Jenson summarizes Jonathan Edwards’ critique of substance in Systematic Theology: Volume 2: The Works of God (Systematic Theology (Oxford Hardcover)) (39-41). Edwards targets the mechanization of the world in Newton and Locke, arguing that “Christianity could not long coexist with a mechanistic worldview.” That was no problem, since for Edwards “mechanism was . . . a mere conceptual blunder, an anachronism that resulted from reading the antique conceptuality of substance onto terms in the formulas of modern science.”
When the old understanding of substance was applied to science, it became “the Cartesian or Lockean ‘something’ that was supposed to exercise the characters that we experience in a body or that science for experienced reason attributes to it.” Edwards drew his razor and cut: “When we, for example, touch something ‘solid,’ there is no need to posit an ‘x’ that causes this experience; rather, ‘body and solidity are the same.’ With respect to the proceedings of everyday experience and science, the supposition that the world is composed of matter-substances is merely empty;p ‘the case is the same’ if we suppose this or if we do not. But for religion and civil society the mechanistic supposition must be actively deleterious.”
This does not mean that things are not what they seem or that science does not tell the truth about the world.
For Edwards, “Whatever meaning words like ‘body’ or ‘matter’ or ‘motion’ have in the Newtonian laws themselves is exactly what he wants these words to be taken to mean. And on causation he shares the position of David Hume: a cause is any event that appears in the protasis of a true proposition in the form ‘If . . . happens, then . . . will happen.’ A cause does not ‘make’ its effect happen; nor need there by any other occult connection between them.” He considered gravity “simply an instance of the regularity of reciprocal motion and resistance that is the reality of body – Edwards can even say, ‘The essence of bodies is gravity.’”
To the question, “Is there then nothing to the play of phenonema?” Edwards answers that it is “God himself, in the immediate exercise of his power.” Jenson glosses: “The play of phenomena is the play of the mandating thoughts of God; their law-like coherence is the coherence of that thinking. . . . God thinks movements and resistances in universally mutual harmony, and that is the ‘substance’ of the physical world – if, as Edwards says, we ‘must needs’ use that word.” Newtonian physical harmony is “a finite harmony appropriate to the infinite triune harmony that is God himself.”
Jenson spies some dangers here: “to say that ‘God himself, in the immediate exercise of his power’ is the creatures’ sole support and coherence, were we to take that proposition without trinitarian differentiation, would surely threaten the distinct reality of creation.” He suggests that Trinitarian theology, rather than a reversion to substance, is the solution: “If we take ‘God’ in such references of the Father specifically, then [we] affirm his speculations, as one triune aspect of the truth about creatures.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:48 pm
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