Jonathan Edwards, Freedom, Henry Tappan, Joseph Smith and Foreknowledge
February 5, 2012 11 Comments
Joseph Smith contributed a copy of Henry Phillip Tappan’s A Review of Edwards’s ‘Inquiry into the freedom of the will.’ to the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute. The title page contains this quote:
I am afraid that Edwards’s book (however well meant,) has done much harm in England, as it has secured a favourable hearing to the same doctrines, which, since the time of Clarke, had been generally ranked among the most dangerous errors of Hobbes and his disciples. — Dugald Steward
Later in his book (JS had the 1839 impression apparently) Tappan writes this, an argument I’ve heard many times:
Of God we do not affirm merely the power of calculating future contingent events upon known data, but a positive prescience of all events. He sees from the beginning how contingent causes or wills, will act. He sees with absolute infallibility and certainty — and the events to him are infallible and certain. But still they are not necessary, because the causes which produce them are not necessitated by anything preceding. They are causes contingent and free, and conscious of power not to do what they are actually engaged in doing.
I am persuaded that inattention to the important distinction of certainty implied in the divine foreknowledge, and the necessity implied in the divine predetermination or decree, is the great source of fallacious reasonings and conclusions respecting the divine prescience. When God pre-determines or decrees, he fixes the event by a necessity relative to himself as an infinite and irresistible cause. It cannot be otherwise than it is decreed, while his decree remains. But when he foreknows an event, he presents us merely a form of his infinite intelligence, exerting no causative, and consequently no necessitating influence whatever.
Edwards of course argued that this was fantasy. Foreknowledge, for Edwards, implied lack of contingency (uncertainty) in human choice, a position intimately connected to his Calvinism.
But do you think Tappan’s argument is acceptable? I hear it a lot in Church. I wonder if Joseph Smith bought it? Based on his own 1840 remarks, I think he might have.