Calvinism, Edwards, Necessity & Certainty

Ken Hamrick

Active member
I contend that when Calvinism goes the length of equating the certainty found in Scripture with necessity, as Jonathan Edwards did, it falls into error and fuels Arminian objections. The centrist view of affirming a biblical certainty in all things but a necessity in none is the distinction defended in the super-short summary below.

Edwards taught that God cannot know with certainty that any thing will occur unless there is "a certainty within the thing itself."[1]
Edwards defines necessity:
When the subject and predicate of the proposition, which affirms the existence of any thing, either substance, quality, act, or circumstance, have a full and CERTAIN CONNECTION, then the existence or being of that thing is said to be necessary in a metaphysical sense.[2]
This amounts to no more than to assert that if something is certain, it is necessary. It matters not whether the certainty comes from foresight or from the laws of cause and effect in the universe, it is necessary. But such a view fails to properly acknowledge the transcendence of God. He is other than creation; and while He is immanently present within creation, He is never part of it. This world is temporal, while God is eternal. This world is finite, while He is infinite.

But this is all but lost on Edwards, who sees the entire created world as continually being recreated (out of nothing) at every moment:
It will follow from what has been observed, that God’s upholding of created substance, or causing of its existence in each successive moment, is altogether equivalent to an immediate production out of nothing, at each moment. Because its existence at this moment is not merely in part from God, but wholly from him; and not in any part, or degree, from its antecedent existence.[3]
He sees the universe as falling out of existence at every moment and continually being created again by God. To Edwards, every detail at every moment is exactly as God has created it. Rather than God’s thoughts transcending this world, this world is merely an expression of His thoughts! Transcendence becomes a lost concept of no importance.

This problem in Edwards’ theology is behind his equating of certainty with necessity. Only when God transcends the creation can divine immutability and certainty coexist with a world of possibility, contingency and potential. Without this transcendence, the world’s trajectories of events are as immutable as God Himself.

Edwards misses this distinction, insisting that any certainty about a thing—even if seemingly only in God’s foreknowledge—is a certainty in the thing itself, if for no other reason than that the thing is certain and cannot but be.[4] Edwards’ error pulls the knowledge of God down into creation itself, blurring the distinction between the created world and that which transcends it. How is it “impossible but that the event should be?” If it consists only in the impossibility that God’s foreknowledge fail, then it is strictly an impossibility that transcends the world and the nature of that event. If the impossibility disappears when the scope is limited to the created world, then what we are really looking at is certainty and not impossibility or necessity.

In this world, the nature of that event may be completely contingent—without necessity—and still be certain in the knowledge of God who sees all events from outside time. By losing sight of the transcendence of God’s foreknowledge, Edwards misses the distinction between a certainty in the thing itself and a certainty that is in God’s knowledge alone; and so he falsely views certainty as nothing other than necessity.

Possibility and impossibility are terms that only apply to this temporal world and are foreign terms improperly applied to God’s transcendent foreknowledge. In God’s foreknowledge, all things are immutably known and are thus certain, even those things for which alternative possibilities exist within this temporal world.

Within the scope of the creation, it is not impossible that a foreknown event may fail to be. Even events that are completely random in this world, if there are any, are certain in God’s transcendent view—but without losing any of the contingency of their nature. God merely foreknows with transcendent certainty which of many alternative possibilities will come to pass. Certainty does not remove from possibility all alternative courses of action, like necessity does. With certainty, a world of innumerable alternative possibilities exists, but it remains utterly certain which of the many possible courses of action will be chosen.


[1] “On The Freedom of The Will,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, (Hendrickson: Peabody, 2003), Vol. 1, Part II., Sect. XII., p. 38.
[2] Edwards, Ibid., Part I., Sect. III., 5., p. 9.
[3] Edwards, “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended,” Works, Vol. 1, Part IV., chap III., p. 224.
[4] Edwards, “On the Freedom of the Will,” p. 37, states:
"Whether Prescience be the thing that makes event necessary or no, it alters not the case. Infallible Foreknowledge may prove the Necessity of the event foreknown, and yet not be the thing which causes the Necessity. If the foreknowledge be absolute, this proves the event known to be necessary, or proves that it is impossible but that the event should be, by some means or other, either by a decree, or some other way, if there be any other way: because, as was said before, it is absurd to say, that a proposition is known to be certainly and infallibly true, which yet may possibly prove not true."

Ken Hamrick
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
I didn't Edwards believed such crazy things. Spares me the labor of reading all his nonsense.

I agree he is making God somehow contingent upon creation itself by his logic.

Appreciate the Cliff Notes.
 
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preacher4truth

Well-known member
I contend that when Calvinism goes the length of equating the certainty found in Scripture with necessity, as Jonathan Edwards did, it falls into error and fuels Arminian objections. The centrist view of affirming a biblical certainty in all things but a necessity in none is the distinction defended in the super-short summary below.

Edwards taught that God cannot know with certainty that any thing will occur unless there is "a certainty within the thing itself."[1]
Edwards defines necessity:

This amounts to no more than to assert that if something is certain, it is necessary. It matters not whether the certainty comes from foresight or from the laws of cause and effect in the universe, it is necessary. But such a view fails to properly acknowledge the transcendence of God. He is other than creation; and while He is immanently present within creation, He is never part of it. This world is temporal, while God is eternal. This world is finite, while He is infinite.

But this is all but lost on Edwards, who sees the entire created world as continually being recreated (out of nothing) at every moment:

He sees the universe as falling out of existence at every moment and continually being created again by God. To Edwards, every detail at every moment is exactly as God has created it. Rather than God’s thoughts transcending this world, this world is merely an expression of His thoughts! Transcendence becomes a lost concept of no importance.

This problem in Edwards’ theology is behind his equating of certainty with necessity. Only when God transcends the creation can divine immutability and certainty coexist with a world of possibility, contingency and potential. Without this transcendence, the world’s trajectories of events are as immutable as God Himself.

Edwards misses this distinction, insisting that any certainty about a thing—even if seemingly only in God’s foreknowledge—is a certainty in the thing itself, if for no other reason than that the thing is certain and cannot but be.[4] Edwards’ error pulls the knowledge of God down into creation itself, blurring the distinction between the created world and that which transcends it. How is it “impossible but that the event should be?” If it consists only in the impossibility that God’s foreknowledge fail, then it is strictly an impossibility that transcends the world and the nature of that event. If the impossibility disappears when the scope is limited to the created world, then what we are really looking at is certainty and not impossibility or necessity.

In this world, the nature of that event may be completely contingent—without necessity—and still be certain in the knowledge of God who sees all events from outside time. By losing sight of the transcendence of God’s foreknowledge, Edwards misses the distinction between a certainty in the thing itself and a certainty that is in God’s knowledge alone; and so he falsely views certainty as nothing other than necessity.

Possibility and impossibility are terms that only apply to this temporal world and are foreign terms improperly applied to God’s transcendent foreknowledge. In God’s foreknowledge, all things are immutably known and are thus certain, even those things for which alternative possibilities exist within this temporal world.

Within the scope of the creation, it is not impossible that a foreknown event may fail to be. Even events that are completely random in this world, if there are any, are certain in God’s transcendent view—but without losing any of the contingency of their nature. God merely foreknows with transcendent certainty which of many alternative possibilities will come to pass. Certainty does not remove from possibility all alternative courses of action, like necessity does. With certainty, a world of innumerable alternative possibilities exists, but it remains utterly certain which of the many possible courses of action will be chosen.


[1] “On The Freedom of The Will,” The Works of Jonathan Edwards, (Hendrickson: Peabody, 2003), Vol. 1, Part II., Sect. XII., p. 38.
[2] Edwards, Ibid., Part I., Sect. III., 5., p. 9.
[3] Edwards, “The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended,” Works, Vol. 1, Part IV., chap III., p. 224.
[4] Edwards, “On the Freedom of the Will,” p. 37, states:
"Whether Prescience be the thing that makes event necessary or no, it alters not the case. Infallible Foreknowledge may prove the Necessity of the event foreknown, and yet not be the thing which causes the Necessity. If the foreknowledge be absolute, this proves the event known to be necessary, or proves that it is impossible but that the event should be, by some means or other, either by a decree, or some other way, if there be any other way: because, as was said before, it is absurd to say, that a proposition is known to be certainly and infallibly true, which yet may possibly prove not true."

Ken Hamrick
No offense intended but you've failed to prove Edwards believed what you've asserted he believed. Making a claim then offering a partial quotation as if it supports your premise isn't evidence, nor are footnotes proof or evidence.

Frankly speaking it is smoke and mirrors. It is almost hilarious that you're attempting to turn Edwards, one who championed Gods' Sovereignty and Ominiscience, into an Open Theist.

Um. Lol!!!!!
 

preacher4truth

Well-known member
I didn't Edwards believed such crazy things. Spares me the labor of reading all his nonsense.

I agree he is making God somehow contingent upon creation itself by his logic.

Appreciate the Cliff Notes.
It IS hilarious to see how readily someone wishes to believe in bovine scatology and sees this pile as "cliff notes." 😂😂😂😂😂
 

preacher4truth

Well-known member
I don't understand this...
I've read the OP a few times, and not only does it not make sense, it fails to prove its premise. It is apparent it wasn't written to make sense at all, it was intended to make an accusation, and a false one.

But boy, it sure appeared scholarly, which was another intention, which, to a thinking person, it is all faux de faux.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
I didn't Edwards believed such crazy things. Spares me the labor of reading all his nonsense.

I agree he is making God somehow contingent upon creation itself by his logic.

Appreciate the Cliff Notes.
@Ken Hamrick Maybe this played a part in me thinking what I said. Dizerner thinks you are saying God is contingent on his Creation; then I said it seems you make it sound like God depends on his Creation for insight, so maybe I understood it a little bit. I'm sure you and Edwards are not Open Theists though, right? Since you hold to God's Aseity, why does it seem everyone thinks your OP means the same thing?
 
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TomFL

Well-known member
Within the scope of the creation, it is not impossible that a foreknown event may fail to be. Even events that are completely random in this world, if there are any, are certain in God’s transcendent view—but without losing any of the contingency of their nature. God merely foreknows with transcendent certainty which of many alternative possibilities will come to pass. Certainty does not remove from possibility all alternative courses of action, like necessity does. With certainty, a world of innumerable alternative possibilities exists, but it remains utterly certain which of the many possible courses of action will be chosen.

Yes that is so

Some confound the certainty which comes from God's foreknowledge

with necessity
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Certain but not necessary
Do you think he is conflating Foreknowledge with something like the Double Slit Experiment in Quantum Physics? That experiment says no one knows which way a Photon goes until it's Observed, so in a way the Observer causes the course of the Photons to be Certain. Wouldn't Certainty then be Necessary?
 

TomFL

Well-known member
Do you think he is conflating Foreknowledge with something like the Double Slit Experiment in Quantum Physics? That experiment says no one knows which way a Photon goes until it's Observed, so in a way the Observer causes the course of the Photons to be Certain. Wouldn't Certainty then be Necessary?
No knowing about something does not make it happen
 
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