Agency and Free Will

Something I noticed while reading this wikipedia article:

The theological doctrine of divine foreknowledge is often alleged to be in conflict with free will. After all, if God knows exactly what will happen, right down to every choice one makes, the status of choices as free is called into question.

I've wondered about that once or twice. I remember feeling very annoyed in Seminary once about this. (Mormon seminary is a daily thing when you're in high school. It's basically like Bible Study.) I kept pressing with the exact question stated above, and no answer seemed to satisfy. What doubled my displeasure was that other students echoed the Seminary teacher-- I felt certain that they had no idea what they were talking about and that I was the only one who really saw a conflict. I was arrogant.

I've come to learn that all things are before God. Is it possible that God sees time in a non-linear fashion, that He sees the changing future as we choose it? I think so.

It's hard to explain. Many have done so before me, and many will do so after me.

In the frame of milk before meat, it's easy to be consumed with discussion of such things. I suppose the bottom line is that issues like this are gristle; indigestible substitutes for meat. You either believe you have agency, or you don't. There's really no way to prove it, is there?

But there's the rub. I submit that because you cannot prove it, that is a proof that agency exists, and that it was God's idea. Imagine the fallout of being able to prove such a fundamental conundrum. How many people must change in the face of irrefutable proof that they have agency? Worse yet, what kind of fallout ensues from infallible proof that we don't have free will? I thank heaven that we can't prove it. I thank God that we must approach Him to find the truth; only then will we be unafraid to embrace it.


Peter said...

yeah that has always interested me. If God knows all things, and he knows how we will react in situations, how much of a "test" is this life? But I guess thats not exactly how it works. Or so I have been told.

sixline said...

Or so you've been told?

Is this really Peter or some other dude in his place?

That's the thing. It's not a question of what you've been told. It's a question of what you choose. You must exercise your free will; perceived or not. You must decide for yourself how God 'interferes' with your life. No one can prove it one way or another.

Frank said...

"because you cannot prove it, that is a proof that agency exists" is crazy talk. This is a logic fallacy, because the premise has nothing to do with the conclusion. I can easily say, "because you cannot prove it, it is proof that agency does not exist," and be just as correct/incorrect.

sixline said...


Without compulsory evidence, there is choice. Feigned or not, perceived or not, real or not. For what I am able to observe, there is choice. Any existential arguments about whether or not my choice was already made notwithstanding, I can choose. I can choose orange juice or milk. I can choose to believe in God or not.

Without proof that choice exists, or without proof that it doesn't exist, I am left to decide for myself yes or no-- being enticed by both sides.

That is why I take a lack of proof to be a proof that choice exists.

Frank said...

You selected orange juice or milk because of causal factors that made you select one over the other. Since the causal factors were in place before your selected milk or juice, you were destined to select one over the other. The idea of choice was but an illusion of your mind, itself caused by past influences and other causal factors.

If a "free agent" does exist within you, then how can it influence your actions? The only way for it to do so is to become a casual factor itself. But then it must also be subjugated to other causal factors, or it would be a random and chaotic entity.

sixline said...

I'm not saying we make choices without influence, Frank. But a presence of influence doesn't render invalid the choice to drink milk over orange juice.

It doesn't mean I'm predestined to choose one over the other, either. Because I feel like milk, or because I haven't had milk in a long time and my body needs it doesn't mean I *must* drink milk. Neither my body, my subconcious, nor the cosmos can change the fact that even if I want milk, I can still pick up the glass of orange juice.

Eeyore said...

So frank, what about the first time we try something? We've never had it, never experienced it. How can our decision to try it be based upon previous experiences?

A "free agent" doesn't exist within us and influence our choices. It's what allows us to make a choice. The whole concept of free agency, as in your example, is that we can even choose between milk and orange juice. If you're explanation is true, then there was never really any choice in the first place and we were always destined to get orange juice. Using that logic, we should do the same everytime we are presented with that option. Since we don't, there has to be some element of freedom associated with that.

Does that make sense?