Jonathan Edwards, Freedom, Henry Tappan, Joseph Smith and Foreknowledge

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.

11 Responses to Jonathan Edwards, Freedom, Henry Tappan, Joseph Smith and Foreknowledge

  1. Eric Nielson says:

    To me, Tappan’s argument is not persuasive. What 1840 remarks are you talking about?

  2. Blake says:

    Tappan’s argument is good in one sense but fallacious in another. It is true that the implication of the divine decrees such as irresistible grace and divine decree certainly entail a “necessity” that is inconsistent with free will. However, foreknowledge itself entails that our future actions are just as fixed as the past fact that God knew what we would do. Foreknowledge also entails a type of “necessity” — not a necessity of the governing force of God’s decree, but the fixity of the past knowledge that entails that given that God knew I would do action A at time t, it is not within my power to refrain from doing A at t.

  3. WVS says:

    Blake, you Edwardian-Hobbesian you.

    Eric, his sermon of February in Washington.

  4. Blake says:

    Yeah, now if I just didn’t significantly limit the scope of God’s foreknowledge to avoid the logical problem I’d squarely fit that darned Hobbesian-Edwardsian line of thought. ,

  5. Clark says:

    Blake’s right in terms of the logic. I’m not sure he’s right that the fixity of the future is all that matters to Smith. My sense is that his complaint with the Calvinists was that it was God determining the future not that the future was determined in the sense that there are truths about the future. Of course Blake makes further arguments in his books for why he thinks the future can’t be fixed.

    With regards to Joseph I think the Feb 5, 1840 sermon makes pretty clear Joseph’s view.

    I believe that God foreknew every thing; but did not fore ordain every thing; I deny that foreordain and foreknow is the same thing. He fore ordained the fall of man; but all merciful as he is, he foreordained at the same time, a plan for Redemption for all mankind.

  6. WVS says:

    My only problem with the 5 Feb report is its source, which right now is undetermined. Also that there is just one source and that one senses a bit of casualness in the reporting. But as it stands it does suggest complete foreknowledge.

  7. Clark says:

    To other oft turned to place is Joseph’s discussion of the urim and thummim given to people where things past, present and future are manifest. Of course one can always quibble with what things of the future are.

    • WVS says:

      Right, sea of glass and fire, etc. It does sound Godelesque.

      • Clark says:

        Godelesque or Googlesque? (grin) Anyway Blake explains that away as merely being things that were entailed by the present such as say the trajectory of an asteroid. So it’s really not quite as interesting a quote as the Feb 5th one.

  8. WVS says:

    Somehow, “extrapolating stones” just doesn’t have the same romance.

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