I just fulfilled a longstanding promise to myself: I finally read the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I have had many false starts on this project over the years. Asimov was not a great stylist, though he had many interesting ideas. The Foundation books are animated by one such idea: psychohistory. For those who haven’t read the books, I would describe psychohistory as the use of history, psychology, sociology, and mathematics to examine the behavior of large groups of people. While individual behavior cannot be predicted, psychohistory can (more or less) accurately predict the fate of millions. Is this how God works?
This is terribly naive of me, but I am interested in a dilettantish sort of way in free agency and the foreknowledge of God. As far as I can tell from no research beyond sitting in Gospel Doctrine classes, the Mormon conception of free agency and the foreknowledge of God is something like this: God knows each of us so well that He can predict our every choice. Sometimes, this idea is coupled with an appeal to our earthly experience: “just like parents can predict how their children will behave.” (Please ignore the fact that our children often surprise us.) Now, this conception has served me quite well as it simultaneously allows for prophecy and free will.
Still, something nags at me when I think about this topic. Maybe it is the fact that we ask God to intervene in our affairs. If we are engaged in a joint enterprise, isn’t our success or failure necessarily determined by God? Seems like a pretty constrained view of free agency. Psychohistorical foreknowledge, on the other hand, offers an expansive view of free agency that comports more closely with how I feel about my life.
I realize that this is not a new topic, so perhaps I could get some help from the philosophers in the group. What am I missing?