Was Jonathan Edwards a "virtual pantheist"?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Charles Johnson, Jul 4, 2018.

  1. Charles Johnson

    Charles Johnson Puritan Board Freshman

    The following is a quote from A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology:
    "Besides pure pantheism there has existed an infinite variety of impure forms of virtual pantheism. This is true of all systems that affirm the impersonality of the infinite and absolute, and which resolve all the divine attributes into modes of causality. The same is true of all systems which represent providential preservation as a continual creation, deny the real efficiency of second causes, and make God the only agent in the universe, e. g., Edwards on "Original Sin," pt. 4, ch. 3..."​
    Any thoughts on why Hodge might consider Edwards a "virtual pantheist"? I haven't read "Original Sin", the work in question.
     
  2. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    In Edwards' occasionalism, the created world does not contain within itself the ability to cause any effect and, indeed, does not even persist in time. Instead of God preserving creation through providence, he is actually involved in a continual work of creation at every moment. On a traditional orthodox view of second causes, we can speak of God creating a world where I drop a bowl and cause it to shatter. With Edwards, God is creating a world-moment where I drop a bowl and then (atemporally, of course, from God's perspective), creates a world-moment where the bowl shatters. There is no intrinsic connection between the two other than God's will.

    On top of this is Edwards' doctrine of necessary creation and his idealism. God is bound by his own character to create and to create this particular world as the possible world most wise, good, etc. If creation, then, is a necessary manifestation of the divine character, and has its existence fundamentally in the mind of God (Edwards' idealism), and has no intrinsic ability to act, can we separate creation from God in any meaningful way? This would imply pantheism or, at least, panentheism, with Edwards' strong position on divine simplicity suggesting the former.

    It should be noted that Edwards in no place admits of or defends pantheism and not everyone agrees that it is a necessary implication of his philosophy. Hodge, however, isn't the only one to have taken up this criticism and remarked upon Edwards' departure from historical orthodoxy here. Many new Calvinists take up Edwards' position on the free will in particular without having a clue that, as useful as he is, he does not represent the mainstream of Reformed, confessional thought on the matter.
     
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  3. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So he did not see God creating the Universe, and then having placed in it ongoing history that would be happening, as in immediate and long term historical events? That things happen always immediately, as God was causing them to always be determined directly when happening? No secondary cause and effects?
     
  4. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, from his Works: "God’s preserving created things in being is perfectly equivalent to a continued creation, or to his creating those things out of nothing at each moment of their existence."

    Hodge further explicates his criticism in The Confession of Faith:

    Now many have denied the implication he draws and sought to defend Edwards from such charges, especially since Edwards does in some places allow some agency to created beings in such as way as seems to conflict with his occasionalism. William Hamilton went so far as to accuse Edwards of heresy, while William Cunningham defended Edwards against such charges rather ably. We can't flatly say Edwards was a "pantheist," but I do think that it's fair to say that if his ideas aren't carefully qualified and nuanced they can involve us in pantheistic-like (or Neoplatonic) problems.
     
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    He uses the same language as Pseudo-Dionysius in seeing creation as an overflow, and calling God "Being," in which creation would even be necessary in a sense.

    He is more panentheist than pantheist.
     
  6. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Yes, but his idealism argues that all things only have existence in the divine consciousness/idea, and then his doctrine of divine simplicity leads him to propose that "all God's ideas are only the one idea of Himself" (from Of Being). This, to my understanding, seems to move him towards the realm of pantheism as Hodge claims, rather than panentheism.
     
  7. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Certainly, not disputing that. I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt since panentheism is more salvageable than pantheism.
     
  8. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Senior

    I think this is more or less an accurate assessment. Interestingly enough, I will be preaching “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” this Sunday. Should be fun.
     
  9. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    How would he handle the problem then of God revealing to us in the Bible future history, and with the implication that to God that Future has already happened, as he exists outside of space/time, and He already has determined and set what will happen in the end?
     
  10. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    So he would be seeing the Universe itself as being the extension of His own Being then?
     
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    If he indeed held to some form of Pantheism, does that not color the whole of his theology then?
     
  12. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    No, because he doesn't "hold" to some form of pantheism. The argument is that a number of his theological/philosophical positions, when taken together, may imply a type of pantheism. He never acknowledged or owned that implication and it certainly couldn't be considered a central part of his theological system. I'm not aware of any contemporary of his bringing up the criticism which is unfortunate as it would have been interesting to hear him deal with it. Criticisms of this sort seem to have started arising more in the 19th century with the influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Much of what he wrote was sound and orthodox. There are just a few areas that are potentially problematic and they are mostly so by distant implication rather than per se. I do think that we should be cautious in accepting his philosophical determinism.

    I'm not sure what you are seeing as the problem here. While, on Edwards' view, God does create each world-moment such that they are successive in time (and ex nihilo in his strongest statements), that doesn't mean that God is, himself, performing the act in time. Indeed, in Edwards' thought I would presume he would consider time as only existing within God's creative-consciousness and thus not something God could ever be "within."

    Edwards would prefer to speak in terms of God's consciousness or ideas rather than his being. For Edwards, things only have existence as they are apprehended by the consciousness. Humanly speaking, a tree falling in the woods with no one around does not make a sound for Edwards as it is not perceived. Of course, God does perceive, and indeed creates, the falling of the tree so it does occur, but the classic thought experiment illustrates that, according to Edwards, objects do not exist apart from the consciousness of them. The tricky part is that Edwards also held that God, by necessity and according to his own character, must engage in creation and, indeed, must create this particular world as the best of all possible worlds. Since the universe in exhaustive detail is then determined by God's character, God's consciousness or idea of the world is really just his idea of himself.

    The caveat to all of this is that I'm no Edwards scholar. I've read a great deal of him and in particular with respect to his orthodoxy on these subjects, but it was years ago and now I'm mostly going by memory and some quick references to refresh myself on the matter.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2018
  13. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    No. Just because someone is wrong in one area does not mean they are wrong in all areas. Rome is correct on abortion, for example.
     
  14. DTK

    DTK Puritan Board Junior

    As "loosey-goosey" as A. A. Hodge was with evolution, we all should be reminded that it's not a good idea to throw rocks at others while living in a glass house.
     
  15. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    It would depend on which aspect of a person theology was wrong then, as someone who violates a Cardinal truth of Christian would thus invalidate the whole of their beliefs?
     
  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Good point, as he was indeed weak in regards to creation and how God was involved in that process.
     
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This concept of God willing part of His being outwards for creation to occur would seem to be leading towards some type of Open Theism , as God creates as soon as He knows of something?
     
  18. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Perhaps, but as we've demonstrated Edwards never said that God = creation. Yes, I think much of his proposal is philosophically flawed but that's a different claim.
     
  19. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Edwards speaks of God as “being-in-general” whose infinity contains all perfections and excellencies (Volume I p. 98 in Banner of Truth edition).
     
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Still seems to be stating that all of creation would be God expanding Himself outward to create it from Himself when the need arises.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2018
  21. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Are you saying then that Edwards could have help to a Pantheistic worldview in regards to how God interacts in His creation, but that was not actually formally stipulated and spelled out?
     
  22. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I don't understand what you are asking, at least not the first clause.
     
  23. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Creation is the subject in your sentence, not God.
     
  24. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Edwards might have held to a viewpoint like pantheism, but all that can be stated is that would be a maybe, not a definite.
     
  25. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Logically, his ontology leads to that. But we are all holding views no doubt, whose logical conclusions we are not aware of
     
  26. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    And that we would no doubt reject if we were aware of where those views led.
     
  27. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I hope so. It's rather difficult to knowingly believe something you know to be false.
     
  28. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Have you ever had to change your theological position on an issue then?
     
  29. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Everyone does. I can think of a few.

    1. I used to be a theonomist, but now I hold to natural law.
    2. I used to reject the Covenant of Works, but now I embrace it.
    3. I used to be credobaptist, but now I am paedobaptist.
     
  30. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    What caused you to change your mind on those issues?
     

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