In reading this article, it may help to have a cursory understanding of the free will debate in philosophy. It certainly wouldn’t be necessary, but it would likely contribute to the relevance and your understanding of this article.

We are taught (and more importantly, it is in the scriptures) that we have agency, here used synonymously with free will, which here refers to our ability to make decisions without them being predetermined by other factors. These factors are often identified as any combination of physics, evolutionary psychology, seemingly random circumstances, and others. This topic and debate is widely applicable and important, but most notably for us when choosing good or evil, with help from our conscience, the Light of Christ.

However determinism (the philosophy that advocates against the existence of free will) argues that all actions must have causes, and that all actions are simply reactions and not truly free. This is seemingly a very valid point which is troublesome within Mormon theology once one digs deep enough, at least in my studies. For the sake of simplicity let’s ignore the arguments centered around this mortal life and assume God has granted us free will in this life although we may currently be unable to know how exactly this is compatible with causality and modern science.

Before we totally move past this mortal frame of reference, a subject of concern is that of mentally sick people. I don’t mean diseased or simply neurodivergent people. Rather, I mean sick, twisted, emotionless people capable of committing truly atrocious actions. People who simply cannot feel empathy (sociopaths and/or psychopaths, I’m not too updated on the psychological literature on the scientific terminology, and a simple Google search isn’t helping either) are either somehow responsible for not harboring a conscience (“the Light of Christ”) or are not responsible for their horrible actions (be those murder, rape, or other less severe unethical and criminal activities, such as con artistry), similar to children’s innocence. These tendencies appear to stem from combinations of genetics and early childhood experiences. Is there an on/off switch for moral agency in regards to accountability, or something of a continuum? Anyway, on to my main concern.

To reiterate, let’s assume that because of the victory in the War in Heaven the majority of us have free agency and are therefore responsible for our actions. In that premortal existence we were tasked with choosing to support God and Christ, with the plan that mortals would have this agency and responsibility, or support Lucifer, with the plan that we should not have freedom of the will and be metaphysically compelled to “choose” the right, ensuring not only salvation, but exaltation for all of humankind at the expense of meaningful progress, self-ownership, and self-determination.

When we chose God or Satan then, how were those choices ours? Weren’t they all decided by our personality–which is an intrinsic part of our spiritual identity? So even if we have free will here, how did we have it there? Or did we all have an equal blank slate of a personality while remaining unique and individual children of Heavenly Parents? Even if that wild improbability of a level playing field were true, how then would the Sons of Perdition have sided with Satan and all of our choices been ours? I am completely confused how this was possible. Do we simply not know enough about existence with God before we were born? Are any of these even relevant?

One possibility is that I am projecting many temporal and mortal realities that may not have been in play into this unknowable situation that is far beyond our current understanding. Most directly, could we as spirit children have been exempt from the natural laws of causality? Our theology is often looked at, correctly in my opinion, as being theologically naturalistic, meaning God is subject to science and mathematical laws governing the universes and is not wholly supernatural, only far beyond and outside of our mortal scope of understanding, how then can we have free will in this sort of universe?

I hope this makes at least a little sense. I might be missing something and/or coming at this with the wrong angle. I’m not certain we can have all the answers in this life, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t try. It seems like a decent, if not minuscule, step to Godhood to try to figure these things out.

Additionally, I found the following link after writing the above. It should be noted that here I use free will and agency at least relatively interchangeably, whether the scriptural intention is that they are only small aspects of another or not. http://www.withoutend.org/agency-lds-theology-misunderstood-concept/

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Seth Dunn is a seemingly average Mormon guy with lesser known passions in heterodox economics, philosophy, radical politics, procrastination, music, D&D and many things Mormon. Eclectic and nuanced; something for everyone and some things they very well may not like. His only universally applicable advice is "Be excellent to each other," as well as "Party on, dude!"

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