Over on Wheat and Tares, Bishop Bill revisited the 2016 Atlantic article headlined “There’s no Such Thing as Free Will.” He entitled his additional thoughts on the subject “No Free Agency.” I added a comment to the discussion but am not sure I made my point as well as I could, since it was a reactionary comment made when I should have been paying attention to the lesson in priesthood meeting. To verify I still felt the same way about the idea of free will or agency, I decided to revisit my own 2011 post here on LDC on the subject which I titled “We have Limited Free Will.” Yep, I stand by that position.
In that post I argued “…we have agency to act within certain bounds of natural laws that exist.” Since that post was written by assignment for a class on logic, I did not include any scriptural evidence to support my argument. I would like to add that support here. I suspect both the headlines on the above two posts were written to draw readership as neither one really presented a convincing argument that we indeed have no free will. In fact, the best rebuttal to the Atlantic article is summarized with their own secondary headline: “But we’re better off believing in it anyway.”
Without Agency There is no Existence
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
The above quote is from section 93 of the LDS edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. For this scripture to have relevance one obviously must accept it as the word of the Lord given by revelation to the Prophet Joseph, which I do. The importance and indeed, the power of agency is clearly taught here. This is something we can apply immediately and be blessed or cursed for so doing as we act upon our belief. Because of agency or free will, I can choose what I believe and therefore determine my own course in this life.
This Doctrine Gives Us Power
If I did not believe my choices mattered, I would probably be inclined to be less careful about what choices I make. If I did not believe in free will or moral agency, I would not feel responsible for my choices. It would be easy to excuse my poor behavior by simply reminding myself I have no choice in the matter. However, I choose to believe in the law of agency or free will. I believe God honors my choices and delivers to me consequences predicated upon the actions I have made in this sphere of existence with its limitations.
Because I accept the scripture in section 93 as binding upon me, I am also able to accept the gift of the atonement, the gift of faith and the gift of repentance with the attendant blessings of forgiveness. I would not have claim on those gifts if I did not accept that I am an agent unto myself. I choose to accept this doctrine as binding upon me. Because the outcomes of my belief in this doctrine are so important and of eternal consequence, I have a right to know if it is a true doctrine even if I accept it as self-evident, which I do.
This is Light and Truth
Agency is most often taught with the accompanying doctrine of accountability, which is defined as being responsible for our own choices in life. If we accept the doctrine of accountability, we accept the consequences of our actions, even if they are delayed until some future time. In fact, if we immediately received the results of our actions, we would likely have a difficult if not impossible time learning to be true agents in the full sense of the word. Making conscious, deliberate choices becomes ingrained in our souls when we have time to see the full effects of our choices, even if not outwardly seen right away.
Time is a blessing and gift of mortality. Without time, and delayed realization of the fruits of our labors, we would not appreciate or fully understand what we have done with our lives. With the blessing of time, we can see the fulfillment of promises made to us conditional upon our clear and intentional choices. While some rewards are not obtainable in this life, when we accept and act upon the law of accountability, we build light and truth within us that will prepare us for the full enjoyment of those blessings that are offered to us by the Spirit of the Lord as being desirable, even when delayed.
Enticings of the Holy Spirit
I’ve often wondered about the use of the word “enticings” in Mosiah 3:19. Because the English word “entice” can have some negative connotations, I’ve thought that perhaps Joseph could have chosen a better or different word. One definition of the word “entice” is “to attract or tempt by offering pleasure or advantage.” Hmmm… Does the Holy Spirit attract us? It should, it can, and it does. Does it offer advantage? Absolutely. But does it tempt by offering pleasure? Is that how the Holy Spirit works? In order to work on the natural man, I can make an argument in support of this definition of “enticings.”
Another popular definition of the word “entice” is “to attract artfully or adroitly or by arousing hope or desire.” And one last definition of many available is “to lead on by exciting hope or desire.” Does the Holy Spirit lead us on? Has that been your experience? A few hymns and phrases from hymns come to mind. Lead, kindly light. Lead thou me on. Hope of Israel. Desire of all nations. Yes, the Holy spirit leads us on, but unlike many worldly comparisons that may come to mind, the Holy Spirit delivers. He does excite hope. For me, He strengthens my desire toward things of righteousness and holiness.
Eager Anticipation of Reward
You’re probably familiar with the logic behind human behavior. Why do we do the things we do? Typically, three levels of motivation are presented for consideration: fear, duty and love, with love being the most desirable. Like me, you can probably provide examples of how you are motivated by each of these three different levels in various aspects of your life. Interestingly, I am motivated to engage in my daily labors by all three, seemingly combined in one messy ball of mortality: fear of not having enough, a sense of duty toward my family and my fellow man, but mostly out of love for my wife.
It’s no secret that humans are prone to addiction. We are also, by nature, very curious individuals, although some have argued modern education is doing a great job of killing that essential state of curiosity and creativity. Addiction and curiosity are dependent on the same biological chemistry and drive: dopamine and the drive to feel. This includes a desire for new sensory stimulus, intense emotional experiences, pleasure, excitement, entertainment, and anticipation. Dopamine enables us not only to see rewards, but to act to move toward them. We would accomplish little in our lives without it.
Rewards in the Life to Come
Can an understanding of human motivation and behavior help us understand how the spirit entices us to choose to pursue and obtain the things of eternal life? In a word, yes. The drive to feel, normally thought of as a mortal experience only, is so much more than that. It is an eternal motivator given to us by loving heavenly parents. While we may try to explain it away as entirely based on the biology of dopamine, it is part of our eternal makeup, central to the core essence of who we are. There is something to be said for the old test of existence: “I think, therefore I am.” In the same way, “I feel, therefore I am.”
I choose to act upon the enticings of the Holy Spirit. As I do so, I become more sensitive to those enticings. I recognize them more readily. They come to me more frequently and with greater clarity. Yet they remain subtle, never obtrusive. While the enticings of the flesh can be powerful, strong and loud, the enticings of the spirit will almost always be quiet but just as powerful and as strong as I allow them to be. God will never force, but he will entice as long as we give heed to those enticings. His constant enticings are clear evidence of His love for us. In them, we come to know our heavenly parents perfectly.
I Will Choose Free Will
Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
That’s far too fleet
You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will
Songwriters: Geddy Lee / Alex Lifeson / Neil Peart
Free Will lyrics © Ole Media Management Lp