Is the Freethinking Argument Question Begging?

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

September 12, 2018

Question:

Dear Tim,

I will try to be as concise and brief as possible. I am a Christian and my question is concerning free will, determinism, Molinism and of course, with respect to your Argument of Freethinking against Naturalism.

The Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism is formulated as follows:

 

1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.

2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.

3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.

4- Rationality and knowledge exist.

5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.

6- Therefore, the soul exists.

7- Therefore, naturalism is false.

8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul is God.

The problem I found is with premise 3, since, by reduction to the absurd, we have that there is free will, and for there to be free will there must be a soul, and for there to be a soul there must be God. Right? That is, premise 3 of the Argument is the conclusion of an argument whose first premise is one that you present in your blog: “If God does not exist, it is difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.”

But this statement is a conditional and, therefore, you can formulate an argument to reach a conclusion. For example:

  1. If God does not exist, it is difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.
  2. it is difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

But how easy it is to observe, this syllogism commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. If one wants to avoid the fallacy one would have to reformulate the argument in this way:

  1. If God exists, it is not difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.
  2. God exists.
  3. Therefore, it is not difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.

Now the syllogism is valid by Modus Ponens, but the problem is that now the Free Thinker Argument actually seems unnecessary or commits the fallacy of beg the question. I explain. Premise (2) of this new argument is “God exists”, and to prove it one has to use some argument, but obviously you can not use the argument of the Freethinker because it is reasoning in circles; you should use some other argument. But if you demonstrate that God exists, then naturalism is false, therefore, the argument of the Freethinker is not required to prove that naturalism is false. Now, in order to avoid beg the question, is by saying that the argument of the Freethinker does not really seek to prove that God exists (or prove that Naturalism is false), but simply that God is the best explanation for the soul. One uses arguments to show that God exists, once demonstrated, the argument of the Freethinker is used to demonstrate that God is the best explanation of the soul. But then, what is the whole point of the argument if the existence of God was previously demonstrated and therefore it is shown that naturalism is false? As I see it, the argument does not serve to demonstrate that naturalism is false; rather, it can be used to demonstrate the falsity of any theistic view that affirms that there is no free Will or soul. Don’t you think?

– Jairo


Tim’s Response:

I am honored that you are interacting with my argument, Jairo. I have several versions of the FreeThinking Argument (FTA), but the Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism (FAAN) is the first one I made public several years ago — and it is the most popular. There are a couple other versions on my website and I plan to offer others in my upcoming PhD dissertation.

You are doing some deep thinking, but I do not think this objection will ultimately scathe the FAAN or the FTA in general. Let us examine some of your comments. You said:

//The problem I found is with premise 3, since, by reduction to the absurd, we have that there is free will, and for there to be free will there must be a soul, and for there to be a soul there must be God. Right?//

Not so fast. Some may assert that there is an “immaterial aspect” to humanity but that God does not exist. Although I think this might be metaphysically impossible, I can conceive of such a scenario and it is not logically incoherent (at least in a strict sense). So, I do not argue that there “must be God,” but rather, after all the deductive conclusions have been reached, I make an abductive move to conclude that God is the inference to the best explanation of the existence to the immaterial aspect of humanity (the soul).

Moreover, and more importantly, premise (3) says that “If LFW does not exist, then rationality and knowledge do not exist.” I have also expressed this premise in the following manner:

“3*- If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then humans do not possess the ability to gain inferential knowledge via the process of rationality.”

Note that this premise says nothing about the existence or non-existence of God. In fact, I use this exact same premise when I argue with Calvinistic determinists (who are theistic Christians), so this premise does not even tacitly imply anything about God. This brings us to your next comment:

//That is, premise 3 of the Argument is the conclusion of an argument whose first premise is one that you present in your blog: “If God does not exist, it is difficult to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to deliberate and think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions.”//

This introductory statement of mine is never used as a premise nor is it ever used as a defense of any premise. I encourage you to stick with the exact wording of the premises in the actual argument. So, the objections you raise regarding “the difficulty to see..” are irrelevant to the actual argument.

You continued:

//Now the syllogism is valid by Modus Ponens, but the problem is that now the Free Thinker Argument actually seems unnecessary or commits the fallacy of beg the question. I explain. Premise (2) of this new argument is “God exists”, and to prove it one has to use some argument, but obviously you can not use the argument of the Freethinker because it is reasoning in circles; you should use some other argument. But if you demonstrate that God exists, then naturalism is false, therefore, the argument of the Freethinker is not required to prove that naturalism is false.//

This misses the point. Namely, you disregard what I take to be the most important deductive conclusion — “Therefore, libertarian free will exists” (which I argue allows rationality and knowledge to exist). After all, as deterministic Calvinists contend, God exists and humans are NOT free to think or think otherwise. So, proving God’s existence is not enough to prove humans are, in fact, able to possess rationally inferred knowledge. The Calvinist has the exact same problem as the naturalist — and I have argued that their problems might be worse in a certain sense (See A Revised Freethinking Argument & The Vanishing “I”).

You said,

//Now, in order to avoid beg the question, is by saying that the argument of the Freethinker does not really seek to prove that God exists (or prove that Naturalism is false), but simply that God is the best explanation for the soul.//

The core of the FTA (the first argument I developed) is this (this would be steps 3, 4,and 5 in the FAAN version):

1- If humans do not possess libertarian freedom, then humans do not possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.

2- Humans do possess the ability to gain knowledge via the process of rationality.

Therefore

3- Humans possess libertarian freedom.

So, as noted above, the main point of the FTA is that libertarian freedom exists and humans possess it. If the core is sound and premises (1) and (2) of the FAAN pass, then the other deductive conclusions follow logically: “(6) Therefore, the soul exists,” and “(7) Therefore, naturalism is false.”

The abductive conclusion (8) is really the beginning of a new argument that I have defended elsewhere (See The Image of God).

You said,

//One uses arguments to show that God exists, once demonstrated, the argument of the Freethinker is used to demonstrate that God is the best explanation of the soul. But then, what is the whole point of the argument if the existence of God was previously demonstrated and therefore it is shown that naturalism is false?//

The “whole point,” or rather, the “main point” of the FAAN is to show that humans possess libertarian freedom. The secondary point is that the soul (or some immaterial aspect of humanity) exists. This is done without assuming God anywhere in the premises. In fact, God does not show up in the argument until after all of the deductive conclusions are reached. Many times I do not even include step (8). It depends upon the audience.

You said,

//As I see it, the argument does not serve to demonstrate that naturalism is false…//

Well, if the core of the argument is sound and premises (1) and (2) are also true, then conclusion (7) logically follows deductively and “Therefore, naturalism is false.” So, one must show that at least one of the first two premises are false in order to rationally continue holding their naturalism.

You concluded:

//… rather, it can be used to demonstrate the falsity of any theistic view that affirms that there is no free Will or soul. Don’t you think?//

I use versions of the FTA to accomplish that task too! 😉

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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