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Biz

Free Agency

43 posts in this topic

The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited. I just don't see how God can destroy people for being wicked and still honor free agency. How can God kill a physical body and then bring the spirit of that body to the judgment bar and say due to my perfect knowledge I knew you would have never repented no matter the circumstances and as a result of your evilness you inherit this kingdom. The wicked spirit never had a chance and or never really had free agency. Suppose the spirit was never warned by Noah or suppose the spirit was never informed of the second coming.

I am sure many of us in speaking to a non believer as in (does not believe in God) who is concerned about why bad things happen have repeated something similar to, "Well God gave us free agency and God is God because he obeys laws and if God were to intervene he would intervene with someones free agency and God would cease to be God because he broke a eternal law. So in a sense God has to let bad things happen because he has to honor free agency." I am now of the conclusion that this argument is complete nonsense.

Does anyone have any insights or recommended reading that would be able to help me out regarding the concept of free agency?

Thanks, Biz

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I don't believe that God "causes" wars. I believe that wars are the result of bad people being allowed to do the wicked deeds that exist in their hearts. When enough people want a war, God allows it to happen.

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I don't believe that God "causes" wars. I believe that wars are the result of bad people being allowed to do the wicked deeds that exist in their hearts. When enough people want a war, God allows it to happen.

That's it. Done. God will not cause the end of the world, we will. He just told us it's coming.

Now if you want to get into the whole determinism vs free will deal, that is another question. Just because God knows something is going to happen, doesn't mean he "makes" it happen.

Some, because of this logical conundrum, have said that choice is an illusion. That is baloney. The fact that we do in fact make choices every day is clear to each of us, as well as the fact that we send people to jail every day for bad choices they have made.

We can play word games, but the entire culture acknowledges that we have choices, or no one would have a justice system.

Since you don't have free agency, Biz, I guess you can't decide to answer this post.

Edit: Here is a good place to start your reading: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

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Since you don't have free agency, Biz, I guess you can't decide to answer this post.

Yes I believe I have the freedom to make choices but what if God kills me? I can no longer make the choice to reply. I understand free agency as we apply it in this world. If a man kills another man the justice system would hold him accountable. Why or how can God kill people and not be subject to laws for taking away someones free agency? I am just really stuck on mans agency in relationship with God.

Biz

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Edit: Here is a good place to start your reading: http://plato.stanfor...tries/freewill/

Your link looks like it will be very interesting and likely helpful.

Thanks, Biz

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Your link looks like it will be very interesting and likely helpful.

Thanks, Biz

Glad to help. If you read all that and all books in the footnotes, you should have a degree at least in that branch of philosophy!

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Yes I believe I have the freedom to make choices but what if God kills me? I can no longer make the choice to reply. I understand free agency as we apply it in this world. If a man kills another man the justice system would hold him accountable. Why or how can God kill people and not be subject to laws for taking away someones free agency? I am just really stuck on mans agency in relationship with God.

Biz

Why would God kill you? What's in it for him?

If God is unjust, we're all in deep trouble anyway, and I wouldn't worry about it.

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If you want to know where I am coming from, it would be here.

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Why would God kill you? What's in it for him?

The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited. I just don't see how God can destroy people for being wicked and still honor free agency. How can God kill a physical body and then bring the spirit of that body to the judgment bar and say due to my perfect knowledge I knew you would have never repented no matter the circumstances and as a result of your evilness you inherit this kingdom. The wicked spirit never had a chance and or never really had free agency. Suppose the spirit was never warned by Noah or suppose the spirit was never informed of the second coming.

Mfbukowski,

Using your personal framework regarding agency how would you reconcile the question I posed above?

Biz

I am sure many of us in speaking to a non believer as in (does not believe in God) who is concerned about why bad things happen have repeated something similar to, "Well God gave us free agency and God is God because he obeys laws and if God were to intervene he would intervene with someones free agency and God would cease to be God because he broke a eternal law. So in a sense God has to let bad things happen because he has to honor free agency." I am now of the conclusion that this argument is complete nonsense.

Mfbukowski,

Using your personal framework regarding agency how would you explain to a person who does not believe in God or if they do is mad at God for some reason related to non-intervention? (other than the usual cop-out answer I referenced)

Biz

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Does anyone have any insights or recommended reading that would be able to help me out regarding the concept of free agency?

Thanks, Biz

Well, first of all, there's isn't just one concept of free agency. In the philosophical literature different meanings of free agency preserve different philosophical and pre-philosophical judgments at the expense of some others. Honestly, if you really want a good grasp of the different concepts and theories of free will, then I think you ought to pick up an undergraduate philosophy text or two on the topic. Such texts are typically collections of papers that are thought to be good representations of the different views, and such texts also typically have introductions that give good surveys of the landscape. In particular, I recommend the following two books from Blackwell Publishing: Free Will edited by Robert Kane, and Four Views On Free Will.

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The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited. I just don't see how God can destroy people for being wicked and still honor free agency. How can God kill a physical body and then bring the spirit of that body to the judgment bar and say due to my perfect knowledge I knew you would have never repented no matter the circumstances and as a result of your evilness you inherit this kingdom. The wicked spirit never had a chance and or never really had free agency. Suppose the spirit was never warned by Noah or suppose the spirit was never informed of the second coming.

Mfbukowski,

Using your personal framework regarding agency how would you reconcile the question I posed above?

Biz

I am sure many of us in speaking to a non believer as in (does not believe in God) who is concerned about why bad things happen have repeated something similar to, "Well God gave us free agency and God is God because he obeys laws and if God were to intervene he would intervene with someones free agency and God would cease to be God because he broke a eternal law. So in a sense God has to let bad things happen because he has to honor free agency." I am now of the conclusion that this argument is complete nonsense.

Mfbukowski,

Using your personal framework regarding agency how would you explain to a person who does not believe in God or if they do is mad at God for some reason related to non-intervention? (other than the usual cop-out answer I referenced)

Biz

There are so many basic assumptions here with which I would disagree that it is hard to know where to start.

I am not a biblical literalist so there goes a couple of the questions. I don't believe he "causes" anyone's misfortunes, nor does he "prevent" them from happening.

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The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited. I just don't see how God can destroy people for being wicked and still honor free agency. How can God kill a physical body and then bring the spirit of that body to the judgment bar and say due to my perfect knowledge I knew you would have never repented no matter the circumstances and as a result of your evilness you inherit this kingdom. The wicked spirit never had a chance and or never really had free agency. Suppose the spirit was never warned by Noah or suppose the spirit was never informed of the second coming.

I am sure many of us in speaking to a non believer as in (does not believe in God) who is concerned about why bad things happen have repeated something similar to, "Well God gave us free agency and God is God because he obeys laws and if God were to intervene he would intervene with someones free agency and God would cease to be God because he broke a eternal law. So in a sense God has to let bad things happen because he has to honor free agency." I am now of the conclusion that this argument is complete nonsense.

Does anyone have any insights or recommended reading that would be able to help me out regarding the concept of free agency?

Thanks, Biz

I don't see death as final disposition and judgment, but as a transfer to another class room.

In giving us a much fuller account than the Bible of how the Flood came about, the book of Enoch settles the moral issue with several telling parts:

1. God's reluctance to send the Flood and his great sorrow at the event.

2. The peculiar brand of wickedness that made the Flood mandatory.

3. The frank challenge of the wicked to have God do his worst.

4. The happy and beneficial side of the event—it did have a happy outcome.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=53&chapid=482

I also like Joseph Smith's comments on judgment:

But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of man, causes "His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, "according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil," or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, "not according to what they have not, but according to what they have," those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will by judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.

History of the Church, Vol.4, Ch.35, p.595

I'm still fond of Truman Madsen's Eternal Man, on agency.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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If you have an employee that you have warned over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again about his inappropriate actions and he defiantly persists in those actions, eventually the guy has to be fired (pun fully intended).

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The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited.

Our agency doesn't end with death, no matter who kills us. I think when God kills someone, it serves 2 purposes: 1) to keep that person from eroding their own agency further (disobedience reduces agency; obedience expands it) and to allow him to correct and expand it through whatever he can gain through the ministrations he will receive in the spirit world before resurrection; 2) it preserves an environment that allows others (including future generations) to exercise their agency, which the unrighteousness of the wicked person had impinged upon to such a degree that God had to remove him.

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Biz:

Number one is, it is not "free agency" it is just agency, and there is nothing free about it. We choose whom we will follow. That is the agency part. We are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.

Secondly God is just. We will be judged on our own actions, and not for what someone else did to us.

Thirdly there is no death to God. Everyone will be Resurrected. We are the ones who choose where we will be in that Resurrection

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I will just say this: I think that God's intervention in our lives is nearly totally limited to spiritual intervention rather than physical, ie: he is interested more in creating miracles in the heart through subtle whispers than he is in killing people, or for that matter, saving them.

He lets nature take its course and lets us take the consequences both good and bad for our own agency, acts of nature, and others perhaps harmful acts.

To him, death is merely a transition across the veil, another opportunity for his children to learn from a different perspective; it is the transition from high school to college, and not something to be feared or mourned. Those who are left behind are tested, of course, but having loved ones die is part of life- it is inevitable and will happen sooner or later to all of us.

We need to see these trials as opportunities to grow, hard as that is to see at the time they are happening.

One may take the story of Noah literally, AND one may also see it as a metaphor for the effects of God's inspiration in saving his children both from natural calamities and spiritual death as well. It might have "actually happened" exactly as written, or for me, it might not have, but it doesn't matter. What "actually happened" is literally unknowable. What matters for me is the spiritual lesson and example of Noah who listened to the inspiration of the Lord- the still small voice- and was "saved"- spiritually as well as physically by listening to God. THAT for me is what the story is about.

And it seems to me that this view is brought out in the New Testament in both of these verses:

1 Peter 3:20

20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Hebrews 11:7

7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Note the emphasis on being saved "BY" water- not being saved "from" water! The author seems to be seeing the flood as a metaphor for baptism.

And it is clearer still in the Hebrews quote- the author also emphasizes not the death of the wicked, but Noah "saving his house" and overcoming the world. The emphasis is on the spiritual lesson of salvation to be learned, not that the "wicked" were re-assigned across the veil for further remedial schooling.

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The flood, the fire at the second coming, and the various wars that God has used to destroy the righteous who became wicked have caused me to think that in reality we really do not have "free agency" or if we do it is substantially limited. I just don't see how God can destroy people for being wicked and still honor free agency. How can God kill a physical body and then bring the spirit of that body to the judgment bar and say due to my perfect knowledge I knew you would have never repented no matter the circumstances and as a result of your evilness you inherit this kingdom. The wicked spirit never had a chance and or never really had free agency. Suppose the spirit was never warned by Noah or suppose the spirit was never informed of the second coming.

Jeremiah 18:1-10 should help resolve your conundrum.

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Biz:

Number one is, it is not "free agency" it is just agency, and there is nothing free about it. We choose whom we will follow. That is the agency part. We are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.

In ordinary discourse the word 'free' in the expression 'free agency' isn't supposed to tell us something about consequences - that we can choose them - rather, it's supposed to modify 'agent' and tell us that in addition to something being an agent it also has the property of determining outcomes in a certain way. Something could be an agent but also be unable to determine outcomes in the relevant way. I know that sounds odd, but some theories of free will depend on that being the case - i.e. that one can be an agent and not be able to determine outcomes in a certain way. The relatively recent Church movement to abandon the word 'free' in 'free agency' tells me that whoever came up with that idea wasn't very familiar with how the expression has been used in philosophical and theological discourse for thousands of years and still is used in such literature. It's a quaint little saying ("There's nothing free about free agency!"), but technically there's nothing odd about saying that a subject has free agency and is not able to choose the consequences of her free choices. The latter part - not being able to choose the consequences - is not a contradiction of 'free' in 'free agency'.

Edit:

I actually just looked up 'free agency' on LDS.org and found a 2006 talk by Elder Chistoffersen entitled "Moral Agency" in which he starts off by giving a reason for the abandonment of 'free'. His reason does not seem to be because "agency isn't free" or because our agency was "bought with a price" or something along those lines. He simply claims the the scriptures don't use the term 'free agency' and implies that we should model our language after the scriptures. It seems that I have heard this agency-isnt-free line before, but I don't know where line came from. Any ideas?

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It seems that I have heard this agency-isnt-free line before, but I don't know where line came from. Any ideas?

I definitely have heard it, numerous times- we have a gospel doctrine teacher who seems particularly enamored with the idea- but it's usually in the "bought with a price" category.

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Brade:

I really can't address the use of the term "Free Agency" outside of how I understand it. I too have heard the term, but that never made much sense to me so I prefer just "Agency".

For about 5 years till my moms' death I was functionally her agent. I could do anything legally as she would have. I always told her exactly what and why I was doing something as her agent. But the fact remained that if I didn't no one could have gainsaid me. So I do understand the role of agent and agency.

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In ordinary discourse the word 'free' in the expression 'free agency' isn't supposed to tell us something about consequences - that we can choose them - rather, it's supposed to modify 'agent' and tell us that in addition to something being an agent it also has the property of determining outcomes in a certain way. Something could be an agent but also be unable to determine outcomes in the relevant way. I know that sounds odd, but some theories of free will depend on that being the case - i.e. that one can be an agent and not be able to determine outcomes in a certain way. The relatively recent Church movement to abandon the word 'free' in 'free agency' tells me that whoever came up with that idea wasn't very familiar with how the expression has been used in philosophical and theological discourse for thousands of years and still is used in such literature. It's a quaint little saying ("There's nothing free about free agency!"), but technically there's nothing odd about saying that a subject has free agency and is not able to choose the consequences of her free choices. The latter part - not being able to choose the consequences - is not a contradiction of 'free' in 'free agency'.

Edit:

I actually just looked up 'free agency' on LDS.org and found a 2006 talk by Elder Chistoffersen entitled "Moral Agency" in which he starts off by giving a reason for the abandonment of 'free'. His reason does not seem to be because "agency isn't free" or because our agency was "bought with a price" or something along those lines. He simply claims the the scriptures don't use the term 'free agency' and implies that we should model our language after the scriptures. It seems that I have heard this agency-isnt-free line before, but I don't know where line came from. Any ideas?

I believe this April 1992 general conference talk was where President Packer first pointed out that the term "free agency" does not exist in scripture, that it is "moral agency" or simply "agency". If you read his statement in the context of the talk, it might be clearer. My impression is that too many people had (and too many people still have) the impression that "free agency" implied some sort of license that exempted one from the consequences of poor choices. Removing the descriptor "free" from the noun "agency" helps to mitigate that misconception.

In line with what I understand to be the desires of present-day prophets and apostles, I have not used the word "free" with "agency" in any of my writing or discourse since 1992, and I don't intend ever to do so in the future.

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My impression is that too many people had (and too many people still have) the impression that "free agency" implied some sort of license that exempted one from the consequences of poor choices.

There is also the claim that one isn't really free if the choices involved are distasteful or destructive, those who hold this position would say that a choice between life or death is no choice at all. But that would imply everyone would choose life in every single situation that is life or death, which isn't true at all. And if there are cases where some may see death as the preferable choice, than how is it not a choice?
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I believe this April 1992 general conference talk was where President Packer first pointed out that the term "free agency" does not exist in scripture, that it is "moral agency" or simply "agency". If you read his statement in the context of the talk, it might be clearer. My impression is that too many people had (and too many people still have) the impression that "free agency" implied some sort of license that exempted one from the consequences of poor choices. Removing the descriptor "free" from the noun "agency" helps to mitigate that misconception.

If it's true that a significant population of members thought that the word 'free' in the expression 'free agency' contributed to the expression the notion that there was some sort of exemption from the consequences of poor choices, then I'm going to feel a sense of vicarious embarrassment for such people for exhibiting such a level of mental laziness and apparent lack of serious reflection. I mean, seriously, if it's true that the brethren discovered that that was a serious problem, then that would reflect very poorly on the level of attention an apparently significant number of members pay to their theology.

In line with what I understand to be the desires of present-day prophets and apostles, I have not used the word "free" with "agency" in any of my writing or discourse since 1992, and I don't intend ever to do so in the future.

That is, of course, your prerogative. For what it's worth, thankfully, I've yet to meet anyone so foolish as to think that freedom from consequences was packaged into the notion of free agency.

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The concept of agency or being a free agent is actually quite simple to understand. An agent is one who acts. A free agent is one whose actions are self-determined rather than being imposed or constrained by force or agreement to the will of another. A servant or slave or employee is bound to act on the wishes of their master or employer. A free agent is not bound by such an agreement.

The Bible teaches that those who have received the teachings of the Law and the Prophets and accepted the covenants of being a member of God's chosen people are bound by the law and are no longer free agents; they are either slaves to sin and Satan or they are slaves to God and Christ.

The Bible further teaches that those outside the law or covenants are neither slaves to Satan nor slaves to God and will be judged according to their own conscience. Such are the only true Free Agents as they are neither slaves to God or to Satan, as the law has no claim upon them.

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I don't believe that God "causes" wars. I believe that wars are the result of bad people being allowed to do the wicked deeds that exist in their hearts. When enough people want a war, God allows it to happen.

Helaman 13: 8-10 "Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.

And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with the sword and with famine and with pestilence.

Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction."

How would you then explain these verses to someone who had that same concern I mentioned in my first post?

Biz

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