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

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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The Zero-Balance Argument for the Existence of Soft-Libertarian Freedom Among Human Agents in a Fallen World
Compatibilists/determinists have spilled a great deal of ink in attempts to express the philosophical problems with libertarian freedom. Typically, their arguments revolve around the idea that all actions are the result of causal relations between created things. It is often asserted that either determinism is true full-tilt or else indeterminism would be true.[3] In either case, the individual agent is unable to determine for himself the course of action he will take. On determinism he clearly has no choice in that he is caught up in the closed system of cause and effect, and thus though he experiences what seem like choices, he is merely following his prevailing desires. On indeterminism, the agent himself can never know what action he will take because even he is ultimately not making the choice. Admittedly he is not even a determiner of what he will do. Therefore, he cannot predict his own actions. This, then, would not result in determinism but neither would it result in free will. Resulting from these opposing possibilities is the question, “What room then for libertarian freedom?” Libertarians would need to demonstrate some possible way of showing that a free agent could on the one hand avoid being bound by the impulses of influence that surround him, and conversely still make choices of which he is in control. What I am calling “the zero-balance argument for soft-libertarian freedom among agents in a fallen world,” seeks to provide a possibility.

Because the determinist claim is that the agent will always choose to act based on his prevailing desire, which in turn is based upon his influences, it may be that the solution is in understanding how his influences are pitted against one another in the mind of the individual himself. If it were the case that there were a zero-balance of influences tugging at a free agent, then it would be the case that his desire to do x rather than y would not be left to mere cause and effect as we typically think of it.

Imagine that Todd has a desire to eat a piece of pie for obvious reasons. Yet, Todd also has a desire to lose weight. The way determinists typically frame this state of affairs, Todd will choose either the pie, because though he desires to lose weight he demonstrates a greater desire to eat pie, or he will choose not to eat pie, because though he desires the pie he has a greater desire to lose weight. However, imagine that Todd’s desire to eat pie is equally matched by his desire to lose weight. What will Todd do in such a case? It would seem that in this one instance Todd is free of causal influences and the choice is left completely to the agent himself.

Now there are obvious criticisms of this claim. Determinists will argue that in a very specific way, there will be a difference, no matter how small, between his desire to eat pie and his desire to lose weight. They will, likewise, claim that even if there were a zero-balance of influence there would still need to be some causal force that propels Todd to choose one over the other. It could be argued that this situation, if possible, would result in indeterminacy instead of libertarian freedom. All of these objections will be discussed below. Yet, there is a further problem.

Even if it could be argued in a given case, like Todd and his pie, that there were a zero-balance of influence present, this would only be true of that one circumstance. Surely, we can think of a great many issues in which there is no prima-facie zero-balance of which to speak. The libertarian, then, must show not only that there is a zero-balance present with Todd and the pie, but that there is a zero-balance present altogether.

A zero-balance altogether
Most Christian theists are substance-dualists.[4] Because of this, they not only experience the influences of the physical world, but also of the supernatural. We are made in the image of God. For this reason, Todd has all of the influences that go along with inhabiting a physical body and experiencing a physical environment, but he also has all of the influences of having an immaterial soul and being made in the image of God.[5] Because of this, Todd (and all humans) is in a unique position in all of creation. He is unlike the animal and plant life of this world. Only he is influenced in quite this way. In other words he not only has dual-substance but also dual-influence.

Now, on the one hand, we can certainly say that the sum total of influences in only the physical world results in slavery to determinism. Yet, what if it were the case that when both realms are considered the dual-influences at work in man’s mind amounted to a zero-balance? In other words, the sum total of all influences had a zero-balance. If this were the case then Todd would stand in a situation in which his desire to do x was equally matched by his desire to do y in life – in general. This zero-balance-altogetherness would amount to Todd’s awareness of all of the influences at work on him, and he could be said to truly be influenced by them. Yet, he would not be bound by determinism to give in to any one of them.[6]

What results from this is a situation in which the only causal force that is at work is the agent himself. He is free to determine his own wants and actions. Thus, soft-libertarianism emerges. The argument could be stated as follows.

  1. If man has a zero-balance of influences he is free to choose
  2. Man does have a zero-balance of influences, therefore
  3. Man is free to choose.

Now, in order for the argument to fail, one must show a critical flaw in one of the two premises of the argument. We will now move to considerations of these objections.

Part Three Coming Soon!


[3] Indeterminism would mean that actions are random and arbitrary. In physics many modern models for the universe rely on what is called “quantum indeterminacy” which means that particles pop in and out of existence without cause.
[4] A substance-dualist affirms that man is comprised of both a physical body and an immaterial soul/spirit.
[5] Gnostics held that all that was spiritual was good and all that was physical was tainted with evil. This is not the case that I am making. It does not matter if the physical is mingled with good, or some spiritual things evil, the point is that man experiences influence from both realms.
[6] Taoists hold that there is an equal balance of positive and negative forces at work in the world. However, for the Taoist this is necessary. Furthermore, the negative forces are not considered evil (sinful). This is not the view that I am hypothesizing.