Adam Omelianchuck on my objection to the Free Will Defense

Adam Omelianchuck, philosophy grad student at the University of South Carolina, has recently posted a response to a fairly ancient student paper of mine about the free will defense (FWD). To be specific, it was the first tutorial paper I wrote for Swinburne sixteen years ago in the MPhil in Philosophical Theology program, back in 1998. In fact, I’m sure I don’t now agree with every point I make in most of my student papers hosted by my friend James Anderson. Tutorial papers are by their nature exploratory and experimental. But for some reason James thinks they’re helpful, and so I oblige! :-)

Full disclosure: Swinburne raised a similar objection when we discussed the paper in his office later that week. (He thought I wasn’t making the person/nature distinction of Chalcedon, and that I was wrongly applying Plantinga’s language of ‘essence,’ which pertains to created persons, to the created nature of an uncreated person.) Still, Plantinga’s language is fairly flexible (‘set of essential properties’) and so seems clearly adaptable to the point I made. Thus, I’m still not sure Omelianchuck’s critique of my particular point is successful.

One issue here is what is entailed by the human nature of Christ. Assuming dyotheletism, then Jesus had two wills, a human will and a divine will. The human will is created, and if the counterfactuals encoded in the ‘essences’ Plantinga is talking about say nothing about the choices of created human wills, then Plantinga’s FWD is dead on arrival! Therefore, insofar as the incarnate Person of Jesus Christ has a full human nature, there are (world-indexed) truths about the choices of any person with that human nature, and those truths capture what is essential to the human side of such a Person (the world-indexed bit is what guarantees essentiality). Then my argument continues on as before.

Since I’m writing from home, I just have Sennett’s The Analytic Theist, but thankfully it contains the key parts of Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil. In section III Plantinga defines the concept of transworld depravity without using the concept of ‘essence’ or ‘created person’.

Now, in section IV we learn that we can “define Socrates’ essence as the set of properties essential to him… this set contains all his world-indexed properties, together with some others” (43). Later on the same page, Plantinga again makes the point about the possibility of transworld depravity, and facts about whether the person was or was not created make no appearance.

What Omelianchuck seems to be relying on is something Plantinga says on the next page, nearer the end of section IV:

“We can use this connection between Curley’s transworld depravity and his essence as the basis for a definition of transworld depravity as applied to essences rather than persons. We should note first that if E is a person’s essence, then that person is the instantiation of E; he is the thing that has (or exemplifies) every property in E. To instantiate an essence, God creates a person who has that essence; and in creating a person He instantiates an essence” (44).

So, is the incarnate Son of God an instantiation of E? Well, in his case, what happened is not that “God creates a person who has that essence,” since Jesus is an uncreated Person. Rather, Jesus the uncreated Second Person of the Trinity takes on a created human nature, and Jesus’s human essence just is the set of properties essential to anyone who takes on that created human nature. So the fact that Jesus is an uncreated Person does not rule out the applicability of Plantinga’s concept of essence. There are world-indexed propositions about the human-willed choices made by any person who has that created human nature, and the set of these just is the essence.

Since Jesus was free and sinless, there is an essence E which doesn’t suffer from transworld depravity. So Christian orthodoxy rules out Plantinga’s claim.

Now, a bit later on p. 44 (in section IV), Plantinga says, “It is possible that every creaturely essence – every essence including the property of being created by God – suffers from transworld depravity.” But again, if we’re talking about Jesus’s human nature, then the essence which encodes truths about that human nature does include the following necessary property: being created by God. Every human nature is created by God, including Jesus’s.

To directly address the key paragraph in Omelianchuck:

But is he? Is the essence of Jesus a creaturely essence? By “creaturely essence” Plantinga refers to essences that include the property of being created by God (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 53). The Christian has a good reason for questioning this assumption, because according to Christian belief Jesus is identical with the Son of God, and he is identical with the Son only if every property the Son has is one that Jesus has, and vice versa. One of the properties the Son essentially has is being uncreated. Therefore, Jesus is uncreated, and if he is uncreated, he is not a creaturely essence.

We see now where this analysis goes wrong. Let’s start with an infelicity in the last sentence. Neither Jesus, nor any other person, “is a creaturely essence”. Essences are sets of properties, and no person is a set of properties (going with Plantinga’s relational ontology for the time being). What Omelianchuck should have said is that Jesus does not instantiate a creaturely essence. But that’s false, because he does. The incarnate Jesus does instantiate a creaturely essence (the one that describes essential truths about his human nature), and this is entirely compatible with his being an uncreated Person.

Jesus’s human nature does “include the property of being created by God.” A person with two natures (one human, one divine) can have more than one essence. There can be a complete set of essential truths about his human nature, and a complete set of essential truths about his divine nature. Jesus’ human will was a created human will, and there are a set of essential truths about that, even as there is a set of essential truths about any of us (given that we have a human nature).

Omelianchuck can only get out of this response by denying dyotheletism — that is, by denying that Jesus has a created human will. My main point in that section of the paper was that the FWD runs afoul of Christian orthodoxy, and it appears that Omelianchuck’s rebuttal does as well!

(A final point raised by James Anderson in conversation. Plantinga makes the point in “Heresy, Mind, and Truth” that “the Second Person took on human nature (‘the abstract view’) rather than a human nature (‘the concrete view’)” (as James puts it). Is what I say above consistent with this? Well, I wonder if this is true but irrelevant. Presumably, there are world-indexed truths about what the incarnate Jesus chooses by way of his human will, in various possible worlds. That’s all you need for there to be a set of essential properties that constitutes an ‘essence’ that Jesus instantiates, regardless of any abstract/concrete distinction with respect to human nature.)


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