For the last few weeks, I have been attempting to sort out whether or not men have free will. In short, no, we don’t have free will. We are extremely limited in what we are truly free to do, say, think, etc.. At best, we have free-ish-will. This is something akin to Compatibilism: we may not be entirely free, but neither are we merely puppets whose strings are being pulled by biology, environment, or the Universe.
Had I encountered this debacle when I was a diehard member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instead of what I am currently (a Mormon), I would have told you, “Of course we have free will! The scriptures clearly state that The Father gave man agency – which is, of course, synonymous with free will!”
Thankfully, I am not still in that state of mind.
Agency is not the same as free will. Agency is the ability to act or react; to make a decision. As Wikipedia states, “How humans come to make decisions, by free choice or other processes, is another issue.”
So! Mormon scripture has a decent amount to say about agency and very little about free will. Where free will is mentioned, it seems to imply that men aren’t forced by other individuals, governments, etc., to do something; i.e., give money to the poor of your own free will (not compelled by gunpoint to do so).
In 2 Nephi chapter 2, it reads, “Men are free to choose according to the flesh.” What does that mean? It seems to indicate that there are restrictions. Otherwise, why add the caveat according to the flesh?
As previously mentioned, we are, at best, living in a Compatibilism-type world. At worst – and I don’t see this as a bad thing – we are in a Determinism-type realm.
Everything here has bounds and limits. If I ask you to play a game of Chess, and you know the rules of Chess, you know that the move H1 to H3 cannot be made as your first move. Why? Those are the rules!
“Well, nothing is stopping me from making that move, right? It is possible to make that move (pick up the piece and move it to that position without being forced not to do that), right? Right?!”
Sure. It is possible for you to physically pick up the Rook and move it from H1 to H3 and completely ignore the rules of Chess. However, once you do that, we are no longer playing Chess. You can claim that the rules are arbitrary-social-constructs that don’t really have anything to do with reality, and that doesn’t change the fact that H1 to H3 is an impossible move while playing Chess.
There are constraints to this thing we call life. We are constrained and compelled by forces beyond our conscious observance.
As I am writing, I am enjoying a cup of green tea. Why green tea? It sounded nice. Why did I add honey to it? That also seemed nice. Do I usually add honey to my tea? No. Usually, I like my tea and coffee with no additives; no sugar, no milk, no honey, to cream, nada. So, why add honey tonight? I had the desire to do so, and I did (from whence did the desire come?). I didn’t question it. I grabbed the honey, a knife, and used the knife to put the honey into my tea (I could have grabbed a spoon from the dishwasher, but I grabbed a knife from the drawer; again, why?).
What will the green tea do to me? How will the caffeine from the tea and sugar from the honey affect my sleep tonight? How will that, in turn, affect my ability to get out of bed and get ready in time to beat the early morning traffic? Is tomorrow destined to be as sweet as my tea or doomed to be as sluggish as a post-sugar-rush-crash? I am not sure. How could I be? I am entirely unaware of how large or small an impact this tea is having on me at this moment, let alone the effect 8-hours from now.
That is the point! How is that freedom? How can we be truly free to choose if we don’t even know what is happening here and now?
Do you disagree with me? Are you free to disagree with me? Why do you disagree with me? Is it a feeling? Do you have arguments that unravel what I’ve written? If yes, from whence did those arguments come? Did you think of the arguments? If you believe the answer to the last question is yes, allow me to ask it again: did you think of the arguments? Or, did the arguments come to your mind unbidden and something – real or imagined – observed those arguments (thoughts) in consciousness?
We don’t have free will. Now, the question is whether or not Compatibilism or Determinism is at play.