Doctrinal Modesty on Varieties of Free Will
by Christian Y. Cardall
In my preceding thread on a deterministic version of free will, Geoff referred to a post of his containing a sentence I wish to contest: “Needless to say, traditional determinism and compatibilism are at odds with Mormon doctrine.” My rejoinder, in brief: Needless to say, just as the scriptures are not a detailed scientific manual, neither are they a detailed philosophical handbook; which is to say, they are not sufficiently precise and jargon-laden to distinguish between libertarian and compatibilistic varieties of free will.
For this reason I am puzzled by Geoff’s repeated insistence in my previous thread on what “the revelations indicate,” since as far as I know he has given no detailed exegesis with an explicit hermeneutic. I strongly suspect such an attempt would fail, because the gross mismatch between what Jim F. would call the ‘universes of discourse’ of (a) scripture and (b) the traditional philosophical technical debates on free will is sufficiently severe to render preposterous any claims one way or another on what Mormon ‘doctrine’ (whatever that is) says about libertarian vs. compatibilistic free will.
The only thing scripture says is that we are free, and obviously adds no modifiers, either libertarian or compatibilist (that the thought of the scriptures using words like these simply makes us laugh justifies my use of the word “preposterous” in the preceding paragraph); hence I would hope both sides could bactrack from strident claims about what Mormon doctrine is on the specific nature of freedom, and recognize that in these arcane matters we are pretty far out on narrow limbs, with little if any support from the trunk of scripture. It is not accurate, much less helpful, to speak of people who “heretically believe” a version of compatibilistic free will relying on uncreated individual intelligences, or to imply that such people are “trad[ing] the gem of the gospel for a mess of pottage.”
The scriptural lack of relevant theoretical apparatus means that neither libertarian nor compatibilist free will is either heterodox (much less heretical) or orthodox, and normally this would make me relatively uninterested in debating doctrinally unresolvable eternal imponderables; but in this case I am interested in exploring the potential viability of purely materialistic (even atheistic) conceptions of freedom and responsibility. Now, on the basis of this exploration, you are free to call me a heretic. Just don’t do it on the basis of openness to uncreated individual intelligences.