A Case for Soft-Libertarian Freedom in Human Beings After the Fall | Part Four

January 21, 2016

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

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Click HERE for Part One
Click HERE for Part Two
Click HERE for Part Three

An Argument for the Proper-Basicality of Belief in Libertarian Freedom
For many libertarians the idea that genuine human freedom exists is not something that requires external evidence from philosophy or science. The reason for this is that the truth of human libertarian freedom is not so much reasoned as it is perceived. It is properly-basic as are other axiomatic beliefs that most men hold. This is not to say that there is anything unreasonable or illogical about their belief in libertarian freedom. Nor is it to say that they don’t have warrant for believing. It is merely to say that the basis for believing in such a freedom is a bit different.

Take for example, the belief that the laws of logic exist and are trustworthy. This belief is not something that is argued for so much as it is something that is presupposed. If one were to argue logically for the truth of the laws of logic, then he would be caught up in a circular argument. Instead, the laws of logic are merely asserted or presupposed. The question then becomes, “On what grounds do we presuppose the truth of laws of logic?” The answer is that our belief in them is properly basic. Yet, we would be wrong to consider one illogical for believing in the laws of logic on the basis of this presupposition since, without this presupposition there would be no basis for arguing. Moreover, everyone must necessarily begin with certain axiomatic beliefs that are properly basic in order to build any epistemology at all.

Now at the risk of tipping my hand, what I will argue for momentarily is not only that the belief in libertarian freedom is properly-basic in just this way, but also that it is more reasonable to accept this presupposition than the presupposition of determinism. With this we will begin with a consideration of why some libertarians view freedom as an axiomatic belief.

There are many ways of analyzing worldviews (and aspects of worldviews) in order to determine their truth values.[10] One such truth test is whether or not a particular belief has what is called “livability.” An individual should be able to “live out” the claim that the belief is making about the nature of reality. One example that libertarians and determinists can agree upon is the less than livable belief in cognitive relativism. On this view all truth claims are subjective in nature. Now besides the fact that this leads to self-referential-incoherence, no one is able to live this view out. Imagine if the relativist were to approach a bank teller asking to withdraw $500 from his checking account. He is operating on the objective truth that there is at least $500 in his account at the moment he requests it. Nevertheless, the teller might argue that while it is true for him that he has $500 in his checking account, it is true for the bank that he only has $225 in his account. As a relativist he has no grounds for arguing that it is objectively true that he has $500 in his account, because all truth is relative. Thus, he must about-face and leave the bank facing the uncomfortable worldview he has adopted. Clearly, this is not a worldview that has livability.

In a less obvious way, determinism could be said to lack livability. How does one live as though all of his actions and thoughts are determined? Life is full of what appear to agents themselves to be choices. At the end of any given day, any random human, if interviewed, could describe thousands of decisions that he truly believes he made. At the very least, he would describe thousands of decisions that he experienced as having been freely made. They seemed free (in the libertarian sense) to him. Frankly, if one adopts determinism/compatibilism (divine or otherwise) he must live his life as though it were not so. This strikes me as incredibly awkward.

Nevertheless, on a libertarian or soft-libertarian view man experiences what seem like genuine choices because he experiences genuine choices. There is no problem with livability for the libertarian. This is just one of the reasons that some libertarians view the belief in libertarian freedom to be properly-basic.

The Strength of Plausibility
As has already been stated, a good argument must involve premises that are plausible. These premises must be more likely to be true than false. For this reason the plausibility of premises involved in arguments in favor of compatibilism/determinism must have this important feature. Yet, it may be the case that the bar of plausibility necessary to overturn the belief in libertarian freedom is far too high.

In defense of his version of the moral argument for the existence of God, William Lane Craig often finds himself confronted with an atheist who simply denies that objective moral values and duties exist at all. This is a somewhat unpopular position even among naturalists. Nevertheless, his response involves the need for plausibility. No argument will be successful in refuting the existence of objective moral values and duties because any argument which is meant to demonstrate that morality is not objective would involve premises that are less plausible than man’s immediate experience of objective moral values.[11]

The same state of affairs, I submit, exists with respect to the arguments against the existence of libertarian free will in human agents in a fallen world. As I have argued above, man’s daily experience is one of libertarian choice. To maintain determinism/compatibilism one is committing himself to a life lived in contradiction to that claim. For this reason, any argument which is meant to demonstrate the truth of determinism/compatibilism will involve premises that are less plausible than man’s immediate experience of libertarian free will.

Knowledge in a determinist/compatibilist world
A common argument against determinism among naturalists may be applicable for divine-determinists and compatibilists who are Christian theists as well. The problem is that for the determinist, it is not only the actions and events of life that are causally determined for him. Even his own beliefs are determined and beyond his control. This is no small matter. What this means is that the determinist can never be certain that his beliefs are correct, since he only believes what he was determined to believe. There is no way to get out of the system, so to speak, and objectively assess the issues. One merely believes what cause and effect led him to believe. Even his belief that he is correct in his assessment would be a belief that was determined. In other words, the determinist may be correct about determinism, but he can never be certain of this, because he had no choice in arriving at determinism.

Part 5 of 5 Coming Soon!

 

[10] Some such tests are an evaluation of whether the worldview can answer the big questions of life such as, where man comes from, why he is here, whether life has a meaning, what the meaning of life might be, what man should make of evil and suffering, and what happens when man dies? Other tests include whether a belief has plausibility, explanatory scope, explanatory power, livability and is consistent. For a lengthy list of worldview tests one might refer to Groothuis, Douglas, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press).
[11] I have no direct citation for this, but it has been Craig’s response in countless unpublished, audio debates.

 

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dr. james willingham

One lives what is determined for his life with joy, with a sense that the disappointments are His appointments, with hope and expectancy that the trials will be turned into triumphs for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then there is Dr. George W. Truett’s remark at the Spurgeon Centennial in 1934 that Calvinism presses down on the brow of man the crown of responsibility. There is also an asymmetrical nature to this with reference to sin, taken under the idea of permission and referenced in Zanchius, Gill, Robinson, and a multitude of others Even chaos has an order to it as the use of fractals evidently demonstrate, thanks to the irregular coast line of Great Britain. Every Sovereign Grace theme is an invitation, a pressing invitation to follow in the way of Christ. And why do we allow the idea of shock therapy and paradoxes unresolved to hold sway in other studies, but failed to see that it is writ large in the Book.

    Andrew Barker

    James Willingham: You seem incapable of actually engaging with what has been written. Braxton Hunter has provided a quite readable and plausable piece which deserves better than the tired old rhetoric which you churn out. If you wish to talk paradox and shock therapy, fine. But please relate it in some way to what has been written.

Scott Shaver

All well and good Dr. Willingham. Glad your comfortable in your “Sovereign Grace” skin.

Quite the opposite, however, for those Berean-like Christian souls who disagree with Truett’s 1934 remarks about “Calvinism pressing down on the brow of man the crown of responsibility (see lists of recent neo-cal scandals). Also excepted from your “happy place” Dr. Willingham are multitudes of other Berean-like Christian souls who reject the theological templates of Zanchius, Gill and Robinson “and a multitude of others” OUTRIGHT.

All this extolling the virtues of high Calvinism has me seriously considering shock therapy.

Ronnie McMillan

“[T]he determinist can never be certain that his beliefs are correct, since he only believes what he was determined to believe.”

Do you believe that two plus two equals four? Do you believe murder is wrong? Do you believe God exists? Did you choose to believe this way? Can you simply choose to believe the opposite?

    Robert

    Ronnie,

    You quoted Braxton:

    “[T]he determinist can never be certain that his beliefs are correct, since he only believes what he was determined to believe.”

    And responded with:

    “Do you believe that two plus two equals four? Do you believe murder is wrong? Do you believe God exists? Did you choose to believe this way? Can you simply choose to believe the opposite?”

    Ronnie I don’t think you get Braxton’s point here. In order to genuinely reason about something you need a self that stands outside of the physical cause effect relationships, the ability to hold different claims/propositions in mind and consider them (i.e. reason about differing propositions), the ability to consider the two possibilities and then the ability to freely CHOOSE one of them to be true as being better and more rational to accept and so worth believing while viewing one as false and so not worth believing.

    Example, say someone is thinking about whether Christianity or Islam is true, and which is false. In order to do this this person would have to have their own mind (a self that is them and exists outside of the physical cause effect world), the capacity to examine the reasons to see Christianity as true and Islam as false (ability to reason). They would then choose based upon these reasons to believe that Christianity is true and Islam is false. But notice what must be present for them to make this choice: they have to have LFW. If their belief in the truth of Christianity is determined/not a choice, then they had no choice in believing it was true and Islam was false, they had to believe in Christianity, they were not being rational in concluding that Christianity is true and Islam is false. If you have to believe something and no choice is involved, then reasoning is not involved.

    And consider your own examples:

    “Do you believe that two plus two equals four?”

    We believe that two plus two equals four only after learning this to be true, but even then we have to choose to believe this is true versus believing it is false.

    “Do you believe murder is wrong?”

    To conclude that murder is wrong you would also have had to reason to this conclusion and choose to believe that murder is wrong (note some people believe murder is right if it is to their advantage, e.g. a mafia hitman so not everyone does in fact believe that murder is wrong).

    “Do you believe God exists?”

    Here I would agree with Plantinga that belief in God is a basic belief that we all have, and only through sin and rebellion do we negate this belief that we have naturally. This is different than your other examples as this is a basic belief and the others are not (the others are learned, involve reasoning and a choice to believe them).

    “Did you choose to believe this way? Can you simply choose to believe the opposite?”

    With some beliefs it is true that we find it difficult to believe the opposite. However with many beliefs we use reasoning to come to our conclusions and then we make a choice between competing truth claims. I don’t know if you have noticed but there are a lot of competing truth claims out there in the world, so we continually have to reason about them and hopefully choose to believe the ones that are true and choose to reject the ones that are false! The New Testament makes reference to this that we have to take every thought captive and subject them to Christ: how will we do this if do not reason about various claims and then choose to accept those that are true?

      Ronnie

      Respectfully, Braxton, I think you’re the one who’s missing the point. I think you are conflating free “will” with free “agency”. Of course we “choose” between competing truth claims, but that’s free agency. But our “choice” is based on a prior determination of truth versus non-truth, good versus bad, moral versus not moral, and that determination doesn’t result from an exercise of LFW. If it did, one could later simply decide, based on nothing–no new information or change in circumstance–that what one previously considered to be true, good or moral is now false, bad or immoral. It is irrelevant that one person concludes murder is bad and another concludes murder is good. Can each of them change their belief about that simply by deciding to believe differently. I do not think so. I know I cannot simply choose, solely as an exercise of volition, to believe God doesn’t exist. I didn’t choose to believe in Him in the first place. I just believed.

      Ronnie

      I’m sorry. I referred to Braxton but was actually responding to Robert.

Robert

Hello Braxton,
I am enjoying your series and especially appreciate the latest post. You are coming very close to one of my own favorite arguments for libertarian free will (i.e. that LFW is a basic belief) when you write: “Now at the risk of tipping my hand, what I will argue for momentarily is not only that the belief in libertarian freedom is properly-basic in just this way”.
I am well aware of what Plantinga says in regards to basic beliefs, I have also read Thomas Reid (who influenced Plantinga on his views on basic beliefs) and this concept also goes well with an argument made by Van Til (i.e. Van Till argued that certain realities that he called transcendentals, e.g. the laws of logic, cannot be accounted for by any other world view other than Christianity, so the Christian apologist can use this to argue against any and all other worldviews). Van Til called this the “transcendental argument” and there is something that he and others such as Bahnsen argued in connection with this argument (i.e. that these “transcendentals” e.g. laws of logic, the reality of the external world, etc. etc.) are inescapably present in our experience (i.e. shown by the fact that even when you argue against them you are necessarily involved in them as you make your argument, e.g. if you argue against the laws of logic you will engage in logic to do so, if you argue against the existence of an external reality the sound waves produced as you speak will go out into this external world).
As someone who has been interested in linguistics and the nature of language for many years, fascinated by language. Seems to me that we can combine the proper basicality of LFW with the proper basicality of ordinary language use. What I mean is that both are inescapably present in our daily experience (i.e. we use language daily, and every time that we do so we are having and making choices, including which language to use, what words to use, whether we will speak or not, etc. etc.). Ordinary language use is dominated by all sorts of genuine choices/instances of LFW (so when use ordinary language we are inescapably involved in both language and LFW). You cannot be involved in ordinary language use without your having and making multiple choices. Most of the time we are not even aware of just how many choices we have and make when using language. Put bluntly the moment a determinist opens his mouth to express himself via language or writes anything, they are inescapably involved in LFW!!!
One of the points by Van Til, Bahnsen, et. al is that as these “transcendentals” ****are inescapable**** this is a strong proof they are reality and true. Well why not use these insights regarding the transcendental argument, truths that are inescapably true, and the nature of basic beliefs, in arguing for LFW? Seems to me that in talking about LFW as being properly basic you are approaching this and getting very close to making this argument.
A good example of a linguistic concept (i.e. “stimulus freedom”) that totally points to the reality of LFW is “stimulas freedom”. I will post an example where a linguist named Trask discusses the concept.

Robert

In a book titled: LANGUAGE: THE BASICS by Robert Lawrence Trask, Trask discusses “stimulus freedom”:
Stimulus-Freedom
Related to some of the preceding design features, but none the less partially distinct, is the property of stimulus freedom, which is the ability to say anything you like in any context. Suppose someone says to you ‘What do you think of my skirt?’ You are free to make any response you like, including none at all. You might reply “It’s too short’, or “It doesn’t go with your pink blouse’, or ‘Sorry – I have no taste in clothes’. You can even decline to answer, and change the subject.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that human conversation is utterly random. There are all sorts of social pressures that make some responses more likely than others. If you value the friendship of the woman in the skirt, you are most unlikely to reply ‘God, Julia, my dog’s blanket would look better – you have the worst taste in clothes in the Northern Hemisphere’. Even if you’re thinking that, you probably wouldn’t’ say it. But you could say it if you wanted to: there’s nothing in English that prevents you, merely social conventions and the desire to maintain good relationships.
The absence of stimulus-freedom would once again reduce human language to something unrecognizable. Just try to imagine a world in which your every remark was completely determined by the context, so that, like a character in a play, you never had the slightest choice of what to say. There are, of course, certain formal and especially ceremonial contexts in which something like this actually does happen – church services, Passover meals, the taking of an oath – but such contexts are not the norm, and even there you could, in principle, say something unexpected, if at the cost of ruining your position in society.
By now you are probably expecting to hear that stimulus-freedom too is unique to human language, and I shall not disappoint you. Non-human signals are not stimulus-free, but rather stimulus-bound. That is, a non-human creature produces a particular signal always and only when the appropriate stimulus is present. If Fred the monkey is up a tree, and he sees a dangerous eagle approaching, he automatically produces the cry that means ‘Look out – eagle!’, and he never does this at any other time. He doesn’t, on spotting the eagle, think to himself ‘Maybe if I keep quiet the eagle will grab old Charlie down there, and I’ll be safe’. Nor does a bored Fred suddenly come out with and eagle warning and then guffaw ‘Haw, haw, Charlie – gotcha that time!’
Very occasionally, however, an animal has been observed to do something unusual. For example, an Arctic fox was once spotted making a danger call in the absence of any danger, apparently just to distract here cubs from a meal she was trying to eat. But such incidents are, so far at least, very rare and strictly anecdotal: they do not represent normal behavior which is overwhelmingly stimulus-bound.
Lacking duality, lacking displacement, lacking open-endedness, lacking stimulus-freedom, animal signalling systems are almost unfathomably different from human language. The communicative world in which other creatures live is as different from ours as anything we could imagine: from our point of view, bleak, featureless, closed in on every side. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, human language is unique on earth, and without it we could not count ourselves human at all.

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