Saturday, July 2, 2016

Free Will and Salvation

Sorry to have been away from the blog for a few weeks; things have been hectic. Will have to blog several times this week in order to meet my goal of blogging once a week this year. Anyways, I will be back on  a regular schedule now, and still plan to do my Aquinas and are Mormon's Christian series, as well as whether conservatives have an obligation to vote for Donald Trump. But more on that later.

On my last post Day of Gratitude, I received a comment that I think is worthy of a post in response. I always enjoy comments, so feel free to leave them, I will always respond (though not necessarily with a post.) The commentator, Collin Simonsen, said this

"Your comment on fate reminds me of a philosophical/religious question that I've been pondering. I wonder if you'd tell me what you think. The question is this: can we permanently mess up someone else's chance to go to the Celestial Kingdom. Let's say that someone is interested in the church, but I offend them and they are turned off. What I want to believe is that if they would chose the church under ideal circumstances, but not when members are setting bad examples, then they will have a real chance later on. I want to believe that we can postpone someone's salvation, and cause them grief, but we don't determine their ultimate fate. They freely choose to do so. What do you think?"
This question is really two: 1. What is the nature of free will 2. What role do others have the plan of salvation? Let's start first with the question of free will.

Philosophically, there are three ways of approaching free will, namely determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism. Determinism is the view that all things are causally determined and that there is no free will By causally determined, I mean that if A occurs then B will occur and that will always be the case. Determinism is not the same as fatalism however, at least not in all cases. Determinism says humans are causally determined, fatalism states that everything happens for a reason which cannot be changed. In other words a determinist will say "I have no free will", while a fatalist will say "There is nothing else I could have done." Philosophers who are determinist  would be people like Baruch Spinoza, Sam Harris, Dennis Potter, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Compatibilism is the belief that human freedom and determinism are compatible beliefs; or that there is no contradiction in holding the beliefs at the same time. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said " A man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills."  Here is a good for instance. Say an attractive female walks bye, and you immediately have sexual thoughts about her. That part of you is determined by evolution, you have no control over it. However, you do have a choice as to whether or not you walk over and talk to her, walk away, or start thinking of something else. Thus while you are causally determined to think about sex, you are not determined to commit a sexual act. Thus you cannot control your will, but you can do what you will. Compatibilist  philosophers include Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, and myself.

Libertarianism is the belief that you are not causally determined and that belief in determinism and free will are incompatible; for this reason libertarians are also called incompatibilists while compatibilists are often labeled soft determinists. On this view, you are free to do what you want and there is nothing that makes you think or decide on a certain course of action; you freely choose. Libertarians include William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantiga, Richard Swinburne, and Blake Ostler.

Now that we have fleshed out the approaches to human freedom, I must admit these are very brief sketches and refer readers to books such as Elbow Room by Daniel C. Dennett for more thorough treatments of these topics.

Mormons I think would have to be either compatibilists or libertarians on this issue since the scriptures make it clear that to some extent we have a choice. Take 2 Nephi 2: 27 for example :
"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself."
From this scripture, it is clear that we have freedom in some sense, but it is particularly relevant to the question of whether we are responsible for others not joining the church. While I was on my mission in Alabama, my mission president once told the story of a man who had been tracted (had his door knocked on) by missionaries and had been busy so gave them his number and told them to call back, but as they waled away he saw the missionaries playing around and then told them he wasn't interested. My mission president then said that the missionaries were responsible for this man not joining the church.

This is a bit of a stretch however, and relates to Collin's question. It is true that church members, being human, do things that offend people, but does that make them responsible for people not joining the church? Not according to this scripture it doesn't. People are free to choose, even if they are determined in other ways. Often times, what people do has almost no relevance to whether the truths of Mormonism have any waight or not, people are often looking for a way to not join because they know the demands Mormons make on their members. This is not to say that we should not be polite, encouraging, and welcoming, but only one person is responsible for their own salvation : You.

Hopefully this answers your question.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the response, Tarik. It strikes me that in my original comment I used the term "ideal circumstances." But it seems to me that maybe God wants to see what people will do when not in ideal circumstances. Will they choose Him despite members' bad examples? Not that we should intentionally be bad examples, of course. :) Thanks for the insightful thoughts.

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    1. No problem. Thanks for reading and supporting the blog.

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  2. Have you read my response to Rex Sears who also adopted the untenable position of comparibilism?

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  3. Hello,
    I just stumbled upon your blog. I will certainly be back by in the future. Thank you for your thoughts.
    I wanted to ask that this be fleshed out a little more as I either misunderstood you or disagree with you on the definition of compatibilism (and me disagreeing does not mean I am right, of course).

    You said,
    “Here is a good for instance. Say an attractive female walks bye, and you immediately have sexual thoughts about her. That part of you is determined by evolution, you have no control over it. However, you do have a choice as to whether or not you walk over and talk to her, walk away, or start thinking of something else. Thus while you are causally determined to think about sex, you are not determined to commit a sexual act. Thus you cannot control your will, but you can do what you will.”

    My understanding of Compatibilism or “Soft Determinism” is that you are absolutely determined, but the believer in Compatibilism believes that this being determined is COMPATIBLE with the existence of free will. The Compatibilist will say that if you can do what you will, you are free even if your will is determined 100% by your circumstances (including past experience, DNA, Eternal Intelligence, …).
    The “Hard Determinist” would say that “free will” is an illusion. All actions are determined.

    As I understand it, the “Soft Determinist” and the “Hard Determinist” only disagree on what is necessary for “free will” to exist. They agree completely on the deterministic state of all choices.

    Am I misunderstanding what you said or do I not understand compatibilism?
    Charity, TOm

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    1. Tom,

      Glad you stumbled upon the blog, and even gladder still that you liked it. Feel free to subscribe by e-mail and join the site also.

      To your question, yes compatibilists are determinists; the name comes from the fact they think free will and determinism are compatible ideas. Determinists think there is no such thing as free will, or say that both can't exist at the same time, they agree with libertarians on that point.

      Something to keep in mind in regards to this question is that is one of metaphysics than on neurology, something Sam Harris does not get.

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