. If omniscience means that God knows all that exists to be known then an open future which does not yet exist would not be included in that knowledge. So as far as I can tell the scriptures you are requesting don’t exist.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 1:16 pm

  208. Cronk, the ones against LFW are those predicting specific future events. i.e. that Christ would be crucified. Reconciling this with LFW involves a lot of spin that (at least I) find difficult to swallow. That’s not to say there is an absolute problem. Who knows, maybe centuries before God could predict exactly what a bunch of free people would choose as execution method. The alternative being that God ensured such a thing to come about. But that then brings in the very Calvinistic-like problems that LFWers wish to avoid.

    There are other prophecies as well. Once again how one deals with them varies. Some are explained away as later textual additions. (Say the prophecy of Cyrus in Isaiah, or Joseph in the Book of Mormon) Others are seen to be things God brings about. Others are seen as very fallible predictions.

    However that tends to be the typical approach people use to argue against LFW. That is they assert that there is foreknowledge.

    Comment by Clark — July 31, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  209. Thanks all for each of your comments in this last batch. I got a lot from each one of them.

    I still think that there’s a flaw somewhere in the logic that God seeing something in our future eliminates our agency.

    It’s almost like watching a pre-recorded football game. Whether I watch it in real time or pre-recorded, my experience is identical – either way I’m on the edge of my seat and wondering about how it’s going to turn out. The only difference is that some guy knows the outcome who has more knowledge than I do. The free will of the players in the game is completely unaffected by someone knowing the outcome. Their choices are not diminished. The scriptures say that it’s possible for God to see the whole “game” at once while we are travelling through it, making choices, having complete free will to do what we want to do and that is unaffected by His knowledge. I think the logical flaw in the “He knows, so I don’t have choice any more” argument is that we are time-based beings in a fallen state and so we’re injecting that broken point of view into the picture and then tweaking the truths instead of accepting that we don’t currently know how to resolve them. It’s just my current thinking. Perhaps as I do more prayerful study of this in the scriptures with this slightly increased clarity I’ll figure something out or change my point of view. I appreciate all of your help and patience.

    Comment by rcronk — July 31, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  210. Clark #208 (or anyone else who can refer to me to Clark’s views), what are your thoughts on all this (did I read somewhere you had compatibilist leanings?)?

    rcronk #209, I think I have the same strong intuition as you, but the problem is when you start thinking about you saying something into the TV and those on the field hearing you—or something analogous to the way God steps into time with his foreknowledge in tact, using it for prophecies and what not…. (What’s that Denzel Washington movie I recently saw with him sort of traveling back in time?)

    Comment by Robert C. — July 31, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  211. Cronk: I still think that there’s a flaw somewhere in the logic that God seeing something in our future eliminates our agency.

    You are right, *seeing* a fixed future would not in itself eliminate our LFW. The seeing part is not the problem at all. The problem would be if our future already exists to be seen. That is what is at issue. If our future already exists then we are not authoring it right now, we are simply playing out a pre-existing, predestined, fated script. But if that is true then the restored gospel is false.

    It’s almost like watching a pre-recorded football game. Whether I watch it in real time or pre-recorded, my experience is identical

    Once again you are failing to see that God is not just watching us like on a recorded game. He is a participant in the game with us and it is live. You can’t simultaneously officiate a game and watch it on your DVR — especially if you have a physical body as Mormonism teaches that the Father and the Son have. If God were only watching the game after the fact then he could not exactly change the outcome of the game could he? He would be an impotent and useless bystander in such a scenario.

    The beauty of recognizing that we have an open future and that God is a participant in the live improvisatory play we call mortality is that we are co-authors of it all with God here and now. That is why life matters so much and why each of our choices is so crucial.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 31, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  212. RCronk,

    There is no theoretical bar against retro-causation (after a manner of speaking) in a deterministic world, provided a consistent history is maintained, it is just that no one has ever experienced it because we are all moving forward in time and not backward. There isn’t any macroscopic evidence either – like asteroids forming out of chunks of earth and hurling out into space.

    Of course LFW advocates will tell you that the whole idea of ‘causation’ is highly dubious in a deterministic world. A good practical definition of determinism is that it describes a world where there are no original causes of anything.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 31, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  213. Robert I don’t have a strong view. My inclination is towards a block universe (which obviously isn’t the same as determinism although it has some features in common). However I acknowledge the strength of the LFW arguments regarding responsibility. I favor some version of revisionism but also admit that there’s not a good answer yet for how to revise the concepts.

    So I’m not a compatibilist. At one time I was a bit of a semi-compatibilitist but I’ve sort of lost enthusiasm for that as well.

    Comment by Clark — July 31, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  214. rcronk, I recently read this little speech by Jim F. where he talks about a time he ended up in a city in South America with very few Mormons and “randomly” bumped into a member and the member said they had just that morning been praying (the first time in a very long time) for some sort of help (I can’t remember exactly what kind) and very much felt like Jim’s appearance was a miraculous answer to that prayer. This is one of countless many stories like this. Was this merely coincidence? Does God orchestrate all of these little answers to prayers somehow without infallible foreknowledge? Is faith an orientation toward life that simply attributes serendipitous events to God?

    Of course I don’t really know the answer to any of these questions, or countless others like them. And I don’t know if others here have the same challenges I do, but my interest, proclivity, and . . . well, obsession, I guess, for thinking (i.e. coherent, rational, philosophical, systematic theological thinking) often leads me to rather serious doubts about many things pertaining to faith.

    So, when you ask above about “spiritual confirmations,” this is a rather complex question for me. I’ve had enough spiritual experiences in my life that I’d probably cling to my faith in the face of rather tremendous rational evidence otherwise. Indeed, there are many things that I believe which fly in the face of what I can understand with my puny little mind, including the way that I put my trust in God regarding my life and my future, even though I cannot give a good explanation for how this faith is justified.

    But I think if faith could be rationally justified, it wouldn’t be a very robust faith—that is, I think the essence of faith is more than just believing something in the face of uncertainty; rather, I think it is more like grace and love and free will in the sense that it is ultimately and importantly ungrounded, unjustified, unexplainable—something I do without sufficient reason. And I’m inclined to think that the gap between the insufficiency I face and a hypothetical sufficiency is one way to measure faith as opposed to, say, mere rational belief.

    (This is probably more appropriate for the other thread, if it’s appropriate at all, but since rcronk asked the questions I’m addressing here, I’m writing here.)

    Comment by Robert C. — August 1, 2007 @ 6:11 am

  215. Thanks again to all – your comments make me think. As was suggested before, there is an advantage to live back and forth chatting as opposed to a well thought out essay. I can get direct addressing of my own issues this way. It would be cool if we could capture an organized summary of these discussions into a wiki or something.

    Yes, the football game analogy is flawed. I can’t think of an analogy that fits our current situation perfectly and perhaps that’s what causes me to stumble. I’m a visual person and so it’s hard for me to get my brain around something that can’t be explained as a parable, analogy, or allegory.

    Speaking of allegories – the allegory of the olive tree found in Jacob 5 in the Book of Mormon is supposed to represent God’s (or Christ’s?) visits to mankind and the progress thereof. In that allegory, the Master of the vineyard (God/Christ) tends the vineyard along with a servant (prophet?). If you take this allegory literally, it almost sounds like the prophet knows better than God or at least has more patience than God and suggests nourishing it a little longer, etc. Anyway, that’s one allegory of God’s interactions with us.

    Combine with this 1 Nephi 11 where the spirit is speaking to Nephi and most of what the spirit says are questions. These are questions that the Spirit would already know but he asks them for Nephi’s benefit. This comes to my mind in the context of the “see if they will obey” statement brought up earlier.

    I guess I need to take the scriptures and go through them with these ideas in mind to find out how God interacts with His children and how agency and omniscience can work together.

    Again, I don’t want to toss out or modify truths just because I can’t get my head around reconciling them. I guess this is going to take some time and study. If any of you have experience or references to look at (beyond what’s been given so far – I’m already reading those) to get me started, let me know. Thanks again to all for your kind words.

    Comment by rcronk — August 1, 2007 @ 8:01 am

  216. Geoff,

    Re #197: When you say the future is fixed you imply we do not have LFW.

    I am only familiar with Blake’s argument (in vol. 1 of his Exploring Mormon Thought series) that a fixed future + omnitemporality of truth + linearity of time => no LFW. If I do not assume linearity of time (which is the case–I do not believe time is linear) then his argument fails to prove that a fixed future is incompatible with true freedom. Do you have a different argument?

    Comment by P. Nielsen — August 2, 2007 @ 9:06 am

  217. P. Mielsen,

    Wait, are you now saying that your belief in non-linear time (whatever that means to you) allows to coherently belief we have a fixed future and LFW at the same time? I thought you reject LFW. If you don’t believe in LFW what is “true freedom” to you? Are you using “true freedom” as a euphemism for compatibilism?

    Comment by Geoff J — August 2, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  218. Geoff J,

    I used to reject LFW, and there are some characterizations I still do reject, but due to some discussions here I’m keeping my options open.

    But to answer your first question: Yes. If one does not believe that causality and time are linear, then (as far as I know) one can believe in both a fixed future and LFW coherently.

    Comment by P. Nielsen — August 2, 2007 @ 12:08 pm

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