As a contemporary of Isaac Newton, Edwards was captivated by Newton’s fresh new understandings of the physics of the universe. As a Calvinist, Edwards looked for and found confirmation to his views of the Sovereignty of God. He built these contemporary scientific findings into his defense of Calvinism.
... since God controls the destiny of every individual, human understanding can be considered to be the product of what God determines a person should experience. Edwards's reading of Isaac Newton also supported traditional convictions about the supremacy of God and the helplessness of man in the face of causes that lie beyond human control.Newton’s theories of physics were built upon the premise of absolute space, and lineal (unbending, unchanging) time. His laws of motion, coupled with absolute space and time, gave a scientific basis that everything was utterly predictable to, if not determined by, an All-Knowing Being. Here is how it works:
Edwards read widely in his era's scientific and philosophical literature and was fascinated by the discoveries of Newton and his successors.... He was not threatened by the discoveries of science because he felt they revealed the harmony of the Divine Being. A division between the spiritual and material was uncongenial to the pattern of Edwards's thought.
(these quotes from this site.)
If we were to stop all movement at a point in time (any point) and learn the trajectory and velocity of every atom and every subatomic particle, and if we possessed the requisite intelligence and computational skills, we could with absolute accuracy determine where every particle was a second earlier, an hour earlier, and even 10 billion years earlier. Likewise, we could with the same absolute certainty predict where every particle of space would be 24 hours later, or thousands, millions, even billions of years hence. With fixed laws of motion operating in a fixed container of absolute space moving along an immutable time line, there can be no surprises to an Omniscient Being! Hence, for Edwards, his Calvinist views were substantiated, and (if we posit Newtonian Physics) scientifically proven.
Newton’s predictions proved true again and again, and his theories of motion and space and time stood for nearly 200 years ... until Albert Einstein stood the world of physics on edge with his theories of special and general relativity. Time, Einstein showed us, is not unbending. Space is not absolute. Space and time are locked into a continuum, playing off of each other in what might have earlier been considered fanciful ways. Time and space are relative. Today, Einstein's theories have proven the tests of countless experiments, and are almost universally accepted. Meanwhile, other scientists were learning remarkable and unsettling things about motion in the world of subatomic particles. Among other discoveries, they were discovering what is now generally accepted: the movement of these particles through space is completely unpredictable. It is not that we lack the instruments or the understanding to predict their movement; we are able to prove with a high level of certainty the impossibility of determining both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle. This phenomenon is known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum mechanics, named for Werner Heisenberg, the 20th century German physicist.
Some mathematicians have developed an elegant mathematical proof that, as electrons move through space, not even an All-Knowing Being could predict their destination. Their conclusions were published in a short piece entitled “Electrons Have Free Will” in the January, 2007 issue of Seed magazine.
According to [John] Conway and [Simon] Kochen (two Princeton mathmeticians), even an omniscient mind, capable of knowing everything about everything, would still be unable to predict the position of particles ... [because] “the particles’ response to a certain type of experiment is not determined by the entire previous history of that part of the universe accessible to them.”Some Christians might recoil from this claim, others would find it preposterous; perhaps we should instead be asking the appropriate “What if” questions of our own theology. If in fact God ordered his creation such that there would exist a randomness that is beyond his knowledge or control, what might that mean to our understanding of God?
(Some might argue that the very suggestion begs the question. Is it possible, they would ask, for God to create a universe he himself cannot control? as much, in their minds, a logical impossibility as “Can God create a rock so big and heavy that he himself could not move it?” But the Uncertainty Principle continues to be supported by experimentation, and it seems at least plausible that God created the cosmos with this strange, almost eerie twist.)
First, the support that Edwards found from science for God’s absolute foreknowledge and control has vanished with the Newtonian world that spawned it. Science may not yet be capable of confirming or denying free will and cosmic randomness, but it can no longer be called upon to confirm Newtonian determinism.
But what of the possibility that God did create the cosmos such that not even he could foresee all outcomes, much less engineer those outcomes. Why might he have done so? I have some ideas; but they will await future posts. For now, I ask my readers to comment. How does this notion of the possibility that God created a cosmos even he could not predict or predetermine sit with you?