Agency in Nature, Agency in Humanity
by Christian Y. Cardall
In an interesting thread on theodicy by LisaB at Feminist Mormon Housewives, the question of whether ‘nature’ or ‘the elements’ have ‘agency’ arose, and at one point several scriptures in the Abraham creation account describing the ‘obedience’ of various subsystems of creation were cited.
While the term “obey” is in fact used in the Abraham creation account, if the scriptures are meant primarily to teach us about the meaning of human life, then I'm not sure we should read too much into the word “obey” telling us something fundamental about the nature of everything in a scientific sense. “Obey” might simply be a user-friendly, non-scientific way of expressing the idea that the Gods worked with or even simply watched over complicated systems—systems operating by natural law, not moral agency—until they were satisfied that they would be stable over the time scales they intended for human history.
Or instead, we could presume a tight connection between ‘agency’ and the scriptural use of “obey,” but turn it on its head and give it a Spinozist twist. Say we know those systems referred to in the Abraham passages operate by natural law; then “obey” is simply a description/definition of the orderly and stable operation of a complex system; then the passages are also teaching us, indirectly, that our own human ‘obedience’ and ‘agency’ are also ultimately nothing more than the orderly operation of a complex physical system operating completely and deterministically under natural law. (I’m guessing this perspective won’t garner many takers!)
(A few other self-centered notes on the FMH thread: I entered it with a quip about the male-centric phrase “man’s inhumanity to man” being used on a feminist blog, but was then persuaded to give a more substantive take on theodicy here and here. I engaged the question about the elements having agency here.)