Great Quotes: Daniel Whedon on Foreknowledge and Free Will

“Whether there is any foreknowledge or not, it is certain that there will be one particular course of future events and no other.  On the most absolute doctrine of freedom there will be, as we shall soon more fully illustrate, there is one train of choices freely put forth and no other.  If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible.  The difficulty does not indeed lie in the compatibility of the two.  The real difficulty (which we distinctly confess to leave forever insoluble) as may soon more clearly appear, is to conceive how God came by that foreknowledge.  But that is no greater difficulty than to conceive how God came by his omnipotence or self-existence.  It will be a wise theologian who will tells us how God came by his attributes.  It will require a deep thinker to tell how the universe or its immensity came about by its real or actual deity; or how the present self-existent came to be, and no other.” (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pg. 229)

For the context of this quote, you can read Whedon’s entire book free online.  The section dealing with the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge can be found on pages 267-293.  The above quote was taken from a recent edited version which is why the page # is different.

Related:

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism and Why You Should Be An Arminian

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

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7 Responses

  1. Love it, thanks!

  2. “Whether there is any foreknowledge or not, it is certain that there will be one particular course of future events and no other.”

    Sounds like fate, only one outcome is possible.

  3. mtcarner67,

    I am afraid you have misunderstood Whedon’s point. He is saying that no matter how free we are, we will still make choices, choices that will eventually happen. Just as surely as there will be a future, there will be choices made in that future and that shape that future. That truth does not take away freedom at all. So he is not saying that these choices “must” happen (necessity/fate), only that they “will” happen (certainty, but not necessity). That is why Whedon is careful to say “it is certain…” rather than “it is necessary…” For more on that very important distinction, see the Picirilli article linked under the quote.

    Whedon is here specifically dealing with the objection that foreknowledge is not compatible with free will, in that foreknowledge essentially makes free will impossible. In other words, he is addressing the philosophical claim that if God knows what you will choose, that means you have no freedom. Whedon rejects this and deals with it in various ways. But here, he is basically making a thought experiment. Imagine that there is free will and no foreknowledge. Even without foreknowledge, it is still true that free will creatures will make choices in the future and those choices will be what they will be (not because they must be, but simply because they will be).

    So what happens when we add foreknowledge (someone knowing what those future choices will be)? Well, nothing so far as the nature of those choices. They can still be totally free even if they are foreknown. Adding foreknowledge does not change the nature of the choice being free just because those future free choices are foreknown. Foreknowledge is just knowledge. It is not causative. It cannot turn free into not free, or “will be” into “must be”.

  4. mtcarner67,

    To give it its proper context, you can read the original work free online. The relevant section dealing with foreknowledge begins on page 267.

    https://books.google.com/books?id=HwtVAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

  5. 267-293 is where he covers the topic. I will add this to the original post as well.

  6. Certainty is as much of a problem as necessity. Tomorrow for lunch I may or may not eat a peanut butter sandwich. There is nothing certain about it until I actually decide to eat or not eat the sandwich. If today it is certain that tomorrow I will eat said sandwich then tomorrow I have no choice but to eat the sandwich. It then seems to me that if certainty precedes a decision then it in essence renders the decision nessesary and not free. So while it may be certain that I will make decisions the results of those decisions are not certain until made.

  7. Certainty is as much of a problem as necessity.

    Not at all.

    Tomorrow for lunch I may or may not eat a peanut butter sandwich. There is nothing certain about it until I actually decide to eat or not eat the sandwich. If today it is certain that tomorrow I will eat said sandwich then tomorrow I have no choice but to eat the sandwich.

    This doesn’t follow. If today it is certain that you will eat a sandwich tomorrow it is only certain because you will in fact eat the sandwich tomorrow. That says nothing about the nature of the choice when it is made, whether it is free or not. You are just conflating certainty with necessity.

    It then seems to me that if certainty precedes a decision then it in essence renders the decision nessesary and not free.

    It doesn’t seem to me that way at all, since certainty describes only what will be, not what must be.

    Did you read the posts I referenced under the quote? Did you read Whedon in context and see how he deals with this claim? Here is another one that you might find helpful:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/the-transfer-of-nonsense-principle/

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