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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Wesleyan Heritage Collection for $19.95!!

The Wesleyan Heritage Collection CD is now available for only $19.95.  Some of these works are available through the internet, but many are still hard to find and it is nice to be able to access them and read them without needing access to the internet. The search function is also very helpful in tracking down specific topics among the various works.  My only complaint would be that there seems to be quite a bit of typos, but I would still highly recommend it.  It is an extremely valuable resource.  Here is a list of what you will find on the CD:

Asbury’s Journals and Letters
Benson’s Commentary
Fletcher’s Works
Ralston’s Elements of Divinity
Sutcliffe’s Commentary
Watson’s Dictionary
Watson’s Exposition
Watson’s Institutes
Whedon’s Commentary
Beet’s Commentary
Clarke’s Commentary
Wesley’s Notes on the Bible
Works of Wesley
Works of Arminius

Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards by Daniel D. Whedon (Book Review)

Many thanks to John D. Wagner for the review copy.

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John D. Wagner has edited and republished another classic and yet little known work on the freedom of the will by Methodist Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885).  It is extremely significant as the discussion over the freedom of the will has intensified greatly with the resurgence of Calvinism in mainstream Christianity.  Many Calvinists today still point to the classic book by Jonathan Edwards (The Freedom of the Will) as an irrefutable work firmly establishing the Calvinist doctrine of necessity and compatibilism.  Whedon brilliantly takes on the arguments of Edwards and his contemporaries in this excellent refutation of the “necessitarian” position.

Whedon covers every significant argument of Edwards and other “necessitarians” in this book and dismantles them piece by piece.  He points out that many of the necessitarian arguments amount to question begging, bare assertions, or intricate sophisms, often riddled with embarrassing contradictions and absurdities.  He explains that there simply aren’t any sufficient arguments against the possibility of a single causative power in the agent capable of producing a variety of effects (volitions).  He refers to this as “alternative power” in the Will and demonstrates that it is itself a full and adequate cause needing nothing else to put forth one effect just as well as another (alternative effect).  In other words, nothing causes the Will to act a certain way since the Will is itself a full and adequate cause.  He would classify Edwards’ view of the Will as “unipotent” while calling his own view “pluripotent” (in contemporary discussions Whedon would be considered a “wide source incompatibilist”) 

He effectively takes on Edwards’ argument from motive force; his argument based on natural versus moral ability; his argument based on foreknowledge; his argument based on a so called infinite series (or infinite regress); his argument based on chance, and numerous others.  It is my opinion that Whedon’s section “Reconciliation of Free Agency and Foreknowledge” definitively demonstrates the compatibility of foreknowledge with libertarian free will.  It should be read and carefully considered by Calvinists and Open Theists alike (who both deny that foreknowledge is compatible with free will).

But Whedon is mostly concerned with the troubling and unavoidable implications of Edwards’ necessitarianism: the impossibility of a just moral government and the damage done to God’s holy character.  It would be as unjust and absurd for God to hold a necessitated being morally responsible for his volitions and actions as it would to hold a clock hammer responsible for its movements.  In the end, Whedon concludes that necessitarianism is in no way compatible with the freedom necessary for upholding a just moral government and providing the conditions for an adequate theodicy:

From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator…If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent. (352)

At times the book presents very tough reading.  Whedon is a very careful philosopher and takes great pains to develop his arguments and carefully define his terms in order to dispatch with the ambiguity that often clouds the topic and makes debating the subject nearly impossible.  At times a single paragraph may need to be read several times in order to gather its full import, but the patient reader will be richly rewarded.  I intend to read it several times and will no doubt gain valuable insight with each additional reading.  If this is a topic of interest for you or if you have come to believe that Edwards’ work on the Will is irrefutable, then this book is a must read. Read it alongside Edwards’ work and decide for yourself who better makes their case.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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You can purchase the book at Amazon:

Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards

For more reviews and related resources go here.