Free will and foreknowledge
June 23, 2009 6 Comments
Joseph Smith (JS) seemed comfortable postulating both that mankind generally, with exceptions, have free choice (at least internal moral choice) and that God has perfect foreknowledge. Although perhaps the latter can be (and has been) debated in some sense. Of course there are more complex shades of meaning here.
The reason I bring it up? Last Sunday in my high priest group we were discussing one of the JS lessons on redemption of the dead. One of my compatriots, a fellow BYU faculty member, remarked that the complete foreknowledge of God was a fact and that freedom of choice was a fact and therefore the two are compatible. (Sounds a bit Gödellian…)
I did not feel like pointing out that if you pursue both axioms, you will find what seem to be real contradictions. If the future is fixed, then every future choice is fixed, they have been made already in effect-deliberation is empty-maybe. I noticed that at least some people there offered some unasked for reasoning here, sensing a difficulty perhaps. God knows us so well, he is able to predict our actions, etc.
It seems to me that to avoid a problem here, or to see if there is a problem, one must become mathematically precise in defining terms, or cast the whole thing into a formal system. I’m not sure this is possible in the sense of mathematical proof. Dissenters would abound. (Dissenters in regard to formal systems abound for that matter.)
JS was flexible I think when it came to his own reasoned positions. A good example of this was his 1832 revelation on the second advent. He gradually changed his personal interpretation of its meaning over the years it seems.
The prophetic mind seems committed to the foreknowledge of God, enough it seems to me to impact the notion of libertarian free will. The anti-Calvinist in me rejects canceling free will (there is a leap there, but JS connects them at least implicitly).
When I was an undergraduate student, I sat in institute class with a bearded John Tvedtnes (of course my memory may be completely wrong here). I remember him responding to the instructor who brought up this conundrum, with something like: we are self-determined, our infinite past captures us in such a way that we are predictable (let alone the rest of the world). At the time I thought about it alot, but I’m not sure I like it – compatibilist – no go for me I think. (Hi John, if you’re out there).
I expressed none of this in the (high priest) class because the teacher was already in tears over some memory *he* had and it was certainly tangential to the manual driven subject.