Is Freewill compatable with Determinism? Some thoughts on Jonathan Edwards

Jeff CarreiraBlog Posts, Human Freedom and Freewill15 Comments

I am posting today from the beautiful hills of the Tuscany region of Italy and I am about to start a 20 day spiritual retreat with teacher Andrew Cohen. During my travels here I decided to read something aligned to the more spiritual side of American Philosophy. And so, I have been reading about the great American Protestant Minister, Jonathan Edwards. In the 1730’s Edwards led his congregation into a collective experience of spiritual enlightenment that lasted for 5 months. This event catalyzed the protestant revivalist movement that was later called the Great Awakening and led to the conversion of thousands of people to the Christian faith up and down the East Coast of the United States.

Jonathan Edwards was a Yale graduate and later became the president of Princeton University. He is sometimes called America’s first philosopher and is certainly one of this nation’s greatest theologian. I found myself engrossed in his thinking and discovered that he and those around him were engaging in a variation of many of the discussions that we are having. Specifically, Edwards was deeply contemplating the relationship between freewill and determinism. In his case it was not scientific determinism that he was referring to, but the religious determinism of God.

Edwards was a Calvinist and he believed that the determination of who would enter into the kingdom of heaven was made by God at the moment of your birth and there was nothing you could do to change that. The Religious conversions that happened around him were not decisions to lead a holy life, they were recognitions that you had been elected to the holy life by God. Edwards and other ministers of the time were also reading the early books of the Enlightenment and were trying to find a rational way to understand Christian doctrine and prove that freewill was compatible with determinism (sound familiar – read Brian’s comment two posts ago).

Even more, and perhaps because I am about to enter into a spiritual retreat, I am thinking about the difference between science, philosophy and spirituality. It is not as easy to determine as you might think. At first I thought that clearly spirituality involves philosophy, but it is a philosophy that’s expressed purpose is to act as guiding principles for ones entire life – but then philosophy for many also acts in the same way – and many scientists relate the same way toward science. So that definition is not enough.

In thinking more about it I realized that the difference really is that spirituality involves faith in that which is unknowable – not simply unknown and waiting to be discovered, but not able to be known. Science includes the unknown, as Carl pointed out in an earlier post, but its faith rests in the known. Philosophy is somewhere between the two. And both Science and Philosophy can be pursued without them being the guiding principles of one’s life. But a spirituality that is not seen as a guiding force in life is not really a spirituality.

I hope to have more insight to share on this question after I spend so much time on retreat. I also have a few posts saved that will go up during the retreat, these I think you will enjoy as they give some historical background to some of the philosophy of America that we have been contemplating and discussing.

Please keep the conversation going!

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David Noel Lynch
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David Noel Lynch

Exactly.

Scientific faith rests in the known. Ego.
Spiritual faith rests in the unknowable. ID.
Philosophy rests inbetween.

Please tell Andrew that crazy KnoWell equation guy says hello.

Gibran
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Brilliant! Have a wonderful retreat!

Carl
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It occurs to me, just about to enter the same retreat as Jeff, that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval philosopher and theologian (and monk) spent his entire life trying to make what was then considered to be “science” (Aristotle and equally famous Islamic philosopher/scientists of an earlier age) align with Christian belief and theology. He was able to do so in an amazing series of books that went into excruciating detail, showing with intricate logic how the principles derived from the science of the time could be made compatible with theology. After all, he reasoned, there can be only one… Read more »

Shizuka
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Shizuka

The fact to be born as human at this time of place already convince me religious determinism of God. Yet, knowing the fact that the human potential doesn’t guarantee human development bring the combination of free will + determinism. I think Human development is the evolution(scientific vocabulary) , the destiny(religious vocabulary). and I came to the conclusion of three components of human development. 1,Depth of consciousness,awareness. Like falling off bottomless well,the deeper the awareness, the reflection of mirror like “reality” revealed more in spite of ever changing nature of reality,yet,because of the limitation of human ability,the gap between know and… Read more »

Brian
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Brian

Transcendental Temptation – ‘there must be more than just this.’

When considering whether to go ‘beyond’ philosophy and science into spirituality we are deciding if it is worthwhile to ponder the unknowable. Or if it is best to focus on the known and the not-yet-known-but-knowable.

Brian
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Brian

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoyed the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends,
And beat down baffling foes
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And, while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose.
——Matthew Arnold

Shizuka
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Shizuka

Process of the world-the systems-like sun comes up and later goes down…We,live,then we die,and another is born….repeating and synchronizing over and over again as they incrementally create new forms and dissolve old ones without some human’s guidanceThe world is a mess -is wrong,that presumption is wrong,because in any given life,on any given day,countless events and connections -systems-work perfectly.We don’t notice them and so we take them for granted,never appreciating the impeccability of it all.We hyperfocus on personal,mechanical and geopoliticalsystems that are not to our liking and conclude that deficiency is the default way of the world.Swallow up in this,we see… Read more »

Anthony
Guest

It seems a wise man once said,”Professing to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” The subject of freewill and determinism is a limited capatibility relationship at best due to the following: The will of the human is only so free as to react to the environment in which it is held captive. Jonathan Edwards absolutely acknowledged the total depravity of all mankind. Not that all men are as evil as they could possibly be, but… Read more »

Carl
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One of the confusions, I think, in our discussions about choice, free choice, free will, and the like, involves definitions of the terms “free” and “determined” and “conditioned.” One possible definition of “free” choice might be to say that there are no causes, no influences, nothing that “determines” a choice. But in some respects, this makes no sense whatsoever, assuming that the best choices are actually informed decisions, based on the most accurate or direct possible appraisal of the options. That is, they are “determined” by what we know directly, our immediate experience, our values, the options available, the span… Read more »

Frank Luke
Guest

Can we say that Determinism is akin to Constitutional Law in what we must accept as fate, undebatable. Then there are amendments to that “Constitution and Laws”. This I equate with FreeWill, what humans feel are caveats, points we would beg to differ with. Some of the caveats have merit, others are adopted at the risk of causing problems and grief. ???

Frank Luke
Guest

Is it useful to think of the brain as our hard drive and our minds softdrive? Where the brain enables us to think and receive messaging, our brains process that info and determine what we can use and what not. Sometimes that determination can get scrambled, depending on the education and conscousness of the individual.

Comments?

Frank Luke
Guest

Errata:

Our minds, not brains, process that info and determine what’s usable or not.

Liesbeth
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Liesbeth

It might be a good idea to join the ones who are reading Steiner’s ‘philosophy of freedom’. That is all about ‘thinking’. Few minutes ago I was reading: ‘observation and feeling is personal; thinking is universal’. The example he gives is a triangle, which has only one concept. It doesn’t matter if an individual understands this concept or not (understanding comes from within). If I understand it, it is the same understanding as another fellow human being. Naive people think they are the creators of concepts, they think every person has his own concepts; fundamental for philosophical thinking is to… Read more »

Liesbeth
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Liesbeth

‘Because we are imprisoned in an area that we perceive as our personality, we do not perceive the absolute power of thinking. ‘Will’ would be something of that limited personality’..

Frank Luke
Guest

Re: my comment above re: the brain being hard drive and the mind being soft drive:

Is there “soft drive”? I think “soft ware” is more like it, no? The mind produces soft ware ideas that are attended by the hard drive brain.

Is this useful or not?