Responsible agency and free will are not consistent either with determinism or indeterminism. This short statement is called the â€œMind argument.â€ It has two parts. First, determinism is incompatible with free will : “If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.â€ (Peter van Inwagen An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), p. 56.) (This is dubbed the â€œConsequence Argument)
The notion of something â€œbeing up to meâ€ is that I exercise a certain type of control over my actions. I am responsible for these acts because they are my actions in the sense that I am responsible for causing them. For something to be my act, it has to belong to me the sense that the act arises from my own acts and not from something that just happens to me or happens by happenstance which is not in my control. The problem with determinism is that I donâ€™t have control over the causes that lead to my acts.
However, the same problem with lack of control arises also with indeterminism. Say that our acts are the consequences of chemical states of our brains which are the result of neurons firing in certain patterns. However, lets introduce indeterminism into the picture here and say that whether neurons in our brains fire is the consequence of certain indeterministic quantum fluctuations that influence the chemical processes that determine whether our neurons fire. Could we be responsible if this kind of indeterminism is introduced into the picture? It is not up to us what the chemical states of our brains are and we certainly donâ€™t and cannot control quantum fluctuations. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us. Of course if there is global indeterminism, matter are only worse. We could then have certain neurons firing and they may or may not result in specific acts. The result remains the same â€“ our acts are not up to us because they are caused by events which are not up to us and that we donâ€™t control.
However, the real problem is microphysical event causation, or the view that our acts are fully explained by events which are not within our control. So if our acts are the result of neural activity in our brains, and neural activity in our brains is the result of the chemical make-up of our neurons, then our acts are fully explained by events over which we have no control. For we do not control the neural activity in our brains; rather, that is controlled by the chemical make-up of our brains which is not up to us. The chemical make-up of our brains is also the causal result of laws that govern chemistry and physics. Further, it doesnâ€™t matter whether these laws are deterministic or indeterministic, they are not up to us because they are not within our control.
The only viable way out of this problem of event causal lack of control, at least by lights, must recognize that it is a person or agent or organism as a whole that acts. Further, the acts of the agent cannot be fully explained by microphysical events over which an agent has no control. Rather, an agent must have a basic power of downward causation such that the agent causes events rather than the agentâ€™s act merely being the result of such events. Agents must act and not merely be acted upon to use Lehiâ€™s language in 2 Ne. 2.
However, such a view of an autonomous agent seems to me to require an emergent agent that is not merely the causal result of deterministic or indeterministic microphysical events. That is, the agent must be emergent in the sense that the complete description of the microphysical causal events (like neurons firing) doesnâ€™t fully explain the agentâ€™s act. Such a power of downward causation requires emergence of an agent that makes a causal break from the underlying causal base that gives rise to the agentâ€™s powers. Otherwise, the â€œdownward causeâ€ is not really downward but just a causal pass-through of the lower level microphysical causes.
Why is this important? It seems to me that if we are going to assert that there are morally accountable free agents, then we must adopt a form of agent causal libertarianism. The agents that could have such powers must be able to be a cause without being fully caused to be what they are and do what they do. An eternal intelligence, it seems to me, just is such an agent. Nothing else fully causes its existence or to be what such an intelligence just is. In fact, I contend that only such an eternally existing entity could be such an agent cause. That means that if we truly believe that we are free and morally responsible, the Mormon world-view (along lines described by Kent) is the only game in town.