A Case for Soft-Libertarian Freedom in Human Beings After the Fall | Conclusion
Dr. Braxton Hunter | President
Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN
**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.
Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana
An Argument for Soft-Libertarian Free Will Assessing Competing Mysteries
Man will always reach a point in pondering the nature of reality at which he should confess the presence of mysteries. This is certainly the case when it comes to the very nature of God. It is simply true that certain archetypal knowledge exists that is beyond what human free agents can access. This is something that libertarians and determinists can agree upon. Compatibilists, to their credit, are often transparently honest about the mysteries that exist in their systems. Those I consider to be inconsistent Calvinists wish to affirm on the one hand libertarian freedom full-tilt, and on the other hand, determinism. These two things are explicitly contradictory. Yet, the inconsistent Calvinist will merely assert that there is a solution to this quandary, and that it is a mystery. Consistent Calvinists (compatibilists) avoid this problem by simply rejecting any sort of libertarian freedom. Instead, they define (or redefine) the term “free” to mean something else altogether. Yet, even the compatibilist appeals to mystery when it comes to man’s responsibility for sin. How is it that God can be the determiner of all things, and yet a man be responsible for doing the very things that God determined he would do? Moreover, how is it that God is not responsible for all evil, sin and suffering in a deterministic world?
Clearly, mysteries are handy things. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that the appeal to mystery is often misused. Instead of meaning the end of man’s ability to know, mystery has often been used as mask to hide the ugly face of a flat contradiction. Take the above example of responsibility in the compatibilist’s understanding. On the one hand God is the determiner of all things, and though man will do what he “wants” he cannot help but want what God has determined he will want. Without the jargon, God determines all things. Yet, man is held responsible for the sin that God determined. Finally, God is meant to be considered good and in no wicked sense the author of evil. Now this is a logical improvement over the beliefs of the inconsistent Calvinist. At least the compatibilist avoids the explicit contradiction. Yet, the advantage quickly fades when one realizes that he still faces an implicit contradiction. The idea that God is a good and just God and yet holds man responsible for that which God himself determined man would do is incoherent. It amounts to saying God is good and just and works evil and injustice. Thus, that which is called a “mystery” by the compatibilist is actually an implicit contradiction.
Libertarians may have a mystery as well. Most, however, will deny the claim and they may be right. Personally, though I have offered two arguments in favor of libertarian freedom, I also think it may be intellectually satisfying to simply say, “God gave man a supernatural ability to make choices determined only by the agent himself.” Yet, for the purposes of this essay, imagine that all arguments in favor of libertarian freedom fail. In such a case, libertarians would be forced to admit that how man is able to make a free choice in the libertarian sense is a mystery. The question would then be, “Which perspective has the more reasonable mystery – the compatibilist or the libertarian?” For obvious reasons, I contend that given these two perspectives, one should choose to be a libertarian based on the comparison of the implications of the competing mysteries.
I have already articulated why I think that the compatibilist mystery does not actually qualify as a mystery, but instead a contradiction. This fact alone makes the libertarian mystery a better choice. Yet, even if compatibilists had a genuine mystery, that did not involve a contradiction, one should still choose the libertarian mystery. On the compatibilist understanding, one is asked to understand God to desire and determine all evil in the world. Furthermore, it must be accepted that God’s anger and punishment for men as they carry out that which he wanted and determined is perfectly just and logical. Moreover, one must deny his perfectly livable inclination to believe that he possess libertarian freedom. In addition to this, there are a number of other philosophically uncomfortable items that could be mentioned, but these are enough to make the point.
The libertarian mystery (if there is one) would not involve an explicit or implicit contradiction. It would merely be an admission that there is a limit to how much man can know about the nature of a free choice. This, by the way, is why it could rightly be called a mystery. The libertarian mystery would not require agents to live in contradiction to what it claims. Instead they could be confident that the reason they think they are genuinely free is because they are genuinely free. It does not require an understanding of God that is at odds (at least prima facie) with what the Bible says about who God is and how he acts. It fits perfectly well with the notion that man is responsible for his own action. This is so because it, and only it, presents a state of affairs wherein man was actually in control of his choices. The mystery would merely be a humble admission that the libertarian is unsure of all that is involved in such a choice. Therefore, even if it turns out that libertarian freedom relies on a mystery, the conclusion that seems most appropriate is to reject the problematic contradictions of Compatibilism and embrace libertarian freedom.