NOTE & DISCLAIMER: This is the first time I have posted a strictly academic essay on my blog. If you are not already familiar with these issues, I recommend checking out simpler resources on the same subject HERE. I am only publishing this here so that it can be easily referenced in my other work.
Purpose of the Study
In the 21st century the debate regarding the nature or existence of human freedom rages on. Whether laymen are aware of it or not, this question is central to philosophical debates within and without the religious-philosophical realm. Secular philosophers have for centuries struggled to determine whether and how what is known as libertarian freedom is philosophically possible. For the naturalist, this question should seem to have been a moot discussion. Religious philosophers of varying backgrounds have argued relentlessly that in the absence of God, freedom of the sort that libertarians imagine man to have is strictly speaking not possible. Yet, among theists, and particularly among monotheists, there is a much more interesting dialogue. For them, no longer is the universe necessarily or decidedly a closed system of cause and effect. At least in these created waters there exists an open conversation on the possibility of genuine libertarian freedom. For Christian theists the reasons for this are both biblical and philosophical.
Regarding the biblical data, libertarians maintain that there are a plethora of texts which seem to implicate or even explicitly describe genuine soft-libertarian freedom. The debate is as hot as ever as to the validity of libertarian free will on the basis of such passages, but for libertarians the type of divine action and speech represented in Scripture would be meaningless at best and deceptive at worst if compatibilism/determinism were true. As for philosophical considerations, libertarian freedom has faced more daunting scrutiny. The question becomes, “How is it that man is even capable of making a libertarian decision?” Or more bluntly, “From whence does a libertarian choice come?”
In this essay my goal is to lay out one philosophical argument in favor of libertarian freedom that I think serves as a philosophical defeater to the claim that libertarian freedom for humans in a fallen world is incoherent. This will be followed with one argument that the belief in freedom is properly basic. Finally, I will lay out a defense of the belief in and of itself in libertarian freedom from an appeal to libertarian mystery as opposed to compatibilist mystery. Ultimately, it is my goal that the production of a defeater, an argument for the proper-basicality of soft-libertarian freedom and an appeal to preferred libertarian mystery will push the ball forward with regard to discussions between libertarians and compatibilists/divine-determinists.
For the purposes of this essay, I am assuming the existence of the Christian theistic God. Moreover, the doctrinal positions of this study will be decidedly Southern Baptist. The truth of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 will be assumed. That is not to say that the case for libertarian or soft-libertarian human freedom in a general sense could not be employed by thinkers of other theistic persuasions. Nevertheless, it is not my goal to argue for the truth of any other world religion.
I am assuming the reliability and inerrancy of the Word of God as contained in the Bible. For clearer understanding of my view on inerrancy one may reference the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Simply put, I believe that the Bible is trustworthy, reliable and inerrant in all that it intends to teach.
It is also my assumption that the God of Christian Scripture does not work things that are contradictory in nature. That is to say, God does not create married bachelors, or square circles. With God all things are possible, but contradictory things are not “things” in any meaningful sense. Thus, if a worldview contains a conclusion that is contradictory, we are free to judge that conclusion false.
I am assuming that God is not the author, source, or ordainer of sin. When some translations of the Bible speak of God working, intending or bringing evil, it is referring to calamity or something akin to calamity. It is my view that divine sin would be a violation of God’s good nature.
It is not my goal to argue for or against libertarian free will as it relates to God’s freedom. Whether or not God has libertarian free will is an important discussion and will undoubtedly be my focus in some later work. However, because it is my belief that Scripture most specifically speaks of human freedom after the fall, that is the focus of my essay.
I am also refraining from arguing for the libertarian free will of beings existing in heaven before the fall. It is not necessarily the case that what I will be arguing is not relevant or related to that time, and those beings, but it is not central to my case here.
The nature of freedom in heaven after the glorification of believers is also not in view. Many compatibilists argue that even if free will were possible for humans in the current state of the world, it would certainly not be so in heaven. As interesting and important as that discussion is, it has little relevance for the case being made for libertarian freedom among humans on earth as it is.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Objections to premise 1
If man has a zero-balance of influence indeterminism would result.
One possible objection to the argument is that a zero-balance of influences would not result in a situation wherein man was free, but rather a situation wherein man’s choices were indetermined. That is to say, in a world in which there is a zero-balance or cause and effect is made null, then there is no causal relationship between events. Yet, if there is no causal relationship between events, then there is no way of knowing what will happen. The individual himself would not even be able to predict what he would do, because there is no “reason” why he chose to do precisely what he did. His “choice” would be random and arbitrary in the strictest sense of the terms. As mentioned above, this may resolve the problem of determinism, but would not deliver free will to the agent.
This, however, would represent a misunderstanding of causal relations. Though I reject what is known as “quantum indeterminacy,” if it were true indeterminacy would only result because of the fact that particles that do not even exist and are about to “pop into existence” do not have causal powers. This would not be true of an existent agent who comes prepackaged with a mind. A mind does have causal powers. Thus, there is no reason to reject the idea that in a world with a zero-balance of influence the agent himself could will to, or cause something that he determines to happen. Thus, this is not a situation wherein cause and effect does not exist, yet man can be said to have transcended cause and effect in that his decision is the cause of the following effect. Only, his cause did not arise coercively because of the cause and effect inherent to the influences he perceives since there is a zero-balance of influence.
If man has a zero-balance of influence there still must exist some external force that propels him to choose x rather than y.
Another criticism might involve the idea that in such a situation as the argument describes, there would still need to be some determined causal reason why the agent chose among his influences to do one thing rather than another. Otherwise, we might imagine that Todd would simply not choose. He would simply exist. For Todd, in a world of zero-balance influence, there would be perpetual indecisiveness.
Yet, this would merely show an a priori commitment to determinism. After all, the very idea that determinism is a fact for human agents in a fallen world is what is up for discussion. A case may exist for assuming determinism in a world without a zero-balance, but in these waters it cannot just be asserted. Moreover, it is not the case that Todd would necessarily be unable to choose among his influences. As was mentioned in the previous objection, Todd has causal powers. Thus, he is unlike all else in creation.
Objections to premise 2
Scripture teaches that man inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin. This means that there is no zero-balance of influence.
As a signer of the Traditionalist Statement on Baptist Soteriology, I affirm that one result of the fall is that man inherits a nature and environment inclined toward sin. However, this does not necessarily mean that there is no zero-balance of influence. What this does mean is that man has a great number of influences that are sinful. It would be difficult to overstate the power of these evil influences. Nevertheless, man also has a great number of good influences. He lives in a world of general revelation among many people who are godly influences where God is at work, and has given all mankind moral compasses. For these reasons, though man is inclined toward sin, he is also influenced by God’s redemptive work and good nature. Indeed, as stated in the explanation of the argument, he bears the image of God. Therefore, whatever we may say of what man’s will was like prior to the fall, the nature and environment inclined toward sin contributes to, rather than tipping the scales regarding the zero-balance.
There is no good biblical reason to believe that the zero-balance exists.
Because this argument really serves as a defeter, the burden of proof is on compatibilists and divine-determinists to demonstrate that zero-balance influences are incompatible with the Bible. Although some passages that deal with this issue in a direct way do seem to be hospitable to a zero-balance understanding of influences. In order to defeat the zero-balance argument as a defeater, the determinist would need to show that there is something inherently incoherent in the idea of a zero-balance of influences.
One can imagine other criticisms and complaints regarding this argument. However, I want to say a word to my fellow libertarians regarding concerns they might have. First, any good argument should be made of premises that have plausibility. By this, we mean, more likely to be true than not to be true. One might ask the question, “Do the premises of the zero-balance argument have plausibility?” I see no reason to doubt that premise (1) is plausible. Possible concerns have been dealt with in the objections, and if there is any other good reason to think that (1) is not plausible, I will leave it to my determinist/compatibilist friends to tease it out. Premise (2) is where the issue of plausibility may be most questionable. Nevertheless, for libertarian readers, I would submit that if libertarian freedom exists, as we maintain that it does, then something like a zero-balance must exist also. In other words, though this language may sound foreign, I submit that even if my argument is demonstrated to be false, we must be in the right ball-park.
For my Compatibilist/determinist friends, I want to reiterate that this argument is intended to serve as a defeater. My intention is to show that there is nothing incoherent in the idea of libertarian freedom. This does not mean that I am absolutely convinced that this argument represents the actual state of affairs. Yet, so long as it is even remotely possible that the zero-balance argument is true, then there is nothing logically problematic with the belief in libertarian freedom.
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. 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.
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.
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.
 Just to name a few - Genesis 6:5,6; Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 36:3; Acts 17:30; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; - determinists would certainly argue that these passages can be explained via compatibilism, but these are not listed as a “slam dunk” in favor of biblical libertarianism, but merely to establish the reasons that libertarians think that their view arises from Scripture itself. The story of the Bible seems to be one of choice.
 By “philosophical defeater” I mean possibilities or theories that may or may not be true. So long as it is even remotely possible that a theory is true, then it makes the claim that the issue in question is incoherent false.
 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.
 A substance-dualist affirms that man is comprised of both a physical body and an immaterial soul/spirit.
 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.
 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.
 Romans 1:18-20
 Romans 2:14
 Romans 7:13-25,
 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).
 I have no direct citation for this, but it has been Craig’s response in countless unpublished, audio debates.