July 2, 2022

In this episode, Kurt discusses libertarian free will with Tim Stratton of Free Thinking Ministries.

Listen to “Episode 123: Libertarian Free Will” on Spreaker.

                                                                                                       

Kurt: Well a good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.  We’ve got a fascinating episode up for you today. We’re going to be talking about the free-will debate and going a bit deeper philosophically, so on this episode we hope that you’ll have your mind stretched a little bit, you learn more about the freewill debate, especially from a philosophical angle and we’ll be talking I’m sure about theological implications and ideas, but there’s a philosophical debate that occurs even outside Christian circles and so joining me on our program today is someone who’s someone spent many years talking about and researching and now doing his doctoral work in this field. He is Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries. Tim, thanks so much for joining us on our program today.

Tim: Thanks for having me on the show, Kurt. 

Kurt: Before we get into the heavy stuff, let’s start with something a little lighter. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your so-called origin story? How did you get into apologetics and theology?

Tim: It was about 1998 when I started my ministry career in Santa Cruz, California and I wasn’t planning on going into ministry at all. I was actually planning on going into education. I wanted to be a teacher and maybe a basketball coach and I had a guy that challenged me to come out and give ministry a shot in California, in Santa Cruz. I thought, “Nah. that’s not for me.”, but he said, “You know, Tim. You really have a passion for the gospel. You’re getting into the Bible. I think you’d really be good at doing ministry. Come out for a year and I’ll pay you to do ministry on the beach.” I was like, “Wait a second. You’re going to pay me for a year to do ministry on the beach? Okay. I’m there.” I went out there and I didn’t think that that would lead to full-time ministry at all, but one thing led to another and I fell in love with telling people about Jesus, but what happened is when I was out there, I realized that sharing the gospel wasn’t that easy because people had a lot of follow-up questions and I wasn’t equipped to answer those questions and so I said, “I’m not ever going to go out and look for opportunities to share the gospel, but if people come to me, I’ll be happy to share my faith with them. I’ll be happy to tell people about Jesus.” I kind of kept that philosophy going for awhile until about 2006, I took a job in Kearney, Nebraska, still where I live, but I took a job as youth pastor at Free Church. Things were going great for a couple of years, but then a young man who had been in my youth group for a couple years at that point, even in my Bible study, was raised in the church, his dad was one of the elders. Right before the back to school kickoff of 2008, he tapped me on the shoulder while I was doing a sound check, I had this band coming in, a good Christian hard rock band, we were going to party with the back to school bash and celebrating youth group starting up again. I was sound checking the band and he taps me on the shoulder and says, “Tim. I’m not coming back to youth group this year.” I was like, “What? You’re going to another youth group or what?” That’s like the worst thing a youth pastor can hear or so I thought. He goes, “No. I’m not coming back to youth group. I’m not coming back to your Bible study. I’m not coming back to church either. Over the summer, I’ve been reading Richard Dawkins and Steven Hawking and Sam Harris” fill in the blank with your favorite atheist, Christopher Hitchens. He said, “I am convinced that atheism is true.” I thought, “Man. I am never taking a summer break again”, because you take some time off and kids become atheists. It’s horrible. He told me that he thought atheism was true and I said, “But you know that’s not true. You’ve been in my Bible study. We’ve been reading the Bible together. You know this is true.” “I think that book we’ve been reading is a bunch of fairy tales.” I said, “Come on, man. You know that’s not true.” He goes, “I tell you what Tim. If you can answer one of these questions or objections, I’ll stick around.” I don’t know for sure. I always say that he probably gave me around a dozen or so questions and objections to choose from and I couldn’t answer a single one of them. I remember him looking at me with disgust and also, I saw tears in his eyes like I let him down. He wanted me to answer these questions and I couldn’t, but he walked out and I watched him walk out and that shook me and I tell you what, my faith was slightly shaken also because these seemed like good objections, but I went home that night and I didn’t enjoy the back to school bash, that’s for sure. I went home that night and with my faith shaken, I prayed anyway and I think it’s cool because my son and I, we love the movie the Patriot and I had just watched that not long ago and I remember not long before that happened, I remember the pastor in that movie saying something to the effect of, “Sometimes, you have to defend the sheep” or something like that. I don’t know, I just felt it impressed upon me that if I’m going to be a shepherd, I need to learn how to defend the sheep. I saw this a little bit in Santa Cruz, but now it’s magnified here in the walls of the church and so I just felt like, “I’ve got to learn how to answer these questions.” That was tough for me because I never considered myself to be the smart kid growing up. I always thought of myself honestly as the stupid kid who really struggled in school. I was the one guy on the basketball team who was always being threatened by the coach. “Get your grades up or you’re off the team.” I did really bad on my ACTs. It took me seven years to get through an undergraduate degree and that was to be a PE teacher. It took me a long time. I just always thought, “Man. I’m not the smart kid so there’s no way I’m going to be able to deal with these objections from these physicists and philosophers with their PhDs, but I came upon Scriptures of you got to ask for wisdom. Where I am weak, God is strong. I just thought, “Okay God, if this is what you’re calling me to do, I’ll try to figure this stuff out. I can’t do it without your help.” One thing led to another. I started googling some of these questions and objections and ran across some guy, you might have heard of him, named Dr. William Lane Craig, started watching all his videos and listening to his podcasts, reading his books, and just soaking it up, watching his debates and my life was becoming transformed. I was becoming transformed by the renewing of my mind and I just thought, “I got to learn from this guy.” I enrolled at BIOLA University and ultimately….

Kurt: I hear that’s a great school.

Tim: Yeah. It’s pretty good. I like it. I guess, long story short, that’s why I’m doing apologetics and systematic theology today.

Kurt: Yeah. Let me commend you as one of those perhaps few youth pastors that realize they really need to up their game on apologetics and where dealing with teenagers really is the prime time to be answering the questions.

Tim: I’ll tell you what’s funny about that really quick is for the youth, I started diving into the books, becoming more academic, right? Because of that, I stopped spending time with them. I stopped playing the video games and building relationships and going out and shooting hoops them because I’m studying all the time, so in a sense I became a better pastor because I was able to answer their questions. In another sense, I became a worse pastor because I wasn’t building the relationships that I would have normally been doing, that I did before I became all academic if you will, so that’s one of the reasons why I eventually left doing actual youth pastor ministry and started what I’m doing now called Freethinking Ministries which is devoted to answering questions, but I still try to speak to youth groups and things like that as much as possible.

Kurt: So you’ve been doing Freethinking Ministries for three years now. I imagine that coincides with your time doing the BIOLA apologetics program.

Tim: What do you mean it coincides with it?

Kurt: Sorry. Did you start the ministry right after you got the degree or did you start it and then do the degree? What was the timeline there?

Tim: That’s a good question. I graduated at the end of 2014 and I was still the youth pastor at that time and I thought, “What do I do? Do I keep doing this?” I felt like I was supposed to really do something with apologetics, but I had no idea if I was supposed to specialize in that or just continue to do youth pastor work and sprinkling apologetics whenever I had the opportunity, which I would have been fine with doing, but I did feel a pull to do something, but I just didn’t know what it was. I had a friend who was a youth pastor in a neighboring town ask me, he had a little blog called Freakeng Ministries because his last name was Eng, so his name is Richard Eng, so he called it Freakeng Ministries and he had a little blog going. He goes, “Tim. You’re used to writing papers on a weekly basis. Why don’t you keep doing that and write for my blog? I thought, “I could do maybe one of those a month.” That turned into several a week it seems like and it kept growing and pretty soon I had some well-known apologists start sharing my articles and things like that and ultimately, had some guys who were following my work come and ask me if I’d be interested in being a pastor to pastors, helping all pastors be able to have these conversations, so really to equip pastors and other people in the church so that they can engage the culture and I said, “That sounds great, but how’s that going to happen?” They said, “What if we raised enough money to match your current youth pastor salary” which wasn’t a ton, but they said “What if we raised the funds to match your salary? Would you consider doing a web site and we’ll raise the money for that too.” I’m like, “Yeah. That’s pie in the sky. That sounds great, but that’s not going to happen.” Two weeks later, I’m around a table having breakfast with a lawyer, a CPA, a couple pastors, a couple businessmen, a couple college professors and I’m sitting back just listening to them talk and the next thing I know, they’re like, “We’ve got the 501c3 and we’ll handle the website here.” I’m just sitting back. I’m not really saying anything and they turn to me and say, “Tim. Do you want the job?” I said, “Yeah.” I looked[NP1]  brought my friend with me and said, “Is this real?” “Yeah. This is the real thing.” That’s how it happened. Borderline miraculous. I’m careful to use the word miracle so lightly, but I’ll say God was at work.

Kurt: Yeah. That’s great. It’s great to hear your story and your journey about how you came into apologetics and got interested in this. So in the interest of time, let’s move along and get to the thrust of our topic today. I invited you on because I wanted to talk about the freewill debate and I know we’ve talked a little about libertarian freewill on the show, but we haven’t really designated an episode to surveying the field, if you will, and I know for someone like you, you spent a lot of time talking about libertarian freewill and why is that? What interests you in the freewill debate?

Tim: I find it just fascinating. I think it’s a vital conversation to have because it impacts so many different areas of life from morality to rationality to love and so I try to have these conversations and I think ultimately, if we possess this real libertarian freedom, it ultimately points to God’s existence, so there’s some apologetic significance to arguing for libertarian freedom. I should just say that libertarian freedom can most simply be defined as the conjunction, so this is the technical, one of the technical definitions here, the conjunction of a rejection of a view called compatibilism which I’ll get into later along with the claim that humans at least occasionally possess freewill so that is to say that the advocate of libertarian freedom affirms that we possess freedom of moral and rational responsibility and the freedom necessary for responsible action is not compatible with determinism. Libertarian freedom sometimes refers to an ability to do or think otherwise and that’s how most people think about it, but it always refers to something called source agency, which means there’s no external causes. 

Kurt: That I as an individual am the cause of some action that I take. There’s not some prior cause making me choose to do something.

Tim: Right. I’m the ultimate source of at least some of my actions and thoughts, some of my thoughts and actions, beliefs and behaviors. I got to be in control of some of them I don’t have to be in control of all of them for me to possess libertarian freedom. I typically like to argue for a stronger model of libertarian freedom. Most of the time, when I refer to libertarian freedom, I simply mean what most people think of when they use the term free-will. Simply put, here’s my definition I typically refer to. Libertarian freedom is the ability to choose between a range or to choose between or among a range of alternative options, each of which is consistent or compatible with one’s nature. That just requires two or more options. I’ll say it again. Libertarian freedom is the ability to choose between or among a range of alternative options, each of which is consistent or compatible with one’s nature.

Kurt: Writing that down here. I know it can get very complex and some people might say nit-picky, but it can be very important to make these so-called nit-picky claims. Let me give one example here. You’ve carefully modified the scope of certain choices which would be or would have libertarian freewill to some of our choices and I think that’s a great qualification because I’ve known some people that reject libertarian freewill because humans can’t fly so because humans can’t fly, therefore they must not have freewill or at least in the libertarian sense. Some people think that when we talk about libertarian freewill it’s just this unqualified sense of freedom like a libertinism or something, even beyond what humans can do in the physical world and that’s not what philosophers and theologians who are familiar with the literature, that’s not what they mean.

Tim: Right. I get that quite often. If I’m arguing for libertarian freedom, in fact, I was at an apologetics conference several years ago and this is one of the catalysts or one of the main influences that pushed me in the direction I’m going now, I was arguing for libertarian freewill as an apologetic to point towards God’s existence at a Christian conference promoting apologetics. The crowd was completely Christian. I didn’t think I was going to have many detractors. Well, I had a few people ready to fight me it seemed like, ready to throw down and they said, “You don’t have libertarian freewill because you can’t choose God.” I just thought, “That is irrelevant to what I’m arguing for right now. I’m talking about the ability to think things through and reach rational conclusions. I might not have the freedom to choose God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have libertarian freedom in certain areas.”

Kurt: That’s right. Maybe you have the freedom to choose chocolate over vanilla,, but something more important to our life or something, which has greater moral implications or something like that, maybe that’s not. Yeah right. So the scope you started out with here is great and of course, I’m of the view that I think humans can choose to freely accept the gospel message, but in order to illustrate or prove libertarian freewill is true that’s not required.

Tim: Right. I do argue for that in a sense also, I do think that we can resist God’s grace. I don’t think it’s irresistible grace. I think we can resist it. I think that’s why Hell exists, but I’m also quick, and I do provide arguments for that, but, at the end of the day I’m willing to say, “Look. If you’re still not persuaded that we have that ability, fine, but I’ll then point to other issues that we can discuss that we’ve gotta have.” We have to have libertarian freedom with these areas. Would you mind if I shared some of those?

Kurt: Yeah. In a moment though, I want to follow-up on a couple of things, but we’ll definitely come back to that. Basically, what you’re saying is for the sake of the debate one does not have to think that libertarian freewill applies to all these different areas, just it needs to apply to some areas. 

Tim: Yeah. Even the five-point Calvinist who does not think we should apply libertarian freedom to soteriological matters or issues related to salvation, that’s fine. I disagree, but if you are convinced and convicted that you ought to hold that view, I will give it to you and say, “Let’s look at these other areas where we have it.”

Kurt: Yes. Before we get to those other areas, I do want to talk about you mentioned a couple of other terms. Compatibilism and then there’s a third camp here in this debate, determinism. Could you spell out a little bit more for us what those positions believe.

Tim: Yeah. Determinism is the view that something other than you determines things about you. If we’re discussing exhaustive determinism then something other than you is determining everything about you, all of your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors. All of your thoughts about your beliefs and your beliefs about your thoughts. Even when you feel like you’re evaluating your thoughts, you’re not. Something other than you is determining everything about you so that’s determinism and on that view, you do not have ever an ability to do otherwise so you lose both senses of libertarian freedom, the ability to do otherwise. You only have one thing compatible with your nature as opposed to the definition I’m arguing for, at least two things that are both compatible with your nature, and you lose this source of agency if something else, something other than you is ultimately either directly or indirectly causing or determining everything about you. When I say a cause I mean something else that makes something happen.

Kurt: In the determinist case to use an analogy, and I’ve seen this analogy used before, of a firearm, if you’re the agent, you choose to pull the trigger, but on the determinism model, you are the trigger. Something else is pushing you or pulling you and then you’re the trigger which brings about some result.

Tim: Right. Compatibilism entails the thesis that determinism is true. If you’re a compatibilist, you’re also a determinist. Right? By definition, compatibilism entails the thesis that determinism is true so if one claims that compatibilism corresponds to reality and that is the way it is, it’s not just a philosophical thing we’re thinking through, but that reality or that compatibilism corresponds to reality and it is true, then they are also saying that determinism is true and by saying that, they will be affirming the position that they do not have an ability to choose between options that are both consistent or compatible with their nature because there’s only one thing they can do. Ultimately, most compatibilists will say your nature determines your choices. “You’re still acting voluntarily because it’s your nature that’s making your choice, but ultimately something else determined your nature to be the way it is and you don’t have any choice in how your nature is at all” and so they’ll just say you never had an ability to choose between a range of options which are each consistent with your nature. There’s only one option, but when you apply that to thinking and to rationality, I think you run into a lot of problems.

Kurt: So the compatibilist would distinguish him or herself from a determinist insofar as they would say you are doing something voluntary whereas the exhaustive determinist wouldn’t say that, but, and correct me if I’m mistaken, the libertarian freewill advocate might say “You compatibilists, you’re not really actually having a voluntary ability there” and so for a number of libertarian freewill advocates, they would reject compatibilism as a feasible option. Is that safe to say?

Tim: I think I’m tracking with you. Bottom line, compatibilism, if one is going to say that compatibilism applies universally to humans, then they’re affirming exhaustive determinism. If they’re going to say it always the case. I’ll say this. I’m open to compatibilism being true some of the time. In fact, I think there’s many times when it’s true. For example, Jonathan Edwards seemed to advocate the view that you always choose based on your greatest desires at a certain moment, but if that’s true, if you always make choices based on your greatest desires then, for example, I was having a debate with a guy who affirmed Calvinistic compatibilism and he was an anti-Molinist and he said you always make choices based on your greatest desire, and I said “Is that why you’re a Calvinist and a compatibilist and not a Molinist?” He goes, “I’m not a Molinist for a whole bunch of reasons.” I said, “Wait a second. Is it because of reasons or is it because of your greatest desire? If it’s not based on your greatest desire then your claim that you always and only make choices based on your greatest desire is false, but if it is the case that we only and always make choices based on our greatest desires then we have a situation similar to what Alvin Plantinga argues against naturalism. He says if naturalism and evolution are both true then your choices and your beliefs are always aimed at survival and not truth. Same kind of problem here for the compatibilist. If your choices and your beliefs are always based on your greatest desires, then your beliefs aren’t aimed at truth. They’re aimed at desire and you can only assume that your desire happens to correspond with reality, but that’s just an assumption.

Kurt: Awesome. That’s a great explainer to the different camps of the freewill debate. Tim. We’ve got to head to a short break here. When we come back though, I want to talk to you about, you mentioned these different areas in which libertarian freewill very well could exist.I want to talk about that and ways that you think libertarian freewill points to the existence of God. I’d be interested to hear that so stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.

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Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you want to learn how you can become a sponsor, you can go to our website veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab. Patrons are also folks that maybe just chip in a few bucks a month, $5, $10, $20. We’ve got some others that have blessed us with even more, but if you’re able to and you really support the ministry of Veracity HIll we would love to get your monthly recurring support to not only keep our program going but also growing as well as we seek to reach more people with our program. Tim. I did not give you the heads up about what’s coming next, but after the break we do this segment of the show called Rapid Questions.

Tim: Oh no.

Kurt: We ask just quick questions that we put 60 seconds up on an imaginary game clock.

Tim: This is horrible.

Kurt: We’ll get to know a little bit more about you and things about your life, quirky things, so you won’t be able to hear the game clock, but once I start it…

Tim: I gotta tell you. I’ve heard you do this before. I should have known this was coming and I totally forgot about it. 

Kurt: Alright. Let me get it up here. Are you ready?

Tim: Let’s do it.

Kurt: Alright. What’s your clothing store of choice?

Tim: I gotta say the Buckle because it started in Kearney, Nebraska where I live.

Kurt: Taco Bell or KFC?

Tim: Taco Bell.

Kurt: What’s your favorite sport?

Tim: I gotta go with Mixed Martial Arts.

Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?

Tim: Her birthday. Does that count?

Kurt: Pick a fictional character you’d like to meet.

Tim: A fictional character. I’ll go with Darth Vader.

Kurt: Who was the last person you ate dinner with?

Tim: My wife.

Kurt: If you could meet any one person from history, who would it be?

Tim: Jesus.

Kurt: What’s your best physical feature?

Tim: My bald head definitely.

Kurt: How many keys are on your keyring?

Tim: 5.

Kurt: Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Tim: That’s changed. I’m a morning person now.

Kurt: Last question here. What are some of the different jobs that you’ve had in your life?

Tim: Before ministry I was a security guard, I was a martial arts instructor, I was in a band and did that as a job for awhile as a bass player.

Kurt: Did that actually make money?

Tim: I did.  I made good money for awhile. I was a touring musician. I used to open for Skillet.

Kurt: Is that so? How about that. What was the name of the band?

Tim: I was in a few bands. The most successful one was called After the Order. We were never signed to a major label or anything, but we did a lot of touring coast to coast and I was able to buy my wife’s wedding ring with money I was making from that.

Kurt: Cool. So Mixed Martial Arts is your favorite sport?

Tim: I actually competed professionally. I didn’t do very well. I only fought twice professionally. I was one and one, broke my hand in my last fight and thought I’ll just coach, and I had a good coaching career too. One of the guys that I coached, he’s now contending for, he’s #1 contender in the UFC in his weight division right now.

Kurt: That’s cool.

Tim: I don’t really do it anymore. I started getting old and slow and got tired of getting punched in the face by 20 year-olds.

Kurt: That can be a rough sport, that’s for sure. On today’s program we’re talking about the freewill debate, the different camps that are out there. There’s the libertarian freewill, there’s the compatibilist position, and there’s the determinist position. Those are sort of the three major camps and joining me on our program today is Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries and we’re talking about the issues here relating to libertarian freewill which is a position that Tim affirms. In the first half of the program, Tim, you talked about how there are certain areas of our life, perhaps other than choosing God or Christianity, where we could see that libertarian freewill would exist. Maybe just give us a few of those examples.

Tim: My top three, I think there might be more, but the top three I focus on when I’m fighting for libertarian freedom, some of my colleagues have called me the libertarian freedom fighter and this is what I call the three-punch combo for freedom. That’s focusing on morality, rationality, and love. Regarding morality, it seems to me that some level of libertarian freedom is essential if it’s indeed possible for anyone to think or act morally. There’s an oughtness or a shouldness. If you should or ought to do something, if there’s an oughtness to moral acts and if that’s true then our moral thoughts and actions definitely need to be up to us and not caused by something other than us, not causally be determined by something else that’s not me. It seems that we have the ability to choose between a range of alternatives that are each consistent with our nature at least some of the time and the eminent philosopher, J.P. Moreland, he makes this clear and he says, “When it comes to morality” this is a quote, “It’s hard to make sense of moral obligation and responsibility if determinism is true. They seem to presuppose freedom of the will.” He says, “If I ought to do something, it seems to be necessary to suppose that I can do it, that I could have done otherwise, and that I am in control of my actions. No one would say that I ought to jump to the top of the 50-floor building and save a baby or that I ought to stop the American Civil War in this present year because I do not have the ability to do either.” So we need to be the source of our moral thoughts and actions and we need to have a range of options, each compatible with our nature, to give us this oughtness. Especially when it comes to our moral thinking which I think Jesus seemed to be very concerned with our moral thought lives, but I’ll say it seems and Jerry Walls has said this too, that it seems intuitively obvious and properly basic that libertarian freedom is necessary for morality. I’ll say this, this is the way we live our lives and even most determinists whether they be divine determinists or atheistic/naturalistic determinists, they live as if they possess libertarian freedom, even though language they use when they’re arguing against libertarian freedom often presupposes, it assumes libertarian freedom. They might not be aware of it, but they do it all the time. It’s just the way we live. Ultimately, let atheists think whatever they want but Christians have no business rejecting moral freedom because the ability to choose between falling into temptation or taking the way of escape, God promises to provide in 1 Cor. 10:13 provides an example. If it doesn’t demonstrate this clearly, it’s highly implied at the very least, but check it out. Paul is telling us in 1 Cor. 10:13 that we have a range of options, to fall into temptation or to take the way of escape that God promises to provide every time we’re tempted and so it follows from that that at least Christians have limited libertarian freedom, to choose between alternatives that are both consistent with their regenerated nature. Often, I have maybe a Calvinist who’s arguing that we don’t have libertarian freedom and I’ll say what about this example in 1 Cor. 10:13 and they’ll say “That’s a Christian.” And I’m “Fine. That’s all I need right now.” At least Christians possess this ability to choose between a range of options each consistent with their nature and since God promises to provide a way of escape every time we’re tempted to sin, it follows that when we do sin, we could have done otherwise. It seems that that follows doesn’t it?

Kurt: Yeah. You’re moving the Calvinist over inch by inch to maybe accept other areas of human life where we would have freewill in the libertarian sense.

Tim: Right. When I read, even Luther and Calvin and other Reformers, Melanchthon, doing a big section on this in my dissertation, it seems to me that the Reformers who, they would agree with me on this issue, that although will say there’s no libertarian freedom to choose salvation or regarding soteriology, they would affirm what I call limited libertarian freedom in other areas of life, external to or not related to salvation issues. I even think the unregenerate seem to have limited libertarian freedom to choose between sinful options that I think even a Calvinist could and should affirm, that is although they might not be able to choose to love and folllow Jesus they can, for example, choose between robbing the bank and robbing the liquor store or just sit on the couch and think about committing these different sins. They can’t choose anything good, fine, but do they have a range of other options from which to choose that are sinful in nature or is God ultimately determining their sins? I don’t think they want to go there, but I just say that contrary to popular and maybe uninformed opinion, these are examples of libertarian freedom. Libertarian freedom is a limited power and it does not imply or entail the ability to do something that is simply against one’s nature. We are discussing the ability to choose between alternatives that are both consistent with one’s nature. So that’s the first one. That’s morality.

Kurt: Yeah. Tell me about rationality.

Tim: Rationality. This might be my favorite topic on this issue. There’s so much I can say about this topic, but to make it as simple as possible, kind of give you the nutshell version, I like to show that rationality requires libertarian freedom by asking one simple question and here it is. If I’m having a conversation with one who doubts that we have libertarian freedom I ask this, “Do you possess the ability to reject incoherent thoughts and beliefs in favor of coherent thoughts or beliefs? Yes or no?” I’ve given a range of options here. Incoherent thoughts and beliefs in favor of coherent thoughts and beliefs and then given another range of options, yes or no?” If one answers yes, then he simultaneously affirms libertarian freedom. He affirms his ability to choose between a range of options consistent with his nature. However, if he answers no, then several problems arise. #1. Why trust your answer? You don’t have an ability to reject incoherent beliefs so you’ve got a defeater against everything you believe right now including your belief that you do not have it. #2. Why should anybody else listen to your opinions about anything including your opinions on these topics here because you’ve just said you do not have the ability to reject incoherent thoughts and beliefs, and finally, #3, libertarian freedom seems to exist anyway since one would affirm their ability to reject yes in favor of no and thus at least tacitly affirm…

Kurt: The meta answer there, the fact that the person can at least choose between yes or no to that question is indicative of libertarian freewill.

Tim: That’s right, because yes and no, that shows a range of options, two options, and so I get a lot of mileage out of Greg Koukl because Greg is just a fantastic apologist, a great thinker, but he’s a Calvinist and so he and I, we disagree on say, five-point Calvinism, but Greg, what I love about the guy, is he’s a libertarian. He affirms limited libertarian freedom as I like to call it. Let me tell you what he says. This is from a Calvinist here and I quote, “The problem with determinism is that without freedom, rationality would have no room to operate. Arguments would not matter since no one would be able to base beliefs on adequate reasons. One could never judge between a good idea and a bad one. One would only hold beliefs because he had been predetermined to do so, although it’s theoretically possible that determinism is true, there’s no internal contradiction as far as I can tell. No one could ever know it if it were. Every one of our thoughts, dispositions, and opinions, would have been decided for us by factors completely out of our control. Therefore in practice, arguments for determinism are self-defeating.” That’s in his book Tactics. I’ll say amen to that. Koukl is exactly right. It’s self-defeating to argue for determinism and I don’t want to only appeal to Christians here, let me appeal to an imminent philosopher, I think of mind, John Searle. He says that rationality only makes a difference if irrationality is possible. Although he’s an atheist and a philosopher, he argues for libertarian freedom and he says, “Look. Rationality only makes a difference if irrationality is possible.” That means if you made the rational choice you could have made the irrational decision. This means that we must possess the ability to choose to be rational or irrational and both of these options are a real possibility and thus both of these options are compatible with a rational person’s nature, unless one’s going to say “I’m rational and I’m always right”. Let me give you what I call the mad scientist thought experiment here. I think mad scientists, you bring them in and they can always clarify things for you, but suppose a mad scientist exhaustively controls, causally determines everything about you all the time. This mad scientist exhaustively controls all of your thoughts, actions, beliefs, and behaviors all the time and this includes all of your thoughts about your beliefs and all of your beliefs about your thoughts and this also includes the next words that are going to come out of your mouth. With that in mind, let me ask a question. How can you, not the mad scientist, but how can you, rationally affirm the current beliefs in your head are good, bad, better, the best, or true without begging the question, without committing a logical fallacy. Seems to me that that would be impossible, so bottom line, if one does not possess the ability to choose between a range of options at least occasionally, then how could one choose the inference to the best explanation among options and affirm that he has done such a thing. I don’t think that’s possible. All one can do is assume that these deterministic factors, be they physics and chemistry or God, all one can do is assume at this point, that whatever, if it’s physics or chemistry or God that that factor, that force, whatever’s determining everything about you, has forced good or true beliefs upon you, but that assumption would be caused by something other than you as well. If something other than you is causing and determining everything about you then that assumption is not even about you, so nothing is up to us if determinism is exhaustive, including your question-begging assumptions. 

Kurt: I could imagine a possible objection to the mad scientist examples would say, “We’re not talking about a mad scientist, but we’re talking about a good, holy, and righteous scientist.”

Tim: That’s a good question or a good objection.

Kurt: But then, I’m not sure how you might answer, I would point and say, “Suppose there is a good, righteous, holy scientist that’s imputing all of our thoughts. Why is it some people have different beliefs and some people are hellbound as a result of those beliefs?”

Tim: Right. That’s a big problem. Why is it if God causally determines everything about everybody and every thought and belief that everybody’s ever had, why is a good and perfectly loving and perfectly good God forcing most people to believe false things and then punishing them for eternity for it. On top of that, suppose that one says, “But Christians at the very least have this illumination and they can think that they will think clearly, their cognitive faculties have been restored.” Okay. What do you do with all the Christians that disagree with each other, and ultimate if it’s God determining all of these thoughts and beliefs, then God is forcing some Christians to be Molinists and others to be determinists, some Christians to be Calvinists, others to be open theists. 

Kurt: You could just think of the range on eschatology and there’s sorts of division that has been sown by God on this view and that just seems untenable, a position to defend.

Tim: It seems to me that if cognitive faculties are functioning properly, we have to have the ability to reject incoherent thoughts and beliefs in favor of coherent thoughts and beliefs and I think even Paul makes this clear in 2 Corinthians 10. He tells us not only do we destroy every argument raised against the knowledge of God, but we take our thoughts captive to obey Christ and in Colossians 2:8 he tells us that we can be taken captive by bad thinking. He’s talking about community, he’s talking about self-examination. Are we really able to evaluate ourselves or is something else doing it? There’s no such thing as self-evaluation if something other than me is causing and determining my evaluating. We’re supposed to take our thoughts captive before they take us captive. I’ve argued that that requires some, at least a limited libertarian freedom.

Kurt: Sure. The last example here. Love. Tell us about love.

Tim: Although I did just sing the praises of Greg Koukl a couple minutes ago, and this is a point where Greg and I completely disagree, and let me say I love Greg Koukl. I think he’s one of the best Christian thinkers out there, highly recommend his work, but we disagree on this point. In fact, I’ve written a long response article to Greg regarding the fact that true love requires libertarian freedom and I’ve recorded multiple podcasts on this topic. If people want to listen to that they can go to The Free Thinking Podcast and listen to those. We could spend this entire interview talking about the specific point, but to make it simple and for the sake of at least starting the conversation, I simply point out that it is both intuitively obvious and recognized by the American legal system, at least the west in general, that love requires libertarian freedom. Nothing makes me more furious than when I hear about a guy who slipped that date rape drug into a woman’s drink. Nothing gets my blood boiling more than that, but here’s why it’s wrong. It’s because it takes away her ability to resist his advances. This is seriously one of the worst crimes a person can ever commit. I recently heard someone say that being accused of rape might be the worst crime one could ever be accused of. They said it’s even worse than being accused of killing another person. This is because there’s at least some times when killing another person might be justifiable like in instances of self-defense, but it’s never justifiable to rape a woman or anyone else for that matter. That’s a sidenote. You get that for free. It’s just wrong, but here’s the point. Our justice system is clear that all a woman must do is say or imply no or stop to a man’s advances and if this minimal resistance is offered and the man continues to advance anyway, then he’s ultimately raping her and if her ability to resist is taken away, then it is rape and it’s definitely not love. Right? I talk to some of my friends that are lawyers and they’ve been giving me all their legalese of how the law does support this view. Here’s the point, legally in a love situation, or I’ll say this, legally a woman does not have to say yes to a man’s advances, but if any resistance is offered, even a little bit, then the man must stop. If he takes away her ability to resist and he then continues then it’s rape. It’s evil. Anyway, why is this the law that all a woman has to do is have the ability to resist and then to even say or imply no or stop, he’s got to stop. Why is this the law? Because it’s intuitively obvious that the libertarian ability to resist or not to resist is minimally required for love. Anything less than that is rape and so I’m not saying, even what I just said here, the woman doesn’t have to say yes or say I accept you, but the woman cannot, I’ll say this, the woman, if she says no or stop or even implies it, the guy has to stop and if he continues then it’s rape, it’s definitely not love. I argue at minimum all a person has to have is the ability to resist one’s advances, to resist or not to exist, there’s a range of options compatible with a woman’s nature, to resist or not to resist, and if a person doesn’t have those options, if those options have been taken away, then that’s evil and that’s rape.

Kurt: Right. We obviously can apply that instance to the deterministic and compatibilist models and say there’s something intuitively misguided here and we know that because of what we know from how relationships work and how love functions.

Tim: Yeah. I’ll say it’s properly basic.

Kurt: We’re running low on time here, Tim, but I did want to ask you this. You mentioned earlier how libertarian freewill points to the existence of God. I’m curious about how you swing that approach.

Tim: When I was at BIOLA, I started working on this, probably 2012, and I came up with an argument that I’ve called my freethinking argument against naturalism. I’ve since revised it several times and offered other modified views which I call the free-thinking argument which just argues for the ability to freely think and to be rational, but ultimately I think that if we have libertarian freedom to think, then that points to God’s existence. The argument, the way I’m running it these days usually goes like this:

Premise 1: If naturalism is true human nature does not include an immaterial soul.

2: If human nature does not include an immaterial soul then humans probably do not possess libertarian freedom.

3. If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then humans do not possess the ability to gain inferential knowledge via the process of rationality and rationally affirm knowledge claims.

4. Humans do possess the ability to gain inferential knowledge via the process of rationality and rationally affirm knowledge claims. 

Those are my four premises. After that, I get three deductive conclusions and then one abductive. The three deductive conclusions go like this:

5. Therefore, humans possess libertarian freedom.

6. Therefore, human nature probably includes an immaterial soul.

7. Therefore, naturalism is probably false.

Then 8, abductive conclusion which is really the start of a new argument which I have developed, but it simply says “The best explanation of the existence of the immaterial soul is the biblical view of God.” I originally just argued for God, but now I’m arguing even stronger, making a stronger claim that it’s the biblical view of God. I’ve written on that on my website if people would like to check it out. Do you want me to quickly defend any of those premises or not?

Kurt: We probably don’t have time to, but that’s an argument I’ll have to think more about myself and maybe we’ll have to bring you on another time to go through step by step, that could be a fun episode.

Tim: That would be cool.

Kurt: Nice. Tim. Thanks so much for joining us on the program today and for those that want to learn more about Tim and his ministry work you can go to freethinkingministries.com

Tim: Thanks, brother.

Kurt: God bless you, Tim.

That does it for our program today. I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons and the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. They are Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Fox Restoration, and Non-Profit Megaphone. I want to thank our technical producer, Chris, and our guest, Tim Stratton of Freethinking Ministries and last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. 


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Seth Baker

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