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.