Refuting Edwards and Calvinist Compatibilism and Arguments against Genuine Free Will

, posted by SEA

We have recently added a few book length resources that advance the Arminian view of free will and take on Calvinist arguments against genuine free will, especially the view that has become the dominant view among Calvinists, represented by famous Calvinist Jonathan Edwards–compatibilism.

First, we have what is reputed to be a definitive refutation of the Calvinist perspective and vindication of the Arminian one, by Daniel Whedon: The Freedom of the Will as a Basis of Human Responsibility and a Divine Government ( This work is so important that at the end of this post we will paste in four reviews written by SEA members posted at Amazon for an edited, republished version of Whedon’s work.

Next, we have two other book length treatments:

Albert Taylor Bledsoe, Examination of President Edwards Inquiry Into the Freedom of the Will (

Henry Philip Tappan, A Review of Edwards Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will (

For a more convenient option, we also have two article length treatments of the issue to recommend to you:


The final piece is Thomas Ralston’s treament of the issue, which is separated into a series of links by topic because one of our members presented Ralston’s contribution with some reflection on his arguments as a series of blog posts. While it is less convenient to have to follow the various links, Ralston is well worth reading for cutting to the heart of the issue in a relatively concise treatment that is compelling and persuasive.

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 1: Introducing the Controversy

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 2: Its Self-evident Nature

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 3: The Argument From Universality

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 4: God’s Divine Administration (

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 5: The Scriptural Evidence

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 6: Conclusions to the Positive Argument

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 7: Is the Doctrine of Free Agency Absurd?

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 9: The Doctrine of Motives

Now for those reviews of Whedon:

Review #1:

John Wagner is to be thanked for taking time to edit this classic work by Daniel Whedon, a Methodist professor and theologian from the 19th century who was one of the first Arminians to respond to Jonathan Edwards’ classic work THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL. Whedon’s work shows the logical Arminian response to Edwards that is often lacking in much of the Arminian/Calvinist debate over the nature of human free will.

In essence, Whedon argues that God has bestowed, as a gift, human beings with freedom of the will. Whedon counters Edwards arguments both from Scripture and from philosophy. The book is no easy read but I think that Wagner has done a good job of editing the work so that modern readers can read the book and grasp Whedon’s arguments.

The best part of this work is that Whedon counters Edwards arguments against free will point by point and argument by argument. Whedon leaves no stone unturned as he wrestles with Edwards divine deterministic theology. Whedon counters that Edwards arguments do more harm toward the character of God than good and he shows that if we accept Edwards position of divine determinism than we must conclude that God is the author of sin (He caused Adam to sin in Genesis 3) and that God’s love and righteousness are destroyed in the process.

Overall, this is a must read for both Arminians and Calvinists. Calvinsits will find an Arminian who answers Edwards deep thinking with his own deep thinking and will challenge the Calvinist arguments against free will. Arminians will find a strong basis for their faith. A great book for any serious theological student of God’s Word.

Review #2

John Wagner recently edited and republished Daniel Whedon’s Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan response to Jonathan Edwards. The book is an outstanding refutation of Edward’s Inquiry into the Will. Whedon seeks and engages top authors and arguments like Hobbs’ argument (latter adopted by Locke and Edwards) that free will is incoherent, because it either amounts to a causeless cause or infinite regression of causes. Whedon responds by pointing out 1) the will is the cause of choice (74), 2) defining indeterministic causes (38-39) and 3) explaining that indeterministic causes account for either choice (71-72). In other words, indeterministic causes explain the goal of our choices (or reason for our choices), but in the will is the cause we choose this goal, not that goal. This is essentially agent causation.

Whedon’s discussion of foreknowledge is fascinating. His refutation of Edwards’ God’s foreknowledge rules out freewill argument is solid. I like his pointing out that we don’t know how God knows the future (229). I really like his moderate use of Molinism (245, 256). He enters an interesting discussion about the difference between certainty and necessity. Apparently Calvinists split in reaction to Hobbs. Some (like Edwards) argued the future is necessary. Others said it is not necessary, but it’s certain. Whedon argues that certainty is equal to necessity if in every possible world the thing never happens (190-191).

Whedon’s response to Edwards is devastating. He points out that Edwards view of freedom is post-volitional, not freedom of the will (17). Edward’s notion of freedom is accurate, but incomplete and irrelevant to the Calvinist/Arminian debate. Whedon explains that that the three types of necessity (causal, logical and temporal) are all necessity. (33) Edwards attempts to split necessity into various categories is one of the ways he goes way off course. Whedon argues that saying “I can do X” implies “I can choose to do X” (209). Whedon exposes Edwards error of attempts to split them and then usurp the common notion of freedom based only on “I can do X”. Whedon explains that choice makes the strongest motive and the last judgment of reason strongest and last (57).

I am glad John brought Whedon back. It’s good to see such as strong Arminian response to Edwards, as I have often heard the claim that Edwards is unanswered.

Review #3

John D. Wagner has edited and republished another classic and yet little known work on the freedom of the will by Methodist Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885). It is extremely significant as the discussion over the freedom of the will has intensified greatly with the resurgence of Calvinism in mainstream Christianity. Many Calvinists today still point to the classic book by Jonathan Edwards (The Freedom of the Will) as an irrefutable work firmly establishing the Calvinist doctrine of necessity and compatibilism. Whedon brilliantly takes on the arguments of Edwards and his contemporaries in this excellent refutation of the “necessitarian” position.

Whedon covers every significant argument of Edwards and other “necessitarians” in this book and dismantles them piece by piece. He points out that many of the necessitarian arguments amount to question begging, bare assertions, or intricate sophisms, often riddled with embarrassing contradictions and absurdities. He explains that there simply aren’t any sufficient arguments against the possibility of a single causative power in the agent capable of producing a variety of effects (volitions). He refers to this as “alternative power” in the Will and demonstrates that it is itself a full and adequate cause needing nothing else to put forth one effect just as well as another (alternative effect). In other words, nothing causes the Will to act a certain way since the Will is itself a full and adequate cause. He would classify Edwards’ view of the Will as “unipotent” while calling his own view “pluripotent” (in contemporary discussions Whedon would be considered a “wide source incompatibilist”)

He effectively takes on Edwards’ argument from motive force; his argument based on natural versus moral ability; his argument based on foreknowledge; his argument based on a so called infinite series (or infinite regress); his argument based on chance, and numerous others. It is my opinion that Whedon’s section “Reconciliation of Free Agency and Foreknowledge” definitively demonstrates the compatibility of foreknowledge with libertarian free will. It should be read and carefully considered by Calvinists and Open Theists alike (who both deny that foreknowledge is compatible with free will).

But Whedon is mostly concerned with the troubling and unavoidable implications of Edwards’ necessitarianism: the impossibility of a just moral government and the damage done to God’s holy character. It would be as unjust and absurd for God to hold a necessitated being morally responsible for his volitions and actions as it would to hold a clock hammer responsible for its movements. In the end, Whedon concludes that necessitarianism is in no way compatible with the freedom necessary for upholding a just moral government and providing the conditions for an adequate theodicy:

    From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator…If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent. (352)

At times the book presents very tough reading. Whedon is a very careful philosopher and takes great pains to develop his arguments and carefully define his terms in order to dispatch with the ambiguity that often clouds the topic and makes debating the subject nearly impossible. At times a single paragraph may need to be read several times in order to gather its full import, but the patient reader will be richly rewarded. I intend to read it several times and will no doubt gain valuable insight with each additional reading. If this is a topic of interest for you or if you have come to believe that Edwards’ work on the Will is irrefutable, then this book is a must read. Read it alongside Edwards’ work and decide for yourself who better makes their case. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Review #4

“Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards” is the second installment from John Wagner, in recovering past theological treasures from the Arminian perspective. John Wagner’s first installment was the classic work by Puritan, John Goodwin, “Redemption Redeemed: A Puritan Defense of Unlimited Atonement.” In this, his second installment, Methodist theologian, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) responds to famed Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Although this volume is not an easy read, when carefully studied, it reveals itself to be another masterpiece.

In addition to the reviews already stated, Whedon also addresses the theology of Open Theism, p.229. Whedon painstakingly parses through the logic of Edwards on an array of theological controversies, including, but not limited to, the nature of man’s Will and God’s Foreknowledge.

As a sample, Whedon writes: “Edwards continues to say, `Now it must be answered, according to the Arminian notion of freedom, that the Will influences, orders, and determined itself thus to act. And if it does, I say it must be by some antecedent act.’ (65) But, we reply, as our `notion of freedom’ requires no anterior causing or ordering of the Will to act, as we hold the Will in its condition to be a complete cause acting uncausedly, there is no requisite for any `antecedent act.’ And so again the necessitarian cobweb is broken.” (p.105)

In other words, while yes, there are always external influences, including God’s influence of Prevenient Grace, man, being a self-volitional being, is therefore of himself, one of those influences, and thus acts freely and uncausedly in his choices.

Speaking on Foreknowledge:

Whedon writes: “If God’s omniscient foresight of all that is or is not in the future is the effect of God’s determination, then an *attribute* of God is created by an *act* of God. … If God’s foreknowledge depends on his determination, and must wait until after its existence, then he can have no foreknowedge of his own acts, and must wait for present or *post-knowledge* of them.” (pp.225-226)

Whedon writes: “If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with the full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible.” (p.229)