Surrejoinder to Omelianchuk on the Free Will Defense

Adam Omelianchuk’s rejoinder to my reply to his response to my criticism of Plantinga’s ‘free will defense’ (whew!) contains many interesting thoughts on monotheletism, dyotheletism, anhypostasis, and Nestorianism. But I think I can assess our exchange without having to further descend into those details.

It now occurs to me that when I wrote that student paper, one thing I was overlooking is that Plantinga’s conception of essences includes their completeness. To wit:

“Now suppose we define Socrates’ essence as the set of properties essential to him. His essence is a set of properties, each of which is essential to him; and this set contains all his world-indexed properties, together with some others… And finally, Socrates’ essence contains a complete set of world-indexed properties – that is, if P is world-indexed, then either is a member of Socrates’ essence or else P is” (43 [page numbering from reprint in The Analytic Theist]).

Notice that this is a very broad conception of ‘essence’. So take the property having a human nature in alpha, where ‘alpha’ indicates the actual world. This is an essential property of Jesus. Of course, Jesus didn’t have to take on a human nature; this was a free act of God. So in other worlds, perhaps in beta, Jesus doesn’t become incarnate. It would follow that not having a human nature in beta is also part of Jesus’s essence.

Significantly for my purposes, being created by God in alpha is a world-indexed property. You either have this property, or you don’t. And since essences are complete, then any essence either includes this property or precludes it (that is, includes its complement). Clearly, being created by God in alpha is part of my essence, whereas it is not part of Jesus’s essence. Rather, not being created by God in alpha is part of Jesus’s essence. Plantinga’s completionist conception of ‘essence’ commits us to answering this question. On my view, Chalcedonian orthodoxy rightly summarizes the biblical teaching as implying that Jesus is an uncreated divine person who took upon himself a full human nature. As Fred Sanders puts it, “the eternal second Person of the Trinity” is “the person who personalizes the human nature of Christ” (rather than “a created human person” doing this) and so this property must be included in Jesus’s essence.

It follows that I have to specify Jesus’s essence in that way: it includes the property not being created by God in alpha. (Jesus is, instead, an uncreated person in alpha.)

And I think that spells the end of the particular criticism of the FWD I made so many years ago in my tutorial paper. For the claim at the heart of Plantinga’s FWD is that “It is possible that every creaturely essence – every essence including the property of being created by God – suffers from transworld depravity” (ibid., 44).

In that paper I had claimed that “Jesus was sinless human being” was in contradiction to the FWD, because this claim of Christian orthodoxy indicated that, as a matter of fact, there was a creaturely essence available to God to instantiate that did not go wrong with respect to any of his earthly choices. (Namely, Jesus’s human essence.) But I was overlooking the fact that any essence must either include or preclude the property being created by God in alpha. Whereas our essence includes such a property, Jesus’s essence does not. So Jesus’s sinlessness does not indicate that an “essence including the property of being created by God” was both free from transworld depravity and available to God to instantiate.

Putting the point this way helps us to transcend the more refined debate about how Jesus’s two natures relate to his personhood, whether he had two wills or one, etc. The FWD is about what persons were available to God to create. Plantinga’s claim is that, for all we know, all available persons available to God to create unfortunately suffer from transworld depravity. Jesus is not a counterexample to this claim, because his essence does not include the property being created by God in alpha.

Where I went astray was in thinking that I could come up with a conception of ‘essence’ that merely included facts pertaining to Jesus’s human nature, and then claim that God could instantiate that essence with respect to a wide range of possible human persons. But that is an incomplete specification of ‘essence’. Once we recognize the broader, completionist conception, my objection no longer seems plausible.

Thanks to Omelianchuk for helping me bring out of my storeroom new treasures as well as old ;-)