by Christian Y. Cardall
In a comment on a recent post of mine on agency, Mike W. asked if the form of determinism to which I subscribe is ‘defined by an external modifier’ or allows for an ‘internal motivator.’ Here I explain why I don't think a ‘blank slate’—in which people are completely determined by external conditioning—could be the whole story in either a mortal or eternal perspective.
In a purely mortal perspective, I am sympathetic to E. O. Wilson’s position discussed a few posts back: human nature was forged over millions of years of evolution, leaving us an inheritance of deeply-seated emotions and “biased channels of learning.” I would call these influences on us ‘internal’ because they are integrated into our individual biological selves. However, because our ‘selves’ exhibit some plasticity, contemporaneous external conditioning still plays a very important role, and external events can have lifelong impacts: childhood training, fatal accidents, and so on can have a big say on our ultimate mortal fate.
A Mormon eternal perspective adds two things that fundamentally change the deterministic factors that ultimately affect an individual’s final status. The first factor is the existence of an uncreated, eternal, individual ‘intelligence’ beneath whatever biological and cultural legacies we have inherited. This intelligence can be compared to a particular seed that, given the right conditions, will grow into a particular kind of plant. The second factor is reservoirs of time and divine power beyond the grave.
In this eternal perspective, the Father would eventually bring each individual intelligence to its full potential. He would use agents where he could but would expend his own individual time and resources if it were necessary, on earth or in heaven, to provide the conditions for each individual to (deterministically) unfold to its greatest potential. Time and divine power beyond the grave would allow any earthly biological or cultural factors to eventually be overcome. Hence the only factors that ultimately matter would be the uncreated individual intelligence and God’s provision of the needed conditions for its development. Whether I had good or bad parents or Church leaders, had ever heard the gospel, had been killed prematurely, etc. would ultimately not matter to my individual fate. (Whether my parents had been good or bad to me, whether someone shared the gospel with me, etc. would play an important role in determining their individual fate, however.)
I’m far from convinced that any perspective beyond a mortal one corresponds to reality; but if there is an eternal perspective, the version that makes sense to me is that God’s works are like a garden that in the end is perfectly tended: taking the many seeds he is given—which have a range of inherent potentials—he ensures that each is ultimately able to unfold to its best possible final state.