Have your Cake and Eat It Too


Is it just me or has the Ensign made significant improvement in the last few months?

I read with interest the Fullness of the Gospel article entitled Agency on page 18. I have been surprised not to have seen anyone comment on the article yet. If I missed your post on this article I am sorry, send me a link.

The first paragraph simply states that God has given us free will, or the ability to choose. The next section of the article is very interesting to me. It says that agency is an eternal attribute that did not begin at birth, but was possessed in our pre mortal existence.

The article then states that we do not believe in a deterministic God, but rather a God who has perfect foreknowledge of the choices His children will make. They state a familiar quotation from James Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from Jesus the Christ (29):

God knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason. He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.

I feel free. I can choose all kinds of options. Believing in Free Will is easy. I am also starting to believe in a very long productive preexistence where we had agency. A perfect Heavenly Father who has known me for a very long time can know me very well, even perfectly. A God who is a perfect predictor of the future as Talmage suggests is also easy for me to believe.

There have been several philosophical debates about Free Will and Foreknowledge on the ‘nacle. I seem to particularly remember one on Splendid Sun. I remember observing this debate and even trying to enter it when I first found the MA. I was (and still am) way over my head in these type of debates. I remember stating once that I had no problem at all believing in complete free will for me and complete foreknowledge for God and that I saw no contradiction in the two whatsoever. I was told that my opinion on the matter was like ‘having my cake and eating it too’. After a while of thinking about that I felt like saying why not? If you have cake – eat it. That seems to be what Talmage and the good folks at the Ensign also seem to think. Are we all to naive to see the error of this?

Now, I would like to ask a favor. Do you remember a line from one of my favorite movies (Ghostbusters) where the Bill Murray character says to the Dan Aykroyd character something like, ‘pretend that I don’t know anything about chemistry, physics, engineering, or metallurgy, and tell me what is going on!’ The irony of this was not lost on me as an engineer. Well now I ask anyone who is better educated and read than I am in philosophy who may want to chime in on this: ‘pretend that I don’t know anything about philosophy, or psychology, or theology, and tell me what is going on!’ I don’t see why I can’t have my cake and eat it too. And why shouldn’t I?

Additional note: I am going to make a ‘sister’ post on Free will at Small and Simple where I would like to review the song ‘Free Will’ by RUSH and use it as an example of choosing free will as a way to transcend determinism. I will make a link to it here.

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28 Responses to “Have your Cake and Eat It Too”


  1. 1 Jettboy March 13, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    To be honest, I miss the Ensign of the 70s and 80s. They were much more thought provoking and filled with useful information. I would read them from cover to cover sometimes. As much as I hate to admit it, I can usually only find one or two articles of interest anymore.

  2. 2 Eric March 13, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    I have thought this also, but it seems that they have gotten better this year so far.

  3. 3 Geoff J March 13, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    If you have cake – eat it.

    Ahh, but bnow that you’ve eaten it you don’t have a cake anymore… (that’s the point).

    Are we all to naive to see the error of this?

    Yes. At least if you want *exhaustive* foreknowledge and free will. You can however logocally have God as the ultimate predictor and still keep free will. That is less than absolute or exhaustive forknowledge but for our practical purposes it may be basically the same.

    I don’t see why I can’t have my cake and eat it too. And why shouldn’t I?

    Exhaustive foreknowledge means that God *knows* your every eye blink between now and your death. It means that you are predestined. It means you are fated and there is nothing you can do to choose otherwise.

    God as the ultimate predictor (read: no exhaustive foreknowledge) means the future is open and undetermined but that God has a pretty good idea of what we will do anyway.

  4. 4 Ryan March 13, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Exhaustive foreknowledge means that … …you are fated and there is nothing you can do to choose otherwise.

    Oh my goodness I couldn’t (respectfully) disagree more. How does God knowing what I will do have any tangible influence over what I actually do. There is absolutely no correlation between the two.

    I agree that the exhaustive foreknowledge of God is up for debate, and even the predestiny/foreordination of men. But the two concepts are mutually exclusive, can you show me otherwise?

  5. 5 Geoff J March 13, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Ryan: How does God knowing what I will do have any tangible influence over what I actually do.

    Well, if God *knows* what you *will* do then (by definition) you have no choice to do otherwise. If you actually could choose otherwise then God only knows what you *might* do.

  6. 6 Eric March 14, 2006 at 5:39 am

    Geoff:

    Maybe if I eat my cake it will be like manna and there will be more in the morning.

    Something that I picked up new for me is that Talmage seemed to think that the way God had foreknowledge is by predicting the future. I thought that might appeal to you. I certainly don’t know but Talmage seemed to go for a predictive model.

    Is the bottom line believing that God has ‘good enough’ foreknowledge to have perfect faith in him? I mean he promises quite a bit – resurrection, forgiveness, eternal life, all that he has, happiness if we follow him. If we don’t believe he knows the future to a very high, if not complete level, are we limited in the faith we can have in him?

  7. 7 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Maybe if I eat my cake it will be like manna and there will be more in the morning.

    Hehe… Well that means it is a different cake every morning.

    I certainly don’t know but Talmage seemed to go for a predictive model.

    Yes. He veers dangerously close to determinism but leaves wiggle room. And yes, I think we must have faith that God has “good enough” power and knowledge to ensure that all of his purposes will be fulfilled while still leaving the future open (as opposed to fixed). Absolute or exhaustive foreknowledge obliterates free will so it goes too far.

  8. 8 Eric March 14, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Thanks Geoff:

    I disagree.

    Want some cake?

  9. 9 My Dominion March 14, 2006 at 9:25 am

    Didn’t we just have a discussion regarding this exact topic not more than 2 months ago… I revert to my previous statement…
    “We are Free to Choose our own path. It is not predetermined. Moses 4:3 reads: “Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.” and in 2nd Nephi 2:27 “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” and I can quote on and on and on. Free agency is a major standard the church teaches how does that fall in to line with a predetermined line of events.”

  10. 10 Ryan March 14, 2006 at 10:52 am

    then (by definition) you have no choice to do otherwise.

    I still don’t see the correlation. You are saying God’s complete foreknowledge somehow conjures up a magical force that compels me to behave a certain way.
    This is not the case. There is absolutely no compulsion (thanks to my dominion’s quotes, we know this to be true, it’s the free agency principle)

    By inversion you are arguing that since we are free to choose what we will, God must not be capable of knowing precisely how we will behave. Again, the correlation here escapes me.

  11. 11 Ryan March 14, 2006 at 11:10 am

    my other problem with the theory of non-exhaustive foreknowledge is that it would make God a liar. How could God dare fill the scriptures with promises of events that he’s not quite sure will actually happen. What if he makes some promise but someone acts differently than He was expecting? His promise is destroyed and He ceases to be God. That didn’t happen.

  12. 12 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 11:32 am

    Eric: I disagree.

    With what?

    Ryan: You are saying God’s complete foreknowledge somehow conjures up a magical force that compels me to behave a certain way.

    If God *knows* what you will do at 8:37:22 PST on Feb. 22, 2009 then the future is fixed and there is nothing you or he can do to stop that fated even from happening. If God knows then it is not a possible future, it is a fact. It is as if it already happened. So if God *knows* you will hold up a liquor store at that moment, then how is that not fate and predestination? Where is your free will to choose otherwise then? There cannot be exhaustive foreknowledge without a fixed future. A fixed future means we are all fated. Further, knowing the fixed future would do God no good because he could change it. (Ever see 12 Monkeys? – same idea)

    See this series for much more.

  13. 13 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 11:35 am

    Make that “he could not change it” (if he did then he didn’t *know* what *will* happen.

  14. 14 Ryan March 14, 2006 at 11:48 am

    So if God *knows* you will hold up a liquor store at that moment, then how is that not fate and predestination?

    It’s the concept of hypotheticals that makes it reconcilable. The idea that I am allowed (i.e., the opportunity to change my mind if I so desire). Sadly God knows that this will not be the case. That although he gave me free agency and I could theoretically be perfect, I will, in fact, screw up… lots.

    But what say you to the idea that God basically lies to us everytime he promises anything, since technically His promise could fall through.

  15. 15 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Ryan: The idea that I am allowed (i.e., the opportunity to change my mind if I so desire). Sadly God knows that this will not be the case.

    There is a term for you position, Ryan. It is called “hypothetical free will”. That means that even though you *will* hold up the liqour store and you are not actually free to choose to do otherwise, you hypothetically could have. Go ahead believe in that notion if you wish, but don’t confuse it with actual free will because the two are very different.

    As for God’s promises: I have faith that God has enough power and knowledge to bring about 100% of the things he promises — even though we retain real free will (and thus an open, non-fixed future) along the way.

  16. 16 Ryan March 14, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Well Geoff, I suspect we have come to a standtsill here then.

    I know that the scriptures say that God knows everything from beginning to end and that we simultaneously have the gift of free agency.

    It seems to me you believe in the free agency part but I don’t quite know how to convince you of the God knowing everything part. Maybe I am wrong though… can you point me to some type of scripture or doctrine that claims that God knows almost everything? and that his knowledge and therefore his wisdom and therefore his power is almost perfect?

  17. 17 Wade March 14, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Geoff & Ryan,

    Just thought I’d pipe in and say I think it is an interesting discussion you’re having.

  18. 18 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Ryan: can you point me to some type of scripture or doctrine that claims that God knows almost everything? and that his knowledge and therefore his wisdom and therefore his power is almost perfect?

    Try D&C 19. There we learn that “eternal” doesn’t mean what we thought it meant. The point being that sometimes our popular assumptions about God and scriptural terminologies are wrong.

    You are probably hung up on the idea of “omniscience” and assume it means God must exhaustively know the future as well as the past. But I think it is more accurate to say God knows all things that are knowable — and an open future is not exhaustively knowable. However he does know enough to be certain he can bring about all of his promises even in an open future. This notion is completely compatible with our scriptures. Plus it avoids the paradox of free will and exhaustive foreknowledge (made popular by the traditions of men IMO). That’s good on all counts I’d say.

  19. 19 Eric March 14, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    Geoff,

    I feel that the combination of free will and foreknowledge is made a paradox by the philosophies and traditions of man.

    I might throw some more stuff out for grins. I loved Elder Maxwell and miss him very much, especially when conference rolls around. He wrote a book called ‘Things as they really Are’ and chapter 2 of that book addresses this quite a bit. Here are some highlights as I saw them:

    sparrows do not fall without God knowing, even the hairs of our head are numberes (Matt 10:29-30).

    God knows what we will ask for before we pray (Matt 6:8).

    God knows all things which are to come (Words of Mormon 1:7)

    God knows our hearts (Luke 16:15) and John Whitmers (D&C 15:3)

    God knows all things, and there is not anything save he knows it (2 Ne. 9:20)

    He gives the example of Martin Harris lossing the pages from the Book of Mormon and the plans that were made 1500 years before the event. He says that God was not surprised by the ‘fall’ of David and Judas, but did not cause it.

    And then the BIG one. He then uses Moses 1:6 and D&C 38:2 that both say that all things are present for God. He then says that ‘God does not live in the dimension of time as do we’. He also says ‘One of the dimensions of worshipping a living God is to know that he is alive and living in the sense of foreseeing.

    Now, I don’t know how God knows the future, whether he is a predictor, or not restricted by time. But I do believe that God knows future events to a level that mortals would call perfect. I also believe in free will. I also feel that many objections to this combination are as much a result of definitions we choose.

  20. 20 My Dominion March 14, 2006 at 4:06 pm

    For Ryan’s sake maybe I should offer up this. Keeping on the thought of god knowing us well enough and what we will do I would say that I know Ryan well enough that If I offered to take Ryan to a strip club tonight and get him a lap dance that he will say no. Although he now may say yes just to prove me wrong but that circumstance aside He would stick with no.

    I could see that being an option for the predestiny/foreordination arguement.

  21. 21 Wade March 14, 2006 at 4:45 pm

    If I offered to take Ryan to a strip club tonight and get him a lap dance that he will say no.

    RYAN??? Is this true? I’m shocked, and hurt! So much for the good ole days.

  22. 22 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 5:37 pm

    Ryan,

    I appreciate you attempt here. Very few of the examples you gave support exhaustive foreknowledge at all though. I’ll go through them:

    “sparrows do not fall without God knowing”

    That is present knowledge so there is no issue here.

    “God knows what we will ask for before we pray (Matt 6:8)”

    Your bias is showing. The verse actually says: “for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” Knowing what you need is a lot different than exactly foreknowing all of our prayers (especially far into the future).

    “God knows all things which are to come (Words of Mormon 1:7)”

    Yup, but this could easily apply to generalities not specifics

    “God knows our hearts (Luke 16:15) and John Whitmers (D&C 15:3)”

    Unrelated to foreknowledge

    “God knows all things, and there is not anything save he knows it (2 Ne. 9:20)”

    Notice is say “is not anything save he knows it”. Is implies present, not future.

    The lost manuscript episode works just as well as evidence of a God who is always prepared for any contingency and thus can ensure his promises and purposes are fulfilled while still not violating agency.

    All things being present before God seems to mostly be a commentary on His immanence, or his being in and through all things.

    “But I do believe that God knows future events to a level that mortals would call perfect.”

    Here we are basically agreeing then. God can predict so well that it does appear like exhaustive foreknowledge. It is much like My Dominion’s prediction about your future choices, but with far greater accuracy.

  23. 23 Eric March 14, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    So, you can’t tell any of us apart can you GeoffJ (or is it B?).

    For me it doesn’t matter that much if God’s foreknowledge doesn’t go down to the eye blink level. For me, (Eric if that helps :)) maybe it does go that far maybe it doesn’t. If that helps resolve the conflict between you and me (Eric) then great. If you are happy with God’s knowledge being so great that to martal man it can be considered perfect then I (Eric) am satisfied.

  24. 24 Geoff J March 14, 2006 at 8:37 pm

    Lol!

    Where did you come from Eric? I was debating with Ryan and you popped up again out of nowhere. I blame the comment by My Dominion for throwing me off…

  25. 25 Ryan March 14, 2006 at 9:58 pm

    Eric you go to strip clubs?

    For shame.

    Wanna write a post about it?

  26. 26 Eric March 15, 2006 at 3:57 am

    God knows that I would not go to a strip club. But I could if I chose to.

  27. 27 Wade March 15, 2006 at 8:28 am

    God knows that I would not go to a strip club. But I could if I chose to.

    Very witty; it’s classic!

  28. 28 cylon May 12, 2006 at 4:58 am

    Just found your site. Well done! I like to blog around looking for relevant info and interesting sites like this one. If you get a chance it would be great if you looked at my site kitchen stools.


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