179: Agency and Opposition (BoM Gospel Doctrine Lesson 6)

“Free to Choose Liberty and Eternal Life”


These two chapters touch on some of the most important questions and yearnings in human experience: Do we have a choice? Are we free? Why is life so hard? Why must we suffer? Can we have the good without experiencing the bad? What do “good” and “bad” mean, anyway?


Class Member Reading: 2 Nephi 1-2


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You can access the Annotated Reading here.

You can access the Lesson Notes here (or PDF).



The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness, Elder Richard G. Scott

Eve, Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Free Will Worth Wanting, Daniel Dennett on Philosophy Bites

Sam Harris on the (absence of) Free Will

Rider/Elephant Metaphor explained by Jonathan Haidt

The Surprising Science of Happiness, TED talk by Dan Gilbert

The Habits of Happiness, TED talk by Matthieu Ricard

Latest Comments

  1. David Sigmon says:

    I agree with both Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. How? I believe they are using different definitions of free will; they are two different concepts. So when we are taking about Sam Harris’ conception of free will – I agree that we don’t have it. But, if we are talking about the compatibilist conception of free will, then I agree that it can be useful to think about free will in those terms, especially when talking about moral responsibility.

    That said, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are both determinist. Most definitions of determinism seem to not take into account quantum mechanics. Now in saying that I am not one of those New Age people who think quantum mechanics present an opportunity for free will, because I don’t. However, there are phenomena for which we absolutely cannot predict the path an individual (i.e., photon, beta particle, etc) will take, the best we can predict is that given enough individuals run through these exact circumstances, a probability distribution will become evident. It is not a matter of our ignorance (of the starting parameters, laws of nature, etc); it is fundamental to how reality is, at least at the subatomic scale. Now, maybe that has no impact at the human scale when we are talking about human behavior, etc. But, I hesitate to just say I am a determinist because of the accurate criticism of determinism that can be made.

    As much as Daniel Dennett makes a good point when he criticizes Sam Harris’ definition of free will, I do believe that we don’t have the ability to “do otherwise”. I don’t believe we could have done differently than what we did. I believe it is an illusion that we are deciding what we do, or “changing our mind”. I believe our “conscious mental experience” is more like a play or performance in front of our attention, rather than a real time awareness of what is taking place inside our “black box”.


  2. Jason Hale says:

    The question of Free Will is really difficult to answer with a definite, yes or no, answer, since the implications of either answer is problematic. If people do have Free Will, then there is a flood of questions involving addiction, manipulation, and the ability of people to take other people’s Free Will.

    If the answer is no, we don’t have Free Will, then the flood of questions include, if that is so, then how can we punish someone for committing murder, rape, or even how can we praise people for giving to charity, being a ‘good’ person. Mormon religion is interesting since we have an almost multiple personality complex. We have on the one shoulder we have God telling us to do good, and on the other shoulder, we have Satan telling us to do evil. This leads to the question of ‘where is my voice/choice?’

    There is a book ‘Sleights of Mind’, it talks about neuroscience and magic, it just is humbling and frustrating to learn just how little Free Will you really have. There is a phrase in a song that I like, ‘I hate myself because I can’t change, I hate myself because I can.’ I think it just illustrates the paradox of both having Free Will, and not having Free Will.


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