Answering Tom Hicks on the Free Will of Man / Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.

March 29, 2014

by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary
Evangelist with Trinity Crusades for Christ
Visiting Professor of Philosophy & Apologetics at Trinity
Former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists

===================================================================================
FLASH — Just Released! “Core Facts: The Strategy for Understandable and Teachable Christian Defense,”
by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
More info, HERE.
===================================================================================

I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to Tom Hicks for the time and thought he put into interacting with my article on the free will of man. I greatly admire and share his dedication to proper soteriology and his enthusiastic investigation into the relationship between divine providence and human freedom. What follows are my thoughts regarding his post, “A Brief Response to Braxton Hunter’s Article on Libertarian Free Will.”[1]

1. On soft-libertarian freedom
Hicks begins by familiarizing the reader with the terrain of the discussion, as I did in the original article. There is not much with which to quibble contained in these opening paragraphs with one glaring exception. His first point closes with a definition of Libertarian free will that contains the statement, “The man is free to choose against all influences and causes such that there is no determining or governing reason for his particular choice.” This betrays a serious misunderstanding on Hicks’ part concerning the nature of freedom as I explained it in my article. This fact became more obvious as he built his case against libertarian freedom with this definitional comment in mind. He seems to believe that when I and other Traditionalists say “undetermined” that we mean “determined by no one, including the free agent himself.” This creates no small misunderstanding for Hicks. As a result he finds himself imagining that, for libertarians, free will is some whimsical external agent that flies in unannounced and forces the individual to do arbitrary and random things. That this is his understanding of the position could not be more clear than in his fourth point wherein he describes how libertarians might act on the day of judgment. He says, “When they meet God on judgment day, they may object, ‘But God, I often wanted to choose Christ but this libertarian free will that you gave me chose against me. It changed my wants without any sufficient or determining reason and caused me to choose to reject Christ. I am not guilty or responsible.’”

Yet, how Tom Hicks arrived at this understanding is hard to imagine since that would make free will an external force that coerces the agent (something that I clearly reject in my article as quoted by Tom Hicks himself). Instead, “undetermined” as I use the word means undetermined by anything outside of the agent. Furthermore, as a soft-libertarian (and again, as his quote from my article firmly establishes), I maintain that we are influenced by outside factors.

With this in mind, I see nothing in his first or fourth point that remains problematic for the soft-libertarian. Moreover, the conclusions he makes in his third point regarding God’s freedom are based upon this same misunderstanding. Hicks argues, “We might expect that at any moment, without any determining reason, God may sin.” Again, choices are not determined by anything outside of the individual. Hicks describes free will as an arbitrary outside force. He then builds on this problematic definition of freedom by pointing out that Jesus, “ . . . is the image of the invisible God.”[2] Thus, for Hicks, what he has said of the Father attains for the Son. However, what he has argued for the Father is problematic, and so the case for a compatibilist Jesus is problematic as well. Making the same misstep twice does not improve the point.

2. On biblical data
For his second heading, Tom Hicks takes issue with my use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a supporting piece of biblical data for libertarian freedom. One would wonder why Hicks is concerned that I offer no personal exegesis of this one text when he swiftly follows with at least fourteen passages under eleven bullet points for which he offers no exegesis. Nevertheless, my intention was not to thoroughly exegete 1 Corinthians 10:13, but merely to use it illustratively to show that, if there is indeed a “way of escape,” then there is a genuine freedom to take advantage of it. Because compatibilists ultimately do maintain that man’s decisions are determined because his desires are determined,[3] the way of escape is merely illusory. To parody Hicks’ assertion that libertarians import their views into the text, I submit that the greatest problem facing compatibilism is that it isn’t easily established from the text of Scripture, but seems to be a philosophical presupposition and imposition on the Bible.[4]

Regarding the biblical data that Hicks gives us from Bruce Ware, the presupposition of compatibilism is underscored. Many compatibilists seem to have the impression that because God determines to do something or act in a given way that this amounts to determinism qua determinism in a philosophical sense. I view this as a common Calvinist hermeneutical error, and it strikes me as simple eisegesis. How God brings about that which he determines to do is central to the issue at hand. God brings about favor, the hardening of hearts, a military invasion, the execution of Jesus, etc., by using means other than removing the genuine freedom of the individual. In other words, these passages that Hicks seems to view as the basis for, “. . .the best biblical arguments for compatibilism,” beg the question of how God brings these things about.

3. On evil and human responsibility
Finally, it is worth mentioning that, while I appreciate the attention given to much of my article, Tom Hicks neglected to deal with the most difficult issues implied by compatibilism. Aside from the fact that the assertion, “God’s determination of what people do is compatible with their carrying out those determined actions with genuine human freedom and responsibility” would be an explicit contradiction were it not for the redefinition of the term “freedom” in compatibilist terms, there are further problems. He did not deal directly with my argument against compatibilism from the impossibility of human responsibility in a determinist system. Nor did he respond to my case against compatibilism from the problem of evil. He did however confess that, “The biblical compatibilist doesn’t claim to have a tidy philosophical system to support his views.” Respectfully, it may be that the items I just referenced are some such “untidy” issues that compatibilists have yet to iron out.  Still, I invite compatibilists to embrace a soft-libertarian view of human freedom because I believe that it is both biblically and philosophically sound.

In closing, I want to reiterate my humble appreciation for Tom Hicks and his contribution here. He is clearly a man who loves the Word of God and is passionate about the truth. For more information, I would encourage readers to listen to my debate with Joe Mira here. It is my hope that this exchange has been fruitful for readers.

Blessings,
Braxton Hunter, PhD

Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Ron F. Hale

Well … I’ve enjoyed the Hunter & Hicks essays! Both have done a good job sharing their views–however–I am bound and determined to freely say that I believe Dr. Hunter has come out ahead. Blessings!

doug sayers

Ron, well…to be honest I struggle sometimes to follow these types of essays! Too many terms to define (and then argue over their definitions) for me. I will offer this from the pew, for what its worth. As I see it, the Calvinist will forever struggle to explain how saving faith can be both irresistible and voluntary. Those two terms are not “compatible”. They are opposites in their common usage. Calvinists struggle, in vain, for words to describe their concept. The problem is certainly not their weak vocabulary. The problem is the concept itself. There is no clear way to describe their system without exposing the naked fatalism. A good Calvinist says, “Regeneration precedes faith.” What they really mean is “irresistible regeneration precedes irresistible faith”, which is inescapably a kind of “Christian Fatalism” and really hard to prove from Scripture.

Robert

Hello Braxton,

Tom Hicks’ attack on Libertarin Free Will (LFW) is both sad and typical. Sad as he engages in an extremely common tactic used by Calvinist (i.e. redefine something that offends them so that IT becomes ridiculous, then attack this thing that is both false and worthy of ridicule). The problem is of course that by redefining IT, IT no longer is what the others are arguing (i.e. this is a standard form of the straw man fallacy). I have seen these tactics used so many times by Calvinists that I really cannot trust them in any sort of debate. A person seeking after truth does need to redefine the other person’s terms and create straw man: he can simply take on the other term as it is presented by its advocates. People who continually twist things and build straw men rather than engage in reality are not truth seekers but are trying to “win” with rhetorical tricks. I am going to write separate posts so that separate errors by Hicks will be seen for what they are.

Advocates of LFW believe that we are influenced by various factors though these factors do not necessitate any particular choice on our part (that is reality, that is the truth regarding the LFW view).

Now look at how Hicks misrepresents the LFW view:

“His first point closes with a definition of Libertarian free will that contains the statement, ‘The man is free to choose against all influences and causes such that there is no determining or governing reason for his particular choice.’”

This is an absolutely ridiculous claim and a straw man. Saying (as advocates of LFW do) that other influences do not necessitate a person’s choice: is not the same as saying that a person making a choice has no influences upon their choice (the straw man).

LFW proponents have been making this distinction for centuries, and advocates of compatibilism ignore this distinction indicating not an interest in fairly and accurately presenting the other view by compatibilists but in building and tearing down straw men.

If I go to a restaurant, there are multiple “influences” that effect my choice (but do not necessitate it). One influence is how much money that I have available to spend at that time. Another influence is what are my favorite foods at this particular restaurant. Another influence could be that I have a coupon where I need to pick a specific food for the coupon to apply. So my choice has influences upon the choice, but these influences do not force me or necessitate me to make a particular choice. A major indication that a person is rational is that they carefully consider the factors that are present when they make a particular choice. In fact we consider a person to be smart when they choose fully conscious of the influences and factors involved when they make their decision. God created us to be self -conscious persons who choose to do what we do for reasons in light of what is important to us.

A major problem with compatibilism is that it asserts there *are* necessitating factors that force me to make a particular choice. But if there are necessitating factors that force me to make a particular choice then I am not choosing freely (in fact if these factors whether they be my nature, environmental factors, etc. force me to make a particular choice then I do not have a choice). So to say we have influences on our choices is not at all saying there are no influences present when we make a choice (the straw man that Hicks created).

Robert

Robert

A second common straw man created by Calvinists is to present LFW as claiming that there are no determining causes when a person makes a choice.

“He seems to believe that when I and other Traditionalists say “undetermined” that we mean “determined by no one, including the free agent himself.”

LFW proponents such as Alvin Plantinga, J. P. Moreland, etc. hold to “agent causation”. That means that when making a choice, if we are acting freely and the choice is up to us, then *we* are the determining the factor. If I am at that restaurant again considering differing alternative possibilities before I make my choice. When I make the choice, it is me, the personal agent, that is determining which possibility is actualized and which possibilities are not actualized. Because it is me, that is making this choice, I can then be held responsible for this particular choice. This is so common sensical that none of us when speaking of our freely made choices even speaks of “agent causation” or ‘the determining cause”. Instead we simply use personal pronouns to refer to the person who made the choice (e.g. “I chose the ribs instead of the chicken”, “Why did you choose the chicken instead of the ribs”, “They all chose the brisket”). When we speak of praise or blame when it comes to choices we also speak in terms of personal pronouns. “It was his fault”. “She did a great job with that project.” In none of these common expressions is anyone claiming that the choice was: “determined by no one, including the free agent himself.” Instead in each case we are declaring that someone made the choice, some personal agent was the determining cause of the choice. This is not rocket science it really is simple and most of us perfectly understand what we mean by our having and making our own choices and so being responsible for those choices.

You went on to say that Hicks misrepresentation leads to absurd results:

“This creates no small misunderstanding for Hicks. As a result he finds himself imagining that, for libertarians, free will is some whimsical external agent that flies in unannounced and forces the individual to do arbitrary and random things.”

Again we have a misrepresentation of LFW and again a straw man is being built. Agent causation by definition means that I made the choice not someone else and certainly not some “external agent that flies in unannounced and forces the individual to do arbitrary and random things.” Imagine if that were true. Some of our most important choices, rather than being attributed to us would be attributed to this crazy LFW force that forces us to make our choices! He didn’t really say “I do” to his prospective wife, No, the crazy LFW force forced him to say “I do”. I see no evidence of this crazy LFW force nor do the courts, and yet compatibilists want others to believe that proponents of LFW believe in this crazy force!

Robert

Robert

That Tom Hicks actually believes this nonsense and intentionally attributes it to proponents of LFW is seen in his comment about the final judgment:

“That this is his understanding of the position could not be more clear than in his fourth point wherein he describes how libertarians might act on the day of judgment. He says, ‘When they meet God on judgment day, they may object, ‘But God, I often wanted to choose Christ but this libertarian free will that you gave me chose against me. It changed my wants without any sufficient or determining reason and caused me to choose to reject Christ. I am not guilty or responsible.’’”

Notice this “libertarian free will that you gave me” according to Hicks “chose against me”.

So according to Hicks proponents of LFW believe that everybody is this schizophrenic agent. We want to make certain choices, but this crazy LFW force that in some way controls us forces us to choose against our will! This is not reality but instead sounds like a science fiction story concocted by the compatibilists against LFW.

The nature of the final judgment in fact is a clear demonstration of the reality of both agent causation/LFW (that we make our own choices and so are responsible for them) and the falsity of compatibilism. In compatibilism there are necessitating factors that control us and force us to make our choices.

Yet on the final judgment day, God will not say “well your nature made you make the wrong choices, or your environment, or your brain, or your upbringing or . . .” And no one will be able to say “well God that crazy LFW force that you gave me controlled me and forced me to make the wrong choices, or that environment you put me in controlled me and force me to make the wrong choices, or my brain that you gave me . . . or my parents that you gave me . . . or etc. etc.”

Instead it will be the individual soul standing before God with no excuses and no justification through necessitating factors to eliminate the blame for his/her sins. The biblical statements portraying the final judgment all present a unified picture where personal agents will all be accountable for the choices THEY made. And there will be no excuses because they were determined to do what they did by other factors other than themselves.

Robert

Robert

Braxton there is one other extremely common Calvinistic debate tactic that your post brings out clearly when you wrote:

“For his second heading, Tom Hicks takes issue with my use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a supporting piece of biblical data for libertarian freedom. One would wonder why Hicks is concerned that I offer no personal exegesis of this one text when he swiftly follows with at least fourteen passages under eleven bullet points for which he offers no exegesis. Nevertheless, my intention was not to thoroughly exegete 1 Corinthians 10:13, but merely to use it illustratively to show that, if there is indeed a “way of escape,” then there is a genuine freedom to take advantage of it. Because compatibilists ultimately do maintain that man’s decisions are determined because his desires are determined,[3] the way of escape is merely illusory.”

And what is this tactic?

A non-Calvinist will present a strong exegetical challenge to Calvinism (in this case your presenting 1 Corinthians 10:13). Instead of dealing with the passage, the Calvinist responds with what one friend of mine calls “machine gun” exegesis! Machine gun exegesis is when rather than responding to the salient point (in this case how compatibilism completely breaks down on 1 Corinthians 10:13): the person just throws a ton of un-interpreted proof texts at you! They don’t take the time to interpret all of the passages they simply throw out their favorite proof texts! It is an extreme case of *changing the subject*. People do this kind of thing all the time when an argument or conversation is not going their way; they change the topic by bringing up something else.

When I worked in counter cult ministry we saw this frequently with non-Christian cultists. When challenged by a particular strong or damaging Bible verse: they respond with machine gun exegesis. To the uninformed this appears like a strong response, I mean: look at all the Bible verses they know and can respond with! But it is not dealing with the challenge at all, rather, it is avoiding the challenge by changing the topic.

And there is good reason for Tom Hicks to change the topic as compatibilism completely fails to handle 1 Corinthians 10:13 and unravels on this verse. This verse is almost too simple and yet if properly understood it refutes compatibilism.

The verse says that with temptation the believer is promised a way of escape from the temptation by God. That means that whenever a true believer faces temptation there is ALWAYS a choice. A choice between giving into that temptation or resisting that temptation by means of the way of escape provided by God.

But this is problematic for compatibilism because in compatibilism if all is predetermined by God, then that *includes our particular choices in every situation* too. But if that includes our particular choices in every situation then we *never ever have a choice*. We have to choose what God predetermined we would choose. If God decides beforehand how every event will go (a premise held by consistent Calvinists). And if God controls things in such a way as to ensure that all of these decisions about events occur exactly as God wants them to go (a premise held by consistent Calvinists). Then we never ever have a choice.

We may think or feel that we are facing a choice where we could choose either option (say to resist the temptation by the way of escape provided by God or to give into the temptation). But in reality we do not have that choice. Instead, if God predetermined that we would give into that temptation, then that is the choice that we have to make. If God predetermined that we would resist that temptation by taking the way of escape he provided, then that is the choice that we have to make. Either way, we have no choice, the choice is not up to us, but was made by God before he created the world. The consistent Calvinist maintains that this is true in every situation: thus, by their own logic they are arguing that we never ever have a choice.

Conversely, if the Bible or our own experience provides instances where we do have a choice, then compatibilism is refuted. Compatibilism involves a universal negative (i.e. that we never ever have a choice). A universal negative is refuted by even one good counter example. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (as well as other Bible verses) provide numerous counter examples to the universal negative inherent in compatibilism, so compatibilism must be false.

Robert

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available