Original Sin and Christian Philosophy Part III

Was Sin Accidental?

A metaphysician seeks to understand the nature of reality. What is it that constitutes a table, a Coca-Cola, a roll of toilet paper, etc.. For instance, a roll of toilet paper as a substance might be said to have the properties of whiteness, roundness and softness (if it is Charmin). The toilet paper is a substance which has certain properties. A substance is simply something that can have properties but that cannot be had by any other thing. For instance, the hair on my head has the properties of softness, brownness and possibly many others. My hair, however, cannot be had by anything else, thus it is not a property. This is not to be confused with the property of being my hair, which can be had. However, my hair may not always possess the property of brownness or even softness. One day it may possess the property of grayness or whiteness, but it will always possess the property of being hair, whatever that may look like. Note that this model seems to indicate that there are different types of properties.

This sort of study has had much practical application for the study of original sin and its relation to the nature of Christ. Thomas V. Morris, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, provides an ingenious metaphysical theory for navigating around the problem of original sin for Christ. In his book, The Logic of God Incarnate, Morris articulates the differences between what many philosophers have termed essential properties and accidental properties. Yet what are the differences between these properties and what, if any, are the practical implications for the nature of Christ?
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (CDP) defines them as following:

Essential property- A property is essential to an entity if, necessarily, the entity cannot exist without being an instance of the property (eg. Being a number is an essential property of nine) .

Accidental property- A property is accidental to an individual if it is possible for the individual to exist without being an instance of the property (eg. being the number of planets is an accidental property of nine).

Morris believes that sin is an accidental not an essential property of humanity. Therefore, Christ could have all the essential properties of humanity without being tainted by sin. It is in my opinion that Morris is onto something here. Understanding sin as an accidental property would seem to correlate to Adam and Eve both being without sin until they exercised their will to disobey God. It was upon disobedience that sin was predicated, instantiated, or had by Adam and Eve as an accidental property, one that is common to all humanity but is not essential to being human (as is the case with Christ). How does this theory hold up under philosophical scrutiny? Does anyone have any thoughts as to what might be good or bad about this theory?
In conclusion, much could be said concerning exactly what the essential properties of God are and exactly how they cohere with the essential properties of man. However, I have not pursued this since the recent topics (of this site) have been addressing the “original sin” of man. As always, for those of you brave enough to venture there…please do so!

18 Responses to Original Sin and Christian Philosophy Part III

  1. Frank says:

    Do you think that it is an essential property of human beings to have the freedom to sin (or the freedom to do otherwise)? Would we be human if God had created us without the ability to sin?

  2. Keith says:

    As I can easily see there being a possible world in which humans are not created with libertarian freedom, my immediate response is yes, we would still be humans.
    This is, at least, my first reaction. It’s an interesting question I’ll think further on.

    What do you think?

  3. Frank says:

    It seems that you would be left with two options in that case (no lib freedom): either God creates human beings that are necessarily sinless or He creates them such that they will sin. This leaves us with the problem of whether God is responsible for their sin. Most compatibilists would deny this, but it seems to be at least one of the major motivations for a Middle Knowledge/Molinist approach. (Am I correct so far?) If there were no freedom (or He instantiated a possible world where they would sin), it seems possible to say that God created Adam and Eve such that there was no way that they could not have sinned. There is a very interesting response to this, and I hope you can remind me what it is.

    On a side note, if Jesus were created necessarily sinless (another can of worms altogether), then would He actually be the same type of creature (i.e. all human) that the rest of us are? (It could be questioned whether an exact match would be necessary to obtain a salvific work, but I’m trying to focus this question a little bit more on the other issues.)

  4. Keith says:

    Right you are, Frank! Unless I am missing something (and I think that I must be!), this is your point-

    Are you saying that If humans had no libertarian freedom, then there would be only two options available: (1) God creates necessarily sinless humans, or (2) God creates humans who will sin.

    It seems to me that any Christian should seek asymetry (that is, the view that God is not responsible for humans’ sins). As a Molinist, I too seek to avoid placing blame upon God for human sins. Now, I know there is indeed a quite clever response to all of this, but unfortunately you will be disappointed if you think I know what it is! Perhaps you will settle for my response:

    I affirm that humans are libertarianly free; despite the wishes (dreams?) of some thinkers, such freedom is essential to Middle Knowledge. At this time I am unsure concerning whether such freedom is an essential property of humans, though I am inclined to think that it is not (re: your first comment and my first response above).You know, I can’t really offer a response on behalf of the compatibilists, but I’m sure they have one (open invitation here for compatibilists to speak up!).

    I will leave it to Clint to remark on your comments about Christ.
    PS- If I missed your point, Frank, please restate it for me!

  5. Frank says:

    I may be rambling a bit (thinking “out loud”), but what I am thinking about is whether God could have created sinless human beings. At first glance, it seems that He could have easily done this, but if God (due to His maximally excellent attributes) is only capable of creating a “perfect world” then it would seem that the world that is actually instantiated (i.e. the real world, the one we are in) is the only possible world.

    There are (at least) a couple of problems here though. One is that it seems that God created Adam and Eve sinless, but (perhaps depending upon one’s view of God’s relation to time) He could be said to have created the whole of creation timelessly. Or, it could be said that He instantiated a world such that it was not possible for Adam and Eve to not sin. It may be argued that it was “possible” for them to refrain, but this isn’t the same meaning of possible that we normally think of, but more of a “logically possible.” I have heard some people discussing Middle Knowledge saying that the difference between God instantiating a world that He knows will turn out in such and such a manner, and God creating a fully determined world is little more than a semantic difference.

    Another problem is that if the actual world is the only possible world, then it seems that all properties are essential and there are no accidental properties (I believe that this is called Mereological Essentialism). This can be circumvented, but it is at least an initial problem for the view that God could have only created this world.

    This problem also comes up with discussions about the problem of evil. Some say that there is only as much and no more evil than is absolutely necessary for God’s glory to be maximized. Thus, the actual world seems to be the only possible world.

    To sum up, I am looking into the idea of whether we could have been created with libertarian freedom as an essential property and yet sinfulness as an accidental property. If the present world is the only one that God could have created with libertarianly free human beings, then it seems that if lib freedom is essential then so is sinfulness.

    At the same time, it seems that God could have created a world in which human beings have a sufficiently short lifespan and few enough temptations that they would not fall into sin (at least for a few generations). This points to an accidental property of sinfulness (at least in my mind).

    Of course, just because God does not (or will not) create a thing in a certain way does not mean that it cannot be created in a certain way. I think this is where the grounding argument comes up.

    Then again, if human beings were created with no libertarian freedom, then surely we could have been created sinless which also points to an accidental property of sinfulness.

    OK, I must go un-knot my brain now. Thoughts?

  6. Clint says:

    Frank,

    I have written about thirty different things only to rewrite. This question has provoked many other questions for me. My answer to your question may not be satisfactory. I think that if being free (in a libertarian sense) is essential to humanity then it is essential for us to have the ability to sin. It seems that libertarian freedom is essential in any world in which moral accountability is to occur. Thus, the ability to sin is essential for us (I think that without knowing it I just laid out a modus ponens argument).
    But a more interesting question for me is could God have created beings (whether they were human or not) that did not have the ability to sin that possessed libertarian freedom? Or here is another question that I am more interested in. Can God create a being, like himself, that can’t sin b/c it is logically impossible? Further, in what sense is God free…Compatibalistic or Libertarian?

    If God could have created us with the sort of nature in which it was logically impossible for us to sin, then it (it being the ability to sin) would not be an essential quality. But then, it doesn’t seem we would be human, we would be more like God. Did I answer your question? I think that I have successfully confused myself!

  7. Clint says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  8. Clint says:

    Just to make clear what I said in my previous comment. I am assuming that we live in a world with libertarian freedom. Whether or not this is true can be debated elsewhere. So, I am saying that we live in a world where we have to be able to choose to do x or ~x. Therefore, if we had been created without the ability to sin, then there is then something we cannot do.
    One might reply with a countereample such as, well God did not create us with the ability to fly, does that mean that he has violated our libertarian freedom? But I think that this is a bad counterexample b/c the ability to fly is a morally neutral ability. Now honestly, what I am about to say I have not really thought much about in the past. I think that it would violate our libertarian freedom if God created us in such a way that we couldn’t participate in moral acts that are actually possible for the world we live in(acts that are either right or wrong…ones that somehow either violate God’s holy nature or reflect it).
    Now if we do not live in a world with libertarian freedom, so much for moral accountability and violation of free will. God can create a world in which we cannot sin and that glorifies himself. In this sort of world it would seem that the ability to sin would not be an essential property. But I believe that this is not the world we live in. However, it certainly is logically possible!
    Does what I have said make sense? I am not writing to argue, but to come to a deeper understanding myself. Please offer constructive criticism where needed!

  9. Keith says:

    Clint,
    Nice clarification. Frank asked, could [God] have created sinless human beings? In his 1st comment he asked Do you think that it is an essential property of human beings to have (libertarian freedom)? Would we be human if God had created us without the ability to sin? There was never, at least as far as I could see, a qualification in Frank’s question to limit his inquiry to the actual world; that is, as I interpreted it, Frank simply asked whether we would be humans still had God created us without libertarian freedom. My response to that question is yes. Nevertheless, given your consideration of the question in the context of the actual world, I think you’re right.

    As you noted also, there is a myriad of related questions. I hope to tackle some from Frank’s most recent comment soon.

  10. Josh says:

    Clint,

    I think this a very good point and that you are correct in your assessment that sin is indeed an accidental property. First of all, if sin were an essential property, then it would follow that God would be the author and creator of sin; which is an oximoronic statement. God could not create sin because it would go against His nature and His character. Secondly, the deity and sinless life of Christ seems to defend the fact that God can create a human without the property of sin. Therefore, it would logically follow that sin is not an essential property. As far as philosophical scrutiny, I cannot think of anything that would pose a problem off the top of my head. Good blog Clint.

  11. Keith says:

    Josh, thanks for stopping by. I’ll leave it to Clint to accept the kudos, but I would like to make one quick distinction. While Christ was certainly fully human, the Nicene Creed (and the Apostle John) is quick to remind that Christ was not created by God.

  12. Josh says:

    Keith,

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I completely agree with you. I realize that I made a mistake in my response concerning the existence of Christ. I do believe and agree with the fact that Christ was not created by God. It was just a minor error on my part. Thanks.

  13. Ben says:

    I am just a boy among men in these discussions but I thought I’d throw out a bit of historical theology for you masters to chew on…

    The 6th Ecumenical Council affirmed that Christ has two wills (one human and one divine) on the basis of the thought that a will is an essential property to a nature (ousia). Christ had two natures (4th Council), so Christ had two wills. How does that fit into/affect a libertarian view of freedom?

    The Son was definitely not created (1st Council), but you could say his humanity was created, right? So one could say, “The uncreated Son assumed created humanity in the incarnation.” (Don’t know you Josh, but thought I’d try to stick up for you.) From this point of view, I would think that viewing sin as an accidental property would be required for an “orthodox” understanding of the incarnation.

    Alright, now tear me apart.

  14. Xavier says:

    Well, unlike Ben, I do not recognise the authority of any of the ecumenical councils. Kidding. Although many evangelicals (sadly) would not hesitate to say this. The thing that troubles me in 6th council (or the Third Council of Constantinople) with reference to libertarian freedom is this. I quote:

    “We also proclaim two natural willings or will…but his human will following following, and not resisting or opposing, but rather subject to his divine and all powerful will. For it was proper for the will of the flesh to be moved [naturally], yet to be subject to the divine will…”

    And later the creed adds “each nature wills and works what is proper to it, in communion with the other.”

    Now I suppose the libertarian would want to say that Christ’s human and divine natures each possessed libertarian volition. Nonetheless (and I do not have access to the Greek here), in what sense is the human will “subject” to the divine will that does not destroy its libertarian character? In other words, if Christ’s human will is subject to the divine, is it still libertarian?

  15. Clint says:

    1) Josh-I agree with you on your point concerning whether sin is an essential property, and I never thought that you were saying that the divine Logos was created, but that the humanity he assumed was created. Thanks for your comments!

    2) Ben-Thanks for joining in on the discussion! I count it as a privelege to have a soon to be “English-bred” scholar on our blog. I think you are right in your understanding of the incarnation. Sin can’t be an essential property, unless it means something foreign to what we are referencing. Concerning the two-will model and how that works with Libertarian freedom…I am mystified. I will keep thinking about it, but you have pushed me into an area in which I am not qualified to speak authoritatively due to a lack of study (which could be said of much of what I say).

    Xavier-To your question…I am going to pull a John Hick and say that God is ineffable. JUST KIDDING. I have not studied the creeds enough. I will have some sort of reply to your question shortly. I have something brewing in my mind, but it would be better for me to develop it further.

  16. Clint says:

    Xavier,

    How does this work for you?

    I will start by saying that if the two-will model is true, I do not see why it is that they must be in conflict, and thus an ensueing violation of libertarian freedom to one will occurs. Let me explain…

    I agree with Locke that “Volition is nothing but that particular determination of the mind (note the stress on the mind here), whereby…the mind endeavors to give rise, continuation, or stop, to any action which it takes to be in its power.”

    Whether or not one takes this causal theory account of the will, I think that many philosophers would say as the Cambridge Dict. of Phil. states, that “‘To will’ is sometimes taken to be the corresponding verb form of ‘volition’.” But both of these things are seated in the mind.

    Thus, we really need to look at the relationship of the two minds (divine & human).

    Using the discipline of psychology it seems to be generally accepted that we as humans have a concious and a sub-concious. If this is the case, which I think it is, then why can’t it be the same sort of construction in the incarnation? I mean that it seems that Christ’s divine mind could posit information into the human mind much in the same way that our sub-concious informs our concious. Therefore, it (the divine mind) informs the human mind or widens the pool of options from which the human mind can then exert volition upon to make a choice, or to will. To continue the analogy, noone, I think, would say that our sub-concious violates our concious thus violating our libertarian freedom. Our sub-concious adds more depth or resource on which to draw, even if we cannot draw upon it intentionally. Why not the same for Christ?

    Someone might say that this is a disanalogy because both our concious and our sub-concious are human. They are not two different types of stuff. Further, did Christ have a human concious & human sub-concious and a divine concious and divine sub-concious? Moreover, could Christ draw upon his divine concious or sub-concious at will (no pun intended)?

    These are questions which need consideration. As a side note, I do not confess to have anywhere near a complete understanding or undefeatable definition of what defines a “will” and it’s relationship between other faculties possessed by humans and God. So, with that said, does what I have just enumerated hold water philosophically?

  17. Xavier says:

    Thanks Clint. Here is why I think the two-wills view presents a potential conflict with traditional accounts of libertarian freedom. Admittedly the phrase “but his human will following following, and not resisting or opposing, but rather subject to his divine and all powerful will“, can be taken in some different ways. I wonder, though if it means, among other things, this: that Christ’s humanity could not have freely acted to do other than that which the divine will had circumscribed. Now according to traditonal notions of libertarian freedom, some individual is free with respect to some act x, only if it is within said individual’s power to is able to refrain or to perform x. But if there were some acts that Christ with respect to his humanity was not able freely to refrain from (or not able to perform) then how can his will be said to be libertarianly free. I think what I have in mind here is the Principle of Alternate Possibility (PAP). According to this view, if some individual cannot do otherwise when he acts, he does not act freely.

  18. Ben says:

    So then we’re back to the question of whether God has libertarian free will, right?

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